Greek houses

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Private houses of the Classical and Hellenistic periods were much the same throughout the Greek world. Most rooms opened onto one or more sides of a small, rectangular courtyard, reached via a short passage leading from the front door. Windows were few and small, and living areas were not visible from the street. An upper storey, reached by a ladder or, more rarely, a built stairway, was common, but is often hard to detect. Construction was in mud‐brick on stone footings. Interior walls were plastered and often painted simply, mostly in red and white. Floors were of beaten earth. In most houses, on the ground floor, one or two rooms with heavier floors and provisions for bathing, heating water, and cooking can be identified, but cooking could take place on simple hearths or portable braziers in any room or in the courtyard. The concept of the hearth and its goddess, Hestia, symbolized the identity and cohesion of the household, but formal, fixed hearths were not common. Roofs were either pitched and covered with terracotta tiles or flat, depending on regional climate and traditions.

Often a more elaborately decorated room with a distinctive floor‐plan served to receive guests, all male (the andrōn, ‘men's room’). The floor, in cement, was raised slightly around all four sides for the placing of dining‐couches, usually five, seven, or eleven in number, which resulted in the room's doorway being off‐centre (see dining‐rooms; symposium). The lower rectangle in the middle of the room was sometimes decorated with pebble mosaics. The andron has been found in modest as well as large houses, in country as well as town, all over Greece.

Women's quarters are mentioned in literary sources but cannot be securely identified in the surviving architecture. Certain rooms or areas of the house were assigned primarily to women. The house as a whole may have been regarded as women's domain (see women), apart from the andron and wherever unmarried men, slave or free, slept. No distinct quarters for slaves are distinguishable architecturally, although female slaves might be separated by a locked door from the male.

The household was an economic as well as social unit. Much of the processing and storage of the products of the family's land took place in the house. Stone parts of oil‐presses have been found in the houses of towns inhabited mostly by farmers. Wells, cisterns for rainwater, and pits for collecting waste for manure are found in courtyards; see water supply. If a craft was practised, that too took place in the house; separate workshops are rare. One room, opening onto the street, was sometimes separated to serve as a shop, not necessarily occupied by the residents of the house.

The private house was similarly designed in city, village, and countryside. In the last the courtyard might be larger to accommodate animals and equipment and commonly a tower of two or three storeys, round or square, and more heavily built than the rest, was entered from the courtyard. Such towers, often the only conspicuous remains of houses in the countryside, have been identified in towns as well. They appear to have been used primarily for the safe keeping of goods and persons, slave and free, esp. in more isolated locations.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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