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Law and Economy in Classical Athens: [Demosthenes], “Against Dionysodorus” 

Edward M. Harris, edition of March 22, 2003

page 4 of 15

· Part 1.3 ·

Read about the evidence
Plato (Plat. Rep.).
Aristotle (Aristot. Pol.).

Plato (Republic 371b. Cf. Aristotle Politics observes that a polis with a high volume of trade required coinage to facilitate exchange. It is possible to sustain a high volume of commodity exchange with just weighed silver bullion, but coins contain certain advantages that facilitate exchange. Since coins have fixed values and contain precious metal that has already been weighed and checked for purity, they enable merchants and customers to conduct transactions with greater efficiency, to increase the speed of exchange, and to make exchange subject to the law. To facilitate market transactions, the Athenians minted several denominations of silver and bronze coin. The largest denomination in the fourth century BCE was the tetradrachm, and smallest denominations were the quarter-obol (some in silver, but later large numbers in bronze) and the eighth-obol or chalkous (small numbers in silver, but large numbers in bronze after 350 BCE). This range of denominations shows that coinage was not designed just for infrequent purchases of expensive goods or for payments of taxes and fines, but for everday buying and selling of small items in the agora.

The law of Nicophon passed in 375/74 gives us specific information about how the Athenians enforced regulations about silver coinage. The main official responsible for implementing the law is a public slave called the Dokimastes or “Tester,” who sat near the tables, that is, where the bankers conducted their business in the agora. The Tester was ordered to evaluate any coins given to him for examination. After testing them, he was to return the genuine ones, but to keep the counterfeit coins, cut them in two, and turn them over to the Mother of the Gods (lines 8-13). If the Tester does not perform his duties, the Syllogeis of the People are to give him fifty lashes (lines 13-6). In the event that someone refuses to accept silver coins approved by the Tester, all his goods on display that day are to be confiscated (lines 16-18). The law then specifies where charges are to be brought and empowers magistrates to decide cases involving fewer than ten drachmas (lines 18-23). For larger sums, they must bring the case before the court. If the various officials assigned to carry out the law do not perform their duties, a private citizen can report them to the Council, which has the power to impose a fine up to 500 drachmas and to remove the offender from office.

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