The Greek diet was very healthy. Food in Ancient Greece consisted of grains, wheat, barley, fruit, vegetables, breads, and cake.
The Ancient Greeks grew olives, grapes, figs and wheat and kept goats, for milk and cheese. They ate lots of bread, beans and olives.
In the Summer months there were plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to eat and in the winter they ate dried fruit and food they had stored like apples and lentils. As most of the Greeks lived very near the sea, they also ate a lot of fish, squid and shellfish.
The soil by the sea was not so rich as on the plains so the Greeks used irrigation and crop rotation to keep the soil relatively fertile.
In some of the larger Greek city-states, meat could be purchased in cook shops. Meat was rarely eaten as the Greeks felt that just killing and eating a domesticated animal (like goats) was wrong. The Greeks would often sacrifice the meat to the gods first and then might eat some of the meat.
The Greeks loved their wine which was made from the grapes they grew.
Most city-states had an acropolis, which was a collection of temples built on top of a high hill. Acropolis means ‘high city’, and it was a place where the citizens of the city-state could go to for safety if there was an enemy invasion.
Athens was named after Athena, who was the goddess of wisdom. The people who lived in Athens believed that Athena was their patron goddess – this meant that she would protect Athens from the other gods when they got angry.
The Parthenon in Athens is a large temple built to honour Athena. Each city-state had a patron god. Creating a temple for a god meant putting their statue inside it, and maybe even decorating it with the god’s symbols. People went to the temple to pray to the god/goddess and bring offerings, such as treasures or food.
Priests were put in charge of the temples, which meant that they were the ones who communicated with the god or goddess. The priest could interpret what the gods wanted, and make sure they were kept happy.
The Underworld is where the Greeks believed that people went after they died. The Ancient Egyptians also believed in an Underworld, but the ones that the Greeks believed in was a little different.
Hades was in charge of the Underworld, and the god Hermes would guide people along to the River Styx – this separated the world of the living from the world of the dead. It cost money to be ferried across the River Styx, so when people were buried their families would place a coin on their body to make sure they could pay the fare.
Once you crossed the River Styx, you’d join other souls in the afterlife – but nobody stayed around there for too long. The Greeks believed that souls of the dead would be reborn, so you’d only have to stay around the Underworld as long as it took for your soul to wait in the rebirth queue.
This story about the Underworld is part of Greek mythology. References to the different myths can be found in pictures painted on vases, and in Greek literature like the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer. Each god had certain symbols that would help you tell which was which – for instance, Poseidon (god of the sea) always carried around a trident, and Aphrodite (goddess of love) is usually shown with doves. Artemis is the goddess of hunting, and she’s pictured with a bow and arrow.
Some of the best myths involve heroes – people who did brave and noble things. One of the favourite heroes was Heracles, who was Zeus’ son. He was brave even when he was a little baby – he saved the life of his brother by killing snakes that had been released into their nursery and meant to kill them.
The 12 Olympian gods and goddesses
- Zeus – king of the gods, and god of the sky; his main weapon was thunderbolts
- Hera – wife of Zeus and queen of the gods, and also the goddess of marriage and family
- Hades – brother of Zeus and Poseidon, and god of the Underworld
- Hermes – son of Zeus and messenger of the gods; he’d help deliver people to the River Styx in the Underworld
- Demeter – goddess of agriculture and the seasons
- Poseidon – brother of Zeus and Hades, and god of the sea
- Athena – daughter of Zeus, goddess of wisdom, and patron god of Athens
- Ares – son of Zeus and god of war
- Apollo – twin brother of Artemis, son of Zeus and god of the sun and music
- Artemis – twin sister of Apollo, daughter of Zeus and goddess of hunting and animals
- Aphrodite – daughter of Zeus and goddess of love and beauty
- Dionysus – son of Zeus, god of wine and celebrations, and patron god of the theatre
Other important gods (sometimes included in the 12 Olympians)
- Hestia – goddess of the home
- Hephaistos – husband of Aphrodite, and god of fire and the blacksmith’s forge