Love, Marriage, and S#X in Ancient Greece: A Complex and Patriarchal Society

Ancient Greece was a society deeply rooted in myth, religion, and societal norms. Marriage and sex were crucial aspects of this society, shaped by a patriarchal system where men held significant power and women were expected to be chaste and modest. This article will explore the customs and practices surrounding marriage and sex in ancient Greece, highlighting the complexities and contradictions that characterized this society.

Marriage and the Wedding Ceremony

Marriage in ancient Greece was a significant event that involved several steps and rituals. The ceremony typically lasted three days, consisting of the proaulia, gamos, proteleia, and epaulia. The proaulia was the day before the wedding, where the bride would spend her last days with her mother, female relatives, and friends, making preparations for the wedding. This included a ceremony where the bride would make various offerings, such as her childhood toys and clothing, or a lock of her hair, denoting a formal end of her childhood and asking for the gods’ blessings and protection in this new phase of her life.

The gamos or wedding day started with the nuptial bath of the bride for purification. The bride’s costume included a veil, a symbol of her purity which was not removed until the wedding. Then the bride and groom would make offerings at the temple to ensure a fruitful future with many children. After this, the wedding feast could begin. This was one time when women were allowed to attend, even though they sat at separate tables from the men. The feast included a variety of foods and entertainment, such as dancers and singers.

The epaulia was the final day of the wedding ceremony. The couple was woken with songs from the maidens who had stayed awake all night, and some of the male guests. The bride was offered gifts to help her settle into her new life as wife to her husband and daughter to her in-laws.

Dowry and Arranged Marriages

In ancient Greece, marriages were typically arranged by the parents of the intended bride and groom. A financial arrangement was made between the families in the form of a dowry. Girls married between the ages of 14 and 18, while men were usually married in their twenties or even thirties. The dowry was a significant form of property a woman acquired and was provided for by her kyrios or guardian. It was usually given at the engue or betrothal, but could be handed over at a later date if all parties agreed. The dowry could include a sum of money, moveable goods such as furniture, or even land, though this was uncommon since most men wanted to keep their estate for their son’s inheritance.

S#xuality and Gender Roles

Ancient Greece was a deeply patriarchal society where freeborn women were expected to be chaste and modest. Men held the power and decision-making authority in the household, reflecting a belief in male sexual dominance and female subservience. Sex was linked to the creation of the universe and the gods, and sexual practices were influenced by myth and religion.

H0m0s#xuality and Pederasty

Homosexual relations between men were not only accepted but encouraged. There was no word for homosexuality, and the practice was part of the broader concept of love, or “aphrodisia,” uninfluenced by gender or sex. Pederasty, or the relationship between an older man and a younger male student, was also common. This practice reflected attitudes about domination and submission in Greek culture, where intimate relations were more about satisfying the dominant partner than the submissive one.

S#xuality in Mythology and Art

Sexuality was often depicted in art, including scenes of satyrs engaging in sexual acts. These depictions were not necessarily taboo but were often used to convey themes of fertility and the natural world. Self-pleasure was not entirely taboo but was often associated with lower social classes, such as slaves and women. It was seen as an inferior form of carnality and was often depicted in art as a humorous or embarrassing act.


Prostitution was legal and widespread in ancient Greece, particularly in Athens. There were two types of prostitutes: hetairai, high-class escorts and courtesans, and pornai, lower-class prostitutes and slaves who often worked in brothels and on street corners. Both men and women worked as prostitutes in ancient Greece. Prostitution was supported by the state in many city-states, and state-run brothels were common. Services had a set price across Athens and were regulated.


In ancient Greece, couples sought to limit family size through various methods. One popular method was having the female partner sneeze and drink something cold after having sex, which was believed to prevent conception. Another method involved a woman attempting to block her cervix with a block of wood. One surprisingly effective method was consuming large amounts of dates and pomegranates before and after sex. Modern studies have shown that dates and pomegranates do indeed decrease fertility, but these methods were not widely used or effective.


Masturbation was considered normal and healthy in ancient Greece for both men and women. Depictions of men, women, and creatures, such as satyrs masturbating, can be found in countless Greek artworks. The act was linked to lower classes and slaves in both art and drama, signaling that while accepted, it was not considered sophisticated. However, doing so in public was considered a great scandal.


Love, marriage, and sex in ancient Greece were deeply rooted in myth, religion, and societal norms. Marriage was seen as a means of ensuring the continuation of the family line and the state, while sexuality was deeply linked to the creation of the universe and the gods. Homosexuality and pederasty were also accepted, but with specific social and cultural contexts. The marriage ceremony was a significant event that involved various rituals and ceremonies. Understanding these customs and practices provides valuable insights into the complexities and contradictions of ancient Greek society.

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