episode #150 crafts of ancient Greece

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Ancient Greece (Greek: Ἑλλάς, romanised: Hellás) was a northeastern Mediterranean civilisation, existing from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of classical antiquity (c. 600 AD), that comprised a loose collection of culturally and linguistically related city-states and other territories. Most of these regions were officially unified only once, for 13 years, under Alexander the Great’s empire from 336 to 323 BC (though this excludes a number of Greek city-states free from Alexander’s jurisdiction in the western Mediterranean, around the Black Sea, Cyprus, and Cyrenaica). In Western history, the era of classical antiquity was immediately followed by the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine period.

One of the main craft activities in the domestic sphere was textile production. The relatively simple principle of Greek attire (a draping of a rectangle of wool or linen held by a brooch) did not need a complicated competence. The manufacture of dresses, like the previous phases of carding, spinning and weaving of wool or linen point to feminine functions within the oikos, the erga gynaïka.

Another essential activity of the oikos was the transformation of agricultural production into foodstuffs requested daily by the household. Again, this was a predominantly female task, but as it was heavier than textile work, the women who practiced it were often of servile origin. 

Rural craftsmanship was strongly linked to agricultural activity. Thus, manufacture of metal objects and ceramic workshops were based around countryside, some workshops could be “coupled” to a farm. Vessels and jewellery were produced to high standards, and exported far afield. Objects in silver, at the time worth more relative to gold than it is in modern times, were often inscribed by the maker with their weight, as they were treated largely as stores of value, and likely to be sold or re-melted before very long. 

The size of the workshops varied greatly. Most were run by a craftsmen—alone or with the help of family members—who made simple and cheap products. They had no stock and worked mostly on demand. The artisan enterprise, whose production was not only intended for a local clientele, was managed by a sort of “master craftsman” with recognised skills and relatively large financial means. It could bring together about thirty workers (often of servile origin) with differentiated tasks. The products resulting from these workshops were often refined or luxurious (clothing, purple dyes, stele engraving, painted pottery, etc.) and could reach very high prices depending on the reputation of the master, whose integration into society was undeniable, as shown for example by the funerary stele of the shoemaker Janotype.

There was also, especially in the large cities, a third type of craft enterprise of a much larger size, whose owner was not necessarily a “craftsman”, but who could invest in craft production and marketing, relying on the use of slave labour. It is known in Athens since the 5th century BC, but they develop on the scale of the Greek world in the Hellenistic era. the craftsmanship was a low-risk activity – whatever the size of these craft enterprises, they produced only on customer demand.





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