The classical Greek culture as we know it today came into existence during the 4th to 5th centuries BC. During this time Greece had the most advanced economy in the world. This cultural period in many ways provided part of the foundation that we know as a western culture today.
Here are 51 interesting facts about Ancient Greece you might not know.
51 Interesting Facts about Ancient Greece
- The ancient Greeks had a unique way to propose to their partners. They threw apples. In Ancient Greece, if a man threw an apple at a woman this was considered to be a proposal of marriage. If she caught the apple she was accepting the proposal.
2. Those with red hair were believed to turn into vampires when they died.
3. Some residents of Ancient Greece wouldn’t eat beans as they thought they contained the souls of the dead.
4. The democracy of Ancient Greece was the first in the world and it lasted for 185 years.
5. The word School is derived from an ancient Greek word that meant free time.
6. The ancient Greeks used to exercise naked. In Sparta, even the women exercised in the nude. Participants in sporting races were also naked. The word “gymnasium” means school for naked exercise.
7. The ancient Greeks did not like to waste their urine. They knew that urine doesn’t contain bacteria and is actually quite clean. They used urine for everything from whitening teeth to cleaning clothes to treating wounds.
8. In Greek mythology, the word Music is derived from the word Muses. This means Goddesses of the Arts.
9. Ancient Greece supported slavery. Somewhere between 40% and 80% of the population of Athens were slaves. There were different types of slaves in different city-states. In Sparta, state-owned slaves were called Helots. They grew crops but had to give a percentage of their crop to the state.
In Athens, slaves were welcomed into family homes with a ceremony and did jobs such as being a policeman or craftsmen. However, they were not paid.
10. Ancient Greeks didn’t call their country Greece. Its official name was the Hellenic Republic and the Greeks referred to their nation as Hellas or Hellada. It is the Ancient Romans who came up with the word Greece. The word Greece came from the Latin word Graecia for the land of the Greeks.
11. The Ancient Greeks thought it was barbaric to drink wine undiluted. They diluted their wine with water. It was believed that only the god of wine, Dionysus, was able to drink undiluted wine and not get drunk.
It was thought that if humans drank wine undiluted they would go mad and become violent. 3 parts of water were generally used to one part wine.
12. Ancient Greece practiced ostracism. Citizens could vote to exile politicians or common citizens for ten years if they thought that person was a threat to democracy. This vote took place annually.
13. Salt was sometimes used as a currency in Ancient Greece. Slaves were often traded for salt. This is where the expression “not worth his salt” originated.
14. All newborns born in Spata were shown to a council that investigated babies for any physical defects. Those babies deemed to be unfit were abandoned nearby although some were rescued by the Spartan slaves. And to test the constitution of babies they were bathed in wine rather than water.
15. The elite chose to eat whilst lying down as being served by others was seen as a sign of power and luxury.
16. Prostitutes were identified by their wearing of red lipstick. If they didn’t wear red lipstick they could be punished. All other women were discouraged from wearing lipstick at all.
17. Ceasefires were declared before the ancient Olympic games. As the games honored Zeus they were seen to be of religious significance. Ceasefires were initially for one month and later for three.
Firearms were also not allowed and it was specifically stated that no spectator, athlete, or ambassador from the different city-states in Greece was to be harmed in any way.
18. The red carpet originated in Ancient Greece. In the play Agamemnon the Crimson Path signified stature as it was only to be used by the gods.
19. Ancient Greece had people who lived to over 100 years of age due to its healthy diet, focus on sanitation and passion for physical activity.
20. The unibrow signified both intelligence and beauty in women. Those who didn’t naturally have a unibrow would draw one in.
21. Kettlebells date back to Ancient Greece. In Athens, a 143kg kettlebell was found inscribed with the words “Bibon heaved up me above the head by one hand”.
22. Birthday candles were used in Ancient Greece. Lit candles would be placed on cakes brought to the temple of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Artemis was associated with the moon and the candles were lit to create a moon-like glow.
23. The term “spill the beans” comes from Ancient Greece where beans were used to vote.
24. The word “arkasia” was used in Ancient Greece to describe the lack of desire to do something that we know is good for us.
25. The Temple of Artemis was burnt down by an arsonist who wanted to become famous. After his execution, it was an offense punishable by death to mention the arsonist’s name.
26. The ancient Greeks believed that the liver was the home of human emotions rather than the heart. So in Greek mythology, Promethus was punished by the Gods by having his liver eaten by eagles and then regrown and eaten again every day.
27. Text was commonly written bi-directionally in Ancient Greece. This means that one line would be written from left to right and the next from right to left. Sometimes the letters were also mirrored from one line to another.
28. Ancient Greed was the official language of Greece until 1976.
29. Spiked dog collars were an invention of the ancient Greeks. They were designed to protect the dog’s throat from attacks by wolves.
30. The term “idiot” was first used in Ancient Greece. It described a person who didn’t participate in political discussions or visit public arenas.
31. The Ancient Greeks worshipped twelve gods as well as “Agnostos Theos”. This meant “unknown god” and covered any gods of which they weren’t aware.
32. A 5th Century BC archaeological relief shows Zeus’ wife Hera shaking hands with Athena, the goddess of war. This is believed to be the first depiction of the handshake.
33. Being a Spartan soldier was a tough life. Training began when boys were only 7 years old. Soldiers were not allowed to live with their families until they left active military service at 30 years of age.
34. The theory that the planets orbit around the sun was first proposed in Ancient Greece by Aristarchus of Samos. This mathematician and astronomer also believed that stars were distant suns that didn’t move and that the size of the universe was considerably bigger than commonly believed at the time.
35. The Ancient Greeks had some unusual superstitions around food. For example, they wouldn’t eat beans as they believed they contained the souls of the dead.
36. Theatre was invented by the Ancient Greeks. Most cities had theatres big enough to hold 1500 people. Only men and boys were allowed to be actors. Actors wore masks that displayed their feelings. Some of the masks had two sides so the actor could change them to fit the mood of their character from scene to scene.
37. The most common form of clothing in Ancient Greece was the chiton. This was a long t-shirt made from one piece of cotton and fastened with a belt. High-class people wore chitons made from silk or linen. Commoners wore chitons made from wool.
Slaves had to make do with just a loincloth. This was a small strip of cloth that was worn wrapped around the waist.
38. Wrestling was known as the toughest event at the Olympics. This was because there were very few rules and contestants had to be naked.
39. Court cases in Ancient Greece also used juries. Juries could have up to 500 people on them. Verdicts were reached by the majority rules system.
40. The main home for the 12 major Gods and Goddesses was on Mount Olympus. It was also believed that the gods had arguments and discussions on the mountain. But not all gods lived on Mount Olympus. For example, Hades, the God of the Underworld, did not live on the mountain.
41. The yo-yo is believed to be the second oldest toy in the world and appears to have been invented by the Greeks. A device very similar to a yo-yo was discovered which dated back to 500 BC.
42. There were three periods in ancient Greece: the archaic period, classical period and Hellenistic period.
43. The Archaic period began in 800 BC and ended in 508 BC when democracy was introduced. The Olympic Games began during the Archaic period.
44. The classical period was the time of Plato and Socrates as well as the war between Athens and Sparta. It ended with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC.
45. The Hellenistic period was from 323 BC to when the Romans took power over Greece in 146 BC.
46. There were more than 100 city-states in Ancient Greece. Sparta and Athens were the best known.
47. Homes in Ancient Greece had rooms just for men called the Andron. When men had male guests they used the Andron room. Male visitors never saw a woman in her home.
48. Women also had a room of their own called the Gynaikon. This was where the women would go when male guests entered the home.
49. Fathers had the option to keep or not to keep their children. It was considered acceptable for fathers to abandon their children if they were female or seen to be weak. Those children accepted by their fathers were treated well.
50. Girls did not go to school and were considered to be adults when they turned 13 years of age. Boys began school at the age of seven and learn to write, read, musical instruments and do mathematics.
51. Only men went to dinner parties. They would start when the sun went down and run late into the night. People commonly ate fish, olives, cheese, vegetables, and bread dipped in wine. Meat such as beef or pork was eaten during festivals.