Ancient Greek Families

Families in Ancient Greece were just like many families today: a father, a mother, and a few children. However, in most other ways, family life was very different to the life we know today.

Facts about Ancient Greek Families

  • The family lived in the father’s home
  • Men in the family were more important than women
  • Fathers decided which babies to keep
  • Families were usually small
  • Babies were not named until they were 7 days old
  • Men and women lived in separate areas of the home
  • Spartan babies were owned by the State of Sparta
  • Spartan fathers and sons lived away from home in army barracks

The Family Home

When a girl married, she moved from her childhood home to the home of her husband. If the husband’s parents were still alive, they would remain in the home.

Elderly relatives and unmarried sisters might also share the home.

Did you know… Extended family often lived under one roof and it was common for three generations to live together.

Men Were More Important

Boy children were more important than girl children, and men were more important than women.

Children and their mothers were under the control of the father. When a girl married, the control was passed from her father to her husband.

Did you know… Only men could be full citizens of Athens. Women could only do what their fathers or husbands allowed them to do.

Fathers and Babies

When a new baby was born, the father could decide whether to accept it into the family or abandon it.

If the baby was a girl or deformed in some way, it could be put in a pot and left outdoors on a hillside to die.

Did you know… Some of the babies abandoned in this way were rescued by childless couples and raised as slaves.

Small Families

A father wanted a son to be his heir, but if he had too many sons his land and property would need to be split up. Sons were also needed to provide for their parents in old age.

A daughter would grow into a woman who could have babies for her husband, but too many daughters would cost money because a dowry (money or property) was given with each one when they married.

Did you know… The sole purpose of marriage in Ancient Greece was to have children. Not having a baby was believed to be a curse from the gods.

Baby Naming

Babies accepted by the father were not named until they were 7 or 10 days old.

This was because babies often died in the first week after birth.

Family members and guests were invited to a baby naming ceremony known as the Amphidromia. The baby was carried around the hearth fire in the courtyard to be presented to the family gods.

Did you know… Olive branches decorated the outside of the home if the baby was a boy. Garlands of wool were used if the baby was a girl.

Living Areas

Men and women lived in separate areas of the family home.

Mothers and children lived in the women-only rooms at the back of the house and fathers had a men-only room for entertaining guests at the front of the house.

Families sometimes ate in separate rooms. The father always ate first, and then mothers ate with their children after him.

Did you know… Time together in the evenings telling stories around the fire in the courtyard was an important part of family life.

Spartan Babies

Spartan children belonged to the State of Sparta. When a baby was born, it was taken to Spartan elders to be inspected.

If it appeared weak in any way, it would be taken up a mountain and left to die.

Did you know… Boys were not favoured over girls. A baby simply had to be born fit and strong to be allowed to live.

Spartan Families

Spartan children lived at home with their mother. Their father lived away from home in army barracks. At the age of 6 or 7, boys and girls left home to begin military training.

Boys would remain in the army and live in barracks until they were 60 years old. Girls would remain in the army until they were 18.

They could then return home, marry and have children, but their husbands never lived at home.

Did you know… Spartan children were trained to be warriors. They’d be beaten by their parents and other adults if they showed any weakness.

Questions and Answers

True or false: Married couples lived in the husband’s home.

True or false: Girls and boys were treated the same in Ancient Greek families.
False. Boys were considered more important than girls.

Who would eat first in an Ancient Greek family?
The father.

In Sparta, where did husbands and fathers live?
Army barracks.

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