I am looking for a history book on fifth century BCE Athens, preferably with emphasis on culture and the daily lives of the Athenians.

I found recommendations of books about Ancient Greece in general, but I am looking for a book solely about the fifth century in Athens (or which at least focuses on it).

I am interested in the daily lives of the Athenians, the roles played by the philosophers residing in the city (but from a cultural point of view rather than philosophical) and the politics of the time (e.g. the rise and fall of The Thirty near the end of the century).

So my questions are:

  1. What are the canonical/primary sources about fifth century BCE Athens?

  2. Is there any book which researches in detail the daily lives of Athenians in the fifth century BCE?


2 Answers 2


There is a vast amount of literature covering the period you are interested in. What follows is but a small sample, but it should set you on your way.

The following ancient sources cover 5th century BC Athens. They are not specifically about the daily lives and culture of Athenians but there is much to be gleaned from them.

Plutarch's Parallel Lives, notably Pericles Alcibiades and Nicias.

Plato's dialogues have much to say about Athenian attitudes and culture, especially The Republic.

On philosophers, Diogenes Laertius is the most important surviving ancient source. The lives and opinions of eminent philosophers is available on the internet archive.

Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian war covers the latter part of the century but is not, of course, only about Athens.

Herodotus' The Histories is perhaps more useful than Thucydides; although geographically wider ranging, it has many references to Athens and is less confined to war. This PhD thesis explores Herodotus' portrayal of women "against the backdrop of two influences, Greek mythology, and the social customs and thought pertaining to women in ancient Greek society."

I would also strongly recommend Googling Ancient Greek vases and browsing the images - many show Athenians going about their daily lives and the links will give you further information. You might want to start with this British Museum site on Daily Life in Ancient Greece: it shows what pots tell us about a range of topics (children, education, entertainment etc.).

For recent works, Jennifer Gibbon's Athenian Society focuses primarily on the 5th century, and Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks by Robert Garland also has what you want. Also useful are Democracy, Empire, and the Arts in Fifth-century Athens and Robin Osborne' Classical Greece, 500 - 323 BC (especially Chapter 6).

  • Thank you! I read some of the ancient texts (mostly dialogues of Plato), and while they were insightful (and were what got me curious in the first place) I am looking for something a little more comprehensive. I'll take a look at the books you suggested:)
    – Xeno
    Dec 29, 2018 at 20:48

You should check out some of the well known playwrights of the era. Aristophanes and Euripides are two good and different examples. Euripides wrote tragedies and Aristophanes wrote comedy, often satirizing tragedies written by Euripides.

I also agree with looking at Athenian vase painting. Red figure was the dominant type but white ground vase painting appeared in the 5th century which led on to more natural coloured painting techniques. It shows what the current fashions were at the time for such work.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.