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Athens Sights - Ancient Keramikos Building Z

The history of ‘Building Z’, whose ancient name remains unknown, provides a glimpse into some of the less elevated activities taking place in the Kerameikos.

Building Z was first constructed around 435 BC in the corner formed by the city wall and the Sacred Gate. It was rebuilt at least four times after destructions by earthquakes and by human aggression during times of war. At first sight there is little that sets Building Z apart from other houses of the Classical and Hellenistic periods. As usual, the different rooms – including a kitchen, a probable dining room (for the man of the house and his friends) and women’s quarters – were grouped around a courtyard, which was provided with cisterns and wells.

It is in its third building phase, dated to the second half of the 4th century BC, after the house had lain abandoned for some 50 years, that the plan and functions of Building Z seem to have changed. Additional wells and cisterns were dug and the larger rooms were divided up in smaller ones. The discovery in these small rooms of terracotta loomweights indicate that Building Z was converted into a kind of ‘sweat shop’, where weaving took place on a commercial scale. In antiquity, such weaving was done by female slaves. In addition, there were hundreds of fragments of terracotta drinking cups and plates, again in quantities much larger than one would expect in an ordinary house.

'disgusting' pre-christain attitduesIt seems, therefore, that the slave girls had the second task of entertaining male guests at night. (In Classical comedies, brothels, sometimes with as many as thirty women, are often situated in the Kerameikos.) Small terracotta figurines and amulets of goddesses, including Aphrodite, the goddess of love, may have been the personal belongings of these poor slave girls.

The loomweights from Building Z, the goddess statuettes and silver pendant with Aphrodite can be seen in the Kerameikos Museum as can this piece of pottery left.

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