Were There Prisons in Ancient Greece?

The ancient Greeks were known for their contributions to philosophy, art, and literature. However, little is known about their criminal justice system.

One question that often arises is whether the ancient Greeks had prisons. In this article, we will explore this question and shed light on the topic.

The Greek Penal System

In ancient Greece, the penal system was quite different from what we have today. The primary aim of punishment was not to punish the offender but to deter others from committing crimes.

Hence, punishment typically involved public humiliation or fines rather than imprisonment.

For instance, if someone committed theft, they would be required to return the stolen item and pay a fine. If they failed to do so, they would face public ridicule or even banishment from the city-state.

Ancient Greek Prisons

While imprisonment was not a common form of punishment in ancient Greece, there is evidence to suggest that prisons did exist. However, these were not like modern-day prisons but more like holding cells for those awaiting trial or punishment.

These holding cells were often located near courthouses or other government buildings and were usually small and crowded with no provisions for sanitation or hygiene.

Examples of Ancient Greek Prisons

One famous example of an ancient Greek prison is the one located in Athens’ Acropolis Hill. This prison was used to hold political prisoners and traitors who posed a threat to the government’s stability.

It was a small underground chamber that could hold up to 12 people at once.

Another example is the prison located in Corinth’s Peirene Fountain complex. This prison was designed as a series of small rooms where prisoners could be held temporarily before they were tried and punished.


In conclusion, while imprisonment was not a common form of punishment in ancient Greece, there is enough evidence to suggest that prisons did exist.

The primary goal of the ancient Greek penal system was to deter others from committing crimes rather than punish the offender.