The sun sets on ancient Athens as a man in white robes walks up to the door of a house. The doorframe is illuminated by the fires glowing from within. He stands there for a moment and listens to the rowdy cheers and hollering of others from inside. The smell of freshly cooked food and
Spilled wine fills his nostrils. He cannot wait to get in and party it up like it’s 400 B.C. The door opens; inside the house, a huge party rages. Men drink goblets of wine, and scantily dressed women play music on their flutes. There are acrobats somersaulting across the room and dancers
Seductively moving to the sounds of the music. You are about to find out what an ancient Greek party was actually like. And you won’t believe some of the crazy stuff that happened at them. These wild get-togethers were known as symposia. Almost anything was fair game at a symposium,
From philosophic conversations to drinking games. These parties would last until the early hours of the morning. Huge amounts of wine were drunk, and men gave into their most basic urges. The crazy thing was that the symposia guest lists tended not be too strict. The host
Would invite friends or even strangers that he bumped into on the street. Sometimes all it took was a pleasant conversation at the agora before someone was invited to the next symposia. The only catch was that you had to be a man unless you were part of
The entertainment or a slave working in the household where the party was being held. If a Greek noble was wealthy enough, he would throw symposia several times a month. The guestlists for each party were always different. The people invited were allowed
To bring friends with them even if they didn’t ask the host for permission ahead of time. This resulted in symposia going from small gatherings to full-on ragers. The parties of ancient Greece were talked about and written about across the ancient
World. Some of the most famous philosophers and historians of all time mentioned them in their works. Plato wrote a whole book called The Symposium that includes discussions and speeches from different parties. The book itself is about the nature of love, but it seems to be influenced by the parties of the time.
Although it may seem like things got out of hand quickly at ancient Greek parties, this was not always the case. There were rules to attending a symposium. By the night’s end, everyone would be drunk and indulging in different activities and types of debauchery, but the parties started off
Pretty formally. Every symposium began with a strict set of rules that needed to be followed. Invitations to a symposia were pretty relaxed, but if you wanted to be admitted into the party, there was a specific way you needed to present yourself. Philosophers and academics were
Often invited to symposia, but they were rarely wealthy and therefore didn’t own a lot of nice clothing or jewelry. However, before attending a symposium, even the most defiant and rebellious philosophers put on sandals, a clean robe, and took a bath before heading to the host’s house.
All attendees were expected to be groomed and cleaned before they could enter the party. This was a deeply ingrained tradition and not something that anyone would want to take lightly. It would be inappropriate to show up to a symposium covered in sweat or dust,
Even if a guest was coming straight from work. It was said that even Socrates, who was famous for his simple clothing and disheveled look, cleaned himself up before heading to a symposium. When a guest reached the house where the symposium was being held,
They were welcomed by a servant. Not everyone could throw a party in ancient Greece as they required a lot of space and money. Symposia were only hosted by the wealthiest of Greek citizens as they were expected to provide everything for their guests. It was not only a good
Time but a sign of status as well. The bigger, more extravagant, and rowdier the party was, the more people would talk about it, and the host’s influence and notoriety would spread. After a guest was greeted by the servant at the door, they would be escorted into the host’s home
And brought to the andron, or “men’s room.” This was a room in the house specifically built to host parties. It may seem like having a room used solely for symposia may have been a bit excessive, and a waste of space, but the ancient Greeks would beg to differ. If you were wealthy,
It was unthinkable to have a house built without an andron incorporated into the design. Even though the guests were expected to be clean and well kept when they entered the host’s house, the servant would still wash their hands. The guest would then take off
Their sandals and make their way to the andron, where the host would be waiting. They would then be offered a couch or bed to recline on as the men at the symposium talked about how lovely the host’s house was. This was an essential part of the
Partying process. The walls of the andron would be lavishly decorated with frescoes and tapestries. The floor would be covered in colored tiles, and the ceiling painted with murals. The time before the party kicked off was spent making the host feel good about
Themselves with compliments about the room and any ceramics or decorations that adorned it. The word symposium is derived from the words “drinking together” in Greek, and this is exactly what the men at the party were there to do. But before the wine could begin flowing,
The guests would be offered dinner. The pleasantries were over at this point. The guests had been welcomed into the house and complimented their host on his fine taste and extravagant decorations. Before the party could truly begin, everyone needed to eat.
It would seem that symposia could be thrown for practically any occasion. If a playwright released a new tragedy, someone would throw a party to celebrate. If an athlete exceeded expectations at the Olympics, a wealthy supporter would have a symposium. Basically,
Any excuse to party was good enough for wealthy Greek citizens to come together and get drunk. Unlike the decorations and what was to come, the meal at a symposium wasn’t anything extravagant. Most of the time, the food would consist of cheese, olives, figs,
And garlic. These appetizers would oftentimes be supplemented by mashed beans and lentils. But people didn’t go to these parties to eat; they went to drink and have a good time. The guests ate while reclining on their couches and beds, so it took almost no effort at all
To snack. At parties thrown by the wealthiest in town, there may have also been bite-sized meat dishes. During a Greek party, no cutlery was used. Instead, everything was eaten with the hand. Guests would also not receive napkins of any kind. They were expected to wipe their fingers
On slices of bread and drop them on the ground for the host’s dogs to eat. The dogs were the garbage disposal systems for the Greeks. Throughout dinner, the guests would talk to one another and discuss current events. Sometimes debate occurred, but these were
Usually saved for the next part of the party. Eventually, the meal would start to wind down, and dessert was brought out. This would consist of foods such as fruit or honey-based candies. During the meal, the attendees would be sipping on wine but only in moderation.
The dinner served as a base for when the real drinking began. Although the Greeks knew they would be drinking all night long, it was frowned upon to become so drunk that you couldn’t function or hold a conversation. The meal before the party
Helped with this. And although the symposiums could get wild, there was a trick that allowed the ancient Greeks to party longer through the night than most other civilizations. The wine at symposia would literally be watered down. Most often, the drinks at
An ancient Greek party would be two parts wine to five parts water, or one part wine to three parts water. This made sure that the guests stayed hydrated while also maintaining a good buzz. When the meal finally concluded, the host’s servants would take away the tables
And clean up the room. The jug of wine would be refilled, and the real partying could begin. The guests and host would douse themselves with perfume or don wreaths made of myrtle and flowers. This was believed to help alleviate headaches and hangovers caused
By drinking too much wine. Now that there was plenty of space to move around and the wine had been topped off, a very important decision needed to be made. Someone at the party would need to be chosen as the Master of the symposium.
The master of the symposium, also known as the simposiarca, was usually picked at random from those in attendance at the party. He had important jobs at the symposium, such as deciding the concentration of wine everyone would drink, how many glasses each person should or
Should not drink, and the discussion topics at the party. This position was not taken lightly, and guests were expected to honor the simposiarca’s wishes whether they agreed with them or not. There were likely people everyone enjoyed having as their master of the symposium and others that
Were loathed. You can imagine a simposiarca whose sole goal was to get everyone at the party incredibly drunk to the point that they could no longer function. Others would make sure everyone paced themselves, and the party lasted all night long. Every party was different
Because you never knew who was going to be in charge. This obviously had its pros and cons. If you had a different vision for the night than the simposiarca did, you were out of luck. If the simposiarca ordered someone to have another sip of wine,
They either did as they were told or risked being thrown out of the party. Inappropriate behavior such as dancing around naked or running around the room with a musician on your back could also get you ejected from the party.
Once the meal was over, the master of the symposium was chosen, and everyone had cleaned up; it was time for the fun to begin. The guests might have their own cups of diluted wine, or they could share a large vessel that was passed around from one person to the
Next. As the guests drank and talked about the hot topics of the time, the wine jars called kraters would be refilled by servants. The wine would seem bottomless because if a host ran out before the symposium was over, it would bring shame to their
Household. The last thing a host would want was word to get out that his party ran out of booze. A symposium without wine was not a symposium at all in the eyes of the Greeks. At specific times during the party, kraters with undiluted wine would be set out. When this happened,
The guests would take small sips and then scatter some drops onto the ground in honor of the Olympic gods. Attendees needed to be careful when the undiluted wine was in their cups, as drinking too much of the strong stuff would lead to sloppiness. This
Was frowned upon and could get a guest cut off by the master of the symposium. Wine obviously played a huge role in the symposia as it got the guests to loosen up and enjoy themselves. The Greeks did everything they could to improve the
Drinking experience. They even invented a special vessel called a psyktre that would be filled with cold water or snow to chill the wine before it was served to guests. The Greeks wanted their parties to last as long as possible,
So even though the wine was watered down, there were other countermeasures put in place to slow the inebriation process. Throughout the night, snacks called tragemata were passed around to the guests. These consisted of dried fruit, toasted beans, or chickpeas,
All of which were good at soaking up alcohol in the body and building up a thirst for more drinks. After the guests had been drinking for a while and everyone was pretty well inebriated, the games would begin. Supposedly, there was a
Rule that guests were only supposed to have three drinks while at the party, but this was almost never followed. As the night went on, more and more wine was brought out. Men at a symposium often played a popular game known as kottabos. After they finished a cup of
Wine, they would pick it up by the handle and throw it at a target set up in the room. The target was normally another cup resting on a table. As the guest threw the cup, he would say the name of the person he loved. If he hit the target,
It was believed the gods would grant him good fortune in his love life. This drinking game had different versions, some of which were pretty intricate. In one, the guest would try and sink little clay boats that were floating in a large bowl of water. In
Another version, they would try and hit a saucer that was balanced on top of a bar or platform. Regardless of the exact setup for the kottabos game, the drunker people got at the symposium; the more rowdy things would become. Inevitably, something would break.
When things got to out of control or more entertainment was needed, the musicians would be brought in. The guests themselves would often break into song, but the musicians, especially the flautists, were always a highlight at any symposia. Female flautists called auletrides were brought into the party at the later stages of the night.
They would be excellent musicians, but were also there for another reason. The auletrides were often attractive women who were scantily dressed. The Greeks were not afraid to show off a little skin, but between the drinking, seductive music, and dress that left little to the imagination,
The men at the party would often find themselves infatuated with the auletrides. The flautists were not high-ranking members of society, so it’s likely that along with entertaining the men at the symposia with music, they also performed sexual favors. However, in some cases, there would be entire groups of entertainers at
Symposia. This could include several musicians along with dancers and acrobats. The dancers would oftentimes end a set with erotic dances or a small show that represented the stories of Dionysus, the god of wine. This brings us to one of the wilder sides of Greek parties. It’s very likely that
There was a lot of sex happening at symposia. The Greeks were much looser with their rules around sex and fidelity than many cultures are today. This is not a good or bad thing; it’s just the way things were at the time. Parties often included
Sexual acts being performed between the hired entertainment and guests. There were also females employed as hetaera for parties. These women were courtesans who became regular companions for any man who could pay for their services. They were not escorts or prostitutes but would be hired to impress guests with their wit,
Charm, and intelligence. Oftentimes these women were incredibly beautiful, but it was their ability to engage in conversation and debates that made them highly sought after. Men at symposia would fall in love or at least become infatuated with the hetaera. This would
Lead to them offering the hetaera additional money so that they could spend more time together or even so that she would accompany him to the next party. The hetaera sometimes did perform sexual acts, but it was not the main part of their profession. These women were likely more educated
Than the wives of the men at the symposia, and it was not uncommon for men to fall head over heels for them. But for the hetaera, this was just a job. They would be paid by the host or whoever they were accompanying that night and then move on to their next obligation.
At this point during the party, there had been food, drink, entertainment, and lively conversation. The room was filled with servants, musicians, and hetaera. Everyone was drunk and boisterous, yet the wine kept flowing. Lyres might be brought out to accompany the guests singing in
A type of ancient Greek karaoke. The songs were normally about celebrating friendship, drinking wine, or the re-telling of historical events. As the night carried on, the host might decide that it was time for the symposium to end. Not everyone would be on board with this,
But if the master of the symposium agreed, then it was time for the guests to take their leave. However, this didn’t necessarily mean that the party needed to end. Drunk guests would sometimes spill out onto the streets and continue to drink all the way home.
These processions of drunken partygoers were even given a name, komos. The authorities would try to keep the late-night drunks under control, but since they normally consisted of high-ranking or rich individuals, the komos would be left alone most of the time. When looking back at what ancient Greek parties were actually like,
It seems that they were nothing but a good time. Of course, the occasional fight broke out, but with endless amounts of wine and entertainment of all varieties, there was never a dull moment. Like we said before, symposia were put on by the wealthy. Philosophers, poets,
And other citizens may have been invited to the parties if a host found them interesting. However, farmers and common folk that made up the majority of the population rarely found themselves in a wealthy person’s house unless it was for business purposes. They were not invited
To extravagant symposia, nor did they have the ability to throw large parties of their own. Therefore, the lower class partied in a different way. From historical writings and archaeological records, it seems that there were bars on every street corner in
Ancient Greek cities. Most Greeks didn’t have the space in their home to throw a symposium, but almost any tavern would welcome them as long as they could pay for their drinks. Bars in ancient Greece seemed to have been open to anyone and everyone. If you were rich, you
Could go to the bar for a glass of wine; if you were poor, you could drink from the bottom of the barrel at the tavern. Much like today, the taverns of Greece were a place where people from all walks
Of life would mix and mingle. Of course, there were establishments that a respected rich Greek citizen wouldn’t be caught dead in, but for most, taverns offered a place to relax and get drunk. That being said, even less wealthy Greeks still liked to indulge. They might not have the same
Means as the upper class but drinking wine and having a good time seems to have been ingrained in the Greek culture of ancient times. Symposia were definitely only something the wealthy could engage in but toasting to Dionysus while drinking a glass of wine was something every Greek could enjoy.
Now watch “Unbelievable Stuff They Didn’t Teach You About Ancient Egypt.” Or check out “Why You Wouldn’t Survive Living In the Roman Empire.”