previous next

4.

As for the silver mines, I believe that if a proper system of working were introduced, a vast amount of money would be obtained from them apart from our other sources of revenue. I want to point out the possibilities of these mines to those who do not know. For, once you realize their possibilities, you will be in a better position to consider how the mines should be managed. [2]

Now, we all agree that the mines have been worked for many generations. At any rate, no one even attempts to date the beginning of mining operations. And yet, although digging and the removal of the silver ore have been carried on for so long a time, note how small is the size of the dumps compared with the virgin and silver-laden hills. [3] And it is continually being found that, so far from shrinking, the silver-yielding area extends further and further.

Well, so long as the maximum number of workmen was employed in them, no one ever wanted a job; in fact, there were always more jobs than the labourers could deal with. [4] And even at the present day no owner of slaves employed in the mines reduces the number of his men; on the contrary, every master obtains as many more as he can. The fact is, I imagine, that when there are few diggers and searchers, the amount of metal recovered is small, and when there are many, the total of ore discovered is multiplied. Hence of all the industries with which I am acquainted this is the only one in which expansion of business excites no jealousy. [5]

Further than this, every farmer can tell just how many yoke of oxen are enough for the farm and how many labourers. To put more on the land than the requisite number is counted loss. In mining undertakings, on the contrary, everyone tells you that he is short of labour. [6] Mining, in fact, is quite different from other industries. An increase in the number of coppersmiths, for example, produces a fall in the price of copper work, and the coppersmiths retire from business. The same thing happens in the iron trade. Again, when corn and wine are abundant, the crops are cheap, and the profit derived from growing them disappears, so that many give up farming and set up as merchants or shopkeepers or moneylenders. But an increase in the amount of the silver ore discovered and of the metal won is accompanied by an increase in the number of persons who take up this industry. [7] Neither is silver like furniture, of which a man never buys more when once he has got enough for his house. No one ever yet possessed so much silver as to want no more; if a man finds himself with a huge amount of it, he takes as much pleasure in burying the surplus as in using it. [8]

Mark too that, whenever states are prosperous, silver is in strong demand. The men will spend money on fine arms and good horses and magnificent houses and establishments, and the women go in for expensive clothes and gold jewelry. [9] If, on the other hand, the body politic is diseased owing to failure of the harvest or to war, the land goes out of cultivation and there is a much more insistent demand for cash to pay for food and mercenaries. [10]

If anyone says that gold is quite as useful as silver, I am not going to contradict him; but I know this, that when gold is plentiful, silver rises and gold falls in value. [11]

With these facts before us, we need not hesitate to bring as much labour as we can get into the mines and carry on work in them, feeling confident that the ore will never give out and that silver will never lose its value. [12] I think, indeed, that the state has anticipated me in this discovery; at any rate she throws open the mining industry to foreigners on the same terms as are granted to citizens. [13]

To make myself clearer on the subject of alimony, I will now explain how the mines may be worked with the greatest advantage to the state. Not that I expect to surprise you by what I am going to say, as if I had found the solution of a difficult problem. For some things that I shall mention are still to be seen by anyone at the present day, and as for conditions in the past, our fathers have told us that they were similar. [14] But what may well excite surprise is that the state, being aware that many private individuals are making money out of her, does not imitate them. Those of us who have given thought to the matter have heard long ago, I imagine, that Nicias son of Niceratus, once owned a thousand men in the mines, and let them out to Socias the Thracian, on condition that Sosias paid him an obol a day per man net and filled all vacancies as they occurred. [15] Hipponicus, again, had six hundred slaves let out on the same terms and received a rent of a mina a day net. Philemonides had three hundred, and received half a mina. There were others too, owning numbers in proportion, I presume, to their capital. [16] But why dwell on the past? At this day there are many men in the mines let out in this way. [17] Were my proposals adopted, the only innovation would be, that just as private individuals have built up a permanent income by becoming slave owners, so the state would become possessed of public slaves, until there were three for every citizen. [18] Whether my plan is workable, let anyone who chooses judge for himself by examining it in detail.

So let us take first the cost of the men. Clearly the treasury is in a better position to provide the money than private individuals. Moreover the Council can easily issue a notice inviting all and sundry to bring slaves, and can buy those that are brought to it. [19] When once they are purchased, why should there be more hesitation about hiring from the treasury than from a private person, the terms offered being the same? At any rate men hire consecrated lands1 and houses, and farm taxes under the state. [20]

The treasury can insure the slaves purchased by requiring some of the lessees to become guarantors, as it does in the case of the tax-farmers. In fact a tax-farmer can swindle the state more easily than a lessee of slaves. [21] For how are you to detect the export of public money? Money looks the same whether it is private property or belongs to the state. But how is a man to steal slaves when they are branded with the public mark and it is a penal offence to sell or export them?

So far, then, it appears to be possible for the state to acquire and to keep men. [22] But, one may ask, when labour is abundant, how will a sufficient number of persons be found to hire it? Well, if anyone feels doubtful about that, let him comfort himself with the thought that many men in the business will hire the state slaves as additional hands, since they have abundance of capital, and that among those now working in the mines many are growing old. Moreover there are many others, both Athenians and foreigners, who have neither will nor strength to work with their own hands, but would be glad to to make a living by becoming managers. [23]

Assume, however, that the total number of slaves to begin with is twelve hundred. By using the revenue derived from these the number might in all probability be raised to six thousand at the least in the course of five or six years. Further, if each man brings in a clear obol a day, the annual revenue derived from that number of men is sixty talents. [24] Out of this sum, if twenty talents are invested in additional slaves, the state will have forty talents available for any other necessary purpose. And when a total of ten thousand men is reached, the revenue will be a hundred talents. [25]

But the state will receive far more than that, as anyone will testify who is old enough to remember how much the charge for slave labour brought in before the trouble at Decelea.2 And there is another proof. During the history of the mines an infinite number of men has worked in them; and yet the condition of the mines to-day is exactly the same as it was in the time of our ancestors, and their memory ran not to the contrary. [26] And present conditions all lead to the conclusion that the number of slaves employed there can never be greater than the works need. For the miners find no limit to shaft or gallery. [27] And, mark you, it is as possible now to open new veins as in former times. Nor can one say with any certainty whether the ore is more plentiful in the area already under work or in the unexplored tracts. [28]

Then why, it may be asked, are fewer new cuttings made nowadays than formerly? Simply because those interested in the mines are poorer. For operations have only lately been resumed, and a man who makes a new cutting incurs a serious risk. If he strikes good stuff he makes a fortune; but if he is [29] disappointed, he loses the money he has spent. Therefore people nowadays are very chary of taking such a risk. [30]

However, I think I can meet this difficulty too, and suggest a plan that will make the opening of new cuttings a perfectly safe undertaking. The Athenians, of course, are divided into ten tribes. Now assume that the state were to offer each tribe an equal number of slaves, and that when new cuttings were made, the tribes were to pool their luck. [31] The result would be that if one tribe found silver, the discovery would be profitable to all; and if two, three, four, or half the tribes found, the profits from these works would obviously be greater.

Nothing that has happened in the past makes it probable that all would fail to find. [32] Of course, private individuals also are able to combine on this principle and pool their fortunes in order to diminish the risk. Nevertheless there is no reason to fear that a public company formed on this plan will conflict with the interests of private persons, or be hampered by them. No, just as every new adhesion to a confederacy brings an increase of strength to all its members, so the greater the number of persons operating in the mines, the more treasure they will discover and unearth. [33]

I have now explained what regulations I think should be introduced into the state in order that every Athenian may receive sufficient maintenance at the public expense. [34] Some may imagine that enough money would never be subscribed to provide the huge amount of capital necessary, according to their calculations, to finance all these schemes. But even so they need not despair. [35] For it is not essential that the plan should be carried out in all its details in order that any advantage may come of it. No, whatever the number of houses built, or of ships constructed, or of slaves purchased, they will immediately prove a paying concern. [36] In fact in one respect it will be even more profitable to proceed gradually than to do everything at once. For if everybody begins building, we shall pay more for worse work than if we carry out the undertaking gradually; and if we try to find an enormous number of slaves, we shall be forced to buy inferior men at a high price. [37]

By proceeding as our means allow, we can repeat whatever is well conceived and avoid the repetition of mistakes. [38] Besides, were the whole scheme put in hand at once, we should have to find the whole of the money; but if some parts were proceeded with and others postponed, the income realised would help to provide the amount still required. [39]

Possibly the gravest fear in everyone's mind is that the works may become overcrowded if the state acquires too many slaves. But we can rid ourselves of that fear by not putting more men in year by year than the works themselves require. [40]

Accordingly I hold that this, which is the easiest way, is also the best way of doing these things. On the other hand, if you think that the burdens imposed during the late war3 make it impossible for you to contribute anything at all—well, keep down the cost of administration during the next year to the amount that the taxes yielded before the peace; and invest the balances over and above that amount, which you will get with peace, with considerate treatment of resident aliens and merchants, with the growth of imports and exports due to concentration of a larger population, and with the expansion of harbour and market dues, so that the investment will bring in the largest revenue.4 [41]

Or again, if any fear that this scheme would prove worthless in the event of war breaking out, they should observe that, with this system at work, war becomes far more formidable to the aggressors than to the city. [42] For what instrument is more serviceable for war than men? We should have enough of them to supply crews to many ships of the state; and many men available for service in the ranks as infantry could press the enemy hard, if they were treated with consideration.5 [43]

But I reckon that, even in the event of war, the mines need not be abandoned. There are, of course, two fortresses in the mining district, one at Anaphlystus on the south side, the other at Thoricus on the north. The distance between them is about seven miles and a half. [44] Now suppose that we had a third stronghold between them on the highest point of Besa. The works6 would then be linked up by all the fortresses, and at the first intimation of a hostile movement, every man would have but a short distance to go in order to reach safety. [45] In case an enemy came in force, he would, no doubt, seize any corn or wine or cattle that he found outside; but the silver ore, when he had got it, would be of as much use to him as a heap of stones. [46] And how could an enemy ever go for the mines? The distance between Megara, the nearest city, and the silver mines, is of course much more than five hundred furlongs; and Thebes, which is next in proximity, lies at a distance of much more than six hundred furlongs from them. [47] Let us assume, then, that an enemy is marching on the mines from some such point. He is bound to pass Athens; and if his numbers are small, he is likely to be destroyed by our cavalry and patrols. On the other hand, to march on them with a large force, leaving his own property unprotected, is no easy matter; for when he arrived at the mines the city of Athens would be much nearer to his own states than he himself would be. [48] But even supposing that he should come, how is he to stay without supplies? And to send part of their forces in search of food may mean destruction to the foraging party and failure to achieve the ends for which he is contending; or if the whole force is continually foraging it will find itself blockaded instead of blockading. [49]

However, the rent derived from the slaves would not be the only source of relief to the community. With the concentration of a large population in the mining district, abundant revenue would be derived from the local market, from state-owned houses near the silver mines, from furnaces and all the other sources. [50] For a densely populated city would grow up there, if it were organised on this plan; yes, and building sites would become as valuable there as they are in our suburbs. [51]

If the plans that I have put forward are carried out, I agree7 that, apart from the improvement in our financial position, we shall become a people more obedient, better disciplined, and more efficient in war.8 [52] For the classes undergoing physical training will take more pains in the gymnasium when they receive their maintenance in full than they take under the superintendents of the torch races;9 and the classes on garrison duty in a fortress, or serving as targeteers, or patrolling the country will show greater alacrity in carrying out all these duties when the maintenance is duly supplied for the work done.


1 The MSS. add καὶ ἱερά, “and temples,” for which καὶ ἱερεῖα (victims for sacrifice) has been conjectured. But (1) μισθοῦνται is not “contract to supply,” and (2) it appears that the sacrifices were, in point of fact, paid for out of the rents received for the τεμένη, and the victims were not supplied by individuals on contract. Aristotle, Ath. Pol. 47, writing of the leases of state property, says nothing about victims.

2 In 413 B.C., when great numbers of slaves deserted, and labour in the mines dwindled.

3 The allusion is to the “War of the Allies” who had revolted from Athens. It lasted from 357 to 355 B.C. See Introduction.

4 i.e., invest the balances in the mines, and use the revenue obtained to carry out my scheme.

5 Observe that Xenophon alludes here not to the resident aliens, but to the state-owned slaves in the mines.

6 Or, as some understand, “the workmen would gather from all the fortresses into one.”

7 σύμφημι must mean “agree.” If the text is right, one naturally asks “With whom?” Isocrates, Eubulus, or both? See Introduction.

8 Lac. Pol. 8.1.

9 The superintendents paid for the upkeep of the competitors training for public competitions. In difficult times they could not supply full rations.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (1920)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
413 BC (1)
355 BC (1)
hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (7):
    • The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, LAURION Attica, Greece.
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), EPHE´BUS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), SERVUS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), TELOS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ANAPHLYSTUS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), A´TTICA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), THO´RICUS
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: