What Did the Poor Do in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, the poor faced numerous challenges and hardships. They often struggled to meet their basic needs and were excluded from many aspects of society. Let’s take a closer look at what life was like for the poor in ancient Greece.

Poverty in Ancient Greece

Poverty was a harsh reality for many people in ancient Greece. The poor, known as the “penes” or “penetes,” comprised a significant portion of the population. This group included citizens who had fallen into poverty, metics (resident foreigners), and slaves.

Struggles of the Poor

Life for the poor in ancient Greece was characterized by struggles on several fronts:

  • Lack of Basic Needs: The poor often lacked access to basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. Many lived in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
  • Limited Job Opportunities: The poor had limited job opportunities, and those available were often low-paying and physically demanding.

    Many worked as laborers or servants.

  • Limited Access to Education: Education was primarily reserved for the wealthy elite in ancient Greece. As a result, the poor had limited access to formal education and intellectual development.
  • Social Exclusion: The poor were socially marginalized and had little influence or power within society. They were often treated as second-class citizens.

Survival Strategies

The poor employed various strategies to survive under difficult circumstances:

  • Making Ends Meet: The poor engaged in various forms of work to make ends meet. Some worked as farmers or fishermen, while others took up menial jobs such as cleaning or begging.
  • Mutual Support: Communities often came together to provide mutual support.

    Families and neighbors would assist each other in times of need, sharing resources and offering emotional support.

  • Religious Practices: Religion played a significant role in the lives of the poor. They would participate in religious ceremonies and seek solace and guidance from the gods.

The Role of Charity

Charity played a vital role in ancient Greek society, particularly among the wealthy. It was seen as a moral duty to help those less fortunate. Wealthy individuals would donate money, food, or clothing to assist the poor.

The concept of philanthropy, meaning “love of humanity,” originated in ancient Greece. It emphasized the importance of giving back to society and helping those in need.

Public Welfare Programs

Athens, one of the most prominent city-states in ancient Greece, implemented public welfare programs to support its impoverished citizens. These programs included providing financial assistance, subsidizing food prices, and offering free meals to those unable to afford them.


The poor in ancient Greece faced significant challenges and hardships. They struggled to meet their basic needs, had limited job opportunities, and were socially excluded. However, through resilience and community support, they found ways to survive under difficult circumstances.

The concept of charity and public welfare programs provided some relief for the poor but did not address the root causes of poverty. Understanding the struggles faced by the poor in ancient Greece helps us appreciate how far we have come in addressing poverty today.