Luxury, austerity and equality in Ancient Greece

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Prof Hans van Wees delivering his Inaugural Lecture

On Tuesday evening Professor Hans van Wees, the Department’s Grote Professor of Ancient History, gave an Inaugural Lecture on the theme ‘Luxury, austerity and equality in Ancient Greece’. Hans first examined the subject of luxury, explaining to an eager audience that as well as material possessions luxury also meant leisure time. To the upper class in Ancient Greece, particularly in Athens, this leisurely pace of life was absolutely essential. Later Hans discussed the Sybarites who, we learnt, invented the bath tub and chamber pot and took their lapdogs to the gymnasium! However it was not a life of luxury for all Ancient Greeks with the Spartans following a comparatively austere lifestyle which included local wine and black broth from a simple all-purpose mug (kothon). However Aristophanes mentioned tasselled fringes on Spartan garments so there were some hints of luxury after all …

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