The Culture of Athens

The Culture of Athens

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In 'Ancient Cultures and Civilizations: The Culture of Athens', Vic Kovacs provides a clear and helpful overview of the political structure in Athens, religion in Athens, and the major political and military conflicts between Athens and other polities and cities. Though a long period of history is unaddressed in the volume, I nonetheless recommend the volume for public and private libraries.

Previously, I reviewed Vic Kovacs' Ancient Cultures and Civilizations, The Culture of Sparta. In this volume, Kovacs shifts from Sparta to Athens: Ancient Cultures and Civilizations: The Culture of Athens. Divided into five chapters, the volume details various aspects of Athenian culture and history: a broad overview of ancient Athens, Athens as it is concerned with democracy, the military in Athens, daily life in Athens, and the downfall of Athens.

Overall, the book provides a clear and helpful overview of the political structure in Athens, religion in Athens, and the major political and military conflicts between Athens and other polities and cities. With its simple language and clear communication, the book is oriented towards elementary school students and middle school students. As such, teachers would benefit from having this book in their private or classroom libraries, just as it would be an excellent addition to a school library.

There is one major shortfall of the volume, though. In describing the downfall and legacy of Athens, Kovacs notes that Athens was defeated in 404 BCE by the Spartans, who were funded by the Persian Empire. Kovacs then comments that “the city was banned from having a navy, its great walls were torn down, and it entered a period of decline” (26). The timeline picks up again in the 2nd century BCE: “By 146 B.C., Athens, along with the rest of Greece, became members of the Roman Empire, following the destruction of the city of Corinth” (28). What is unclear is what sort of events occurred in Athens between 404 BCE and 146 BCE. It would be helpful if Kovacs at least provided some insight into the cultural and political situation over that period of roughly 250 years.

Though 250 years of history in Athens is ignored, I nonetheless recommend Ancient Cultures and Civilizations: The Culture of Athens for libraries, both teacher’s libraries and public libraries.

Culture of Greece

The culture of Greece has evolved over thousands of years, beginning in Minoan and later in Mycenaean Greece, continuing most notably into Classical Greece, while influencing the Roman Empire and its successor the Byzantine Empire. Other cultures and states such as the Frankish states, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic and Bavarian and Danish monarchies have also left their influence on modern Greek culture, but historians credit the Greek War of Independence with revitalising Greece and giving birth to a single entity of its multi-faceted culture.

Greece is widely considered to be the cradle of Western culture [1] and democracy. Modern democracies owe a debt to Greek beliefs in government by the people, trial by jury, and equality under the law. The ancient Greeks pioneered in many fields that rely on systematic thought, including biology, geometry, history, [2] philosophy, and physics. They introduced such important literary forms as epic and lyric poetry, history, tragedy, and comedy. In their pursuit of order and proportion, the Greeks created an ideal of beauty that strongly influenced Western art. [3]

The Culture of Athens - History


Prepared and Read By Mrs. Will Gore
At The Athens Community Conference

The People of Athens

Athens Community has contributed to the world at large a number of useful and brilliant people. They may not be of worldwide fame, very few persons are, but in their own ways and in their own spheres of helpfulness they have contributed much to the general happiness of humanity.

Seven of our young men have become ministers, one was a presiding elder in the church when he died, and one has been in China as a missionary for more than ten years,

Every one recognizes the fact that physicians are a very necessary and helpful part of any group of people. Athens has furnished to the world sixteen physicians, honored and beloved in the communities in which they have cast their lots. One of these held a state appointment, as superintendent of a state hospital for several years.

Ten Dentists have rendered assistance of particular satisfaction to many people in this and other communities. Eight of the ten were our own town boys. The other two lived not far out of town, and one of them lived in the town for a while and practiced his profession.

Eight of our boys are lawyers, and one of them is a candidate for the state Senate at the present time. Six of our people have been elected to represent our county in the state Legislature. Five of our boys have become bank cashiers, a position of honor and trust.

Six of our girls are trained nurses, a helpful and unselfish calling. One of our girls is an authoress of considerable note, locally, at least, and one of our boys was editor of an Oregon paper and later of a Chicago paper he is also a poet and has had a number of his poems published.

Many of our town girls have received instruction in music at the Music Department of Concord State College, and some have gone to higher institutions of music. One is a graduate of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and of Cornell Public School Music Department, and is now a candidate for graduation in The Institute of Musical Art, New York City. Four boys and two girls of Athens community have received degrees from West Virginia University, and eight are candidates for the A. B. degree this year (1924) at Concord State College.
Aerial view of Concord College
We have in our town a man who has a remarkable talent for penmanship. He has produced some wonderful portraits, and has made a marriage certificate, all done with pen and ink, that is the sensation of the day to all beholders. There is now one of our young men in high school for whom we predict a successful career as a cartoonist. He has already done some very creditable work.

Several young men have entered civil engineering, several have become successful merchants and business men, to whom wealth has come as a reward for their labor and ability. Much might be said of those who have remained on the farms. They should never be overlooked, for all the others depend on the farmer for sustenance.

And what shall be said of the good housekeepers both here and in other communities which they are enriching by their presence? No one can sufficiently appreciate all they mean to a community, and the extent to which all other things depend on the home. We have some of the best cooks in all the world, right here in Athens, and many of them are in homes of their own in other places.

1907 postcard of Concord State Normal School
At this time, forty-six of the residents of Athens are engaged in teaching. We have a list of teachers from the town and immediate neighborhood which number two hundred and sixty, and there may be others of whom we have no record. Some of these have passed on to a fairer clime: many are happy wives and mothers, for matrimony depletes the ranks of teachers every year others have gone into other avenues of usefulness but all these are our own and they have all been engaged in the great work of teaching. Our boys and girls
have enriched by their fine personalities many other communities. Athens as a village sprang up in the woods, and has grown to its present proportions around the State Normal School. The community has made many sacrifices for the school and the school has done much for the community. For a town which has never reached the one thousand mark, one must acknowledge this as a good record, The people of Athens have reason to be proud of their town.


In giving a history of this community, I shall have to refer to the time of the previous generation, as I obtained most of this data from my father, William Holroyd, who came to Mercer County in 1848 and bought a farm two miles from Athens.

At that time there were no churches in this community, but the people worshiped in the homes. Eight Martin brothers had settled near Athens, and their homes were used as places of worship. Once a year a camp meeting was held at the place where Uncle Davy Martin lived. At one of these meetings the citizens got together and decided to build three churches: One at Athens called Concord, one called Bethel in the Danielly neighborhood, and the other called Pisgah in the Johnson and Stafford neighborhood.

The county road ran through this territory and Concord church was built by the side of the road where the Methodist church now stands the present one being the third that was built there. Captain Holroyd had charge of the building of the churches, and the people hauled the lumber, made the shingles, etc., for the buildings. They got on so agreeably that a lady suggested the name of Concord. This was a Methodist church, but was used by all orthodox denominations.

My first recollections of this church are of hearing old Brother Bird, who was a primitive Baptist preacher, and who used the church regularly each month for years and years. Brother Campell, a Missionary Baptist minister also had his regular appointments in this church. Old Brother Bennett, a pioneer Methodist, preached here often, and Brother Workman the first Methodist Episcopal preacher who came into this community after the Civil War did a fine work. This work was in the Holston Conference and the work was so large and of so vast a territory it took a month to get to all the appointments which were made on horse back. This church stood through the trying days of the Civil War which devastated this whole community.

At the time of the Civil War Summers County had not been cut off, so Mercer had quite a large territory. In 1869 the people in the northeastern part of the county became dissatisfied as to the distance they had to go to Princeton to court. The Court House had been destroyed by fire and it was necessary to build a new one. The people in the lower end of the county began to clamor for the Court House to be built at Concord, and at the election a vote was taken and carried in favor of Concord for the County Seat. Geo. Evans was County Clerk, and he moved the documents to Concord, into a four-roomed log house that had been built for the purpose. David Alvis was assistant clerk.

A post office was established and named Concord Church. J. F. Holroyd, though quite a lad, was made postmaster and held this office for years. Courts were held in the church. Captain Holroyd had built a store room and was selling a great deal of goods, and saw the need of a building to accommodate the people who came to Concord to attend court and other business matters, so he built a large frame building. It was called the Mountain House. He then sold his farm and moved to Concord. Dr. James Vermillion and Benjamin Fanning also helped to take care of the crowds that came to Concord to attend court.

At least fifty cots were brought into the "Mountain House" at one time and as the upper floor, at that time, had no partitions these cots were put up there and it was called the "Big Survey" and as there was a saloon opposite the church this "Big Survey" grew quite noisy at times. It was quite common to see "Uncle George" an old colored servant going back and forth to the "Big Survey" with a large waiter filled with glass tumblers. Afterward Old Brother Sheffey prayed that this saloon would cease and a shoe shop be installed in its place. This really did happen, for soon afterward a shoe and harness shop was started in the same place by Stewart Johnston (father of Mrs. Higginbottom of our town) Mr. Johnston lived here and educated his children here.

Colonel Henderson French gave the land as a site for the new court house and a brick court house was being erected, but when the wall of the first story had been completed the people of Princeton and vicinity called for another vote to move the court house to Princeton. This time the vote carried in favor of Princeton. This threw things in quite a dilemma. About this time the State Board of Control decided to build another Normal School, and this unfinished wall was the incentive for Concord to ask for the Normal School.
Col. William Henderson French House, near Athens
The owner of the wall and land told the people if they would secure the school, he would give the walls and all the land needed. J. M. Killey a lawyer, and who afterward became a teacher in this school, went to the legislature and with the aid of Major Reynolds who was then our representative secured the school. The people were elated.

In the meantime Colonel Henderson French died without making a deed, but William Martin and wife gave the site where the Normal was built, and where the Concord Training School now stands. In the spring of 1875 the Normal School opened in a frame building with about 75 students. Captain Harve French was the Principal and remained so for seventeen years. Major Reynolds was his assistant. The school was in session for five months. It closed for the winter but opened again in the spring. The students came in by numbers some walked for miles and the people could not accommodate them, so Dr. Vermillion and Mr. Fanning built cottages for the accommodation ef the students, and "Loafer's Joy" was added to the "Mountain House".

Boys did not mind those days to "crowd up" and would gladly room six in a room. Of course things were very crude but the students were so eager for an education and appreciated any kindness that was given them. People began to move in with their families, and a number of houses were built. Commencement was quite a gay time, people came in wagons, hacks, buggies and on foot, and the little village was very lively and festive.

The Christie Brothers gave music lessons on the piano and violin. The first piano in Concord was brought to the "Mountain House." At one of our Commencement exercises the Christies had gone away, so there were only Mr. P. W. Massie and myself left to furnish the instrumental music. There had been a very fine prayer offered which was supposed to be followed by sacred music. Captain French looked around and seeing none of the girls who were to sing, nodded to me and Mr. Massie who struck up the "Mississippi Sawyer", which I accompanied on the piano. Afterward the Captain gave us quite a reprimand. "Well it was either that or Arkansas Traveler and I can't see any difference," replied Mr. Massie. The town has grown slowly, but steadily. In 1871 the Masonic Lodge was organized which now has a membership of about one hundred and seventy. We have an Eastern Star Chapter, also Royal Arch. We have a civil betterment club which does a fine work, they have a Soldiers' Memorial Library open to the public. The business men's club is very progressive. They established the bus line with the assistance of Princeton men, which adds a great service to the people, and especially the students. We have three churches, three Missionary Societies. We have had the county fair in our town for three years and under the leadership of our efficient county agent, W. H. Roberts, it has grown bigger and better every year. Without being present in the community it is hard for anyone to realize how much this community has improved.

The post office was named Concord Church, but the students left off the "church" so letters often went to Concord in Hampshire County, West Virginia, so in 1896 the faculty met to discuss the matter and Mr. Fulwider suggested the name of Athens and it was so named.

Greece — History and Culture

The ancient history of Greece represents, in many ways, the birth of Europe as a center for the arts, architecture, sciences, and much more. Alive and well at famous landmarks visited by millions every year and carved in poetry, drama, and myth, the remnants of Classical Greece display its universal importance as a unique heritage, as well as a solid base for contemporary Greek culture.


The history of Greece must be one of the best-known in the world as its innovative city state, at its height over 2,000 years ago, set the stage for the development of the whole of Modern Europe. However, advanced civilization in the region didn’t begin with Classical Greece: it began in the Cycladic Islands, continued with the Minoan civilization on Crete, and migrated to the Peloponnese mainland at Mycenae in around 1900 BC. Writing was practiced via the yet-to-be-deciphered Minoan Linear A script and the Mycenaean Linear B, an early version of Classical Greek.

The cradle of Western civilization began forming around 600 BC, and flowered with dramatic advances in science, astronomy, philosophy, drama, art, and mathematics. In 508 BC, the first democratic government in the world was instituted in Athens, and great monuments and landmarks took shape in forms never seen before. Athens spread its tentacles across the Mediterranean coastlines and Asia Minor, although several Persian invasions from the north during the Greco-Persian Wars threatened its stability. Rising conflicts between the non-unified Greek states resulted in the Peloponnesian War between 431 and 404 BC, which weakened the Athenian Empire and cause it to lose its premier position in the region.

By 27 BC, Greece was in Roman hands. Christianity took hold early on although some regions remained pagan for another thousand years. Byzantine control began in the 9th century, followed by rule by the Franks in the 13th century. By the 15th century, the country was part of the Ottoman Empire and the Dark Ages had begun, although Venice mopped up a few islands. The Ottoman period was a harsh time for the Greek population although the invaders did not force Orthodox Christians to renounce their religion. The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and saw fierce fighting, as well as involvement by Russia, England, and France until 1830, when the Greek state was finally recognized.

Conflict with fascist Italy in 1940 was the precursor to the WWII German invasion, and after liberation the country descended into a bitter civil war against its home-grown Communist movement which rumbled on for 20 years. In spite of the fighting, this was a time of rapid expansion for the Greek economy, with the help of the US Marshall Plan. Tourism soon became an important element of revenue, until an army coup in 1967 caused economic chaos and a sharp drop in revenue from trips due to off-putting instability.

The coup years ended in 1974, just as Turkey invaded Northern Cyprus. The first democratic election was held, and a referendum ensured the monarchy would not be restored. In 1981, Greece joined the European Community, later to become the European Union, and eventually became part of the Eurozone, a move which has caused major problems with its economy since the 2010 recession following the 2008 crash. Recent riots in Athens due to budget cut measures to deal with Greece’s debt have not yet spread outside area of the capital.


Greek culture in the present day is a glorious mix of great classical and maritime heritage, music and dance, myth and legend, and a lifestyle that has developed over centuries. Even the ultra-modern, urbanite Athenians are still Greek to the core, and in rural districts and less-touristy islands, the local lifestyle is as laid back as they were at the beginning of the century. Although Greece has been heavily influenced by other cultures, it should be noted that Western cultures were equally influenced by the Classical Greek period, especially in the fields of literature, art, and architecture.

The famous Greek folk dances are still an integral part of modern-day life here, as evidenced in tavernas across the country on weekends, when locals get up and dance for any opportunity. These dances originated in the Mycenaean era and were used in rituals on religious occasions as part of a belief that the gods were the first to have danced. Even the Greek language has its origins in the Mycenaean Linear B script, and Classical Greek became a foundation for several of the European languages including English.

Still an influence on Greek culture is the Katharevousa form of Modern Greek, set half way between the classical language and the everyday Demotiki speech. Dialects are spoken in remote areas on the mainland and in the islands, with many dating back centuries and showing little sign of dying out. Greek Orthodox Christianity’s joyful festivals are linked strongly with the culture here, as the religion is very important. Greeks are proud of their country’s amazing past and its heritage is celebrated in the modern day.

The family is at the heart of Greece’s social structure, and is always supportive of its members, with family relationships often carrying on in business. Invitations to Greek homes for a meal are common, and dining in someone’s home is an enjoyable experience where arriving late is no problem. Small gifts are customary to bring, and are generally reciprocated, and an offer to help with the clean up after the meal is appreciated.

Nowadays, Greece is at a crossroads between East and West, with its contemporary culture taking the best from its old traditions, religion, cuisine, language, and music, and blending it with selected influences from the 21st century. Any visitor who’s watched the movie, My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, will understand that, wherever in the world there are Greeks, they will find a way to preserve their ethnicity and unique culture in the same way as it’s being treasured in their home country.

Cultural Facts

  • Pythagoras, the father of numbers, was the first one to present the idea that the earth is round and that planets rotate along an axis.
  • People in all parts of the world know the names of Greek gods and goddesses, because the literature, philosophy, and plays of Greece are popular all over the world.
  • The great Greek mathematician, physicist, and astronomer, Archimedes, who is known for his exclamation, “Eureka!” was born in 287 BCE, in Sicily. He found out the accurate value of Pi.
  • The Greek philosopher Socrates, born in 496 BCE, is considered as the founder of Western philosophy. Works of Plato and Aristotle are seen to be influenced by principles laid by Socrates.
  • Since ancient times, Greeks are known as extremely religious people. Animals, especially domestic animals, had to be sacrificed to Gods and then only, they were supposed to be ready for consumption.
  • The people of Greece are known for warm hospitality. Celebrating namedays (birth date of the saint after whom one is named) is more common than celebrating birthdays. Exchanging gifts with family and friends takes place usually on ‘namedays’.
  • Nepotism is common in Greece, as family members are always expected to help one-another in times of need. Strong emotional bonds between family members play an important role in this culture. Family bonds make the social structure strong.
  • The people are very proud of their cultural heritage. Religion plays an important role in their life. Every holiday or festival has a religious background. Easter (not Christmas) is the major religious holiday in Greece. The politic here is greatly influenced by the Church.
  • The goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone were considered as Goddesses, who governed the growth and death of the earth’s vegetation. Greeks always prayed to them before eating bread and to God Dionysus, the God of wine and festivity, before drinking wine. Demeter was considered as goddess of vegetation and fruitfulness.
  • Some specific foods were preferred and some were avoided by Greeks, as they considered some foods cleaner than the others. For example, the Pythagoreans avoided beans, because beans were considered as unclean! People living in Greece love to drink Turkish coffee, and it is one of their oldest and most favorite drink.
  • About 98% people in Greece are Greek Orthodox. Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews constitute the remaining 2% population of Greece. The modern language and the language used during the Classical period are almost the same. It is the language of the Bible. The modern language is based on the idiom used by Homer.
  • The first recorded Olympic Games were organized in Olympia in 776 BCE. The 12 m high statue of Zeus in the temple of Zeus in olympia was made of gold and ivory. The Olympic winners were presented with a simple olive wreath crown made from the wild olive tree near the temple of Zeus. Greeks believed that the olive tree was planted by Hercules. Olympic games helped in the unification of national, spiritual, and racial beliefs.

After reading the above facts, you must have understood why Greeks are proud of their contribution to world civilization. These facts reflect the rich history and heritage of Greece. Those interested in visiting Greece should take a look at the information about the religion, family life, and lifestyle of the country before making the trip.

The Acropolis of Athens

An unprecedented conceptual design embodied in architectural excellence
Put the best of science, art and philosophy together in one creation and you have the definitive monument of human civilisation. UNESCO calls it the symbol of World Heritage. The world calls it the Athenian Acropolis!

The history of the Acropolis of Athens is long, with moments when democracy philosophy and art flourished, leading to its creation. Then there were the times when its best standing pieces were removed and shipped away from the city, dividing the monument in two. Today, the international community wants to reunite all of the Acropolis sculptures in Athens and restore both its physicality and meaning.

The Acropolis, and the Parthenon in particular, is the most iconic monument of the ancient Greek civilisation. It continues to stand as a symbol in many ways: it is the symbol of democracy and the Greek civilisation. It also symbolises the beginning of Western civilisation and stands as the icon of European culture. The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of the city of Athens and goddess of wisdom. It was built under the instructions of Pericles, the political leader of Athens in the 5th century BC. It was constructed between 447 and 438 BC and its sculptural decoration was completed in 432 BC. In 1987 it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO, 1987). Uniquely, capturing the gravity of the Athenian Acropolis as a symbol, UNESCO recognises that “[…] the Acropolis, the site of four of the greatest masterpieces of classical Greek art – the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erechtheum and the Temple of Athena Nike – can be seen as symbolizing the idea of world heritage” (UNESCO, 2006).

Despite the unique symbolic and cultural value of the monument, the issue of the removal of the sculptures from the Athenian Acropolis by Elgin continues to shadow their history. Today, more than half of the Parthenon sculptures are in the British Museum in London and their return to Athens, for their display in the Acropolis Museum together with the other originals, is a cultural issue awaiting to be settled.

Official information about the Parthenon and the Acropolis of Athens is available at the Acropolis of Athens webpage of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. More information can be found on the pages titled Review of the Seizure of the Parthenon sculptures, as well as The Memorandum of the Greek Government for The Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles. But there is way more to discover. This website brings you the key concepts associated with the Acropolis sculptures and the reasons why they should be reunited in Athens. You can find a plethora of links to official pages and initiatives about the monument and cultural heritage, as well as resources for your research as a traveller, student or academic.

Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

In Athens, the period that goes from the death of Alexander the Great and the Hellenic War of 322–321 to the Chremonidean War of 268–261 was one of astonishing cultural creativity. Besides the powerful flourishing of the Attic New Comedy, the most distinguished historians of the age operated in Athens, while philosophical schools that mostly grew from the Socratic stock explored in radically new ways the place of human beings in the universe and the limits of human knowledge. These are the years of Epicurus and Zeno, of Theophrastus and Arcesilaus. The Stoic theorization of the freedom of the wise man, often seen as an expression of Hellenistic cosmopolitanism, actually originated in a polis, one which at that time was engaged in a desperate defense of its political and ideological traditions against massively unfavorable odds.

In the last decades of the last century, largely thanks to the work of Christian Habicht and of a small group of epigraphers, the highly intricate political history of Hellenistic Athens has been explored in depth, and today our knowledge of it has become vastly more precise and detailed than it was when William Scott Ferguson wrote the first modern narrative of Hellenistic Athens in 1911. Something, however, has fallen by the wayside. Ferguson alerted scholars to the amazing cultural vitality of Athens during the early Hellenistic period, and also to the sharp turning point represented by the defeat at the hands of Antigonus Gonatas in the Chremonidean War. The end of New Comedy and the death of the last of the local historians of Athens at the end of the war can be taken as symbols of a broader phenomenon. With the central years of the third century, it became clear that Athens was not the cultural center of the Greek world any more. Almost half a century after Ferguson Arnaldo Momigliano, investigating the ‘discovery of Rome’ by the Sicilian Greek historian Timaeus, who wrote his history of the Western Greeks in Athens between the last years of the fourth century BCE and the first decades of the third, remarked that Athens in those years was a beacon of political and intellectual freedom. This nexus of political freedom and vibrant cultural creativity is what recent work on the political history of Hellenistic Athens has somewhat overlooked, while at the same time scholarship on philosophy and literature has largely overlooked or even denied connections with the Athenian political context. The relation between freedom and cultural creativity is a key notion that Greek culture bequeathed to the European cultural tradition. And yet, most general narratives of Hellenistic culture and philosophy like to connect new developments such as Epicureanism and Stoicism to the new cosmopolitan intellectual world created by Alexander’s conquests, rather than exploring their roots in the ideology and self-perception of a community of citizens striving to stand their ground in front of the overwhelming power of vast royal armies and navies.

Since spearheading the revolt against Macedon in 322, the Athenians kept fighting uphill battles against enemies who could muster with little effort armies that vastly outnumbered their manpower. They scrambled to defend their territory, reorganizing their system of forts and their mobile forces, and often ended up with royal garrisons in various points of Attica. In this struggle, they were clearly sustained by a clear and strong sense of their identity, based on their collective memory, i.e. on their own vision of their past. The memory of the Persian Wars was for the Athenians a manifest destiny of sorts, that demanded of them to be ready to take the lead of any coalition of Greeks that rose against whoever tried to conculcate Greek freedom. Decrees passed by the Athenian assembly on the eve of the Hellenic War and of the Chremonidean War are explicit on this. At the same time, Athenian politicians, branded as demagogues by a historical tradition penned by the winners, fired up the citizens reminding them that, while all Greeks shared a common nature – i.e. were superior to other human beings – only the Athenians knew the way to heaven: qua Athenians, they knew how to achieve immortality fighting for freedom.

A political history of Hellenistic Athens that does not engage with broader cultural trends can tell us what happened when, but it will never be able to help us understand the cultural logic that governed the historical actors. The Athenians’ passion for freedom, their stubborn attachment to democracy, must be investigated in the framework of a cultural history of early Hellenistic Athens, and in turn, the cultural history of early Hellenistic Athens urgently needs to be put back into the political context in which it belongs. This is the purpose of the present project.

Women and slaves

Detail from a pyxis showing a scene from the women's quarter, c450BC Photograph: British Musuem

Women, whose public valuation by men was often distressingly low, were economically crucial within the household, where they processed food, produced children and clothing, and managed the free or unfree workforce.

The modern Greek term for housewife, noikokyra ("lady of the household") had its ancient counterpart, especially in Sparta, where women vied not just to control but to own more than one household property. Elsewhere in Greece, women's property rights were severely limited. Indeed, it wouldn't have been uncommon for a wealthy Greek house-lord to think of his womenfolk as little better than the chattel slaves he owned. Ordinary Greeks, of course, might not have had the luxury of owning even a single slave, greatly desirable though that was thought to be.

Most slaves were individually and privately owned, having been bought on the market as commodities. But some slaves – such as the gaolers of Socrates – were public servants. At Athens, there was an exceptional concentration of slave worker personnel in the state-owned silver mines, who were economically vital: the product of their labours paid for Athens' navy and a wide variety of other public and political services.

In Sparta they managed their servile system very differently. Although there were some chattel-type (privately owned) slaves, the dominant form of servitude here was a kind of collective serfdom, known as helotage. And whereas most chattel slaves were dispossessed, non-Greek foreigners, the Helots were born into inherited bondage: this, perhaps, a final reminder of just how alien ancient Greece can be, for all its status as one of the fountainheads of western civilisation.

Paul Cartledge is AG Leventis Professor of Greek culture at Cambridge University and the author of several books, most recently Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities (Oxford University Press)

Greece Culture

Religion in Greece

98% Greek Orthodox, with Muslim, Roman Catholic and Jewish minorities.

Social Conventions in Greece

Greeks are very aware of their strong historical and cultural heritage. Traditions and customs differ throughout Greece, but overall a strong sense of unity prevails. The Greek Orthodox Church has a strong traditional influence on the Greek way of life, especially in more rural areas. The throwing back of the head is a negative gesture. Dress is generally casual. Smoking is prohibited on public transport and in public buildings.

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