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Page 4

The Commerce of Athens

 

    Part of Athenian wealth comes from the busy factories, great and small, which seem everywhere; still more riches come in by the great commerce which will be found centered at the Peiræus. Here is the spacious Deigma, a kind of exchange-house where ship masters can lay out samples of their wares on display, and sell to the important wholesalers, who will transmit to the petty shopkeepers and the "ultimate consumer."[4]

    There are certain articles of which various districts make a specialty, and which Athens is constantly importing: Bœtia sends chariots; Thessaly, easy chairs; Chios and Miletos, bedding; and Miletos, especially, very fine woolens. Greece in general looks to Syria and Arabia for the much-esteemed spices and perfumes; to Egypt for papyri for the book rolls; to Babylonia for carpets. To discuss the whole problem of Athenian commerce would require a book in itself; but certain main facts stand out clearly. One is that Attica herself has extremely few natural products to export—only her olive oil, her Hymettus honey, and her magnificent marbles—dazzling white from Pentelicos, gray from Hymettus, blue or black from Eleusis. Again we soon notice the great part which grain plays in Athenian commerce. Attica raises such a small proportion of the necessary breadstuffs, and so serious is the crisis created by any shortage, that all kinds of measures are employed to compel a steady flow of grain from the Black Sea ports into the Peiræus. Here is a law which Demosthenes quotes to us:

"It shall not be lawful for any Athenian or any metic in Attica, or any person under their control [i.e. slave or freedman] to lend out money on a ship which is not commissioned to bring grain to Athens."

    A second law, even more drastic, forbids any such person to transport grain to any harbor but the Peiræus. The penalties for evading these laws are terrific. At set intervals also the Public Assembly (Ecclesia) is in duty bound to consider the whole state of the grain trade: while the dealers in grain who seem to be cornering the market, and forcing up the price of bread, are liable to prompt and disastrous prosecution.

 

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