Ancient Greek houses were typically made of mud bricks or stone and had a central courtyard. The houses were often designed to take advantage of natural light and ventilation, with windows facing the courtyard and high ceilings. The wealthy had larger homes with multiple rooms and even indoor plumbing, while the poorer Greeks lived in smaller, simpler homes with fewer amenities.
Ancient Greek Home Facts
- Greek homes were built around a courtyard for outdoor activities.
- Homes were usually made of sun-dried bricks.
- They had few windows, for protection and to keep heat out.
- Rooms included a kitchen, bedrooms, and an “andron” for guests.
- The roofs were flat and often used for storage or sleeping.
- Wealthy Greeks’ homes had bathrooms; others used communal baths.
- Paintings and mosaics often decorated the walls and floors.
In ancient Greek society, the ‘oikos’ embodied far more than a physical house—it represented a fundamental sociocultural unit, encompassing family and associated property, such as land and livestock. Organized around a central courtyard, the oikos was architecturally designed with designated areas like the men’s andron and the women’s gynaikeion, reflecting the societal norm of gendered spaces.
It housed not only living quarters but also storage rooms, kitchens, and often workshops, illustrating its role as the hub of economic activity.
Therefore, the oikos was pivotal in ancient Greece—beyond an architectural construct, it was a societal microcosm where patriarchal authority was enforced, social status exhibited, and successive generations nurtured.
The atrium, known as ‘aule’ in Greek, was an architectural centerpiece in ancient Greek houses. This open-air courtyard, enveloped by the house’s various rooms, allowed for light and air circulation, contributing to a comfortable living environment. It was a hub for diverse daily activities ranging from chores to meals and social gatherings.
Often, the atrium was surrounded by a peristyle, a colonnade that provided shade and protection from weather. Some designs incorporated a centrally positioned cistern for rainwater collection, underscoring the atrium’s multifunctional nature.
Thus, the atrium was not merely an architectural element but a pivotal aspect of domestic life, seamlessly connecting different spaces and supporting household activities.
In ancient Greek houses, the peristyle was more than a structural component; it was a functional and aesthetic centerpiece. This columned structure, encircling the atrium, bridged the house’s interior spaces with the open courtyard, enhancing light and ventilation.
As such, the peristyle served as a multipurpose zone, ideal for leisure and social interactions. Moreover, its precise arrangement of columns epitomized the Greek architectural values of harmony and balance, merging utility with artistic appeal.
Hence, the peristyle symbolized the convergence of Greek architectural principles with everyday domestic life.
The andron, a distinctive feature in ancient Greek houses, played a pivotal role in the societal customs of the era. It functioned as a men’s dining room, primarily utilized for symposiums—social occasions where discussions on topics like politics and philosophy took place over food and wine.
Positioned near the entrance to ensure family privacy, this spacious, ornately decorated room often held the shape of a rectangle, facilitating the arrangement of couches or ‘klinai’ along its walls. Here, guests would recline during meals and conversation.
Thus, the andron epitomized more than a mere architectural element—it served as a window into the gender-based societal norms and cultural traditions of ancient Greece.”
An essential part of ancient Greek houses, the gynaikeion or ‘women’s quarters,’ echoed societal norms and gender divisions prevalent in that era. This distinct zone within the dwelling was where women conducted various domestic tasks, from weaving and cooking to child-rearing. Positioned towards the rear of the house or on an upper floor, it offered a degree of seclusion from the house’s more public areas, such as the andron or men’s quarters.
This layout mirrored ancient Greek society’s patriarchal structure, which often segregated public and private spaces based on gender. But the gynaikeion was more than a secluded area—it functioned as a dynamic workspace and a domestic hub. Here, women managed the household, nurtured the next generation, and engaged in crafts, significantly contributing to the household’s economic well-being.
Thus, the gynaikeion was not merely an architectural element but also a symbolic space reflecting women’s vital roles within the oikos and broader societal context.
The pastas, a distinct architectural component in ancient Greek houses, particularly in the Hellenistic era, had both functional and aesthetic roles. As a long, open portico, usually overlooking the inner courtyard or atrium, it offered protection from weather, facilitating unhindered circulation within the house.
This design also promoted airflow, contributing to the dwelling’s overall comfort. Yet, the pastas’ purpose extended beyond practicality—it often displayed the household’s aesthetic preferences with embellishments like ornate columns or painted stucco.
Thus, the pastas embodied the ingenious blend of functionality and beauty in ancient Greek architecture, symbolizing more than a structural feature—it represented the lifestyle and principles of its time.
Originating from the Mycenaean era, the megaron—a vital feature of ancient Greek architecture—typically embodied the main part of a palace or larger houses. It was characterized by a large, rectangular hall with a central hearth and a towering, open atrium, supported by four pillars.
Entryways often boasted ornate porches, reflecting the owner’s wealth and prestige. The megaron was a multi-purpose space used for hosting guests, celebrating feasts, and performing ceremonies. Its design significantly influenced Greek temple architecture and later, Roman atrium houses.
Thus, the megaron transcended mere architectural functionality—it encapsulated various social and cultural aspects of ancient Greek life such as hospitality and communal activities. Its lasting influence on architectural trends highlights its enduring relevance in historical and architectural narratives.
Most Greek houses were built around a courtyard. The courtyard was open to the air and in the center of the house. The courtyard frequently contained an altar to the goddess Hestia who was the goddess of hearth and home. There might also be a well for water located there. The women of the house would do their weaving and spinning in the courtyard at certain times of the year.
The Storeroom and the Workroom
The downstairs storeroom contained very large storage jars for olives, wine, and grain. The grain was for grinding into flour. There was also a separate workroom where slaves would create jewelry or make sandals as part of their activities.
The kitchen had a central hearth for fire cooking. The smoke was channeled out of the house through a hole in the roof. The cooking for everyday meals was done in coarse clay pots. The most elaborate pots and dishes were decorated with ornate designs and used for company only. Many of these designs have provided archaeologists with information about this time period in Ancient Greece.
While not part of the architectural fabric, the amphora was instrumental within ancient Greek households. This two-handled ceramic container, with its distinctive long neck, served for storage and transport of various commodities, from wine and oil to grains and water.
An everyday item in Greek homes, amphorae bore both practical and decorative significance. They often displayed intricate paintings depicting mythology, historical episodes, or mundane life scenes, reflecting the artistic prowess and cultural depth of the era.
Large amphorae, or ‘pithoi,’ were occasionally embedded into storeroom floors to preserve food. Smaller variants were used as game prizes or burial offerings, adding to their cultural relevance.
Thus, beyond their utility, amphorae symbolized aspects of ancient Greek life and customs, offering invaluable cultural and historical insights.”
Although there were no indoor flushing toilets, most houses had a bathroom with a bathtub. Water for the bathtub was drawn from the well or the public fountain and heated over a fire. Chamber pots were used as toilets.
Bedrooms in the Ancient Greek home were very basic. The bed was similar to the couch that appeared in the Andron. Simple wooden chests were used to store clothes and bedding.
The slaves’ bedrooms were even more simple than the other bedrooms with just mats on the floor for sleeping. The female slaves had bedrooms close to the bedroom belonging to the mistress of the house and the male slaves had bedrooms close to the Andron.
What Construction Materials Were Used?
Ancient Greek houses were typically constructed using locally available materials. The choice of materials could vary depending on the region and the wealth of the homeowner.
Here are some of the primary materials used:
- Stone: This was used primarily in the foundation and sometimes the walls of the house. The type of stone used depended on what was locally available.
- Mud bricks: These were the most common building materials for the walls of ancient Greek houses. The bricks were made from mud, straw, and water, which were mixed together, shaped into bricks, and dried in the sun.
- Wood: Timber was used for the roof structure and often for door and window frames. The type of wood used would depend on the types of trees available in the area.
- Clay tiles: These were used for roofing. They were durable, resistant to fire, and helped keep the interior of the house cool.
- Plaster: Walls and floors were often plastered to provide a smooth surface. The plaster was usually made from lime and sand. Sometimes the plastered walls were painted or decorated with frescoes.
- Marble: While not commonly used in the average home due to its cost, marble was used in wealthier homes and public buildings for columns, statues, and decorative elements.
Everyday ancient Greek citizens’ homes
The residences of ordinary citizens in ancient Greece significantly differed from the iconic public edifices and temples that characterize the period. Constructed mainly with basic materials such as mud bricks and timber, these dwellings were designed for practicality and efficiency rather than for show. In contrast to the expansive spaces and elaborate detailing of more majestic structures, these homes embraced modesty and functionality.
Their design was versatile, with spaces often repurposed to suit the dynamic demands of daily living. For example, a section of the house used for meal preparation during the day might transform into a sleeping area come nightfall. This versatile use of space mirrored the lifestyle and requirements of an average ancient Greek citizen.
In addition, these dwellings often featured an exterior courtyard serving as the hub for various day-to-day activities like cooking or tending to animals. Therefore, the homes of regular Greek citizens were pragmatic living quarters, conceived and structured to meet the quotidian needs of their inhabitants.
Windows in poorer houses
Windows in the homes of ancient Greece, particularly in poorer houses, were constructed with specific considerations in mind. Due to limited resources and financial constraints, windows in these houses were relatively small, lacking glass, and positioned high up on the façade.
Typically covered with wooden shutters, these windows allowed for ventilation and some natural light to enter the interior while protecting against weather elements and offering privacy. Their modest size and elevated placement also helped to ensure the security of the household.
Although these windows provided a more utilitarian function than their grand counterparts in wealthier residences, they served as essential openings that allowed air circulation and a glimpse of the outside world within the means of the less affluent households of ancient Greece.
Lack of bathrooms in Greek houses
Ancient Greek houses did not have the kind of dedicated bathrooms we are familiar with today. Instead, due to the absence of modern plumbing systems, these houses lacked wells or water supplies for personal hygiene. To meet their water needs, residents would fetch water from nearby sources like wells or springs.
For sanitation, the ancient Greeks relied on public latrines or chamber pots, with waste often being emptied onto the streets. Only the wealthiest individuals could indulge in bathing at home, but even that required considerable space and the assistance of slaves to fetch water and prepare the bath.
Most people would visit public baths or utilize natural bodies of water such as rivers and streams for their bathing needs.
The lack of dedicated bathrooms in ancient Greek houses sheds light on the differences in hygiene practices and the communal approach to certain sanitary facilities during that era.
Hestia, revered as the ancient Greek goddess of hearth, home, and family, symbolizes the core of domestic life. Her name, meaning ‘hearth’ or ‘fireside,’ epitomizes the familial warmth and unity represented by every Greek household’s ever-burning hearth.
This hearth served not just as a physical warmth source, but as a central spot for family rituals and offerings made to Hestia during meals. Beyond the home, Hestia’s eternal flame found its place in the prytaneion, the community center, reflecting the collective unity of the city-state.
Thus, the veneration of Hestia underscored the importance Greeks placed on domestic harmony and communal cohesion. In this light, Hestia symbolizes more than divinity; she embodies the intrinsic values and traditions shaping ancient Greek home and community life.