Ancient Greek furniture

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Katerina Bulovska
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The style of Ancient Greek furniture was very simple and elegant. The earliest Greek civilization concentrated more on the comfort of its furniture rather than its decoration. However, as the Greek love for art and beauty is well known, the simple items of furniture were works of art in their own way.

The history of Ancient Greek furniture can be traced back to the heritage of Egyptian furniture. Greek civilization borrowed original ideas from Egypt during the Classical era from 499 BC to 79 BC, but the furniture’s design and style were transformed by the Greeks.

Although they were both made of similar materials, Egyptian furniture was rectangular and stiff, while Greek furniture became more unique, ornamental, of softer style, and with more attention given to the functional elements of the furniture. Carvings and inlays were used and although they used ivory, tortoise shell, glass, gold, and other precious materials, the furniture wasn’t overly decorative.

Example of Ancient Greek furniture

The typical material used for designing furniture was wood because it was durable and easy to fashion. Typical wood varieties include maple, oak, willow, cedar, cypress, lime, and olive. By the 6th century BC, the Greeks had most of the possible hand tools for designing wood – the adze, ax, saw, plane, hammer, rule, and lathe. The finishing method included veneer, painting with geometric decorations, and oil polish. Unfortunately, many examples of this wooden ancient furniture have rotted away over the centuries, although some survive.

On the other hand, stationary furniture such as dining couches, and outdoor furniture like the benches in a theater, were often sculpted out of stone or metal; mostly bronze, iron, silver, and gold. Luckily, some Greek amphitheaters are well preserved and the stone forms of the furniture can still be seen today.

The main types of furniture used in ancient Greece were stools, couches, small tables, chests, and chairs. During the 5th and 4th century BC the art of furniture-making developed to express the lifestyle and spirit characteristic of Ancient Greek civilization.

The most popular Ancient Greek furniture is probably the throne or thronos. The modern word ‘throne’ is derived from the ancient Greek thronos, meaning a seat designed for individuals of high status or honor. In art, the throne chair was depicted as the seat of gods, goddesses, and royalty. Only the most important person present could use the throne chair.

Bed from Ancient Greece

The stool was used by all the people of ancient Greece. The typical stool, known as the bathron had a flat top, four straight legs, and no back support. In some cases, the stool had three legs and was named diphros. Diphros Okladias was the name of another type of stool, where the legs crossed as in the modern stool with a tripod base. Less extravagant, but more influential was the Greek chair with a curved backrest and legs whose form was copied by the Romans known as klismos.

The couch or kline also held an important place in ancient Greece. The Greeks used it for reclining during the day and as a bed by night. The kline was rectangular and supported on four legs, two of which could be longer than the other, offering support for an armrest or headboard. These couches were elegantly upholstered and often had bronze legs cast in animal styles.

Greek tables were usually small and easily portable. An interesting fact is that most tables were made with three rather than four legs. There were two legs at one end, with the third in the center of the other end. Also, tables had circular tops and four legs, or even one central leg, but the most common table was rectangular and stood on three legs. The tables were usually placed next to the couch to hold food and drink.

Chests were used for storing clothing and were often painted with leaves and flowers. They were prized pieces of furniture passed down from one generation to another.

Greek marble relief c. 300 BC depicting a pious family offering a ram to two deities dining at a table in a temple. Photo Credit

Ancient Greek furniture continued to influence Western designers in the 18th and 19th centuries. The simple and elegant lines of Ancient Greek furniture encouraged cabinet-makers to leave behind earlier, heavier styles and to copy the Greek designs. It became known as the neoclassical style of furniture and is still sought after by antique collectors. Even today, Ancient Greek furniture continues to inspire modern Western furniture design.