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LAURIUM (Λαὐρειον, Hdt. 7.144; Λαύριον, Thuc. 2.55: Adj. Λαυριωτικός; hence αἱ γλαῦκες Λαυριωτικαί, Aristoph. Birds 1106, silver coins, with the Athenian figure of an owl), a range of hills in the south of Attica, celebrated for their silver mines. These hills are not high, and are covered for the most part with trees and brushwood. The name is probably derived from the shafts which were sunk for obtaining the ore, since Λαύρα in Greek signifies a street or lane, and λαυρεῖον would therefore mean a place formed of such lanes,--i. e., a mine of shafts, cut as it were into streets, like a catacomb. (Wordsworth, Athens and Attica, p. 209.) The mining district extended a little way north of [p. 2.149]Sunium to Thoricus, on the eastern coast. Its present condition is thus described by Mr. Dodwell :--“One hour from Thorikos brought us to one of the ancient shafts of the silver mines; and a few hundred yards further we came to several others, which are of a square form, and cut in the rock. We observed only one round shaft, which was larger than the others, and of considerable depth, as we conjectured, from the time that the stones, which were thrown in, took to reach the bottom. Near this are the foundations of a large round tower, and several remains of ancient walls, of regular construction. The traces are so extensive, that they seem to indicate, not only the buildings attached to the mines, but the town of Laurium itself, which was probably strongly fortified, and inhabited principally by the people belonging to the mines.” Some modern writers doubt whether there was a town of the name of Laurium; but the grammarians (Suidas and Photius) who call Laurium a place (τόπος) in Attica appear to have meant something more than a mountain; and Dodwell is probably correct in regarding the ruins which he describes as those of the town of Laurium. Near these ruins Dodwell observed several large heaps of scoria scattered about, Dr. Wordsworth, in passing along the shore from Sunium to Thoricus, observes:--“The ground which we tread is strewed with rusty heaps of scoria from the silver ore which once enriched the soil. On our left is a hill, called Scoré, so named from these heaps of scoria, with which it is covered. Here the shafts which have been sunk for working the ore are visible.” The ores of this district have been ascertained to contain lead as well as silver (Walpole's Turkey, p. 426). This confirms the emendations of a passage in the Aristotelian Oeconomies proposed by Böckh and Wordsworth, where, instead of Τυρίων in Πυθοκλῆς Ἀθηναῖος Ἀθηναίοις συνεβούλευσε τὸν μόλνβδον τὸν ἐκ τῶν Τυρίων παραλαμβάνειν, Böckh suggests gests Λαυρίων, and Wordsworth ἀργυρίων, which ought rather to be ἀγυρείων, as Mr. Lewis observes.

The name of Laurium is preserved in the corrupt form of Legrana or Alegraná, which is the name of a metókhi of the monastery of Mendéli.

The mines of Laurium, according to Xenophon (de Vectig. 4.2), were worked in remote antiquity; and there can be no doubt that the possession of a large supply of silver was one of the main causes of the early prosperity of Athens. They are alluded to by Aeschylus (Aesch. Pers. 238) in the line-- ἀργύρου πηγή τις αὐτοῖς ἐστι, θησαυρὸς χθόνος.

They were the property of the state, which sold or let for a long term of years, to individuals or companies, particular districts, partly in consideration of a sum or fine paid down, partly of a reserved rent equal to one twenty-fourth of the gross produce. Shortly before the Persian wars there was a large sum in the Athenian treasury, arising out of the Laurian mines, from which a distribution of ten drachmae a head was going to be made among the Athenian citizens, when Themistocles persuaded them to apply the money to the increase of their fleet. (Hdt. 7.144; Plut. Them. 4.) Böckh supposes that the distribution of ten drachmae a head, which Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to forego, was made annually, from which he proceeds to calculate the total produce of the mines. But it has been justly observed by Mr. Grote, that we are not authorised to conclude from the passage in Herodotus that all the money received from the mines was about to be distributed ; nor moreover is there any proof that there was a regular annual distribution. In addition to which the large sum lying in the treasury was probably derived from the original purchase money paid down, and not from the reserved annual rent.

Even in the time of Xenophon (Xen. Mem. 3.6.12) the mines yielded much less than at an early period; and in the age of Philip, there were loud complaints of unsuccessful speculations in mining. In the first century of the Christian era the mines were exhausted, and the old scoriae were smelted a second time. (Strab. ix. p.399.) In the following century Laurium is mentioned by Pausanias (1.1), who adds that it had once been the seat of the; Athenian silver mines. (Dodwell, Tour through Greece, vol. i. p. 537, seq.; Wordsworth, Athens and Attica, p. 208, seq.; Walpole's Turkey, p. 425, seq.; Fiedler, Reise durch Griechenland, vol. i. p. 36, seq.; Leake, Demi of Attica, p. 65; Böckh, Dissertation on the Silver Mines of Laurion, appended to the English translation of his Public Economy of Athens; Grote's Greece, vol. v. p. 71, seq.)

hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 238
    • Aristophanes, Birds, 1106
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.144
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.1
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.55
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3.6.12
    • Plutarch, Themistocles, 4
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