Oikos (House) Oikia (house) Oikonomia (household) / Polis (city) Politiki (politics) civilization

According to Aristotle, the first human society was the “Oikos”, meaning the members of a family who lived together to cover their primordial, common needs. The settlement of more Oikoi which had derived of an ancestral family, created the “kome, an initial gender society in a non-fortified village. Much later, the numerous relational communities would be mentioned as tribes and nations, words without their present ethno-politic meaning. The dissected geomorphology of the Greek landscape had of course reinforced the diachronic localism and the local / ethnic traditions, which remained distinct even after the Polis’ (city-state’s) establishment of the historic era.

Polis” (city) and “politiki” (politics) are ancient Greek words that refer to the city as a settlement, as a political institution and as the entirety of its civilians. Politismos (civilization) as a concept is the consequence of the social organization into Poleis (Cities). As a word it derives from the recent use of a “political” word mentioned in the 3rd century A.D. by Diogenes Laertius referred to the administration of the “polis”. “Oikos”, “oikia” and “oikonomia” are also ancient Greek words. Oikia is -as today- the house of the family and Oikos is its human members and their belongings. Oikonomia, until at least classical antiquity, meant the management of the Oikos affairs (household).

Within the first half of the 1st millennium B.C. many local societies seem to have been united in a new institution, the Polis, consisted of the intra muros city (asty) and its surrounding countryside (chora). The Polis could rarely be organized in komes (villages). The Agora was the centre of public life. The acropolis remained a political and religious center and could also be used as a shelter. The new form of settlement created the need for new constructions, institutions

and laws which would define the rules of living together “politically” and “civilized”.  The Greek Polis (henceforth city – state) is the birthplace of the concepts of the civilian, politics and civilization thanks to Demos (civilians) and Democracy (Demos’ State, meaning the power of Demos in administrating the city – state).

As opposed to public buildings, private structures were built with local materials. Independently of the owner’s wealth and his social standing, private houses of the 5th century B.C. were usually humble. However, during the 4th century B.C., the size and the content of the house began to demonstrate the social place of the Oikos.

The owner of the house had as duty the social support and the whole management of the Oikos. In poorer families women would have to contribute to the economic process. In a wealthy Oikos the wife was a supervisor of the housework, protected and respected but also secluded -with only a few exceptions-.

Graphic representations of ancient houses

Graphic representations of ancient houses

Red figured pyxis with two women, one holding a needlecraft and the other a spindle. Paris, Louvre Museum

Red figured kylix with symposium scene (2nd half of 5th century B.C.). Berlin, Antikensammlung

A type of close balcony (“sachnisi”) on the upper floor of roadside buildings of recent times, probably also existing in ancient houses

A type of close balcony (“sachnisi”) on the upper floor of roadside buildings of recent times, probably also existing in ancient houses

A traditional house in Macedonia with interior yard, “hayati” (quasi-open-air room) and courtyard door


Traditional house with “hayati” in Moustheni, Paggaio

Traditional Macedonian house with courtyard and “hayati” on the ground and the 1st floor, such as “pastas” of the ancient houses. Sohos, Thessaloniki

Old courtyard door of Kanalon Monastery, in the area of Leivithra. Similar doors also existed in antiquity


In the pre-monetary time of Homer, he placed the persons who did not possess any land and worked for others in the worst social position. A little later, in the also pre-monetary time of Hesiod, when the society was based on animal breeding, agriculture and exchange of products (barter), the small-scale farmer had a tiring life, which was however self-sufficient, independent and dignified –the basic characteristics of a free man. His reduction to being landless would have led him to the losing his autonomy and to the worst financial and social standing. During the archaic period a revolutionary novelty appeared in Asia Minor, which changed the evolution of the world: the equalization of products, services and work with a tradable and manageable form of payment, the coin.

Agricultural Life

In the 4th century B.C. Xenophon believed that agriculture is necessary to man’s survival as the mother and source of all arts. Those having agriculture as their main occupation lived either in cities / villages or in farmhouses.

The main difference between urban houses and farmhouses was the high, often multi-storied towers. Research has not yet clarified whether the towers were used only for agricultural / livestock activities, defensive purposes, living accommodations or for all these purposes combined and maybe for others which we do not know yet.

The lower part of a roman funerary stele from Xrani in Pieria, with agricultural scene

The lower part of a roman funerary stele from Xrani in Pieria, with agricultural scene


Kylix with plowing scene. Paris, Louvre Museum

A huntsman with his dog, in the bottom of an attic black figured kylix (6th century B.C). London, British Museum


Floor plan and representations of a farmhouse in Ano Liosia (“Dema House”)

Floor plans and representations of farmhouse in Vari (2nd half of 4th century B.C.)


A traditional «tower» in Thessaly, possibly similar to that of the ancient farmhouse from Komboloi site


Written by: Effie Poulaki Pantermali