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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

The Symposium was originally know as a drinking party. It was an all male event, and the only women that attended were there as entertainers or as consorts to the attendees. They were usually held in men’s quarters within the house, a space known as the andron. The men attending would recline singly or in pairs on couches. Boys in attendance sat, and did not recline. Food and wine was served usually by nude young men from the center. The Krater or “mixing bowl,” used for mixing wine and water, was placed at the center of the room. Kraters were central to the symposium both literally and culturally. The Symposiasts, or the participants, reclined on their couches around the krater, their couches were placed along the wall of the room. This was possible because the number of men that attended, this private affair, were generally small often between eight and twelve.Tables, on which the wine and food was served, were slightly lower and placed in front of the couches, on which the attendees reclined.

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The symposium became a very important social institution in Greek society. It served as a forum in which men could debate, plot, boast, or simply party. These events were held frequently with the introduction of new youths into the aristocratic society. Depending on the occasion games, songs, flute girls, and slaves performing acts were used as forms of entertainment for the guests. Two of the most popular events at the symposium were Kottabos, and skolia. Kottabos was a game in which participants would throw the dregs of their wine at a target. Skolia were a form of drinking songs of a “patriotic or bawdy nature.” The symposiarch wold oversee the symposium. The main focus of his job was the dilution of the wine. It was up to him to decide how strong the wine would be depending on the type of discussion or entertainment that was expected for the evening.

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The date of origin for the Symposium is largely questionable. Archaeologically there are very few Kraters found that date around 750 B.C.E. There were various other types of drinking vessels present, but the specific style and size that correctly corresponds with krater are somewhat of a rarity. The evidence suggests that the symposium became a truly “crystalized institution” towards the end of the seventh century B.C.E. It has been suggested that an institution similar to the symposium was present as far back as the ninth century (Whitely).

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The most complete picture of a symposium that exists is Tomb of the Diver at Paestum The men in the images recline on couches, near each couch there is a slightly lower table where cups and food were placed. There are also depictions of the “Kottabos”

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Whitley, James. The Archeology of Ancient Greece. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

by Alicia Hernandez

Posted at Dec 17/2007 09:23AM:
Rachel Griffith: This is a very nice summary of this social institution. I like that you showed different depictions of the symposium in Greek art which gives an ancient perspective rather than a modern one.