Beginning in the Bronze Age, and continuing through to modern times, most Greek houses, like Egyptian and West Asian houses, were grouped in villages, and had a courtyard in the middle, open to the sunshine, and rooms around the edges. This is a good layout for hot, sunny places where heating your house isn’t so important but cooling it is. People also slept and worked up on top of the flat roof. People built their houses of mudbrick or stone, with plastered walls and flat or tiled roofs.
Many Greek families lived all together in apartments with just one room. If they had more than one room, the front or downstairs room was the andron or “men’s room” and the back or upstairs room (or just the rest of the house) was the gynaikion or “women’s room”. When men came over, they hung out in the men’s room, and the women stayed in the back where strangers couldn’t see them. In the Odyssey, for example, Penelope and her slave spend most of their time upstairs. But as we see in the Odyssey, women who were slaves had to go down among the men, and if you didn’t have a well they had to leave the house to get water. Men often abused them. Free Greek women didn’t hang out in public (though they did visit each other’s houses a lot), so the courtyards were important outside space for them, as well as being a space where young children, dogs, goats, and chickens could play outside safely, and where women could cook without getting the inside all smoky. Many houses had shaded peristyles around their courtyard.
Inside the house, there wasn’t a lot of furniture. People had braided or woven straw mats or rush mats made of reeds on the dirt or tile floors, and wooden shutters on the windows. Sometimes they had mosaic floors. They had wooden folding chairs and little tables and lampstands, and wooden beds, with strings pulled tight across them and straw mattresses. In richer houses, men had couches to lie on to relax, but women sat on chairs. Houses often had a loom leaning against one wall. People didn’t think of a bedroom, a living room, a dining room – rooms changed their function all the time. For bathrooms, people either went outside or used chamber pots. Many rooms also served as commercial workshops, where people spun and wove cloth, pressed olive oil, or made cheese or shoes or sculpture.
There wasn’t a lot of privacy either. Hardly anyone was ever all alone in a room: parents, children, relatives, employees, enslaved people, and dogs all shared rooms both in the daytime and at night.
Learn by doing: try spending an evening with your whole family in one room – no screens.
More about Greek families