What Was a Symposium in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, a symposium was a social gathering where men would come together to drink, eat, and discuss various topics. The word “symposium” comes from the Greek words “syn” meaning together and “posis” meaning drinking. These gatherings were typically held in the evenings after dinner and could last for hours.

During a symposium, guests would recline on couches or pillows while drinking wine from a shared bowl called a krater. The host of the symposium would determine the amount of wine each guest received, with the goal being to reach a state of mild intoxication known as euphoria.

While drinking was certainly an important part of the symposium, intellectual conversation was also highly valued. Guests would discuss topics such as philosophy, politics, literature, and art. These discussions were often led by a designated speaker known as a symposiarch.

In addition to intellectual conversation, music and poetry were also common at symposia. Guests could enjoy performances by musicians and poets or even participate themselves.

Symposia were typically attended by men of similar social status and were seen as an opportunity to build relationships and alliances. They were also used as a way for young men to gain knowledge from their elders.

Overall, the symposium was an important part of ancient Greek culture that combined elements of drinking, intellectual discussion, and entertainment. It provided an opportunity for men to come together in social settings outside of their daily lives and connect with one another over shared interests and experiences.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ancient Greek symposia were social gatherings where men would drink wine and discuss various topics.
  • Intellectual conversation was highly valued during these gatherings.
  • Music and poetry were also common at symposia.
  • Symposia provided opportunities for socializing outside of daily life.


  1. Cartwright, M. (2016). Symposium. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/symposium/
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica.