Greek Society: A Brief Glossary

polis = city-state
Structure of the polis: (roughly in ascending order)

  • Barbarians: non-greeks.
  • Slaves
  • Helots (state-slaves, particularly in Sparta)
  • Debt-serfs (except where prohibited by law, like post-Solon Athens)
  • Metics (merchants, foreigners and freedmen)
  • Free people (men, women and children).
  • Citizens (usually wealthiest land- and slave-owner men).

Features of the polis:

  • Acropolis (high ground, for defense and worship of chief deity)
  • Agora (meeting-place and market)
  • Stoa (colonnades/porticos; gathering spots)
  • Gymnasiums and Stadiums
  • theaters
  • shrines (eventually temples)
  • No palaces
  • few formal streets
  • no city planning to speak of.

Political features: (no single standard; description is of Athens, which is both leader and typical)

  • isonomia (Equality before the law)
  • demos (masses)
  • aristoi (“the best”)
  • oligoi (the few)
  • tyranny (rule by an illegitimate dictator instead of a legitimate monarch)
  • ostrakon (pottery shards on which ostracism votes were taken)

Daily Life:

  • pedagogue (educational slave for older boys)
  • symposium (drinking party, with lots of poetry and philosophy; competitive)
  • hetaerae (slave-courtesans, often educated and entertaining)
  • Hoplite (soldiers in Greek armies, heavily armed and armored, close formation tactics)
  • Oikos (household)
  • gynaeceum (women’s quarters)

© 2003 — Jonathan Dresner