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Pallakai, singular, pallake, was the general name given to a prostitute in ancient Greece

Status of the pallakai

The status of these women was that of slaves, usually captured in war and brought back to Greece, either for the use of their captor, or to be sold. These women were allowed to be bought or sold just as any other slave in the Greek world.

One such account of this appears with Cassandra in Aeschylus' play, , where she is brought to Agamemnon's palace as a mistress. She is later killed by Clytemnestra, alongside Agamemnon himself, as she has started an affair with Aegeisthus.

Social acceptability of the pallakai

The pallakai were accepted as part of the social make-up of Greek society. In the oration Against Neaera, Demosthenes said:

We have hetairai for pleasure, pallakai for the body's daily needs and gunaikes for the bearing of legitimate children and for the guardianship of our houses

Literature and the pallakai

There are many examples of pallakai in literature and drama.

The most lengthy is the Oration against Neaera, in which Demosthenes is prosecuting a woman called Neaera and her husband for claiming citizen-rights falsely, for her and also children she bore to her husband. This was considered a very serious crime, especially in Athens where citizenship was restricted to those with a citizen mother and father.

The case made against her alleges that she was a pallake in Corinthmarker and other cities, before coming to Athensmarker. The defence speech however does not survive, but one such possible defence may have been that she was a mistress rather than a prostitute, which was a normal social practice.

Another such example occurs in the text Against The Stepmother For Poisoning, a speech by Antiphon. In this speech for the prosecution, it is alleged that a pallake was tricked into poisoning her master, who was to sell her to a brothel, by her master's wife.


  1. Agamemnon;layout=;loc=0;query=card%3D%232- text of the Agamemnon. (Greek, English available) Text of the Oration Against Neaera

Athenaze, Balme and Lawall, OUP Publishing, USA, 1995

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