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Athens and the Acropolis. In ancient Greece, homes often doubled as brothels and drinking establishments, suggests new archaeological research.
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updated 1/21/2009 1:53:31 PM ET 2009-01-21T18:53:31

A new analysis of archaeological remains might have solved the mystery of the elusive kapeleia, lively Greek taverns that have long puzzled archaeologists.

Despite the kapeleia being featured prominently in classical plays, no tangible evidence of the drinking dens has ever been found.

"Taverns are indeed so well hidden. We know them to have existed, yet we cannot seemingly find any physical evidence for the buildings themselves," said Clare Kelly Blazeby, from the University of Leeds, U.K., who presented her research last week at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Philadelphia.

Suspecting that archaeologists were missing something, Blazeby reviewed artifacts unearthed at several private houses across the Greek mainland, dating from 475 to 323 B.C.

She was struck by the fact that some houses had yielded hundreds of drinking cups — far too many even for well-off families hosting lavish parties.

The most likely explanation, according to Blazeby, is that Greek homes doubled as pubs.

Real Indiana Jones mysteries"There was nothing to stop part of a house being utilized for commercial gain by using a room fronting onto the street as a shop, or indeed from using the household courtyard for business transactions," she said.

Domestic walls might have also hidden other dubious commercial activities. Indeed, drinking, eating and sex seemed to have gone hand in hand in the homes of ancient Greece.

Presenting her research on prostitution in classical Athens, Allison Glazebrook of Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario, agreed that interpreting the physical evidence of Greek remains is a challenge. In some cases, she argued, buildings believed to be simple homes were instead "porneia," dedicated to prurient activities.

"There is no evidence of any purpose-built brothels for ancient Greece. We should not expect brothel spaces to look that different from houses in the material record because girls lived in brothels in which they worked," Glazebrook told Discovery News.

Hints to distinguishing a porneia, or brothel, from an ordinary house include not only the number of drinking cups, but also the presence of multiple entrances, the existence of oikemata or little rooms — working in a brothel is usually coined as "sitting in a little room" in ancient Greek texts — and an abundance of cisterns and wells, since bathing after sex was customary in Greece.

The new interpretation of Greek houses casts a new light on the economy in classical Greece. The Greeks simply did it all at home.

"My research shows that a lot of trade was embedded within the domestic walls. It also changes our perception of who was drinking wine, and where they were doing it. Women, slaves and foreigners as well as ordinary Greeks, would all have enjoyed time and wine in a classical tavern," Blazeby told Discovery News.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

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