- Economy of ancient Greece
economyof ancient Greecewas characterized by the extreme importance of agriculture, all the more so because of the relative poverty of Greece's soil. Beginning in the 6th century B.C., craftsmanshipand commerce(principally maritime) developed and became increasingly more important in the classical period.
It should be noted that the idea of an "economy" as it is understood today is relatively
anachronisticwhen used to refer to ancient Greece. The Greek word "oikonomia" (Polytonic|οἰκονομία) designates mainly the "oikos" (Polytonic|οἶκος), meaning the home or hearth. Thus Xenophon's dialogue entitled "Oeconomicus" is concerned with household managementand agriculture. The Greeks had no precise term to designate the processes of production and exchange. The economist Murray Rothbard, however, notes that ancient Greek philosophers grappled with questions that today would be identified as economyAncient Greek: "stenokhôría", Polytonic|στενοχωρία) explains Greek colonialism and the importance of the cleruchies of Asia Minorin controlling the supply of wheat. The olive tree and grapevine were complemented by the cultivation of herbs, vegetables, and oil-producing plants. Husbandrywas badly developed due to a lack of available land. Sheepand goatswere the most common types of livestock. Woods were heavily exploited, first for domestic use and eventually to build triremes. Bees were kept to produce honey, the only source of sugarknown to the ancient Greeks.
Since it was so labor-intensive, agriculture employed up to 80% of the Greek population. Agricultural work followed the rhythm of the seasons: harvesting olives and trimming grapevines at the beginning of autumn and the end of winter, setting aside
fallowland in the spring, harvesting cereals in the summer, cutting wood, sowing seeds, and harvesting grapes in autumn.
In the ancient era, most land was held by the
aristocracy. During the 7th century BCE, demographic expansion and the distribution of successions created tensions between these landowners and the peasants. In Athens, the crisis was resolved by Solon's reforms, which eliminated debt bondageand protected the peasant class. Nonetheless, the Greek aristocrat's domains remained small compared with the Roman " latifundia".
Much of the craftsmanship of ancient Greece was part of the domestic sphere. However, the situation gradually changed between the 8th and 4th centuries, with the increased commercialization of the Greek economy. Thus,
weavingand baking, activities so important to the Western late medievaleconomy, were done only by women before the 6th century BC, after the grow of commerce, slaves started to be widely used in workshops. Only fine dyed tissues, like those made with Tyrian purple, were created in workshops. On the other hand, working with metal, leather, wood, or clay, was a specialized activity, and looked down upon by most Greeks.The basic workshop was often family-operated. In some cases, the Greeks resorted to the use of slave labor. Lysias' shieldmanufactory employed 120 slaves; Demosthenes' father, a maker of swords, used 32. After the death of Periclesin 429 BC, a new class emerged: that of the wealthy owners and managers of workshops. Examples include Cleonand Anytos, noted tannery owners, and Kleophon, whose factory produced lyres.
Free workers were paid by assignment, since the workshops could not guarantee regular work. In
Athens, those who worked on state projects were paid one drachmaper day, no matter what craft they practiced. The workday generally began at sunriseand ended in the afternoon.
The potter's work consisted of selecting the clay, fashioning the vase, drying and baking it, and applying varnish. Part of the production went to domestic usage (dishes, containers, oil lamps) or for commercial purposes, and the rest served religious or artistic functions. Techniques for working with clay have been known since the
Bronze Age; the potter's wheelis a very ancient invention. The ancient Greeks did not add any innovations to these processes.
The creation of artistically decorated vases in Greece had strong foreign influences. For instance, the famed black-figure style of
Corinthian potters most likely was derived from the Syrian style of metalworking. The heights to which the Greeks brought the art of ceramics is therefore due entirely to their artistic sensibilities and not to technical ingenuity.
Pottery in ancient Greece was most often the work of slaves. Many of the potters of
Athensassembled between the agoraand the Dipylon, in the Kerameikon. They most often operated as small workshops, consisting of a master, several paid artisans, and slaves.
Deposits of metal
oreare common in Greece. Of these, the best known are the silvermines of Laurium. These mines contributed to the development of Athens in the 5th century BC, when the Athenians learned to prospect, treat, and refine the ore. Fortuitously, the composition of the earth below the mines rendered drainage unnecessary, an important proviso given that ancient mine drainage techniques did not allow for excavation below the level of subsoil waters. The passageways and steps of Greek mines were dug out with the same concern for proportion and harmony found in their temples. The work was extremely difficult, due to the tunnels' depth — they were sometimes more than 100 meters. The miner, armed with his pick and iron hammerand hunched over in two, labored to extract lead ore. The Laurium mines were worked by a large slave population, originating for the most part from Black Searegions such as Thraceand Paphlagonia.
Other Greek mines include:
Gold: Sifnos, Thasos
Silver: Cyprus, Sifnos
Iron: Euboea, Rhodes, and Cyprus
Copper: Chalcis, Euboea
Very early on, the geographic position of Greece and the necessity of
importing wheat forced the Greek world to engage in maritime trade. The areas which provisioned Greece with wheat were Cyrenaica, Egypt, Italy(specifically the Magna Graeciaarea and Sicily), and regions surrounding the Black Sea. Athens and Corinth served as waystations of exchange for the isles of the Aegean Sea. Other imported products included papyrus, spices, fabrics, metals, and shipbuildingmaterials such as wood, linen, and pitch, also grain was imported. For their part, Greek cities exported wine, pottery, and olive oil. Athens sold marble extracted from Penteli, renown in the Greek world, and also silver coins, known for their elegant workmanship and high proportion of silver. These served not only as a means of exchange, but also as a source of metal: in places that did not use money, they were melted back into silver. Available sources do not provide enough information to evaluate with moderate precision the volume of goods exchanged in Greek trade.
However some historians made imprecise estimates of the relative importance of commerce in the ancient Greek economy. Daniel Jew has calculated that nearly half the wealth generated in fourth-century Athens must have come from gains in trade. Ian Morris estimated that the volume of trade in the 4th century Mediterranean Sea was about 20% of the volume of trade in the first century.
The main participants in Greek commerce were the class of traders known as "emporoi" (Polytonic|ἕμποροι). The state collected a duty on their cargo. At
Piraeus(the main portof Athens), this tax was set initially at 1%, then at 2%. By the end of the 5th century, the tax had been raised to 33 talents ( Andocides, I, 133-134). In 413, Athens ended the collection of tributefrom the Delian Leagueand imposed a 5% duty on all the ports of her empire ( Thucydides, VII, 28, 4) in the hope (unrealized) of increasing revenues. These duties were never protectionist, but were merely intended to raise money for the public treasury.
The growth of trade in Greece led to the development of financial techniques. Most merchants, lacking sufficient cash
assets, resorted to borrowing to finance all or part of their expeditions. A typical loan for a large venture in 4th century Athens, was generally a large sum of cash (usually less than 2,000 drachmas), lent for a short time (the length of the voyage, a matter of several weeks or months), at a high rate of interest(often 12% but reaching levels as high as 100%). The terms of the contract were always laid out in writing, differing from loans between friends ("eranoi"). The lender bore all the risks of the journey, in exchange for which the borrower committed his cargo and his entire fleet, which were precautionarily seized upon their arrival at the port of Piraeus.
Trade in ancient Greece was free: the state controlled only the supply of grain. In Athens, following the first meeting of the new
Prytaneis, regulations on trade were reviewed, with a specialized committee overseeing the trade in wheat, flour, and bread.
The number of shipwrecks found in the Mediterranean Sea provides valuable evidence for the development of trade in the ancient world. Only 2 shipwrecks were found that dated from the
8th century BC. However archeologists have found 46 shipwrecks dated from the 4th century BC, which would appear to indicate that there occurred a very large increase of the volume of trade between these centuries. Considering that the average ship tonnage also increased in the same period, the total volume of trade increased probably by a factor of 30.
retailactivity in ancient Greece is limited. While peasants and artisans often sold their own wares, there were also retail merchants known as "kápêloi" (Polytonic|κάπηλοι). Grouped into guilds, they sold fish, olive oil, and vegetables. Women sold perfumeor ribbons. They paid a fee for their space in the marketplace. Viewed poorly by the general population, they were often accused of tampering with their measures. Their weights were periodically checked against standards.
Parallel to the "professional" merchants were those who sold the
surplusof their household production, be it vegetables, olive oil, or bread. This was the case for many of the small-scale farmers of Attica. Among townsfolk, this task often fell to the women. For instance, Euripides' mother sold chervilfrom her garden (cf. Aristophanes, " The Acharnians", v. 477-478).
Direct taxation was not well-developed in ancient Greece. The "eisphorá" (Polytonic|εἰσφορά) was a tax on the wealth of the very rich, but it was levied only when needed — usually in times of war. Large fortunes were also subject to "liturgies", that is, the support of public works. Liturgies could consist, for instance, of the maintenance of a
trireme, a chorus during a theater festival, or a gymnasium. In some cases, the prestige of the undertaking could attract volunteers. Such was the case for the choragus, who organized and financed choruses for a drama festival. In other instances, like the burden of outfitting and commanding a trireme, the liturgy functioned more like a mandatory donation. In some cities, like Miletusand Teos, heavy taxation was imposed on citizens.
On the other hand, indirect taxes were quite important. Taxes were levied on houses, slaves, herds and flocks, wines, and hay, among others. The rights to collect many of these taxes were often transferred to
publicans, or "telônai" (polytonic|τελῶναι). However, this was not true of all cities. Thasos' gold mines and Athens' taxes on business allowed them to elliminate these indirect taxes. Dependent groups such as the Penestaeof Thessalyand the Helots of Spartawere taxed by the city-states to which they were subject.
Coinage probably began in
Lydiaaround 600 BC, and circulated in the cities of Asia Minor under its control; ["Oxford Classical Dictionary", "Coinage"] early electrumcoins have been found at the Temple of Dianaat Ephesus. The technique of minting coins arrived in mainland Greece around 550 BC, beginning with coastal trading cities like Aeginaand Athens. Their use spread, and the city-states quickly secured a monopoly on their creation. The very first coins were made from electrum(an alloy of gold and silver), followed by pure silver, the most commonly found valuable metal in the region. The mines of the Pangaion hillsallowed the cities of Thraceand Macedonto mint a large quantity of coins. Laurium's silver mines provided the raw materials for the "Athenian owls", the most famous coins of the ancient Greek world. Less-valuable bronzecoins appeared at the end of the 5th century.
Coins played several roles in the Greek world. They provided a
medium of exchange, mostly used by city-states to hire mercenaries and compensate citizens. They were a source of revenue: foreigners had to change their money into the local currency at an exchange ratefavorable to the State. They served as a mobile form of metal resources, which explains discoveries of Athenian coins with high levels of silver at great distances from their home city. Finally, the minting of coins lent an air of undeniable prestige to any Greek city or city state.
Agriculture of Ancient Greece
Slavery in Ancient Greece
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