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ancient Greek family: Two women playing with little boys on a red figure Athenian vase

An ancient Greek family: two women playing with little boys

Ancient Greek family

Most Greeks, like most other people throughout history, lived in families with a mother and a father and their children.

Usually men got married when they were about twenty-five or thirty years old (as they do today). But women got married much younger, between twelve and sixteen years old.

Marriage and divorce in ancient Greece

Probably girls from rich families got married younger, and girls from poor families got married a little older. Because the girls were so young, they did not have much choice about who they were going to marry. Their fathers or uncles or brothers chose for them.

Occasionally girls had not even met the man they married before the wedding! On the other hand, many people married their first or second cousins. If so, they had played with their cousins when they were children, so they would actually have known them pretty well.

(Read more about women’s lives in ancient Greece)

Starting a new Greek family: Peleus, future father of Achilles, greets the guests at his wedding; the bride Thetis waits inside the house (Sophilos; British Museum, ca. 580 BC)

Peleus, future father of Achilles, greets the guests at his wedding; the bride Thetis waits inside the house (Sophilos; British Museum, ca. 580 BC)

There was no marriage ceremony as we know it today. Your parents arranged it, and then there was a party, and the girl’s parents paid a dowry to the man, and then the girl moved into the man’s house.

If they were both citizens, and she lived in his house, then they were legally married. If she moved out of his house, then they were divorced.

Divorce was pretty common in ancient Greece. If you got divorced, the man had to return the woman’s dowry, so she would have some money to live on. The children stayed with their father, learning to run the farm or business they would inherit.

(Read more about inheritance law)

Marriage bed: terracotta model of a girl and a man on a bed - forming the Greek family

Marriage bed (Louvre, Hellenistic period

Other family members

Usually there were other people living in the house as well. Sometimes his parents would be there, if they were still alive and if they weren’t living with another brother.

Many people had enslaved people living in the house with them too.

(Read more about slavery in ancient Greece)

Some people had their unmarried sisters or widowed sisters, or people with disabilities or who were old, living with them. The ancient Greek family included all of these people.

A dead father says goodbye to his young son (Louvre, ca. 420 BC). Ancient Greek family

A dead father says goodbye to his young son (Louvre, ca. 420 BC)

Rich women stayed at home

Wealthy Greek women hardly ever went out of the house alone. Mostly when they went out it was to go to weddings and funerals and religious ceremonies, or to visit other women.

Poor women had to leave the house

Poorer women, who didn’t have enslaved people to do their work, did go out to get water from the fountain, and sometimes to work in the fields or to sell vegetables or flowers in the marketplace.

(Read more about getting water)

Did you find what you were looking for about the ancient Greek family? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: carry a bucket of water across your yard.
Gay friendships in ancient Greece
Women in ancient Greece

Bibliography and further reading about the Greek family:

Gay Friendship in ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
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