Attitudes Toward Death in Archaic Greece

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Death in Ancient Greece • Ancient Greeks: Everyday Life, Beliefs and Myths • MyLearning

A phormiskos was a globular jug that would have contained the oil used to anoint the corpse. On this particular jug, the fragmented scene depicts a group of women surrounding a female corpse on a bier funeral bed and pulling on their hair. The action of women pulling on their hair is commonly referred to as being a symbol of mourning, along with tearing at their clothes and cheeks.

According to the Greek written on the jug, the name of the deceased is known to be Myrrhine and the presence of her daughter amongst the mourners is noted. The second rite in the funeral ritual, the ekphora, was the procession of the corpse through the streets to the grave.

The lamentations performed at this stage of the ritual were just like those performed during the prothesis , pulling on their hair, tearing at their clothes and cheeks, and singing dirges. The only difference was that they were now being performed in public instead of inside the home. Women performed the lamentations due to a perceived notion that they were more likely to express emotion than men and therefore they openly mourned for both themselves and the men.

The public lamentations in the processions were so extravagant that Solon, an Athenian statesman, established a funeral law in the sixth century B. The final stage of the funeral ritual was the deposition of the body into its grave. The Greeks appear to have deposed of their dead in two different ways: inhumation and cremation, with both being practised concurrently from the eighth century to the fourth century B.

Evidence suggests that after B. However by B. As far as the ceremony itself is concerned, very little is known and what is known is that a priest was not required to be present at the burial, even in a personal capacity. This video depicts the funeral process in Archaic and Classical Greece.

It also goes further into the upkeep of the tomb after the period of mourning is over. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account.

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You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Kerameikos Museum, Athens, Greece. But again, Finley was probably right to argue that during the Archaic and Classical periods the vast majority of economic activity was left untouched by government and carried out by private individuals.

On the other hand, by the Classical period a self-sufficient household economy was an ideal that was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain as the various sectors of economic activity became more specialized, more impersonal, and more profit oriented as well. As in the Archaic period, the most important economic sector was still tied to the land and the majority of agriculture continued to be carried out on the subsistence level by numerous small family farms, even though the distribution of land among the population was far from equal.

Primary crops were grains, mostly barley but also some wheat, which were usually sown on a two-year fallowing cycle. Olives and grapes were also widely produced throughout Greece on land unsuitable for grains.

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Animal husbandry focused on sheep and goats, which could be moved from their winter lowland pasturage to the moister and cooler mountainous regions during the hot summer months. Cattle, horses, and donkeys, though less numerous, were also significant. While usually sufficient to support the population of ancient Greece, unpredictable rainfall made agriculture precarious and there is much evidence for periodic crop failures, shortages, and famines. Consequently, competition for fertile land was a hallmark of Greek history and the cause of much social and political strife within and between city-states.

One recent trend in the study of ancient Greek agriculture is the use of ethnoarchaeology, which attempts to understand the ancient economy through comparative data from better-documented modern peasant economies. In general, studies employing this method have supported the prevailing view of subsistence agriculture in ancient Greece. But caution is necessary, since there have been changes in the physical environment of and settlement patterns in Greece over time that can skew comparative analyses. Ethnoarchaeology has also been used to show that Greek farmers in both ancient and modern times have had to be flexible in their responses to wide variations in local topographical and climatic conditions and, thus, varied their crops and fallowing regimes to a significant degree.

Rational exploitation of fluctuations in production brought on by such variations might have been the means by which some farmers were able to obtain enough wealth to rise above their peers and become members of a landed elite and this might point to a productive mentality at odds with the Finley model.

Metals were another important landed resource of Greece and so mining occupied an important place in the economy. Ancient Greeks typically used bronze and iron tools and weapons. There is little evidence that copper, the principal metal in bronze, was ever mined in abundance on mainland Greece. It had to be imported from the island of Cyprus, where it existed in large quantities, and other more distant regions. Tin, the other metal in bronze, was also rare in Greece and had to be imported from as far away as Britain. Iron is relatively plentiful throughout Greece and there is archaeological evidence of iron mining; however, literary references to it are few and so we know little about the process.


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Precious metals were used in jewelry, art, and coinage. Athens had an abundance of silver and we know much about its mining industry from surviving inscriptions of government mine leases to private entrepreneurs. The mines were extremely productive, providing Athens with an income of talents per year for twelve years from B. Though productive in silver, ancient Greece was not as rich in gold, which was found primarily in Thrace and on the islands of Thasos and Siphnos.

Recent scholarship continues to focus on the silver mines of Athens, drawing not only on the inscribed mine leases, but also on extensive archaeological investigation of the mines themselves. In a study of mine-leasing records Kirsty Shipton has shown that the elite of Athens preferred mines leases, with their potential for greater profits, to land leases. Thus, the traditional preference of the elite for the consumptive acquisition of land and disdain for productive investments for profit postulated by the Finley model might be a characteristic feature of the ancient Greek world as a whole, but it does not entirely hold for Athens in the Classical period.

Stone for building and sculpture was another valuable natural resource of Greece.

Limestone was available in abundance and fine marble could be found in Athens on the slopes of Mount Pentelikos and on the island of Paros. The former was used in building the Parthenon and the other structures of the Athenian acropolis while the latter was often used for the most famous ancient Greek free-standing and relief sculptures. It is notoriously difficult to estimate the population of Athens or any other Greek city-state in ancient times. Generally accepted figures for Athens at the height of its power and prosperity in B.

Athens was the largest polis and the populations of most city-states were probably much smaller.

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Death, Burial, and the Afterlife in Ancient Greece

Citizens, metics , and slaves all performed labor in the economy. In addition, many city-states included forms of dependent labor somewhere in between slave and free. As stated above, much of the agriculture of ancient Greece was carried out by small farmers who were exclusively free citizens, since non-citizens were barred from owning land. But although being a farmer was the social ideal, good land was scarce in Greece and it is estimated that in Athens about a quarter of the male citizens did not own land and had to take up other occupations for their livelihoods.

Such occupations existed in the manufacturing, service, retail, and trade sectors. Wage earning was very much looked down upon, since working for another person was thought of as an impingement on freedom and akin to slavery. Thus, free men doing the same work side by side with metics and slaves on the Acropolis building projects earned the same wages. Yet wages appear to have been adequate to make a living.

In Athens the typical wage for a skilled laborer was one drachma per day at the end of the fifth century and two and a half drachmai in In the fifth century a Greek soldier on campaign received a ration of 1 choinix of wheat per day. The price of wheat in Athens at the end of the fifth century was 3 drachmai per medimnos.

There are 48 choinices in a medimnos. Thus, one drachma could buy enough food for 16 days for one person, four days for a family of four. One thing that made up for the limited number of free citizens who were willing or had to become businessmen or wage earners was the existence of metics , foreign-born, free non-citizens who took up residence in a city-state.

It is estimated that Athens had about 25, metics at its height and since they were barred from owning land, they engaged in banausic occupations that tended to be looked down upon by the free citizenry. The economic opportunities afforded by such occupations in Athens and other port cities where they were particularly abundant must have been significant.

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