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Pallakae or pallakai (Ancient Greek: παλλακαί; singular pallake (παλλακή)) was the general name given to a concubine[1][2] in ancient Greece.


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 Aegisthus.

Social acceptability[edit]

The pallakai were accepted as part of Greek society. In the Oration against Neaera, Demosthenes said:

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


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 Neaira 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 Corinth and other cities, before coming to Athens. The defense speech however does not survive, but one such possible defense 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.


The word pallake, "concubine" is of uncertain etymology. R. S. P. Beekes has suggested a Pre-Greek origin and a connection with Latin paelex, "mistress," which is also a loanword from a non-Indo-European Mediterranean language.[3]


  1. ^ Wiley Online Library
  2. ^ Pallake – Brill Reference – Brill Online
  3. ^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 1147.

External links[edit]