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Agriculture and Private Property

The importation of grain1 through Piraeus2 was crucial for fourth-century Athens. Even before the war Athenian farms had been unable to produce enough3 of this dietary staple to feed the population. The damage done to farm buildings and equipment during the Spartan invasions of the Peloponnesian War made the situation worse until the Athenians could make repairs. The Spartan establishment of a year-round base at Decelea4 near Athens from 413 to 404 B.C. had given these enemy forces an opportunity to do much more severe damage in Athenian territory than the usually short campaigns of Greek warfare ordinarily allowed. The invaders had probably even had time to cut down Athenian olive trees5, the source of valuable olive oil. These trees took a generation to replace because they grew so slowly. Athenian property owners after the war worked hard to restore their land and businesses to production not only to restore their present incomes but also to provide for future generations. Athenian men and women felt strongly that their property, whether in land, money, or belongings, represented resources to be preserved for the benefit of their descendants. For this reason, Athenian law allowed prosecution of men who squandered their inheritance6. The same spirit lay behind the requirement that parents must provide a livelihood for their children, by leaving them income-bearing property or training them in a skill7. Most working people probably earned little more than enough to clothe and feed their families.

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