Athenians did not use taxation to pay for public services. Crucial public services – mainly equipping and manning warships and putting on annual festivals – were paid for directly, by the richest men in Athens. If the man who'd been asked to pay for the warship/festival thought he knew another, richer man, he would challenge him in court to a complete exchange of property. The second man could either agree to the swap - in which case, he was saying he was actually poorer than the first man, so the first man was still the one who should pay - or else the second man could refuse the swap, thus admitting that he was the richer, and accept that it was his duty to pay for the ship.
This is recorded as having happened occasionally, but was quite rare because in practice the rich competed to produce the smartest warships and the most lavish theatrical productions, with no expense spared. The practice was called leitourgia (leito = public and ergon = work; hence the word liturgy). It was an obvious chance to show off and it was rare that anyone would shirk their obligations by admitting their neighbour was richer.
In the democracy of Ancient Athens only 10% of the population had the vote.
In all history, nothing is so surprising or so difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece.
By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
In Ancient Greece, killing a dolphin was a crime punishable by death.
If you're given the choice between going to an orgy or a symposium, be careful you don't make the wrong choice. The sedate-sounding 'symposium' of the Ancient Greeks frequently descended into debauchery, and even riot. Greek writers devoted much
Roman orgies, on the other hand, were comparatively sedate affairs. In imperial Rome, all rich people were expected to hold frequent, extravagant parties - the more extravagant, the greater your status. Hundreds of strangers, of all classes, would be invited at random; but as ever, attractive, fashionably-dressed people would be the most welcome guests. Food and drink would be generously supplied, as would entertainment from dancers, musicians, and prostitutes of both sexes. But Roman orgies were certainly not comparable with modern wife-swapping parties. There was sex - but not of the sort you'd find if you typed 'orgy scene' into a search engine. There was no 'orgy sex' at orgies. In all the surviving literature, art, and graffiti concerning orgies, there are only one or two references to what we think of as orgy sex - and even there, it’s clear that such activities are not recommended or even approved of. The participants are depicted as old and ugly.
Dr Alastair Blanshard of the University of Sydney - a leading orgyologist - says the modern picture of 'Roman orgies' arose in the 18th century. Conservatives wanted to say the Roman Empire fell because of its loose morals, while libertines wanted to say that their own loose morals had respectable, classical precedents. Since he started working on orgies, Dr Blanshard says that he has been excised from his mother’s Christmas newsletters.
In Ancient Greece, the normal size of a jury was about 500 people.
The Spartans only allowed strong babies to survive; weaklings were thrown into a chasm. They washed newborn babies in wine, because they believed this would bring them strength.
Their educational system had elements in common with the British independent sector in its heyday: boarding school from the age of 7, membership of the cadet force and a disdain for the lower orders (except that Spartan youths were actually supposed to kill the subjugated helots if they could). Uniquely, girls were also educated. Spartan men were honoured with a named headstone if they died in battle, whilst the women had a named headstone if they died in childbirth.
The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that a Persian spy entered the Spartan camp before the Battle of Thermoplyae and saw the Spartan warriors combing and perfuming their hair and doing stretching exercises. The Persian spy promptly ran back to his camp and announced that the Spartans were all a bunch of namby-pambies and the battle would be easy. Herodotus comments that the foolish Persians didn't realise that the Spartans combed and oiled their hair before battle to make themselves 'greater and more noble and more terrible'; it was a ritual which presaged a fight to the death. Rather pleasingly, the famous 300 Spartans were accompanied by 700 Thespians (who presumably did not only their hair but also their make-up before the gig), as well as 400 Thebans.
The word 'laconic' refers to the conversational style of the people of the area around Sparta (Lakonia).
The Ancient Greeks were fond of eating thistles, which they imported from Sicily.
'Gymnos' means 'naked', and the gymnasium was the place where Greek athletes trained, more or less naked. They did often wearing a kynodesme, a thin leather thong that pulled the penis upward – it was tied in a bow and fastened around the waist. Trainers could get the attention of their athletes by giving their leashes a quick yank. The kynodesme was not exclusively used by athletes, but they are the group most often seen wearing the item on vases and statues. People taking part in the komos, a ritualistic drunken procession, also wore the thong.
It is not known why exercising in the nude began but it is believed that the custom started in Sparta, probably so the male body could be admired in all its beauty. This is why athletes covered themselves in oil too – this was a very expensive practice and needed public and private subsidies to pay for it. The Greeks loved to show off their bodies and all-over tans and contrast them with pale, flabby foreigners.
So technically, the correct thing to wear in a gym is 'nothing'. Although we don't recommend you try it at your local. Other words with the same root include Gymnosperm, which means a plant with naked seeds (such as the pine, hemlock fir, etc.). To gymnologise, on the other hand, means to debate whilst naked.
Ancient Greek gymnasiums had a much wider variety of activities than the modern kind. They began as a place for the middle classes to train for battle, then evolved into centres for athletes to prepare for competitions in festivals. By the 4th century bc, the Greeks used them as a place to balance body and mind. Gymnasiums usually had libraries and lecture halls attached and were located in a shaded area outside the city centre, beside a stream. Only large cities had a gymnasium, but Athens had three – the Academy, the Lyceum, and for non-citizens, the Cynosarges.
Each gymnasium also had palestrae in which boys practiced boxing, ball games and wrestling. In English, the word ‘gymnast’ means someone who does gymnastics but in Ancient Greece it meant a trainer. The gymnasiums were supervised by gymnasiarchs, who also supervised competitions during festivals.
By the 4th century ad the gymnasiums had disappeared, as the Romans did not think athletic and intellectual pursuits belonged together.
Ancient Greeks wouldn't eat beans as they thought that they contained the souls of the dead.