), corn. The soil of
Attica, though favourable to the production of figs, olives, and grapes, was
not so well suited for corn; and the population being very considerable in
the flourishing period of the Athenian republic, it was necessary to import
corn for their subsistence. According to the calculation of Boeckh, which
does not materially differ from that of other writers, there were 135,000
freemen and 365,000 slaves residing in Attica. The country, which contained
an area of 64,000 stadia, produced annually about 2,400,000 medimni of corn,
chiefly barley. The medimnus was about 1 bushel, 3 gallons, and 5.75 pints,
or 48 Attic χοίνικες.
was considered a fair daily allowance of
meal (ἡμερησία τροφὴ
) for a slave. The
consumption of the whole population was about 3,400,000 medimni, requiring
therefore an importation of at least a million. It came from the countries
bordering on the Euxine Sea (Pontus, as it was called by the Greeks), and
more especially from the Cimmerian [p. 2.677]
the Thracian Chersonese; also from Syria, Egypt, Libya, Cyprus, Rhodes,
Sicily, and Euboea. The necessities of the Athenians made them exceedingly
anxious to secure a plentiful supply, and every precaution was taken for
that purpose by the government as well as by the legislator. Sunium was
fortified, in order that the corn vessels (σιταγωγοὶ
) might come safely round the promontory. Ships of
war were often employed to convoy the cargo (παραπέμπειν τὸν σῖτον
) beyond the reach of an enemy (Dem.
p. 251.77; c.
p. 1211.17). When Pollis, the Lacedaemonian admiral, was
stationed with his fleet off Aegina, the Athenians ermbarked in haste, under
the command of Chabrias, and offered him battle, in order that the
cornships, which had arrived as far as Geraestus in Euboea, might get into
the Peiraeus (Xen. ]Hell.
, § 61). One of the principal objects of Philip in his
attack on Byzantium was that, by taking that city, he might command the
entrance to the Euxine, and so have it in his power to distress the
Athenians in the corn trade. Hence the great exertions made by Demosthenes
to relieve the Byzantines, of the success of which he justly boasts
pp. 254, 307, 326, §
§ 87, 241, 302).
As with those commercial states which, in modern times, import a large
proportion of their food, a regularly-organised corn trade was a matter of
the first necessity to the Athenians. What we learn of this organisation
shows the business capacity of the Greeks, which in general was greatly
inferior to that of modern Europe or even of the Romans, in a favourable
light. The destination of corn-ships was frequently changed by advices after
they had sailed (Dem. c. Dionysod.
p. 1285.8 ff.); which
could not have been done without a good system of intelligence. This enabled
the vendors to sell in the best market, with the natural effect, not merely
of raising prices where corn was cheap, but of lowering them where it was
dear. Prices were thus brought to an equilibrium: for this, the true sense
in the passage just cited, see
1.14. This natural flow of the commodity was
checked by the short-sighted selfishness of governments; the Athenian in
this respect being in all probability not the worst offender. Athenian
legislation aimed at an artificial cheapness at the expense of speculators;
exportation was entirely forbidden; and the consignment of corn to any other
port than Athens (σιτηγεῖν ἄλλοσε ἢ
) was made a capital offence (Dem. c.
p. 918.37; Lycurg. c. Leocr.
This was the rule for Attic traders, whether citizens or metoecs; while of
the corn brought into Peiraeus in foreign bottoms two-thirds were to be
carried up into the city and sold there (Harpocr. s. v. Ἐπιμελητ̀ς ἐμπορίου
). No one might lend money
to a ship that did not sail with an express condition to bring a return
cargo, part of it corn, to Athens. If any merchant, capitalist, or other
person advanced money or entered into any agreement in contravention of
these laws, not only was he liable to the penalty, but the agreement itself
was null and void, nor could he recover any sum of money, or bring any
action in respect thereof (Dem. c. Lacrit.
p. 941, §
§ 50, 51). Information against the offenders was to be laid before
the ἐπιμεληταὶ τοῦ ἐμπορίου
No. 3]. Strict
regulations were made with respect to the sale of corn in the market; and
the proceedings of the σιτοπῶλαι
middlemen were narrowly watched both by the citizens and the importers
22.21). Conspiracies to buy up the corn (συνωνεῖσθαι
), or raise the price (συνιστάναι τὰς τιμάς
), were punished with death. The
statement that they were not allowed to make a profit of more than one obol
in the medimnus (ib. § 8) is illogical, and contradicted by the
whole tenor of the passage: the true reading is δεῖν
γὰρ αὐτοὺς κἂν ὀβολῷ μόνον πωλεῖν τιμιώτερον
(Fränkel, n. 144 on Boeckh). It was, however, unlawful to buy more
than fifty (φορμοὶ
at a time: the size of
this measure is uncertain, but Boeckh supposes it to be nearly the same as a
medimnus. These provisions were (or were supposed to be) carried out by the
against the corn laws are mentioned by Demosthenes (c.
p. 743.136) among those for which no bail was allowed before
trial; whether he refers to the σιτοπῶλαι
or to both, is not clear.
These laws were systematically evaded in the pursuit of gain (Lys.
22, κατὰ τῶν Στοπωλῶν,
Dem. c. Dionysod l.c.
In this interference with the natural course of trade, the political economy
of the Athenians was scarcely more backward than that of modern Europe,
including England, until quite recent times. Our own laws against
“forestalling and regrating” were not extinguished until
the end of the last century (M‘Culloch, n. on Smith's
Wealth of Nations,
p. 237, ed. 1863); in Italy, it
appears, bakers and flourdealers are still liable to summary punishment both
from mobs and municipalities. But the wholesale enactment of the death
penalty brings out one of the worst features of the Athenian character, and
is partly to be accounted for by the fact that the trade was mostly in the
hands of aliens, who might be oppressed without remorse. Boeckh, who draws
largely from the speech of Lysias against the Corn-dealers,
seems scarcely aware of the impolicy as well as cruelty of the legislation
it describes: an English scholar has criticised it in the true spirit of
political economy (Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece,
ed. 3, p.
We are not surprised to learn that scarcities (σιτοδεῖαι
) frequently occurred at Athens, either from bad
harvests, the misfortunes of war, or other accidental causes. The state then
made great efforts to supply the wants of the people by importing large
quantities of corn, and selling it at a low price. Public granaries were
kept in the Odeum, Pompeum, Long Porch (μακρὰ
), and dockyard at the Peiraeus (Pollux, 9.45; Dem. c.
p. 918.37, where see Paley and Sandys).
appointed to get in the supply and manage the sale. Demosthenes was
appointed on one occasion to that office (de
p. 310.248). Persons called apodectae
) received the corn,
measured it out, and distributed it in certain quantities (Pollux, 8.114).
Public-spirited individuals would sometimes import grain at their own
expense, and sell it at a moderate price, or distribute it [p. 2.678]
gratuitously (Dem. c. Phorm.
p. 918, §
§ 38, 39). We read of the Athenian state receiving presents of corn
from kings and princes. Thus Leucon, king of the Bosporus, sent a large
present, for which he had the honour of ἀτέλεια
(exemption from customs-duties) conferred on him by a
decree of the people (Dem. c. Lept.
p. 467, §
§ 33, 34; cf. Isocr. Trapez.
Psammetichus, an Egyptian prince, sent a present in Olymp. 83. 4, Demetrius
in Olymp. 118. 2; Spartacus, king of the Bosporus, a few years after. In
later times, that made by the Roman Atticus is well known. On the whole of
this subject the reader is referred to Boeckh (P. E.
ff. = Sthh.
a 1.97 ff.), where also he
will find the various prices of meal and bread at Athens, and other details,
copiously explained. As to the duty payable on the importation of corn, see
is strictly wheat-flour,
however, is often applied to all
kinds of corn, and even in a larger sense to provisions in general.