Ancient Greek Farmers

Most people in Ancient Greece worked on the land as farmers. Life was hard because the soil was dry and rocky, and water for crops was scarce.

Poor Soil

Most of the land in Ancient Greece was too hard and rocky to use for farming. Only 20 per cent could be used to grow crops.

The climate was hot and dry. Only olive trees and bees that produced honey did well in these conditions.

Did you know… Honey was the main sweetener in Ancient Greek foods.

Crops

The main crops grown were olives, grapes, and barley. Olives could be eaten, and the oil was used for cooking, fuelling lamps, and as a medicine. Grapes were used to make wine.

Barley was used to make bread. Other crops included wheat, lentils, broad beans, and chick peas.

Some farming households grew fruits such as figs and pomegranates, nuts such as walnuts and almonds, and vegetables such as onions and garlic.

Did you know… Fruits and vegetables were dried so that they could be used in the winter months.

Small Farms

Most farms were small and owned by one family. The land would be passed down from father to son through the generations.

If there was more than one son, the land would be split. Some larger farms were owned by wealthy families who had slaves to work the land.

Did you know… Not all farmers lived in the country. Some lived in cities and travelled to the farm to work each day.

Farm Animals

Small numbers of farm animals were kept by most farmers. These included pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and cattle. They provided meat, eggs, and milk.

Wool was used to weave clothes and skins were made into leather.

Did you know… Ancient Greeks rarely drank milk. It was used to make cheese.

Market Trading

Most farms produced only enough food to feed the family. Wealthier farmers with more land would sell surplus crops at local markets.

A typical market would sell grains, vegetables, fruits, olives, cheese, honey, meat, and wine.

Did you know… Farmers often traded their foods for foods they didn’t produce themselves. For example, they might swap milk for honey.

Farm Tools

Farming was hard work. Tools were basic and included hoes for turning the soil, sickles for harvesting crops, and shovels and baskets for separating the chaff from the grain.

Pressing the grapes to make wine was done by walking barefoot over the harvested crop.

Wealthier farmers had oxen to pull ploughs, and donkeys were used to carry produce to local markets.

Did you know… Oxen were less expensive to keep than horses. When they died, the hides, horn, meat, and sinew were all used. That fat could be turned into candle tallow.

Droughts and Floods

A lack of rain meant that crops often failed. Poor drainage in the hard soil also meant that crops could be washed away when heavy rain fell.

Wolves would often steal livestock, and trees being cut down for fuel led to even poorer soil conditions for crops.

Did you know… Wheat was harder to grow than barley and the crop may have failed once every four years due to drought.

The Goddess Demeter

Demeter was the goddess of grain and growth. She looked after plants, children, and young people.

Farmers believed that offering sacrifices to Demeter would earn them her help in controlling the sun and the rain.

Festivals were held in her honour during important times in the farming year.

Did you know… Demeter can be translated to mean Earth Mother.

Facts about Ancient Greek Farmers

  • Only 20 per cent of the land in Greece was fertile enough for growing crops
  • The main crops were olives, grapes, and barley
  • Most farms were small
  • Animals were kept for meat
  • Most farms had very little surplus to sell
  • Farm tools were very basic
  • Droughts and floods made farming life hard
  • Demeter was the goddess of grain and growth

Questions and Answers

What type of climate did Ancient Greece have?

Hot and dry.

What were the main crops grown in Ancient Greece?

Olives, grapes, and barley.

What did wealthy farmers use to pull ploughs?

Oxen.

What was the name of the goddess of grain and growth?

Demeter.

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