Classical Civilisation- Athens

Revision cards on the whole topic of Athens, based on ocr gsce classical civilisation :)



Athenian Houses

  • Houses weren't as grand as public buildings
    • mens life was out of doors, not concerned about the houses appearance
  • Built on stone foundations with walls of clay bricks
  • Houses were rectangular around central courtyard
    • Not many windows so the courtyard was an important source of light
  • Courtyard=Important for women
    • only allowed to go out the house under supervision of men
    • could go into the courtyard and enjoy open air and get on with household chores
  • Main rooms were focused around the courtyard
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The most important room of the house= Andron (mens room)

  • Women were banned from entering
  • Used for the man of the house to entertain guests
  • Only room in the house with elaborate decoration
    • To impress guests
  • The floor was raised on all 4 sides and in the centre was a pebble mosaic, couches were placed on the elevated sides of the floor
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Gynaikon= Women's area

  • most important element= the loom
    • women expected to manufacture all the cloth
  • other rooms for children and slaves
    • storage for food in winter months which would help food to keep longer
  • Decoration was sparing everywhere apart from the Andron
    • most rooms plastered red or white
      • Basic colours which would probably be cheap to produce
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Kyrios= man of the house (husband)

  • responsible for earning the money and keeping the family fed
  • might have a farm outside the city
    • would oversea cultivation and supervise slaves
      • may provide food for family and could sell food for profit
  • Some engaged in trades like pottery and carpentry
  • responsible for promoting the name of his family in public life
    • speaking in the assembly
    • making contracts in the gymnasium
    • hosting a good dinner party
      • move up social and political heiracrhy giving family benefits
  • had full responsibility over all family members and property
  • had final say on matters such as whether a new born child should live and whom a daughter should marry
    • a patriachal society- like elizabethan england where fathers could decide who a daughter married
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Kyria= Woman of house (wife)

  • had fewer rights
  • not allowed own money or property
    • could only handle enough money to feed family for a week
  • had to accept every decision made by the Kyria
    • no political rights
  • father paid a dowry to husband
    • if husband divorced wife the money would have to be paid back
      • women treated like objects and pocessions
  • women weren't allowed to go out in public unless accompained by a male family member and covered up
  • played a vital role in the running of the household
    • in charge of making sure slaves did their jobs
    • oversaw spinning and weaving in Gynaikon
    • managed store rooms and ensured family had enough food to live off
    • produced children like the roles considered typical of a woman
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  • only time kyrios would invite other people into the house
    • elaborate dinner party
  • good time to make political, commercial and social connections
    • if made a good impression buisness may benefit or might be able to find suitable marraige match for child
  • careful preperation was required
    • slaves delivered smart invitations
    • offered best food and wine
    • got different entertainers e.g jugglers, acrobats, mimers, musicians and dancers also hetairai= high class prostitutes
  • only slave girls allowed in
  • after dinner drinking was done formally, one member of the party was responsible for supervising the sharing out of the wine, toasts and frequency of rounds
  • guests sometimes entertained themselves- sung well known songs and played drinking games e.g.Kottabos= flicking remenant of dink in a cup at a target
  • sometimes discussed philosophy
    • e.g. socrates leading discussions about the nature and varities of love
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Slavery was a key part of life- like it has been for the past 200 years

1/3 of population was enslaved- but Athenians treated slaves well


  • some born into slavery
  • some captives of war
  • sime captured and sold by pirates
  • some sold at market by parents

The slave market was in the city centre and the Kyrios were in charge of buying the families slaves

The value of slaves depended on his/her skills

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Slaves continued

Domestic slaves

  • lived in Oikos and performed all tasks relating to it
    • answering front door, supervising children, collecting water, doing shopping, working on farm
    • wet nursing

Paidagogos= well educated slave

Female slaves who could sing or dance would be brought for the symposium, Older slaves who were old or not as strong wouldn't be sold for very much

Wage earning slaves

  • Money went to owners not slaves
  • Slaves with particular skills like pottery, shoe making, boat making were highly values
  • Most valued slaves were ones with financial skills
  • Might be allowed to work in workshop and sell products but profit would go to master
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Slaves continued 2

Public slaves

  • Athenian police force was made up of public slaves
    • Much less powerful than modern police force
    • Jobs include: executioner, employees of the public mint, street sweepers

Worst life= silver miners- conditions were dark and dangerous and many died

Treatment of slaves:

  • treated as property of owner and had few rights
  • couldn't vote or marry
  • could buy freedom if masters allowed it
    • status as a metic
    • freeing of slaves was not common
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Slaves continued 3

Had a reasonable good quality of life

  • welcome- accepted with a religious ceremony
  • legal protection- illegal to strike another mans slave
  • asylum- refuge at a religious altar or sanctuary
  • a domestic slave could take part in the life of the family- sharing food and even worship

Why slaves important?

  • gave family more free time
  • allowed men to spend more time out of the house perhaps participating in democracy
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Education 1

No state education like in societies today

  • parents decision to educate

Young girls never went to school- not seen as necessary to educate them

  • had to stay at home and learn spinning, weaving and how to manage the household

A boy would also learn a lot from his father about being a good Kyria

  • may also learn fathers trade
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Boys Education

  • There were no schools as we know them
  • A teacher would hire out a room and teach the required subject

First teacher= Grammatistes = reading, writing and basic arithmetic

  • records suggest teaching was very repetitive and a lot was learning poetry by famous poets like homer off by heard

Few years later= Kitharistes= music teacher

  • Music was central to life in Athens and it was believed any man who couldn't play an instrument or sing was not properly educated
  • Would teach the Lyre and how to sing poems taught by the grammatistes
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Boys Education continued

3rd part of education= Physical education

  • Athenians believed fitness was very important
    • prepared them for war as every Athenian citizen was expected to serve in the army
  • Overseen by the Paidotribes, taught in the Palaistra
    • boys learnt to run, wrestle, jump and throw a discuss

Boys education would be supervised by a Paidagogos who was an educated family slave

  • he would accompany the boy to school, carry his bags and sit with him in lessons
  • would help with homework
  • regularly update the boy's father on his progress
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The Gods

Worshipping the gods was important at every level of society

  • public festivals involving the whole city
  • household level
  • simply as private individual
    • like going to church (community) praying at home (individual) festivals (such as Christian festival Christmas)

Worshipped many gods

12 most important- the 12 Olympians which lived on top of mount Olympus in Northern Greece

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Gods brief summary

Zeus= King of Gods- weather, lightning, thunder, protection of foreign travellers

Hera= Queen of gods- marraige

Demeter= Crops (crucial in agricultural society of Athens)

Poseidon= sea, horses (vital role as surrounded by seas) Hephaistos= metal working, fire

Apollo= music, the arts, education, medicine, disease, archery, the sun, prophecy

Artemis= moon, hunting, childhood, childbirth

Hermes= messenger of gods, protected travellers Aphrodite=Love

Dionysus= wine, wild partying, growth, fertility Ares= war, destruction

Athene= Tactical welfare, wisdom, handicrafts, weaving

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Temples were built for Gods in and around athens

  • Athenians didn't spend much money on private houses but spent lots of money on building grand temples to honour the gods
    • shows their importance, the most famous example is the Parthenon which is the temple to Athene on the top of the Acropolis

No religious worship actually took place in the temple Was seen as 'Home' for the God or Goddess

To Symbolise this, a 'cult statue' of the divinity was housed in the main room of the temple, the Naos, statue of Athene outside the Parthenon was made of ivory and gold and stood about 12 metres high

All the worship took place outside the temple Every temple was part of a religious santuary which was marked off by a wall, the holy sanctuary was considered 'Holy Ground'

Focal point was the altar were sacrifices took place, it was situated outside the front of the temple so the blood from the animals would flow away into the ground

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Sacrifice was a way for a person to thank the Gods or ask for help

Was like a person giving a present to the Gods

  • much like today carefully gift wrapping a present for a friend or relative

Anything would have been given in sacrifice

  • Food like cake or fruit
  • Drink like Wine or Milk
  • soilders much dedicate a shield after being successful in battle
  • most important thing to sacrifice was animals
    • different animals were used for different gods at different times of the year
      • most common were cows, pigs, piglets, goats and sheep
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Order of Animal Sacrifice

1. Animal Purchased and prepared,

  • Ribbons put on head and horns painted with gold
  • Animal lead to sanctuary If goes willingly was a good omen

2. Participants washed themselves and put on garlands

  • Maiden carried basket full of barley where the knife was hidden
  • Flute player played throughout the ceremony

3. Priest poured water on the animals head

  • it nodded and this was interpreted that the animal gave consent to the sacrifice
  • Priest said a prayer of offering, took the knide and approached  the animal
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Order of Animal Sacrifice Continued

4. Participant stunned the animal by hitting the back of the head with a club

  •  Priest cut animals throat and blood was collected in a bowl and blood was collected in a bowl and poured on the top and sides of the altar

5. meat from the animal was cut up and treated in 3 ways

  • thighbones cut off, wrapped in fat and burnt on the altar- smoke said to go to heavens and nourish Gods
  • Entrails of the animals were cut out and inspected for omens
  • Rest of the meat was boiled and shared among the participants
  • Only time ancient greeks ate meat so was a real feast and a chance for the whole community to come together
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  • Most Important festival- Athene's Birthday
  • Took place at the end of July
  • Every 4 years was even grander and was known as the 'Grand Panathenaia' and it lasted 8 days and was a sporting, musical and religious event to celebrate Athene's birthday (patron goddess of the city)

The Procession

  • The main event was the grand procession through the city of Athens to the Acropolis
  • At the end of the Procession the Athenians presented the statue of Athene with a birthday present a new robe= the Peplos
    • especially woven by young women, always gold and purple with scenes of Mythological victory between the gods and the giants- shows triumph of order over chaos
  • Begun at dawn at the Diplion Gate
  • At least 100 sacrificial animals were lead
  • the procession was very ordered and many levels of Athenian society were represented
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Order of The Precession

1. Arrephoroi (4 aristocratic girls who helped the priestesses set up the loom)

2. Priestesses and women carrying gifts

3. sacrificial animals e.g. sheep and cows

4. Wealthy metics in purple cloaks carrying trays of cake and honeycomb

5.  bearers of holy water, flautists and lyre platers

6. the ship-cart with large peplos on the mast

7. Old men carrying olive branches, Charioteers, ergastinai (women who sewed peplos) infantry men, cavalry men, games visitors

8. Athenians by deme

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Panathenaia Continued

When they arrived at the acropolis only Athenian citizens were allowed in the sanctuary, the animals were sacrificed, peplos was given at the statue of Athene, and there was a great feast of sacrificial meat for all the city

The Parthenon Frieze

  • The freize was around the parthenon temple on the acropolis and it is believed that it depicts the procession
  • its surprising because scenes depicted are usually mythological but it provides useful historical evidence of what took place
  • May not be completely accurate as it was thought to be a memorial for soldiers who died fighting for Athens
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Musical events- Panathenaia

  • Winning competitors were rewarded with valuable prizes including large sums of money and golden crowns
  • Rhapsodes (recititors of epic poetry) competed by re telling passages from Homers Iliad and Odyssey
  • Competitions also for who could play and accompany the lyre and aulos
    • equivalents of the modern harp and obeo
    • Musicians who competed were as follows
      • singers accompanied by the Kitara
      • Soloists on the Kitara
      • Singers accompanied by the Aulos
      • Soloists on the aulos
      • Kithara= like a lyre with 7 strings
      • Aulos= double pipes with reed and 3-4 holes like and obeo
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Sporting Events- Panathenaia

  • One of the most important Athletic festivals in Ancient Greek world and attracted competitors from all over the world
  • Most of the events were the same as at the Olympic Games
    • including 200m sprint (stadion), pentathlon, wrestling, boxing and equestrian events
  • In contrast with the Olympic games victors were rewarded grand prizes
    • large jars of olive oil which had picture of Athene on one side and event on the other
      • olive oil was very valuable
  • There was a torch race, runners set off from the Dipylon gate and ran 3km up the Parthenon where the winner lit the fire at the altar and the winner received 30 drachmas and a water jar.
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Tribal Contests- Panathenaia

  • Only open to Athenian citizens
  • This would have given a distinctly local feeling to the contest
  • events were competitions between the 10 tribes of the city
  • included:
    • A torch race- ran from Dipylon gate to acropolis
    • Boat races- rowing regatta at Piraeus
    • Euandraen (manliness) competition of strength
    • Pyrrhic dance (accompained by aulos)
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Athenian Politics

  • Panatheniac Festival and the city Dionysia festival were important opportunities for Athenians to show off their city to the rest of the Greek World
  • Non Athenians were invited to both festivals and would have been impressed by the wealth, power and religion displayed
  • Athenians Believed that their city had become so powerful because of their Democratic systems and these public festivals were a chance for them to show it off.
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Athenian Politics- Democracy

  • The Athenians were the first to come up with a system of democracy with a concept that every citizen had a vote in political decisions
    • women and slaves were not classed as citizens so only minority of population could vote

Most Important Aspects:

  • The Assembly- Every citizen was a member of the city's assembly which voted to make new laws
  • The Council- 500 citizens were selected at lot and sat on for a year, effectively the city's civil service
  • The Tribes- Each citizen was a member of one of the city's 10 tribes, each tribe had to provide certain number of men for the council
  • The Magistrates- there were 9 archons or magistrates who served for a year and oversaw various areas of public life including law courts
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The City Dionysia

  • 2nd most important festival in the Athenian calendar
  • Held in late March in the honour of the God Dionysus
    • God of drama
      • City Dionysia= Grand drama festival
  • Playwrights wrote plays specifically for the event, they were judged in order of merit
    • similar to a modern film festival such as cannes where film directors put forward their latest films for a prize
  • Careful preparations were needed which started the previous summer
    • one of the cities magistrates the archon had to select the playwrights
    • chose 2 tragic playwrights who each wrote 3 tragedies and a satyr play (a light hearted parody of a tragedy and 3 comic playwrights who wrote 1 comedy
    • once playwright had written the play they had to hire a cast and spend months learning the plays
    • each playwright was funded by a choregos who was a wealthy citizen who paid for costumes, special effects and props
      • opportunity to put on the best show was welcome as would be possible to gain popularity and respect from fellow citizen
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City Dionysia

  • On the night before the festival there was a torchlight procession were the wooden statue of Dionysus led into the city
    • escorted by military cadets and led to the theatre where it remained for the whole of the festival
  • 1st day= Grand procession and animals were led to the temple of Dionysus and sacrificed
  • 2nd, 3rd and 4th days the plays were performed
    • each day begun with three tragedies and a satyr from the same playwright 
    • then after lunch a comic play was put on
  • Before the plays begun on the second day there was an opening ceremony in the theatre where all the money paid to Athens in tax was displayed and orphaned boys who's fathers died fighting for Athens paraded in
  • Individuals who had also done good deeds for the city were awarded prizes
  • Slaves were given time off, could show importance of the festival
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Judging the City Dionysia

  • Judging the plays was democratic
    • like a lot of things in Athens, the Greeks thought democracy was important
  • Although foreign visitors were welcome to the festival the vast majority of the audience would have been Athenian citizens, they would have sat in one of the 10 tribal areas in the theatre
  • Judging: 
    • 1. Before the festival each tribe put 10 names of citizens into a sealed urn
    • 2. At the beginning of the festival one name was chosen from each of the 10 urns at random and they were the judges
    • 3. On the 5th day each judge wrote down the name of the playwrights in order or merit and the 10 tablets were put in an urn
    • 4. the Archon drew out 5 of the tablets and the playwright with the most votes was declared winner.
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The Theatre

  • Design of the theatre still remains today- A bit like a football stadium in size and design
  • Athens had the main theatre- theatre of Dionysus
    • the theatre was a religious sanctuary to Dionysus showing the close connection between religion and drama
      • this seems unusual now as they are 2 separate things but do have plays like the messiah about christ
  • Seating area= Theatron and was cut out of a steep slope and designed to seat more than 15,000 people   rise in seats gave every spectator a good view
    • theatres were designed to create excellent acoustics even the people furthest away could hear
  • Acting area itself was divided into different parts
    • orchestra- where the chorus sang and acted and also had the altar to Dionysus where sacrifices took place to the god every morning
    • Parodoi= entrance pathways for chorus and audience
    • Proskene= raised stage
    • Skene= wooden building behind the proskene where actors would change, store props and there were usually a set of double doors to look like the entrance to a building.
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The Theatre 2

  • Theatres today use lots of special effects e.g. amplified sound, dry ice, spotlights but in greek times there were few special effects
    • meant the quality of acting was high
    • also had barely any scenery as thought acting was more important
  • There were a few devices to add to the experience
    • Mekhane- crane like device which could hoist actors in to the air
      • usually used for actors who were playing a god as gave impression they came from heaven
    • Ekkuklema= spinning circle which was used to represent what was going on inside
  • Sound effects:
    • thunder- rolling stones down a tunnel built underneath the audience
    • horses hooves- wooden cups
    • rain- dried peas moved about in earthenware pots
    • crackling flames- wooden slates crumpled into fragments
      • a bit like how sound effects are made for radio programmes like The Archers
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The Theatre 3

  • There were 3 levels in which actors could act
  • chorus would remain in the orchestra
  • Main actors would act on the proskene or climb on the roof of the skene
    • area usually reserved for people playing gods to allow them to appear above human level
  • further atmosphere was added by painting the front of the skene usually representing a forest or palace
  • The theatre was an important aspect of athenian life and proved very popular
  • people would sit in special blocks for each city/ district
  • distinguished visitors had reserved seats
  • priests of Dionysus had special thrones in the front row
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Tragedy and Comedy

  • A tragedy= serious and grand play which asked some of life's deepest questions such as why people suffer and how much the gods look after human beings
  • Main character of a tragedy was usually a hero who suffered a major catastrophe and had to cope with it as bravely as possible
    • no happy endings
  • complete contrast to comedy which was riotous and a hilarious experience
  • usually set in everyday Athens and made fun of the city's people, particularly the politicians and well know public figures such as general cleon and the philosopher socrates
    • a bit like stand up comedians of today
  • lots of bawdy behaviour and rude jokes could be compared to pantomimes today
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Tragic Masks and the actors

  • Only have 3 main actors in each play who played multiple parts
  • masks enabled actors to have multiple parts they covered the whole of their head and where made of wood, cork or linen
  • Tragic masks were usually had serious and thoughtful expressions
  • Rest of tragic actors costume had a similar tone
    • main item was a long robe, over which a cloak would be worn
    • costumes were colourful and decorated with patchwork patterns 
      • could be so they stood out in big theatres
    • actors wore soft leather boots
  • Tragic plays were often set in the past so the characters were usually gods, goddesses, kings, queens, slaves or soldiers
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Comic masks and actors

  • Comic costume was a complete contrast they were designed to get laughs
  • the mask itself looked ridiculous and oversized
  • the costume consisted of a short tunic and tights, it was thickly padded so actors could roll around the floor in a slapstick fashion
  • most distinct element= large leather phallus worn by male characters and could be used to stimulate an erection
    • Dionysus was the god of fertility so the Phallus was linked to his worship
  • Comic plays were normally based on normal Athenian life so usually had 'stock characters' such as simple county farmers, smooth talking city dwellers or a grumpy old man
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The Chorus

  • Tragedy= 15 chorus members
  • Comedy= 24 chorus members
  • not professional actors but amateurs selected from the citizen body
    • a bit like in pantomimes today have young girls dancing
  • Danced and sang in the orchestra between scenes of plays which gave min actors time to change in the skene
  • usually played townsfolk who watch the main action of the play sometimes commenting on it, sometimes gave audience background information, sometimes created a mood of suspense or tension in the build up to a vital moment
  • usually all in uniform costume
  • in comedies choruses were often made up of animals which would have provided amusement for the audience
    • e.g. In the playwright Aristophanes comedy, Birds, Frogs and Wasps.
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this was really hepful thank you



This is actually very good. Thank you for maing this.

Sarah J


This really helped. Thank You :D

Alisdair Sargen


Straight out the text book!!! XP Good for anyone who doesn't have it though...

Pippa Knott


Thank you :)

Saskia Moss


these are amazing!



Thank you so much! This is amazing!

Ranti Adeniyi


This is amazing you covered everything that I need for my Summer Exam- preparation towards GCSE!!! I like how it is simple and yet you have covered all the details! Keep it up!

Amy Herring


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Nathan Pounce


The MP3 is hilarious (as it always is), great stuff though, even if it is out of the book ;)

Annabel Talco


This is fabulous, honestly the best information on this website I've ever found!!! Thank you!!!!

Ali Flanagan


This is amazing!  Thanks SO much for putting it up, it's so useful.  

Ellie MacDougall



Millie Beaumont




on the whole very thorough. A few minor errors. but well done this was helpful. by the way spell correctly 



Good apart from mixing up the Kyria and the Kyrios which is critical not to do in an exam



And it's probably a typo but there were 3 tragic playwrights :)



we're sure not in kansas anymore toto



this helped so so much

k man oliver123


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Good for an overview, however, misses certain key details such as the location of rooms and certain keywords.



very very good!!!

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