The typical ancient Greek house was a place where the man of the family
was proud to live. Within the walls of the house, no one could treat
him with any form of disrespect at any possible time. The house was the
heart of the man, in which he had no choice but to protect it and its
living and non-living contents.
The Essence of the
One worry of all homeowners in the classical times was the house.
The threat of an intruder filled the mind of the man of the family,
especially when away from the house. Both work and war kept the man
away from his home, leaving an invitation for neighborhood men and
outsiders to have their way with his wife, daughter(s) and sons, and the
family's belongings. The lack of home security brought the pressures
of protecting the house and everything within to a challenging height.
The Greek term oikos is an equivalent to a man's area, which is the
space that he has the sole responsibility to protect, so that present and
future generations can dwell in the home already prepared by the man.
At that time, only men were allowed to own land, which left a mark for a
male homeowner's son to see to. When the man of the family died, the
son would take over and then take on the same responsibilities as his
father once did. Since the home was such an important aspect of
Greek civilization, a detailed description of the common house and its
rooms will help bring the society's physical form into a more
comprehensive view. Throughout Ancient Greece, houses came in two
forms: the northern and southern style. These two types of homes
varied by material, structure, location, and culture. Due to the
shortage of information on the houses, historians have made some
assumptions as to the details of the ancient house and its uses.
Inside the House
Within the typical house of the ancient times, the functions of some rooms
in the houses are obvious, while some are unknown today. But the
evaluations of the interiors of these houses have helped researchers
better understand what the typical house was like. Through research
concerning the everyday house, it is now known what lies inside.
Evidence has shown that these houses contained rooms equivalent to a main
hall, courtyard, staircase, entrance, second entrance, upper floor for
guests and slaves, and a number of public rooms that border the courtyard.
One example is a house in the town of Olynthos. In the second
millennium BC, in Mallia, Crete, a wealthy merchant's house (as we
suppose) contained a vestibule, a main corridor, a group of small
storerooms, a bathroom, an eating and sleeping room, reception room, and
former stores. There were also houses of smaller size, owned by the
less wealthy, consisting of only basic necessary rooms. These houses
possessed simple qualities that have been tagged lower class.
General information about the rooms is rather clear, but the furniture in
the house made each room unique. The Greeks used practicality to
furnish their houses and they also borrowed some Egyptian techniques to
build the furniture. Their home furnishings consisted of countless
stools and chairs, some of which borrowed the folding X-frame from the
Egyptians; a bed was made out of a thick board on four legs with a
blanket, or by weaving string across of wooden frame, and chests were used
in place of cupboards. Mattresses were made of sacks filled with
leaves, which was actually comfortable to the people at the time. By
today's standards, many would say this method is unbearable, compared to
the spring mattress.
The ancient Greeks lived in
a very enclosed manner as rows of five houses lined a typical street at
those times. The plot of land (like Olynthos) which the houses sat
was typical of a rectangular shape with the rows of houses lined up one
next to the other. This method of building was accomplished using
the supporting wall structure of the neighboring house to keep the next
house standing. Given that the rows of houses shared materials, the
construction of a neighboring building would be somewhat shorter and more
efficient than building a free standing structure depending on no other
The House Lives On
The Greek style house has branded different landscapes and cities with its
unique ways. Greek influence has overcome Italian sites, such as
Sicily, because the Greeks once occupied that area. The Romans and
those in the area might owe Greece their innovations of the living
quarters of the common man.