Craftsmanship in Ancient Greece



published on 18 January 2012

Much of the craftsmanship of ancient Greece was part of the domestic sphere. However, the situation gradually changed between the 8th and 4th centuries BC, with the increased commercialization of the Greek economy. Thus, weaving and baking were done only by women before the 6th century BC. After the growth of commerce, slaves started to be widely used in workshops. Working with metal, leather, wood, or clay, was a specialized activity, and looked down upon by most Greeks. The basic workshop was often family-operated. Lysias' shield manufactory employed 120 slaves; Demosthenes' father, a maker of swords, used 32. After the death of Pericles in 429 BC, a new class emerged: that of the wealthy owners and managers of workshops. Examples include Cleon and Anytos, noted tannery owners, and Kleophon, whose factory produced lyres.

Free workers were paid by assignment, since the workshops could not guarantee regular work. In Athens, those who worked on state projects were paid one drachma per day, no matter what craft they practiced. The workday generally began at sunrise and ended in the afternoon.


Pottery in ancient Greece was most often the work of slaves. Many of the potters of Athens assembled between the Agora and the Dipylon, in the Kerameikon. They most often operated as small workshops, consisting of a master, several paid artisans, and slaves.

The potter's work consisted of selecting the clay, fashioning the vase, drying and baking it, and applying varnish. Part of the production went to domestic use (dishes, containers, oil lamps) or for commercial purposes, and the rest served religious or artistic functions. The techniques for working with clay have been known since the Bronze Age; the potter's wheel is an ancient invention. The ancient Greeks did not add any innovations to these processes.

The creation of artistically decorated vases in Greece had strong foreign influences. The famed black-figure style of Corinthian potters most likely was derived from the Syrian style of metalworking. The heights to which the Greeks brought the art of ceramics is therefore due entirely to their artistic sensibilities and not to technical ingenuity.


Deposits of metal ore are common in Greece. Of these, the best known are the silver mines of Laurium. These mines contributed to the development of Athens in the 5th century BC, when the Athenians learned to prospect, treat, and refine the ore. The composition of the earth below the mines rendered drainage unnecessary, an important proviso given that ancient mine drainage techniques did not allow for excavation below the level of subsoil waters. The passageways and steps of Greek mines were dug out with the same concern for proportion and harmony found in their temples. The work was extremely difficult, due to the tunnels' depth of sometimes more than 100 meters. The Laurium mines were worked by a large slave population, originating for the most part from Black Sea regions such as Thrace and Paphlagonia.

Other Greek mines include Chalcis (Copper), Cyprus (Iron, Silver), Euboea (Copper, Iron), Rhodes (Iron), Sifnos (Gold, Silver), and Thassos (Gold).


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