Ancient Greek Farmers

Ancient Greek farming was based on a system of crop rotation and the use of manure as fertilizer. The Greeks also developed irrigation systems and terraced hillsides to maximize their crop yields. Despite these innovations, farming in ancient Greece was a difficult and labor-intensive task, with farmers facing challenges such as droughts, pests, and soil erosion.

Some say that only one-fifth of the land was suitable for farming. This was because much of the land lacked soil and the soil that did exist was rocky.

Ancient Greek Farming

  • Greek farmers grew olives, grapes, and grains like wheat and barley.
  • They raised animals like sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens.
  • Most farming was done by men and slaves; women helped with the harvest.
  • Terracing was used to farm on Greece’s hilly landscapes.
  • Drought was common, so irrigation systems were important.
  • Farmers brought their goods to market in the city-state’s agora.
  • Rituals and offerings to gods were a big part of farming life.

Olive Cultivation

Olive farming was integral to ancient Greece’s agriculture, economy, and lifestyle. This hardy tree was suitable for Greece’s dry, stony landscape. Its fruit and oil had many uses, including food preparation, lighting, soap making, and ceremonial practices.

The trade of olive oil significantly boosted Greece’s economic prosperity. The olive branch evolved into a symbol of peace and wisdom, demonstrating its vital role in Greek society. The myth that the olive tree was bestowed by Athena underscored its spiritual and cultural value.

Vineyards / Wine Production

Wine production was a crucial part of ancient Greek farming, reflecting the Greek fondness for wine as part of their meals, social functions, and sacred ceremonies. Favorable climate conditions and hilly landscapes supported vine growth. Greek farmers meticulously tended to their vineyards, honing pruning and training strategies to increase grape yield.

The Greeks crafted diverse types of wines, many sweetened, spiced, or watered down. The wine was typically stored in amphorae and was a key domestic and export commodity, contributing significantly to Greece’s economy.

The reverence for Dionysus, the god of wine, emphasized the societal value of winemaking in ancient Greece.

Irrigation Techniques

Irrigation was essential to ancient Greek farming due to the area’s dry climate and sporadic rainfall. Water scarcity compelled Greeks to devise smart solutions for crop hydration. Simple but effective irrigation systems, like canals and trenches, were constructed to distribute water from rivers and wells to their lands.

Terracing was also utilized on hilly terrains to minimize water runoff and soil erosion. In more arid regions, a “qanat” system was used, where tunnels were dug into hills to tap into groundwater. These hydration methods were integral to Greek agriculture, enabling the growth of crops like olives, grapes, and grains.

Terracing (Agricultural Method)

Farmers in ancient Greece used terracing to counter the country’s hilly landscape. This involved creating flat patches on steep slopes, enabling agriculture, and conserving water and soil. Stone walls typically supported these terraces, mitigating soil erosion.

The method made effective use of rainfall, slowing its movement for better soil absorption. Terracing allowed the successful growth of staple crops like olives and grapes, supporting Greece’s economy.

Grain Cultivation (Wheat, Barley)

Grain cultivation, especially wheat, and barley, was critical in ancient Greek farming. These grains were dietary staples and adapted to the Mediterranean environment. Wheat was grown in winter, and barley could withstand less favorable soils and conditions.

Greek farmers used a two-field system to prevent soil exhaustion. Harvesting involved community participation. Wheat was used for bread, and barley for porridge or beer, highlighting their significance in Greek life.

Agora (Marketplace)

The Agora, ancient Greece’s marketplace, was crucial for farmers to trade or sell their produce, including olives, grapes, grains, and livestock. Beyond being a market, the Agora was also a social and political hub. Here, farmers engaged with customers, set prices, and gauged demand trends.

The revenue from Agora transactions contributed to both the individual farmer’s income and the broader Greek city-state economy.

The farmers would take food to the marketplace and they would set up stores.

An average farmer would make around 2 drachmas each day when they sold their crops.

Animal Husbandry

Animal husbandry was an essential facet of ancient Greek farming. Livestock, including sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens, offered resources such as meat, wool, and milk. Oxen and donkeys served as labor animals.

Greeks practiced transhumance, moving livestock between pastures according to seasons, optimizing grazing land use, and maintaining field fertility. Animal husbandry influenced the economy and rural landscape of ancient Greece.

Most of the animals on the farms were chickens, goats, pigs, sheep, and cows.

The animals would be used to help do the farming or they would be used to get milk, eggs, meat, wool, and leather and they were also used to fertilize the soil so that it would grow the crops better.

What did the Ancient Greeks grow on their farms?

The most common crops were:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Olives
  • Grapes


Some of the crops that were grown were wheat, barley, olives, and grapes. All of these crops were very important to the life of the Ancient Greeks.

In October, the crops that were grain would be planted, and then in April or May is when they would pick or harvest the grain.

Olives were not picked until February and grapes were not picked until sometime in September.


The main crop was barley. Barley was important for Ancient Greek farmers because it was an ingredient that was used for making different foods that were important for the Greeks.

Barley was used to make porridge or to make flour so that the Greeks could have bread to eat. Barley was also a big ingredient in wine.

Olives were used to make oil such as olive oil and the oil was used for both cooking and for burning lamps so that the Greeks could have light.

Grapes were used to make wine, raisins and to be eaten. Since wine was such an important drink in Ancient Greek, grapes were needed.

The wine was watered down so that the Greeks could drink it when they wanted. Wine was never drunk without adding water because it was dangerous to do that.


Farms in Ancient Greece were small and most of the time they only had about five acres of land.

The farms were important to farmers because they would grow their own food to feed their family and they would sell the crops to make a living.


Ancient Greek farmers used several tools for crop cultivation. Plows, typically drawn by oxen or donkeys, prepared the soil for seeding. They used hoes and rakes for weeding and soil breaking. Pruning hooks were crucial in vineyards and olive groves, while sickles were used for grain harvesting. Shovels and pickaxes helped create irrigation channels. These basic yet practical tools enabled efficient Greek farming.

Why Was Farming Difficult in Ancient Greece

The mountainous topography of ancient Greece presented a major challenge for farming due to the scarcity of flat, arable land. In areas where farming was possible, the soil was often rocky, requiring substantial effort to prepare for planting.

The dry climate, especially in summer, further complicated agriculture, necessitating efficient irrigation methods. With only around 20% of the land deemed fertile, farming was a demanding task. Additionally, the region’s susceptibility to natural disasters like earthquakes posed risks to agricultural stability.

Despite these hardships, the ancient Greeks adapted their farming techniques to the environment, establishing agriculture as a vital component of their economy and society.

Who is the Greek god of farming

The Greek god of farming is Demeter. She was one of the twelve Olympian gods and goddesses and was responsible for the fertility of the earth and the growth of crops. Demeter was often depicted holding a sheaf of wheat or a cornucopia, symbolizing the abundance of the harvest. She was also associated with the cycle of life and death, as the growth and harvest of crops mirrored the natural cycle of birth and death.

What were the main crops grown in Ancient Greece?

The main crops grown in Ancient Greece were wheat, barley, olives, grapes, and vegetables. Wheat and barley were the most important crops, as they were used to make bread and other foods. Olives were grown for their oil, which was used for cooking, lighting, and bathing. Grapes were grown for wine, which was an important part of Greek culture. Vegetables such as beans, lentils, and onions were also grown.

What were the main methods of farming used in Ancient Greece?

The main methods of farming used in Ancient Greece were crop rotation, irrigation, and animal husbandry. Crop rotation was used to prevent soil depletion. Irrigation was used to water crops in dry areas. Animal husbandry provided manure to fertilize the soil and meat and milk for food.

What were the main challenges faced by farmers in Ancient Greece?

Ancient Greek farmers faced significant hurdles. The scarcity of farmable land, with only a fifth of Greece’s terrain suitable for agriculture, created high demand. The unpredictable Mediterranean climate, featuring hot, dry summers and wet, mild winters, made rainfall uncertain, posing a risk of crop failure.

They also had to contend with pests and diseases that could harm crops and livestock, leading to economic loss. Moreover, the lack of modern farming technology like tractors, irrigation systems, and pesticides hindered efficient farming and crop protection. Yet, despite these obstacles, agriculture was a vital sector in the ancient Greek economy, supplying food and raw materials for industries such as textiles and pottery.

How did farming contribute to the economy of Ancient Greece?

Agriculture was pivotal to the economy of Ancient Greece, with the vast majority of the population engaged in farming. These farmers were responsible for generating the majority of Greece’s food supply, while simultaneously supporting other industries by providing essential raw materials.

Their contributions included the production of cereals, fruits, vegetables, and livestock, along with raw materials like flax and wool for the textile industry, and grapes and olives for winemaking and oil production. Surplus goods were traded, not just domestically but internationally, facilitating income generation and bolstering the Greeks’ living standards.

Thus, agriculture underpinned Ancient Greece’s economy through the provision of food, raw materials, and commerce.

What were the social and cultural implications of farming in Ancient Greece?

Agriculture held significant sway in Ancient Greece, influencing their socio-cultural dynamics extensively. As the primary occupation for the majority, it effectively formed the bedrock of Greek societal norms, values, and beliefs.

The essence of the family was deeply rooted in Greek culture, a product of farming’s family-centered nature. Given the small size of most Greek farms, family participation was imperative, nurturing a robust sense of togetherness and community.

Farming, with its inherent demanding characteristics, reinforced the values of perseverance and diligence among the Greeks, honing a commendable work ethic. Moreover, the profound dependence on the land cultivated a deep-seated appreciation for nature.

The reliance on the weather for agricultural success drove Greeks towards spiritual pursuits, seeking divine blessings for favorable conditions and abundant harvests, thereby enriching their religious customs. Thus, farming wielded substantial influence over the socio-cultural landscape of Ancient Greece, shaping its norms, beliefs, and societal structure.

Fun Facts About Ancient Greek Farmers:

  • Some of the most popular vegetables in Ancient Greece were cucumbers, onions, and lettuce.
  • Farms were usually given to the son after the father passed away.
  • Farming was an important thing for Ancient Greek trading and farmers would trade crops to other lands.
  • Farmers would dig, and use iron-tipped plows, hoes, and sickles to harvest their crops.
  • Most farmers had horses and donkeys, but these were used for transportation more than farming.
  • Some of the foods that were made out of the corps were cereal, wine, honey, cheese, and more.

What Did You Learn?

  1. Why was farming hard? Farming was hard because the soil was full of rocks and was not good soil.
  2. What percentage of soil was good soil to use for crops? 20% of the soil was good for farming.
  3. What were some of the crops that were grown in Ancient Greece? Some of the crops that were grown in Ancient Greece were barley, olives, grapes, and more
  4. Why was farming important in Ancient Greece? Farming was important because the farmers used it to grow food to feed their families, to trade at the marketplace and crops were used to trade to other countries.
  5. What kind of animals were used on farms? Farms had animals such as chickens, pigs, goats, horses, and more.