Economy of ancient Greece

The economy of ancient Greece was defined largely by the region's dependence on imported goods. As a result of the poor quality of Greece's soil, agricultural trade was of particular importance. The impact of limited crop production was somewhat offset by Greece's paramount location, as its position in the Mediterranean gave its provinces control over some of Egypt's most crucial seaports and trade routes. Beginning in the 6th century BC, trade craftsmanship and commerce, principally maritime, became pivotal aspects of Greek economic output.[1]

Weighing merchandise Met 47.11.5
Men weighing merchandise, side B of an Attic black-figure amphora


Greek soil has been likened to "stinginess" or "tightness" (Ancient Greek: stenokhôría, στενοχωρία) which helps explain Greek colonialism and the importance of the cleruchies of Asia Minor in controlling the supply of wheat. The olive tree and grapevine, as well as orchards, were complemented by the cultivation of herbs, vegetables, and oil-producing plants. Husbandry was badly developed due to a lack of available land. Sheep and goats were the most common types of livestock. Woods were heavily exploited, first for domestic use and eventually to build triremes. Bees were kept to produce tormesfjdf[jusjfhoney, the only source of sugar known to the ancient Greeks.

Since it was so labor-intensive, up to 80% of the Greek population were employed in the agricultural industry. 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 fallow land in the spring; harvesting cereals in the summer; cutting wood, sowing seeds, and harvesting grapes in autumn.

In the ancient era, most lands were held by the aristocracy. During the 7th century BC, demographic expansion and the distribution of successions created tensions between these landowners and the peasants. In Athens, this was changed by Solon's reforms, which eliminated debt bondage and protected the peasant class. Nonetheless, a Greek aristocrat's domains remained small compared with the Roman latifundia.


NAMA Travail de la laine
Woman working with wool, 481110-471110 BC, National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Much of the craftsmanship of ancient Greece was part southern west of the domestic sphere. However, the situation gradually changed between the 8th and 4th centuries BC, with the increased commercialization of the Greek economy. Thus, weaving and baking, activities so important to the Western late medieval economy, were done only by women before the 6th century BC. After the growth of commerce, slaves started to be used widely 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 that was looked down upon by most Greeks.

The basic workshop was often family-operated. Lysias's shield manufacture employed 350 slaves; Demosthenes' father, a maker of swords, used 32. After the death of Pericles in 429 BC, a new class emerged: that of the wealthy owners and managers of workshops. Examples include Cleon and Anytus, noted tannery owners, and Kleophon, whose factory produced lyres.

Non-slave workers were paid by assignment, since the workshops could not guarantee regular work. In Athens, those who worked on state projects were paid one drachma per day, no matter what craft they practiced. The workday generally began at sunrise and ended in the afternoon.


The potter's work consisted of selecting the clay, fashioning the vase, drying and painting 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 wheel is 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 was most likely 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 Athens assembled between the agora and the Dipylon, in the Kerameikon. They most often operated as small workshops, consisting of a master, several paid artisans, and slaves.


Deposits of metal ore are common in Greece. Of these, the best known are the silver mines 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 provision 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 metres (110 yd) deep. The miner, armed with his pick and iron hammer and 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 Sea regions such as Thrace and Paphlagonia. Weapons, armor tools, and a variety of other goods were created with these metals.

Other Greek mines include:


Greece's main exports were olive oil, wine, pottery, and metalwork. Imports included grains and pork from Sicily, Arabia, Egypt, Ancient Carthage, Bosporan Kingdom.

Maritime commerce

The main participants in Greek commerce were the class of traders known as emporoi (ἕμποροι). The state collected a duty on their cargo. At Piraeus (the main port of 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 tribute from the Delian League and 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 BC 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, trade regulations 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 of the development of trade in the ancient world. Only two shipwrecks were found that dated from the 8th century BC. However, archeologists have found forty-six shipwrecks dated from the 4th century BC, which would appear to indicate that there occurred a very large increase in 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.


While peasants and artisans often sold their own wares, there were also retail merchants known as kápêloi (κάπηλοι). Grouped into guilds, they sold fish, olive oil, and vegetables. Women sold perfume or ribbons. Merchants were required to pay a fee for their space in the marketplace. They were viewed poorly by the general population, and Aristotle labeled their activities as: "a kind of exchange which is justly censured, for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another."[2]

Parallel to the "professional" merchants were those who sold the surplus of their household production such as 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 chervil from her garden (cf. Aristophanes, The Acharnians, v. 477-478).


Direct taxation was not well-developed in ancient Greece. The eisphorá (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 which was the support of public works. Liturgies could consist of, for instance, the maintenance of a trireme, a chorus during a theatre festival, or a gymnasium. In some cases, the prestige of the undertaking could attract volunteers (analogous in modern terminology to endowment, sponsorship, or donation). 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 (what we would today call a one-time tax). In some cities, like Miletus and 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 other things. The right to collect many of these taxes was often transferred to publicans, or telônai (τελῶναι). However, this was not true of all cities. Thasos' gold mines and Athens' taxes on business allowed them to eliminate these indirect taxes. Dependent groups such as the Penestae of Thessaly and the Helots of Sparta were taxed by the city-states to which they were subject.


AGMA Tetradrachm Athens 5c BC
Athenian coin, Athenian Agora Museum

Coinage probably began in Lydia around 600 BC, and circulated in the cities of Asia Minor under its control.[3] Early electrum coins have been found at the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. The technique of minting coins arrived in mainland Greece around 550 BC, beginning with coastal trading cities like Aegina and 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 Pangaeon hills allowed the cities of Thrace and Macedon to 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 bronze coins 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 also a source of revenue as foreigners had to change their money into the local currency at an exchange rate favorable 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.


The shopping centers in Ancient Greece were called agoras. The literal meaning of the word is "gathering place" or "assembly". The agora was the center of the athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. The Ancient Agora of Athens was the best-known example. Early in Greek history (18th century–8th century BC), free-born citizens would gather in the agora for military duty or to hear statements of the ruling king or council. Every city had its own agora where merchants could sell their products. There was linen from Egypt, Ivory from Africa, Spices from Syria, and more. Prices were rarely fixed, so bargaining was a common practice.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ R. W. Dimand. The Origins of International Economics. Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-31555-7. p. 17.
  3. ^ Oxford Classical Dictionary, "Coinage"


  • Bresson, Alain. The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy: Institutions, Markets, and Growth In the City-States. Expanded and updated English edition. Translated by Steven Rendall. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.
  • Donlan, Walter. "The Homeric economy." In A new companion to Homer, edited by Ian Morris and Barry B. Powell, 649-67. New York: E.J. Brill, 1997.
  • Finley, Moses I. The ancient economy. 2d ed. Sather Classical Lectures 48. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1985.
  • Foraboschi, Daniele. "The Hellenistic economy: indirect intervention by the state." In Production and Public Powers In Classical Antiquity, edited by Elio Lo Cascio and Dominic Rathbone, 37-43. Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society, 2000.
  • Meikle, Scott. Aristotle’s economic thought. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.
  • Migeotte, Léopold. The economy of the Greek cities: From the Archaic period to the early Roman Empire. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2009.
  • Morris, Ian. "The Athenian economy twenty years after The ancient economy." Classical Philology 89, no. 4 (1994): 351–66.
  • Pomeroy, Sarah B. Xenophon’s Oeconomicus: A social and historical commentary. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.
  • Scheidel, Walter, Ian Morris, and Richard Saller, eds. The Cambridge economic history of the Greco-Roman world. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007.
  • Scheidel, Walter, and Sitta von Reden. The Ancient Economy. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2012.



The agora (; Ancient Greek: ἀγορά agorá) was a central public space in ancient Greek city-states. The literal meaning of the word is "gathering place" or "assembly". The agora was the center of the athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life in the city. The Ancient Agora of Athens is the best-known example.

Agora of the Competaliasts

The Agora of the Competaliasts is one of the main markets on the island of Delos, Greece, which dates to the last quarter of the 2nd century BC. This market is directly adjacent to the Sacred Harbour. The bases of a square and a round marble monument, both dedicated to Hermes, can be found in the center of the market square. Around these two monuments, one can see the remains of many other monuments erected by merchants, sea captains, and bankers. In the northern portion of this market, one can find the Portico of Philip and an Ionic temple dedicated to Hermes. In the eastern and southern portions, are the remains of shops from the golden days of this Hellenic commerce center. The ground is paved with stones of gneiss and there are holes in the stones where tent poles would have gone.


"Agoraea" and "Agoraeus" (Ancient Greek: Ἀγοραία, Agoraia and Ἀγοραῖος, Agoraios) were epithets given to several divinities of Greek mythology who were considered to be the protectors of the assemblies of the people in the agora (ἀγορά), particularly in Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. The gods so named were Zeus, Athena, Artemis, and Hermes. As Hermes was the god of commerce, this epithet seems to have reference to the agora as the marketplace; a bronze statue of Hermes Agoraeus is mentioned as standing near the agora in Athens by both Aristophanes and Demosthenes.The Agoraios Kolonos, or "Market Hill", was a precinct on the westernmost boundary of the agora in Athens.

Agriculture in ancient Greece

Agriculture was the foundation of the Ancient Greek economy. Nearly 80% of the population was involved in this activity.


Agyrrhius (Greek: Ἀγύρριος) was a native of Collytus in Attica, whom Andocides calls "the noble and the good" (τὸν καλὸν κἀγαθὸν) after being in prison many years for embezzlement of public money. He obtained around 395 BC the restoration of the Theorica, and also tripled the pay for attending the assembly, though he reduced the allowance previously given to the comic writers. By this expenditure of the public revenue Agyrrhius became so popular that he was appointed general (strategos) in 389.

Ancient economic thought

In the history of economic thought, ancient economic thought refers to the ideas from people before the Middle Ages.

Economics in the classical age is defined in the modern analysis as a factor of ethics and politics, only becoming an object of study as a separate discipline during the 18th century.


Argyramoiboi (Ancient Greek: ἀργυραμοιβοί, "silver changers") were professional money-changers and assayers in ancient Greece (especially in the Athenian Agora) and the Byzantine Empire.


Argyrocopeum, also transliterated as Argyrocopeion or Argyrokopeion (Ancient Greek: ἀργυροκοπείον) was the place where money was coined in ancient Greece, especially minting with silver. In Athens it appears to have been in or adjoining the chapel (heroon) of a hero named Stephanephorus, in which were kept the standard weights for the coins. In similar fashion, standard weights were kept in the Temple of Juno Moneta in the Roman Forum.

Ateleia (ancient Greece)

Ateleia (Attic Greek: ἀτέλεια; privative a + τέλος telos (tax); see also philately) in ancient Greece was a general immunity (ἄδεια adeia) or exemption from some or all the duties which a person has to perform towards the state.

Immunities could be granted either as a privilege to the citizens of a state, exempting them from certain duties which would otherwise be incumbent on them, or they are given as honorary distinctions to foreign kings, states, communities or even private individuals. With regard to the latter the ateleia was usually an exemption from custom duties on the importation or exportation of goods, and was given as a reward for certain good services.

Attic talent

The Attic talent (a talent of the Attic standard), also known as the Athenian talent or Greek talent (Greek: τάλαντον, talanton), is an ancient unit of mass equal to about 26 kilograms (57 lb), as well as a unit of value equal to this amount of pure silver. A talent was originally intended to be the mass of water required to fill an amphora, about one cubic foot (28 l). At the 2017 price of $547/kg, a silver talent is worth $14,113. It was equivalent to 60 minae, 6,000 drachmae or 36,000 oboloi.During the Peloponnesian War, a trireme crew of 200 rowers was paid a talent for a month's worth of work, one drachma, or 4.3 grams of silver per rower per day. According to wage rates from 377 BC, a talent was the value of nine man-years of skilled work. This corresponds to 2340 work days or 11.1 grams (0.36 ozt) of silver per worker per workday. In 2004, a modern carpenter's median wage was about $25,060 per year or $226,000 for nine years of work.In 1800, a building craftsman in urban Europe received an average wage of 11.9 grams (0.38 ozt) of silver a day, or about $0.49 a day. Adjusted for inflation, this corresponds to $6 a day in 2007 money. Assuming a European worker in 1800 to be as productive as a worker in ancient Greece, the purchasing power of a talent in ancient times was about equal to $20,000 in the early 21st century. The plausibility of this calculation is confirmed by the fact that a talent of silver was worth $1081 in 1800, equivalent to $13,000 after adjusting for inflation.


Banausos (Ancient Greek βάναυσος, plural βάναυσοι, banausoi) is a pejorative applied to the class of manual laborers or artisans in Ancient Greece. The related abstract noun βαναυσία – banausia is defined by Hesychius as "every craft (τέχνη) [conducted] by means of fire", reflecting the folk etymology of the word as coming from βαῦνος (baunos) "furnace" and αὔω (auō) "to dry". The actual etymology of the words is unknown; they are not attested outside Attic-Ionic or before the 5th century BC. The epic heroes call their smiths δημιουργοί – dēmiourgoi.

Dionysius Chalcus

Dionysius Chalcus (Greek: Διονύσιος ὁ Χαλκοῦς) was an ancient Athenian poet and orator. According to Athenaeus, he was called Chalcus ("brazen") because he advised the Athenians to adopt a brass coinage (xv. p. 669). His speeches have not survived, but his poems are referred to and quoted by such authors as Plutarch (Nicias, 5), Aristotle (Rhetoric, iii. 2), and Athenaeus (xv, p. 668, 702; x, p. 443; xiii, p. 602). The extant fragments are chiefly elegies on symposiac subjects and are characterized by extravagant metaphors.Plutarch credits Dionysius Chalcus with leading the band of Athenian colonists who founded Thurii in 443 BC.

Economic history of Greece and the Greek world

The economic history of the Greek World spans several millennia and encompasses many modern-day nation states.

Since the focal point of the center of the Greek World often changed it is necessary to enlarge upon all these areas as relevant to the time. The economic history of Greece refers to the economic history of the Greek nation state since 1829.

Economics (Aristotle)

The Economics (Greek: Οἰκονομικά; Latin: Oeconomica) is a work ascribed to Aristotle. Most modern scholars attribute it to a student of Aristotle or of his successor Theophrastus.


The term euthyna (plural euthynai), meaning straightening, was the examination of accountability which every public officer underwent on the expiration of his office in Classical Greece. At Athens the examination had two parts; the logos ('statement of account'), concerned the handling of public money and dealt with by a board of ten logistai (accountants), and the euthynai proper, an opportunity to raise any other objection to one's conduct in office, dealt with by a board of ten euthynoi (straighteners) appointed by the boule. These officials could dismiss accusations or pass them on to the courts.

Mines of Laurion

The mines of Laurion (or Lavrion) are ancient mines located in southern Attica between Thoricus and Cape Sounion, approximately 50 kilometers south of Athens, in Greece. The mines are best known for producing silver, but they were also a source of copper and lead. A number of remnants of these mines (shafts, galleries, surface workshops) are still present in the region.

The mines were exploited in prehistoric times as a source of copper and galena, a lead ore. In the classical period, mining in the area resumed. The Athenians used large numbers of slaves to mine the area, with the silver produced contributing significantly to the city's wealth. Abandoned in the 1st century BC, the mines were reactivated in 1864 and mined for their lead by French and Greek companies until 1978.

Moria (tree)

In ancient Greece, the moriai (plural of moria) were olive trees considered to be the property of the state because of their religious significance.


The Oeconomicus (Greek: Οἰκονομικός) by Xenophon is a Socratic dialogue principally about household management and agriculture.

It is one of the earliest works on economics in its original sense of household management, and a significant source for the social and intellectual history of Classical Athens. Beyond the emphasis on household economics, the dialogue treats such topics as the qualities and relationships of men and women, rural vs. urban life, slavery, religion, and education.

Joseph Epstein states that the Oeconomicus can actually be seen as a treatise on success in leading both an army and a state.

Scholars lean towards a relatively late date in Xenophon's life for the composition of the Oeconomicus, perhaps after 362 BC. Cicero translated the Oeconomicus into Latin, and the work gained popularity during the Renaissance in a number of translations.

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