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

Edward M. Harris, edition of March 22, 2003

page 7 of 15

· Part 1.6 ·

Read about the evidence
Demosthenes (Dem. 34).
Demosthenes (Dem. 58).
Demosthenes (Dem. 35).
Lysias (Lys. 22).
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Demosthenes (Dem. 20).
Plot on a Map

Since the import of grain was so vital for the food supply of Attica, the laws of Athens contained several measures aimed at maintaining an adequate supply of grain and keeping prices low. First, there was a ban on all exports of grain from Attica (Demosthenes 34.37; 35.50-1; 58.8-9). Second, there was a law that made it illegal for any Athenian or metic to engage in transporting grain to any port besides Athens or to make a loan for such a trading voyage (Dem. 35.50). Third, there was a law that prohibited purchases of more than fifty phormoi of grain (Lysias 22.5-6). There is some debate as to whether this law aimed at preventing hoarding or the formation of cartels, but the intent was clearly to prevent the manipulation of grain prices. Fourth, there were laws fixing the amount of profit that millers could make on ground barley and that bakers could make on loaves of bread (Constitution of the Athenians 51.3). Fifth, a recently discovered law of Agyrrhius passed in 374/3 BCE orders the Assembly to sell the grain collected from two taxes, the pentekoste or 2% tax on grain and the dodekate or 8 1/3% tax collected in the islands of Lemnos, Scyros, and Imbros, not before the month of Anthesterion at price fixed by the Assembly. The pentekoste was collected on all grain imports and the dodekate was a transit tax collected on all grain that merchants brought to the islands and then shipped to other ports. The month of Anthesterion was right before the harvest and during the time when the seas were closed to shipping. Since shortages of grain might occur at this time, the law therefore instructed the Assembly to sell the grain collected from the two taxes during this month in order to keep prices low. Sixth, the Assembly often voted honors to foreign kings who granted special privileges to men shipping grain to Athens (Demosthenes 20.29-40; Inscriptiones Graecae II2 212).

This brief survey reveals that the Athenians not only developed a market economy and carried on extensive overseas trade but also established numerous officials for supervising their marketplace and created the laws needed to regulate market transactions and resolve commercial disputes. The next section examines how some of these laws worked in practice in a dispute between two lenders and two borrowers involved in overseas trade.

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page 7 of 15