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William Davis, A Day in Old Athens

 

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Page 3

The Manufacturing Activities of Athens

 

    Attica is the seat of much manufacturing. Go to the suburbs: everywhere is the rank odor of the tanneries; down at the harbors are innumerable ship carpenters and sail and tackle makers, busy in the shipyards; from almost every part of the city comes the clang of hammer and anvil where hardware of all kinds is being wrought in the smithies; and finally the potter makers are so numerous as to require special mention hereafter. But no list of all the manufacturing activities is here possible; enough that practically every known industry is represented in Athens, and the "industrial" class is large.[2] A very large proportion of the industrial laborers are slaves, but by no means all. A good many are real Athenian citizens; a still larger proportion are "metics" (resident foreigners without political rights). The competition of slave labor, however, tends to keep wages very low. An unskilled laborer will have to be content with his 3 obols (9 cents [1914] or $1.51 [2000]) per day; but a trained workman will demand a drachma (18 cents [1914] or $3.02 [2000]) or even more. There are no labor unions or trade guilds. A son usually, though not invariably, follows his father's profession. Each industry and line of work tends to have its own little street or alley, preferably leading off the Agora. "The Street of the Marble Workers," the "Street of the Box Makers," and notably the "Street of the Potters" contain nearly all the workshops of a given kind. Probably you can find no others in the city. Prices are regulated by custom and competition; in case any master artisan is suspected of "enhancing" the price of a needful commodity, or his shady business methods seem dangerous to the public, there is no hesitation in invoking an old law or passing a new one in the Assembly to bring him to account.

    Manufacturers are theoretically under a social ban, and indeed yonder petty shoemaker, who, with his two apprentices, first makes up his cheap sandals, then sells them over the low counter before his own ship, is very far from being a "leisurely" member of the "noble and the good." But he who, like the late Lycophron, owns a furniture factory employing night threescore slaves, can be sure of lying down on his couch at a dinner party among the very best; for, as in twentieth century England, even manufacture and "trade," if on a sufficiently large scale, cover a multitude of social sins.[3]

 

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