[ University Home Page ] [ Ure Museum Home Page ]

The Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology

The Household

Households in ancient Greece and Egypt were like small businesses. Families - including grown children, slaves, and servants - made everything they needed in the home. Home life wasn't just indoors: many houses included farmland as well as courtyards. Some texts suggest that women were protected in a separate part of the house, and that men had to cross a courtyard or climb a ladder to reach them. Yet women took care of food, clothing, and the religious life of the family.

The ladder of life

Childhood: The youngest members of the family occupied themselves with toys, rattles and feeders. Remains of ancient toys include dolls, 'tea sets', and knucklebones. Ancient documents tell us that children stayed at home until they could walk and talk. After that boys went off to school while girls stayed at home to learn how to run a household.

Marriage: Images on pots (some show wedding gifts) show us what happened when a girl was ready to get married (she was 14-18 while her husband was 30+). After courtship came preparations for the wedding and finally a procession through the streets. The brides' transition from her home to her husbands' home is symbolized with pictures of doors.

Death: Doors also symbolize the transition to death. Visual evidence shows the key role women played in funerals: they prepared the body in the house but buried and mourned their dead outside the city walls.

For more on men and women see also our section on Gender in the Ancient Greek World.

The basics of life

A bride's family provided her with a dowry when she married. In addition to the pots shown here, the dowry included clothes and tools that she used to turn raw materials into the things her family needed. Home-grown plants and animals provided meat, dairy and vegetables to eat, as well as bone, wool and plant fibres to make textiles. Terracotta tiles for the roof, wood for the furniture and oil for lighting the lamps were also produced at home. Women went to the market to buy special items like perfume, leather, and metal. Their main reasons to leave the house were these trips to the market, fetching water in hydriai and religious events. While their contents are long gone, most of the pots in this museum once held food, oil, and water.

© University of Reading
The Ure Museum, The University of Reading, Whiteknights, PO Box 217, Reading, RG6 6AH
File last modified: 20 Sep 2017