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

Edward M. Harris, edition of March 22, 2003

page 3 of 15

· Part 1.2 ·

Read about the evidence
Plato (Plat. Rep.).
Thucydides (Thuc.).
Isocrates (Isoc. 4).
Old Oligarch (Ps. Xen. Const. Ath.).
Aristophanes (Aristoph. Ach.).
Andocides (Andoc. 1).
Demosthenes (Dem. 20.31).
Plot on a Map
Black Sea.

In the Republic (370e-371b) Plato observes that a polis with many technai (trades or occupations) cannot exist without imports from abroad. Although some scholars believe that the Greek polis aimed at self-sufficiency, the ability to produce everything it needed on its own soil without resorting to trade, the Athenians appear to have had no qualms about importing many goods from abroad. In his “Funeral Oration,” Pericles boasts that “the greatness of our city brings it about that all the good things from the world flow in to us, so that it seems just as natural to enjoy foreign goods as our own local produce” (Thucydides 2.38. Cf. Isocrates 4.42). The “Old Oligarch” ([Xenophon] Constitution of the Athenians 2.7) observes how the Athenians trade with many different areas and import exotic delicacies from abroad; Sicily, Italy, Cyprus, Egypt, Lydia, Pontus, the Peloponnese and other regions ship their distinctive products to Athens. In his Acharnians Aristophanes has his comic hero Dikaiopolis establish a personal marketplace so he can trade with Athens’ enemies, Thebes and Megara. From Thebes there come “marjoram, pennyroyal rush-mats, lampwicks, ducks, jackdaws, francolins, coots, wrens, and dabchicks” (874-6) and Megara supplies salt and garlic (760-61). Even in 401 when Athenians were still recovering from a devastating siege followed by a bloody civil war, their imports appear to have been worth almost 2,000 talents a year (Andocides 1.133-35). The most important import was grain. Demosthenes (20.31-2) states that the Athenians imported 400,000 medimnoi a year from the Black Sea region alone, but Sicily and Egypt were also major suppliers.

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).
Plot on a Map

The extensive marketplace in the agora and the large volume of overseas trade did not arise in a legal and political vacuum. In a small-scale economy where most transactions occur among family, friends and neighbors, there may be little need for legal regulation; social pressure and the ties of friendship (philia) suffice to create the necessary amount of trust needed to exchange goods and services. By contrast, in a large market like the agora, which served all of Attica and where most exchange took place between strangers, it was necessary to have magistrates and courts to provide merchants and their customers with the assurance that all transactions would be fair and that all contracts would be enforced. The main officials in the agora were the Agoranomoi or “Market-Controllers.” There were five in the city and five in the Peiraeus. According to the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians (50.1), they were responsible for supervising all items bought and sold so that they were in an acceptable condition. Grain was the main source of food for most Athenians, and there were special officials called Sitophylakes or “Grain-wardens,” to supervise the sale of grain, flour, and bread (Constitution of the Athenians 51.3). The position was so important that the number of Sitophylakes was increased from five to twenty in the city and from five to fifteen for the Peiraeus. These officials regulated the price of grain, then checked to see that millers did not charge too large a mark-up for barley-flour and the bakers sold bread at a price that was not too far above the cost of grain. The Astynomoi or “City-Controllers,” on the other hand, maintained order and enforced regulations for the entire city of Athens (Constitution of the Athenians 50.2). One of their duties was to supervise the hiring of women who played the flute, harp or lyre and to keep their fees to no more than two drachmas. They also enforced building regulations to stop construction that encroached on public roads or created drainage problems.

Read about the evidence
Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol.).

To ensure that sellers used the correct weights and measures, there were ten Metronomoi or “Controllers of Measures.” The Constitution of the Athenians (51.1) describes the duties of the Metronomoi in very general terms, but an inscription dated to the second century contains a law about the use of weights and measures (Inscriptiones Graecae II2 1011). It is unlikely that the duties of the Metronomoi changed very much over time so that many of its provisions are probably similar with minor changes to take account of modifications in coinage standards. The magistrates responsible for implementing this law are to make sample measures for wet and dry goods and weights and to compel all those who buy and sell to use them (lines 7-9). The law is comprehensive: it applies to sellers in the agora, in workshops, in retail shops, in wine shops and storehouses (line 9). Magistrates cannot make weights larger or smaller than these prescribed weights (lines 10-11). If the magistrates do not comply, they are to owe 1,000 drachmas to Demeter and Kore (lines 10-13). Private citizens have the right to report the property of those officials who incur the fine (lines 13-14), but the Council of 600 has the job of making sure no one is using counterfeit weights and measures (lines 16-18). There follow detailed regulations about how to measure various items such as nuts and beans for sale (lines 19-26). If merchants do employ containers smaller than the required size, the magistrate should sell the contents at public auction, deposit the price at the public bank, and destroy the container (lines 27-29). To keep the official weights and measures in permanent use, the law instructs a certain Diodorus, the son of Theophilus from the deme of Halieus to hand them over to three public slaves stationed in various places. These slaves are to make them available to any magistrates who request them (lines 37-42). The final clause in the law makes those who commit offenses in regard to these weights and measures subject to the law about kakourgoi—this may be the same law mentioned in the Constitution of the Athenians (52.1) about thieves, enslavers and clothes-snatchers, which gave private citizens the right to arrest these offenders—and instructs the Areopagus to mete out punishment to those who violate its provisions (lines 56-60).

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