Greek Women and Wine

Ancient Greece – the land of philosophy, festivals, the Olympics, and wine. Where did women come into play? Did they have a role in society? Were they allowed to drink wine? Were they allowed to go to parties?

We don’t hear much about the common woman in Ancient Greece. When we hear about women, it’s the female goddesses like Hera and Athena stirring up trouble. They are always in the background as mothers or sex workers or not mentioned at all.

This article will explore women’s lives in Ancient Greece, general wine culture, and where women fit in.

Greek Women’s Rights

Women in Ancient Greece lived in a highly patriarchal society. Their place was in the home, and they were not allowed to vote, own land, or inherit – at least, this was the case for most Greek women. We know the most about women from Athens, who were considered lower than enslaved people in much of Ancient Greece’s history. In Sparta, they were given more opportunities. They could train for war, own land, and drink wine.[1]

Girls were educated like boys initially, but the primary purpose was to prepare them to run a household. Girls would be married off around 14 to a man of their father’s choosing. Women weren’t supposed to speak with male non-relatives. Their role was to raise children and manage the household – especially if their husbands couldn’t afford enslaved people. Men often found love and lust with other women. Between husband and wife, it was mainly duty.[2]

We’re not sure if women were allowed to go to the theater. We know they couldn’t attend public assemblies and parties like the symposium.

Women also worked as prostitutes in Ancient Greece. They were either the lowly brothel sex worker or the higher-class prostitute who could play music and dance. These higher-class sex workers often served and entertained men at symposiums.

You also saw women in religious rituals. These priestesses would perform rituals for both men and women and were often virgins or past menopause. We’ve heard of Pythia, the oracle at Delphi. She would interpret the words of Apollo for the people. This priestess would change, but she was highly regarded. She was likely from an upper-class family and highly educated.[3]

Wine Culture in Greece

Wine in Ancient Greece was watered down, and public drunkenness was frowned upon. Men did get drunk, though. Often the only woman in the room was for entertainment in every respect. Drinking parties were common. They were a formal affair—toasts to the gods, entertainment, and drunken riots were common.[4]

Drinking wine is a part of Greek culture. The vases and drinking cups are quite clear, as are the classics.

Greek Women and Wine

Although it’s clear that men drank wine in public, ​we know women drank wine in Greece from ancient art. In the early years of Greek history, they couldn’t drink in public. Drinking parties were exclusively for men.

Art makes it look like men and boys often drank wine women served – especially at the symposium. Lower-class people, women, and enslaved people are thought to have gone to neighborhood taverns to drink. They might have imitated the culture of the symposiums.

During the end of Ancient Greece’s era, women might have participated more in drinking parties. It’s challenging to know since women weren’t considered persons and were hardly ever listed in the classics. Although based on the art, it does look like women knew how to party. Check out this day in wine history to learn more.

Greek Women and Wine, Greek Women and Wine

This Day in Wine History

11th – 13th February/March (according to the Greek calendar): Anthesteria was one of four Ancient Greek festivals held yearly. This festival was in honor of the god Dionysus. Held when the wine reached maturity in the spring, the first wines of the season were opened. The enslaved people were invited to this festival.[5]

6th – 5th centuries BC: Kottabos was popular. This was considered the first drinking game. How was it played? “The kottabos player puts the index finger of the right hand through the handle of the drinking cup, palm upwards, and the remaining fingers are spread as playing a flute.”[6] The player then throws the wine-lees with their right forearm. Men in Ancient Greece primarily played this game, but there are some accounts of women playing the game as well. There are plates with women playing kottabos dating from the 400’s BC. These women were likely Spartan or Etruscan and not Athenian.

[1] Women and their role in ancient Greece and Rome. Accessed: April 27, 2022. https://griekse-les.nl/women-and-their-role-in-ancient-greece-and-rome/

[2] Women in Ancient Greece. Mark Cartwright. Accessed: April 27, 2022. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/927/women-in-ancient-greece/

[3] Pythia. Gabriel Jones. Accessed: April 27, 2022. https://www.worldhistory.org/Pythia/

[4] Drinking in Ancient Greece. Dr. James Davidson. Accessed: April 27, 2022. https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/knowledgecentre/arts/classics-ancient-history/drinking-greece/

[5] Chisholm 1911, p. 93.

[6] Sparkes, Brian A. (1960). “Kottabos: An Athenian After-Dinner Game”. Archaeology. 13: 202–207 – via JSTOR.

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