Economy of ancient Greece

Note : except contrary precision, the dates of this page all are implied "before Jesus-Christ".

economy of ancient Greece is characterized by a strong pregnancy of, bases economy and company, all the more important as the Greek grounds are not very fertile. From VIE front century. J.- C., it and it , mainly maritime, develops.

It is to note that the concept of " ", with the direction where it is heard at the present time, is relatively anachronistic for . The????????? / oikonomia do not indicate whereas the management of the????? / oikos, i.e. the house or the field. Thus, many treaties entitled Economic, like that of , in fact is intended to land great landowners concerned to manage their grounds well. Conversely, the Greeks do not have any precise term to indicate the whole of the production processs and of exchange.



Detailed article: agriculture in ancient Greece

Agriculture is with the base of the Greek economy. Since the antiquated time, it is founded on the "Mediterranean triptych": cereals, olive oil and vine.

, bases food. However, within sight of the natural constraints and of the democratic evolution, the production quickly appears insufficient for the needs. "narrowness" of the ground (???????/ stenokhôría) explains thus and the importance which will have, with, them ofMinor Asia in the control of the corn supply. The olive-tree and and is supplemented by market gardenings and leguminous, grasses wild or cultivated as well as oleaginous plants. remains little developed because of the lack of grounds available. The most animals are them and them . is exploited intensively, initially for a domestic use, then to build . Lastly, it provides , only source of known of the Greeks.

Demanding in hand of?uvre, agriculture can claim up to 80 % of the population. Agricultural work rythment the calendar: collect olives and cuts vines at the end of the autumn or the beginning of the winter; reversal of the fallow in spring; harvest in summer; cut wood, sowing and grape harvest in autumn.

The agrarian structures are marked by a concentration of the grounds, at the time antiquated, between the hands of aristocratic great landowners. With VIIE century, the demographic expansion and the division of the successions generate important tensions between the latter and the small farmers. In Athens, the crisis is solved with the legislation of , which prohibits and takes measures intended to help the small farmers. At all events, the great Greek aristocratic fields remain very limited with respect to large latifundia Romans.

Craft industry

A good part of the craft industry forms part of the domestic sphere. Thus, the boulange and weaving, if important in the Western medieval economy, are the fact of the women or the slaves. Only refined dyed fabrics, like those dyed with crimson of Tyr, are realized in workshop. The work of metal, leather, wood or of clay () is on the other hand specialized activities, with the remainder rather badly seen by the Greeks.

The basic unit is the workshop, often of family scale. In the other cases, one generally resorts to the slaves. The factory of shields of Lysias employs 120 slaves thus and the father of Démosthène, 32 cutlers and 20 manufacturers of beds. After the death of in , emerges indeed a new class of leaders, enriched by the craft industry: thus of or of, owners of a tannery, of Cléophon, owner of a factory of quadrants.

The employed persons are paid with the task, the workshops not being able to guarantee a regular work. In the building sites of State, in Athens, all are paid one drachma per day, whatever the accomplished trade. Generally, the working day starts with the rising of the sun, and is completed in middle of afternoon.

See also: .


and playing the dice, amphora with red figures, towards

The work of the potter consists to select clay, to work the vase, to dry it then to make it cook, before varnishing it. A part of the production is intended for a domestic use (crockery, containers, oil lamps) or commercial (earthenware jars), another with a religious and/or artistic use. The use of clay (shaping, varnishing, etc.) is known since and the potter's wheel is a very old invention. Ancient Greece will not invent any additional technical process. The manufacture of vases of art is strongly influenced by the foreign techniques: thus, ceramics with black figures, created by the potters of is most probably inspired by work of metal. The perfection to which the Greeks carry ceramics is thus entirely due to their artistic direction, and not to their technical ingeniousness.

The pottery is generally the fact of slaves. In Athens, the potters, many, are gathered between and it Dipylon, in . Often, they are small workshops, gathering a Master, some decorators paid and slaves.


The metal layers are numerous in Greece. Most known are the mines of of , which is one of the causes of the Athenian development of VE century. The Athenians reach there quickly (as of VE century) a high level in the prospection, the treatment and the refining of the ore. Moreover, the conformation of the ground avoids to resort to the drainage, whose ancient techniques are not very sophisticated and prohibit in fact drilling under the level of subsoil waters. The galleries and the staircases are dug there with the same preoccupation of proportion and a harmony that in the temples. Despite everything, work is very painful there, because the depth of the galleries (sometimes more than 100 m). The minor, armed with a peak and an iron hammer, works curved into two to extract siver-bearing lead. Laurion lodges a very important servile population, in majority originating in (, , etc.).

Among the other Greek layers, one can quote:

  • mines of : Siphnos, Tassos ;
  • money mines: , Siphnos;
  • mines of : , and Cyprus;
  • mines of : Eubée, .


Maritime trade

Very early, the Greek world had to resort to the maritime trade to develop, because of the need for importing corn. The zones of provisioning are indeed , it, it (area of and ) or it Euxine Sea. Athens and , importing, also constitutes platforms of exchange for the islands of . Other products follow: , , fabrics, metals, but also of building materials of the ships as wood, the fabric of flax and pitch. On their side, the Greek cities export wine, ceramics and olive oil. Athens also sells it drawn from , famous in everyone Greek, or of the silver moneys, whose manufacture is particularly neat and who have a strong money rate. These last are used indeed not only as means of exchange, but also of metal resource: in the countries not using a currency, they are remelted. The sources we have do not make it possible to evaluate volumes of the exchanged goods.

The actors of this trade are large traders, the??????? / emporoi. The State takes a customs duty on their cargoes. With Pirée, this one is 1, then 2 %. At the end of VE century, this tax is leased with height of 33 talents (, I, 133-134). In , Athens suspends the perception of the tribute of league of Délos and in return a right of 5 % imposes on all the ports of its empire (, VII, 28, 4), in the hope (disappointed) to increase its incomes. These customs duties never have aiming : it is more simply a question of feeding the public cases.

The increase in these exchanges involves a development of the financial techniques. Indeed, the merchants generally resort to the loan to finance whole or part their forwardings, because of the lack of liquidities. The loan with the large adventure, in Athens, with IVE century, consists in lending an important sum in the short run (lower however than 2000 drachmas) (the time of the voyage, is a few weeks or a few months), with a raised interest rate, often of 12 % but going up to 100 %. The terms of the contract are always fixed in writing, contrary to the friendly loans (eranoi). The lender supports all the risks of the crossing, in exchange of what the debtor engages his cargo, even the whole ship, which is seized by precaution as of their arrival in Pirée.

The trade is free: the cities control only the supply grain. In Athens, at the time of the first meeting of the news prytanie, the regulations on its trade are checked. A college takes care specifically on the trade of corn, the flour and the bread.

See also: .

Retail trade

The retail trade is rather also badly known. If the peasant or the craftsman often sells them-even them production, there are retail dealers, the??????? / kápêloi. Gathered in corporations, they sell which fish, which oil, which vegetables. The women sell as for them perfume or ribbons. They pay a right for their site to the market. Badly seen population, they are generally shown to cheat on the quantities. Their weights are regularly checked by the metronomes.

Parallel to the "professional" merchants those are which sell the surplus of their domestic production, that they are vegetables, oil or bread. It is the case of many small farmers of the Attic. Among those of the city, they are often women. Thus, the mother of sells chervil of its garden (cf , Acharniens, v. 477-478).


The direct taxation is not very developed in ancient Greece. There is a form of capital tax for richest, the??????? / eisphorá, but it is raised in an intermittent way, where necessary - generally, in times of war. Great fortunes are also subjected to , i.e. with the assumption of responsibility of the public services such as the maintenance of one , of one ch?ur at the time of the theatrical competitions or of . In certain cases, the prestige of the load causes volunteers - it is the case of -, in others, it acts of a true imposed contribution, like the triérarchie. In certain cities like or , however, there exists a broad direct imposition of the citizens.

The indirect taxation is on the other hand important: taxation of the houses, the slaves, the herds, the hives, but also the wine, oil, fodder, etc. Much of them is leased with publicains, the??????? / telônai. However, that does not relate to all the cities. Thus, gold mines of Thasos or the commercial taxes, for Athens, make it possible in these two cities to even reduce to eliminate these taxes. Lastly, dependent groups like Pénestes thessaliens or them lacédémoniens is subjected to contributions in favour of the citizens.


Athenian Tétradrachme

Of origin probably , struck coining arrives to Greece towards , initially in the maritime and commercial cities like or . Their use is spread during VIE century. Very quickly, quote them in acquire the monopoly. The parts are out of money, the most common metal in Greece, and initially of high value: the bronze parts appear only with VE century. They are probably struck in public workshops, which are badly known. The currency is used not only as means of exchange, but also like metal resource, which explains why one finds very far from Athens of the parts struck by the city attic, which have a high money rate.

See too

Related articles


  • J. Andreau, R. Étienne, "Twenty years of research on the archaism and the modernity of the ancient companies", REA, 86 (1984), p. 37-64;
  • M. Austin and P. Vidal-Naquet, Economy and company in old Greece, Armand Colin, coll. "U", 1972;
  • Anne-Marie Buttin, Traditional Greece, Beautiful Letters, coll. "Guide Beautiful Letters of civilizations", 2002 (ISBN 2251410120);
  • :
    • Ancient Economy, Midnight, coll. "the common Direction", 1975 (ISBN 2707300578),
    • The Problem of the ground in old Greece, Sheep, 1975,
    • Economy and company in old Greece, Threshold, coll. "Points History", 1997 (ISBN 2020146444);
  • Yvon Garlan, War and economy in old Greece, The Discovery, 1999 (ASIN 2707130974);
  • Léopold Migeotte, Economy of the greques cities, Ellipses, coll. "Antiquity: a history ", 2002 (ISBN 2729808493);
  • , Work in Greece and in Rome, PUF, coll. "That do I know? ", 1985 (réed.);
  • Claude Mossé, Annie Schnapp-Gourbeillon, Precis of Greek history, Armand Colin, coll. "U", 2003 (2E edition) (ISBN 220026562X).

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