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Classical Greece

The Ancient World and Fashion > Civilizations of Ancient Greece
A woman weaving woolen cloth on a vertical loom
A woman weaving woolen cloth on a vertical loom

By around 800 BCE the ancient Greeks were living in city-states. There were around three hundred city-states in total, but the two most powerful ones were Athens, in eastern-central Greece, and Sparta, in the south. Gradually, Athens gained in wealth and power, and by the fifth century BCE it had become the center of a thriving Greek civilization. Ancient Greek society had an elite of wealthy, well-educated people. They created fine art and great buildings, studied mathematics and medicine, and discussed political ideas.There were also priests, soldiers, farmers, traders, and merchants.The lowest class, comprising about a quarter of the population, were slaves.

Making Clothes

Most women in ancient Greece knew how to spin wool and weave it into cloth, and a Greek wife was expected to provide all the cloth for her family. Some women did all of their household spinning and weaving themselves, but rich women often had slaves to do the work instead. One famous example of a virtuous Greek woman is Penelope, the wife of the hero Odysseus, who kept busy with her weaving for twenty years, while Odysseus was away on his adventures! Once the wool was spun, it could be colored using natural dyes made from plants, insects,and shellfish. Women wove their thread on a tall, upright loom and sometimes included patterned borders in their cloth. Geometric shapes were very popular, and mythological creatures also featured in borders. Greek clothes were usually made from wool, although some women wove thread from flax to make linen cloth. From the fifth century BCE onward, a few very rich people wore garments made from imported silk or cotton.

Arachne the Weaver

Spinning and weaving were so important in ancient Greece that many myths and stories grew up about them. One story told the legend of Arachne, a very skilled weaver, who was turned into a spider by the goddess Athena because she dared to challenge Athena to a weaving contest.

Awoman weaving woolen cloth on a vertical loom. Most women in ancient Greece wove the cloth for their household.

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