Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.09.40

Alain Bresson, La cité marchande.   Bordeaux:  Ausonius (Scripta Antiqua 2), 2000.  Pp. 343.  ISBN 2-910023-16-8.  

Reviewed by Edward M. Harris, Brooklyn College and the Graduate School/CUNY (
Word count: 7954 words

Alain Bresson's La cité marchande (The Merchant City) is a collection of twelve essays, half of which have previously been published, the other half being new. The title of the book is a bold challenge to Finley's view that the Greek polis was a "consumer city," and several of the essays in La cité marchande are vigorous assaults on what Br. calls the New Orthodoxy of Finley and his followers. While renewed criticism of Finley's views is certainly most welcome, Br. appears not to be fully aware that the New Orthodoxy has grown less and less orthodox over the past two decades. On the Roman side, Finley's ideas have found few supporters and many critics. For instance, Macve has shown that the conclusions Finley drew about economic attitudes from the absence of double-entry bookkeeping are unfounded.1 In a survey of the archaeological evidence for the economy of the Roman Empire, K. Greene has written "the level of economic activity revealed by archaeological research makes the 'minimalist' approach of historians such as Finley untenable."2 J. D'Arms has brought weighty objections againt Finley's view that the Roman elite did not get their hands dirty with investments in commerce, lending, and handicrafts.3 In a careful analysis of the Heroninus archive D. Rathbone has shown that Finley greatly underestimated the degree of economic rationality in estate management.4 Tchernia has estimated that contrary to Finley's view the demand for wine at Rome could not have been met by the supply provided by local vineyards, but by long-distance trade.5 D. Engels has drawn on evidence from Roman Corinth to argue that the ancient city was not a "consumer city" but a "service city."6 On the Greek side, criticism has been slower to develop, but even as early as 1982 W. E. Thompson pointed out many of the flaws in Finley's analysis of the Athenian evidence.7 In the 1980s T. R. Martin demonstrated that pace Finley the production of local Greek coinages had less to do with sovereignty than with economic and financial considerations.8 More recently, E. Cohen has questioned Finley's dogmas about the prevalence of loans for consumption and about the role of private banks.9 Finley's views about real security in Athens have also come under attack.10 And, in an important study of the leasing of land, R. Osborne has argued that many farmers in Classical and Hellenistic Greece must have produced crops for sale on the market to pay their rent.11 Br. is certainly not among the first to criticize Finley. But the ideas of Finley and his followers still exert a powerful influence on the study of the ancient economy,12 and there is certainly room for more criticism of the "New Orthodoxy."

Chapter 1 examines "Rhodes, The Hellenion, and the Status of Naucratis in the VIth to IVth Centuries BCE."13 In the first section Br. begins by analyzing the evidence provided by Herodotus (2.178-9) about Naucratis. The historian distinguishes between two groups of Greeks, those who reside in Egypt and merchants who do not wish to reside there. To the former Amasis gave a polis to live in, to the latter land on which to build shrines and altars. Was the settlement at Naucratis, which Herodotus calls a polis, a true city-state? Br. points to passages where the word polis merely means "village" or "town" and argues that Naucratis was not a city-state (15-7). Before Amasis, the Greeks lived side by side with the Egyptians; the king only permitted the Greeks to form a separate community at Naucratis with its own internal organization, which enabled them to preserve their own customs (20-22). Like the Greeks at Daphne, the Phoenicians at Memphis, and the Jews at Elephantine, the Greeks of Naucratis were still subject to royal authority (22-3). For Greeks who did not wish to live in Egypt, Amasis granted the right to erect temples and altars to their own gods just as the Athenians permitted certain Egyptians to build a shrine to Isis (IG ii^2 337.42-45) (23-5).

The second section analyzes the administration of the Hellenion, the most important sanctuary at Naucratis. Herodotus (2.178) reports that nine poleis joined in founding the sanctuary, but lists Rhodes as one city even though the three poleis on Rhodes did not unite until 407. This has led some scholars to increase the number of founding cities to eleven. Despite their separate existence, however, the three cities had common cults and a common mint before 407 and might well have cooperated in founding the Hellenion (37-38). Br. then examines the nine founding poleis and notes that cities located inland with less interest in commerce (Colophon, Priene, and Myus) were not members. Samos and Miletus were probably excluded from the Hellenion and had separate sanctuaries because they were traditional enemies (39-43). According to Hasebroek, Austin, and Boardman, it was not the actual cities that supervised the administration of the Hellenion, but merchants and captains from these poleis. Br. believes this view rests partly on the assumption that poleis took little interest in commerce in the Archaic period and partly from skepticism about the ability of the Greeks of Asia Minor to unite in a common enterprise. Br. rejects this view on several grounds. First, merchants and captains would not remain at Naucratis long enough to supervise the administration. Second, the Greeks of Asia Minor were able to cooperate on several occasions, most notably at the start of the Ionian Revolt. Br. aptly cites the parallel of the Amphictyons of Delphi, which appointed Hieromnemons to run the sanctuary of Apollo (45-6). Br. speculates that the Rhodian cities may have alternated in appointing a representative to the Hellenion (47). Furthermore, the right to erect a temple was granted to poleis and not to individuals as at Delphi (48-9). But the right to conduct business was granted to all who came to Naucratis, not just to citizens of the poleis who founded the Hellenion (49-51).

As for the question "When did Naucratis become a polis?" Br. cannot give a firm answer. Several inscriptions from the fourth century mention Naukratitai, but this does not prove that the settlement had necessarily attained the status of a polis (51-55). Br. places the foundation of Naucratis in the context of the growth of trade and colonization by the East Greeks in the late seventh century and compares it with the foundation of Gravisca in Etruria But where the Etruscans were receptive to Greek influences, the Egyptians were firmly attached to their own traditions. Naucratis thus functioned as a "port of trade" as defined by K. Polanyi, a point of contact between two different types of economies (55-7).14 For their part the Pharaohs needed foreign trade for items like wood, iron, silver, and wine (57-9). The Greeks in return obtained textiles, wheat, and papyrus and worked in various crafts at Naucratis itself (59-60). The Greek poleis helped to foster this trade by awarding privileges to residents of Naucratis (60-2). Because of its rigid social structure Egypt could not develop the necessary specialists in warfare and commerce so the Pharaohs had to import them and set them up in an emporion on their own territory (62-3).

Chapter 2 "Back to Naucratis" surveys work published since 1980 when the original version of Chapter 1 was published and falls into three parts. This first part looks at the recent American excavations at Naucratis, new discoveries of Egyptian material at the site, and a customs register from the satrapy of Egypt published by Porten and Yardeni in 1993. Br. believes the new excavations have added little beyond the work of Petrie and Gardner. On the other hand three newly discovered stelae at Naucratis reveal there were Egyptians living there in the sixth century. One of the stelae was dedicated by a man of Nokundj, whom Bresson compares to the son of Pytheas "an Egyptian from Naucratis" in his restored version of Lindos 16 (66-7). Br. notes that Briant and Descat have identified one of the groups listed on the customs register as "Ionians from Phaselis." Since Phaselis belonged to the Persian Empire until shortly after the battle of Eurymedon (Plutarch Cimon 12.3-4), which Br. places in 469-6, the register must date to before this time. Briant and Descat did not rule out a later date on the grounds that trade might continue between merchants from hostile state even in time of war, but Br. argues that although goods might flow between states at war, one state would not allow merchants from a hostile state to enter their territory (67-71).

In the final sections of the chapter Br. replies to the arguments of M. H. Hansen that Naucratis was a polis, that is, an autonomous political community, as early as the time of Herodotus. Hansen pointed to the phrase "hê polis hê Naukratitôn" in OGIS 120, which he dates to the fourth century; Br. notes the inscription mentions the office of syngraphophylax, which dates the decree to the Hellenistic period (75). Hansen drew attention to the existence of bronze coins with the letters NAY from the site of Naucratis; Br. observes that these coins contain portraits of Alexander the Great and a legend with the first three letters of his name (75). Hansen next stressed the fact that Herodotus calls Naucratis a polis; Br. repeats the point made in his previous essay that the terms can refer to villages as well as political communities (75-6). Hansen adduced the existence of the ethnic Naukratites; Br. replies by noting ethnics like Memphites and Daphnaitis for communities that were not poleis. Hansen finally argued that the Hermeias who described the festivals at the prytaneion of Naucratis (Athenaeus 4.149d) was the fourth-century historian Hermeias of Methymna (FGrHist 558). The presence of a prytaneion would show that Naucratis was a polis in this period. Br. rightly questions the identification and draws on the support of Jacoby, who did not include the passage from Athenaeus among the fragments of this Hermeias (78-9).

Br. then examines Hansen's views about the relationship between polis and emporion. Br. and Hansen agree that an emporion could have a civic status and that one cannot give a simple definition of the term emporion (79-80). On the other hand, Hansen maintains that there was never an emporion that was just a place of commerce in the Archaic period. As Br. points out, Hansen's view rest mainly on an argumentum e silentio from the absence of the term emporion in Greek prose before Herodotus. Given the paucity of Greek prose in this period, the argument is not a strong one (80-1). Br. notes the existence of a settlement named Emporion in Spain, which was probably founded in the sixth century (81-2), but the strongest evidence for his view comes from an inscription found near Vetren and published by Velkov and Domaradza in 1994.15 This inscription contains regulations for a community of emporitai in the Thracian kingdom of Cotys and provides a close parallel for Br.'s ideas about the status of Naucratis under Amasis (82-3). An emporion was therefore any place that served primarily a commercial function. Br. applauds (as we all should) the work of the Copenhagen Polis Centre yet also hopes that in the future the centre will avoid the excessive rigor of the draconian lex Hafniensis (84).

The next three chapters contain shorter studies. Chapter 3 "the Cup of Arcesilaos" examines the famous Laconian vase depicting King Arcesilaos II of Cyrene supervising the weighing of silphium. Br. carefully describes the various elements depicted and analyzes the words written on the vase. He interprets the word sliphomachos to mean "scales for measuring silphium" (metathesis of silph--combined with the Egyptian mekhat "scales") and argues that the word sophortos refers to a scribe who kept accounts of items entering the king's stores.16 Br. follows Puchstein in comparing the scene on the vase to the psychostasia (weighing of souls) depicted in Egyptian art and notes the presence of a baboon, which often appears sitting on scales in such scenes (89-93). In the Laconian vase, however, the religious associations have disappeared in an interpretatio Graeca of Egyptian motifs. What remains is important evidence for practices involving measured exchange in the agora and emporion as early as the seventh and sixth centuries BCE (94).

Chapter 4 studies "A Family of Grain Merchants from Camirus".17 Br. identifies Agathocles, son of Hagemon, from Rhodes, who is praised in a decree from Ephesus for selling grain at a reduced price (Syll.^3 354), and again in a decree from Arcesine (IG XII.7,9), with the father of Chaeremon and Hegemon, both priests at Camiros on Rhodes.18 Br. then speculates that the Rhodian Antisthenes, the son of Aristonikos and adopted son of Charmocles, who was honored at Ios (IG XII.5, 1010, ll. 3-6), with this family of grain merchants on the basis of onomastic similarities. From these rather tenuous links Br. constructs a family enterprise of grain merchants from Camiros operating in the Southern Aegean, where Rhodes played a major role in trade. While Br.'s case for the connections among these individuals is fragile, he is on stronger ground in placing these merchants among the leading families on Rhodes. This study thus provides evidence against Hasebroek's idea that Greek merchants were mostly rootless cosmopolitans.19 On the contrary, these Rhodian merchants are members of the elite, not the dregs of society.

Chapter 5 studies the growth of the cities on Lesbos from the Archaic through the Hellenistic period.20 Many ancient historians (Finley prominent among them) have believed that land was the most important part of the ancient economy. On this view one would expect to see those poleis that possessed large tracts of rich land expand and grow at the expense of poleis with little arable territory. Br. proposes to use Lesbos as a test-case for this hypothesis. If one ranks the poleis of Lesbos in terms of agricultural resources, Arisbe comes out first, followed by Hiera, Mytilene, Pyrrha, Antissa, and Eresos, with Methymna in last place (102-3). But the poleis that dominate the island in the Classical and Hellenistic periods are not Arisbe and Hiera, but Mytilene and Methymna (104-6). Arisbe was enslaved by Methymna before the Persian Wars (Herodotus 1.151), and Strabo (13.2.4) reports that Pyrrha was in ruins in his day. Antissa was destroyed by the Romans in 167 for siding with Perseus, and Eresos led a shadowy existence, not minting coins until after 200. The two cities that came out on top clearly did not owe their success to agricultural production nor to their central position on the island.21 Their main advantage was their proximity to the trade routes between the Hellespont and the eastern and southern Aegean. Br. concludes that "In the long term, it was exchange (...) that was the decisive factor in the evolution of the cities on Lesbos" (107). This is certainly on the right lines, but one must admit that poor political judgment played a major role in the destruction of Antissa. One would like to see similar studies for other regions of Greece, a task which should be easier now that we have the Barrington Atlas. Graduate students take note!

Chapter 6 on "Aristotle and Foreign Commerce" is one of the strongest in the book.22 Br. singles out a main tenet of the New Orthodoxy held by Finley, Austin, and Vidal-Nacquet, namely, that the Greek poleis were concerned mainly about securing a steady supply of imports, but showed little interest in promoting exports. In the first part of the essay ("Theory"), Br. looks at statements made about foreign trade by Aristotle and other Greek writers. Although Aristotle says that every polis aims at autarkeia (having enough for its own needs), the philosopher never states that a polis should rely only on its own resources. In his analysis of the art of acquisition (ktêtikê) Aristotle (Pol. 1.9.6-7) says that no city can live without foreign trade, which includes exports and imports and helps to achieve autarkeia. Elsewhere Aristotle advises communities to found cities near the sea (Pol. 7.6.1), where they can easily export and import (Pol. 7.5.4). In fact, Aristotle explicitly links exports with imports in several other passages (Pol. 1.9.5; Rh. 1.4.1360a; EN Nor is Aristotle alone in mentioning imports and exports together: Thucydides (1.120.2), Isocrates (Pan. 42) Plato (Lg. 8.847b-d; R. 2.11.369b-370c), Polybius (4.38.8-9), and the Old Oligarch ([X.] Ath. Pol. 2.11-13) all mention both aspects of trade as if they were the two sides of the same coin (114-19). Thus the ideal of autarkeia included exports as well as imports: the life of complete isolation was the life of the Cyclopes.

The second part of the essay examines the actual practices of the Greek poleis. Br. notes that treaties between poleis and between kings and poleis often concern both imports and exports. Some of the best examples of this dual interest are the treaty concluded between the Macedonian king Amyntas and the Chalcidian League (Tod, Greek Historical Inscriptions #111) and the agreement between Athens and King Archelaus (IG i^3 117). From the Hellenistic period, Br. points to the treaty between Miletus and King Antiochus in c. 167-160 BCE, which grants an exemption from duties on products exported from Miletus to the king's dominions (127-8). Br. interprets the law from Thasos outlawing the import of foreign wine as a measure to encourage the export of local wine (128-9). The Greek poleis often regulated foreign trade by granting or obtaining rights to import and export or by banning exports and imports. Br. (130) rightly concludes "En effet, pour pouvoir importer, il fallait aussi exporter et s'en donner les moyens."

Br. studies another aspect of foreign trade in chapter 7, "The Attack on Hieron and Greek Commerce".23 Br. starts by looking at the accounts of Philip's seizure of Greek ships at Hieron in 340 given respectively by Philochorus (FGrHist 328 F 162) and Theopompus (FGrHist 115 F 292). He argues that Philip did not seize Athenian ships loaded with grain but all ships with cargoes headed for Athens regardless of nationality (131-33). How could Philip's officers have known which ships were going to Athens and which were not? This leads to an extensive discussion of the methods the Greeks had for determining the origins and destinations of exports and imports (133-8). To show that Greeks could find out from which port a cargo originated, Br. observes that Demosthenes (20.33) says that the Athenians receive 400,000 medimnoi of grain from the Pontus and that one can check this figure from the records of the Sitophylakes. At Kyparissia (Syll.^3 952) and at Delos (Syll.^3 975) merchants were required to make written declarations about imported goods, which may have included information about where they came from. In fact, a customs document found at Pelusium indicates that a cargo for a certain Apollonius has arrived from Syria (PCairoZen 59012).

Br. next offers a new interpretation of the inscription from Cyrene listing the amounts of grain sent by the city to various Greek cities (Tod, Greek Historical Inscriptions #196) (135-7). Br. argues that these amounts cannot have been gifts of grain that Cyrene bought and then donated to the Greeks. Instead, he proposes that Cyrene granted an export licence (exagogê) to the poleis and monarchs listed on the inscription and that the amounts represent how much each party bought and exported. But the inscription says "the city gave grain" (siton edôke ha polis), and there are several parallels for such outright gifts (Plutarch Pericles 37.4; Philochorus FGrHist 328 F 119; IG ii^2 657). Moreover the inscription says nothing about export licences or other such privileges.

The final part of the chapter reviews the evidence for written documents carried by Greek merchants: lead letters, ostraka, grammateia (wooden tablets), and papyrus (141-3). These documents might be quite detailed: Apollodorus ([Dem.] 50.30) kept precise accounts of his expenditures as a trierarch (144). Merchants could also carry official letters or a symbolon in time of war (Aeneas Tacticus 10.8; Livy 23.34.1-7) (146-7). The existence of such documents made it possible for the Macedonians at Hieron to single out ships with cargoes bound for Athens (148-9). Like the previous chapter, this study demonstrates that the Greek poleis took an active interest in regulating trade.

Chapter 8 examines an inscription concerning the agoranomoi in the Peiraeus published by Steinhauer in 1994.24 Br. presents his own text of the inscription accompanied by three photographs. He gives slightly different readings of lines 25-6 of Side I (Steinhauer's Side B) and by mistake omits lines 21-22 from his text of Side II (Steinhauer's Side A). I find convincing Br.'s arguments in favor of his idea that the inscription on Side I was inscribed earlier than the one inscribed on Side II of the stone 154-61). Br. agrees with Steinhauer that the figures listed in the inscription are prices of commodities, not taxes, but prefers to date the texts between 35/34 and 18/17 (161-3). There is a careful discussion of the meaning of the term lithoi and the use of tables and scales by magistrates (165-7). He interprets the enigmatic phrase κα[τ' ἐ]πιταγε̂ν τῶν κυκλο̂ι κατα τὸν νόμον to mean "according to the order of those 'around' (i.e. the college of magistrates serving with the agoranomos) according to the law" rather than taking ἐ]πιταγε̂ν to refer to a tax as Steinhauer does. Br. cites good parallels for the phrase κα[τ' ἐ]πιψαγε̂ν but cannot find any for τῶν κυκλο̂ι referring to a college of magistrates (167-72).

Br. then reviews the evidence for setting prices in the Greek poleis.25 Br. rightly concludes that the agoranomoi did have the power to set maximum prices, but they also adjusted these prices in response to the forces of supply and demand. There was always the risk that setting prices too low would discourage merchants from bringing their goods to market. The reason why more such lists of prices have not been preserved is probably because they had to be constantly changed and therefore were not written on permanent materials but on perishable leukomata, whitened wooden boards. Br. notes that the prices on Side I of the stele from the Peiraeus soon became obsolete because the stele was turned upside down and a new set of figures was inscribed on the back, making the old prices illegible. The study helps to support Br.'s interpretation of the expression kathestêkuia timê (see below). This chapter also has the merit of undermining the view of V. Hunter, Policing Athens: Social Control in the Attic Lawsuits, 420-320 B.C., Princeton 1994, 120-53, that magistrates played little role in enforcing the law in Athens. The evidence from Athens and other poleis demonstrates the exact opposite, that magistrates took an active part in carrying out public regulations.

Chapter 9 "Official Prices and the Wholesale Price Trade at Athens" is an original attempt to solve the old problem surrounding the meaning of the term kathestêkuia time ("established price"). Gernet and Jardé thought it was the price set by supply and demand, Dittenberger and Francotte the ordinary market price outside short-term fluctuations, and Wilhelm and Migeotte the price set for public sales of grain. Br. observes that the term is unlikely to mean "market price" since the litigant at Dem. 32.39 describes a situation where grain was being sold at a price far above the kathestêkuia timê. At IG ii^2 903 the deme of Rhamnous praises the general Epichares for selling grain at the kathestêkuia timê, which cannot have been the market price at the time if the honorand deserved a commendation. Br. argues for a meaning close to that proposed by Reger: this is a price set by magistrates, which they encourage merchants to accept (191-2). This price allowed seller to recoup their expenses and make a profit but limited the amount of their profit for the benefit of consumers. He contrasts this procedure (kathistanai) to stabilize prices with that of fixing prices (tattein) for public sales. When the Sitophylakes acted to ensure that grain was sold at a fair price (Ath. Pol. 51.3), therefore, they urged merchants to observe their "official price." They then fixed the permissible mark-up charged by millers and bakers (190-1). Br. interprets the benefactions of Heraclides of Salamis (IG ii^2 360) as a sale at the recommended price, but the terms epidoseis and epedoke would appear to indicate contributions, not sales at reduced prices (see, however, L. Migeotte, Les souscriptions publiques dans les cités grecques, Geneva-Quebec, 1992, 20-1). This price might vary in response to supply and demand (187-8; cf. 205) and was normally in effect at all times, not just during emergencies (201). Was Athens the only polis to employ this mechanism, and did it apply to other commodities besides grain? Br. admits that the state of our sources does not permit a definitive answer, but observes that grain may have been exceptional due to its importance. One wishes that Br. had clarified the relationship between this "official price" and the prices listed on the stele studied in the previous chapter. Instead he compares the use of official prices in Athens with the procedures found in Ptolemaic Egypt (207). Br. builds a very strong case for his interpretation of the term kathestêkuia timê, which I find attractive, but there may not be enough evidence to rule out the possiblity that it means "normal price."

An appendix deals with the law passed by Agyrrhius in 374/3 recently published by R. Stroud (207-10).26 Br. sides with my view that the pentekostê tou sitou mentioned in the law is the tax levied on grain entering the Peiraeus known from [Dem.] 59.27.27 But he does not accept my idea that the dodekatê was a transit tax. Unfortunately, Br. appears to have misunderstood my proposal since he thinks the transit tax was to be imposed on grain grown in the islands, which he claims the cleruchs there had to ship to Athens. That is not what I wrote. My view is that the dodekatê was imposed on grain shipped from foreign ports to the islands then transshipped to ports besides Athens. To my objection that the Athenians did not impose taxes on produce grown in their territory, Br. adduces the parallel of the tax imposed by Samos on grain grown in Anaia (Syll.^3 976, ll. 24-5). But the Samian tax is not really comparable. First, Anaia was a dependent territory; the islands of Lemnos, Imbros, and Scyros were considered Athenian territory (X. Hell. 5.1.31; Aeschin. 2.72), their residents Athenian citizens (Dem. 4.34; Hyp. Lyc. 2. 17). Second, the tax in the law from Samos is on grain ek Anaiôn; the dodekatê is the dodekatê en Lemnô. The best parallel for the phrase is the pentekostê en Neai, which as L. Robert cogently argued was a tax on imports and exports levied "in" the Nea (wherever that was).28

But the main obstacle to believing the dodekatê was a tax on produce designed to provide Athenians in Attica with grain is that the law of Agyrrhius clearly implies that the tax-farmers had previously made their payments in cash (lines 56-61). If the aim of the tax was to take a share of the grain from the islands and bring it to Athens, why did the tax-farmers not make their payments in kind all along? And if the Athenians imposed a tax on produce grown by citizens in the islands why did they not impose a similar tax on their citizens in Attica? Such a tax imposed in the islands but not in Attica would violate the principle that a law must apply to all Athenian citizens equally (Andocides Myst. 87; Dem. 24.159). When applying this principle to cleruchs, the Athenians held that they should be liable to the same duties as all other Athenian citizens (IG i^2 42, lines 18-24 with A. J. Graham, Colony and Mother City, rev. ed.; Chicago 1983, 171-72, 189-90). As much as I admire Stroud's publication, I believe his view of the dodekatê encounters insuperable objections, which Br. does not take into account. As a result, his calculations on 208-10 about the amount of grain and money brought in by the tax do not rest on a secure foundation. But his suggestion that Leucon, the ruler of the Bosporus, did not give grain to Athens but sold it at a reduced price to the city (Dem. 20. 33), which then sold it to citizens at a slight mark-up, is attractive and may well be right (209-10).

Chapter 10 starts with a study of an inventory of phialai from Amos on Rhodes, then broadens out to consider general issues about coinage and weight standards. The inventory from Amos dates to the Hellenistic period (SEG 14 [1956] 687a) = IK 38 [Rhodian Peraea] 355) and records the weight of phialai dedicated by outgoing magistrates. The weights are in drachmas and are in precise numbers, not round sums. M. Chr. Marcellesi tried to account for this phenomenon by arguing that the officials weighed the phialai with actual coins. The reason why the figures are so precise is because the coins of Amos did not circulate frequently and were thus less subject to wear (212).

Br. begins by questioning the widely held view that the Greeks used actual coins to weigh precious objects. First, this method was not necessary since most Greek cities had official weights and scales kept by metronomoi or other officials. These were much more precise and reliable than coins. Second, coins might vary considerably in weight. For instance, Rhodian didrachms range from 6.2 to 6.89 grams in this period (213-19). Third, the inventories of Amos record a weight of four obols, yet Marcellesi admits that the lowest denomination minted by Amos in this period was a hemidrachm (219). Br. then brings several objections against the view of Lewis that when Athenian inventories list a crown of 500 drachmas, this does not indicate a weight, but the total amount spent including the salary of the craftsman and the value of the metal (222). The expression pros argurion also does not indicate the object was weighed by coins, but refers to the weight standard normally employed for silver coinage. This standard at Athens and on Delos might differ from the one used for commercial purposes (e.g IG ii^2 1013, lines 29-33) (225-30). Br. then examines inventories from Delos and Didyma that also record weights of dedications (230-40). In sum, there is no foundation for the view that the Greeks used coins to measure the weights of dedications (240-42).

In contrast to the previous chapters, which treat specific problems, the final two chapters turn to more general issues. Chapter 11 studies "Public and Private Prosodoi (Revenues): The Paradox of the Civic Economy" and is the less successful of the two.29 Br. examines another major tenet of the New Orthodoxy, namely, Finley's view that the economy had no autonomous existence in the ancient world. Since Finley thought that the economy was not separate from other aspects of social life, he made no attempt to describe the structure of the ancient economy. According to Finley, the state in antiquity showed no interest in the economy per se but looked only to its own needs. Br. rightly criticizes Finley's views as partly trivial, partly misleading. On the one hand, one could say that all forms of economic organization are embedded in social life since most people use goods and cash acquired in the market for other purposes besides production, investment, and exchange. On the other hand, one must be careful about how one uses terms like "the state" and "the economy." Br. then attempts to find a via media between the modernists, who apply anachronistic modern terms to the ancient economy, and the primitivism of the New Orthodoxy, which denies the ancient world had an economy (243-5).

Before examining the nature of the economy, Br. confronts the thorny issue of defining the polis (245-7). He contrasts the view of Hansen, who argues that the polis was separate from society, and that of Gauthier, Veyne, and Meier, who hold that the ancient polis was utterly unlike the modern state. Br. rather arbitrarily opts for the latter position then seems to lean toward Hansen's view: he admits that the specific forms of exercising power by the state should not lead us to overlook the existence of the state's own authority and that the polis stood above various social groups like phratries and had the power to regulate collective life and exchanges (246). One of the problems about the way Br. frames the debate is that he never indicates how he defines the term "state." If one adopts Weber's definition, which sees the state as that institution in a society that dominates the use of legitimate force within fixed boundaries,30 one must admit that there was an ancient "state", although it lacked the professional bureaucracy of the modern state. The ancient Greek polis drew a strict distinction between archontes (officials) and idiôtai (private citizens), granting powers to (as well as imposing restrictions on) the former which were denied to the latter.31 These agents of the polis may not have formed professional bureacracies, but they were distinct from the body of average citizens. For a more sensible attempt to find a middle ground between the two approaches to the polis, one should read Faraguna's survey of recent work on the issue.32

To discover the economy of the polis. Br. relies on the first chapter of the second book of the Economica attributed (wrongly) to Aristotle. Br. notes that the main aim of all economies listed in this work (those of king, satrap, polis, and private individual) is the management of revenues and expenditures (247) and compares Xenophon's Oeconomicus, where the goal of the oikos is also to increase revenues and monitor expenditures. Br. then claims that by contrast the primary role of the modern state is to maintain order and regulate economic activity. Br. traces the role of the ancient state in the economy back to the Iliad: the original form of the economy was to raid for plunder and distribute the booty to soldiers. This practice did not die out with the development of the polis but remained firmly in place: war for profit remained a central feature of the polis. To this one should add tribute (phoros or syntaxeis), which were distributed as wages (misthos). To be a citizen was to a belong to a club that paid dividends (250). Xenophon's Poroi is thus partly traditional, partly original in its proposals, which provide money to citizens but do not rely on war to gain revenues. When there was no booty from war, the polis might distribute profits gained from mines or other public revenues (250). The aim of the polis was the same as that of the oikos, that is, to increase revenues and eliminate useless expenditures (252). The closest the polis came to investing in the economy was to make cash grants to poor individuals to help them get started in farming or commerce (Ar. Pol. 6.5.8) (253). But Br. prefers to see this as one more variation on the theme of distributing public revenues.

To illustrate the way the polis economy worked in practice. Br. compares the proposals of Xenophon's Poroi with the measures found in the Grain Law from Samos (Syll.^3 976). In the debate about Xenophon's opusculum, Bodei Giglioni believes its aim was to stimulate the economy, Gauthier thinks the goal was to restore public finances and strengthen the democracy by providing misthos for citizens, and Schütrumpf argues the purpose was to help the poor without harming the rich by making cash payments. Br. finds all these aims at work in the grain law from Samos. The law created a public fund for buying grain, annual loans from this fund to provide revenue to buy grain, and distributions to citizens (253-57).

Br. concludes by contrasting the ancient economy with the modern economy. In his eyes, contemporary thought from Adam Smith to the Chicago School views the state as separate from the economy; its main role is to maintain order so that the free market can develop on its own through the forces of competition (258). While rejecting the view of Finley that the ancient world had no economy and Weber's facile opposition between the homo politicus of the ancient city and the homo oeconomicus of the medieval city, Br. thinks the main aim of the polis was to increase prosodoi. The individual attempted to collect prosodoi either privately as an idiôtês or publicly as a citizen (politês) (259). There was no tension between oikos and polis: both realms were motivated by the same economic goals. The problem with this view was that macro-economic issues were conceived in microeconomic terms: the ancient Greeks were incapable of achieving a global perspective, of developing a clear conception of the hierarchical relations between the action of the states and its effects on individuals. But poleis had no aversion to commerce. Indeed the willingness of nine poleis to regulate the emporion at Naucratis attests to their interests in promoting trade (260). Br. ends by calling for an approach that avoids the excesses of the Primitivists and Modernists (261).

While I applaud Br.'s attempt to find a via media between the two approaches, I do not find his own approach helpful. Two major objections stand in the way of Br.'s view of the contrast between the ancient and modern economies. The first concerns Br.'s ideas about the modern economy. Br. thinks that the main role of the modern state is to maintain order and provide regulations. This is certainly a one-sided view of the modern economy: it is as if Br., when studying the modern American economy, looks only at bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Interstate Commerce Commission, then ignores the Internal Revenue Service and all government agencies that distribute funds and services to individuals and organizations. Despite numerous attempts à la Thatcher and Reagan to slash public services, the modern state in North America and Europe still plays a major role in collecting public revenues and distributing both money and services to citizens and other residents. The Welfare State, the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, Clement Attlee and others, although battered and ailing, still exists; a majority of those in the United Kingdom is not about to abolish the National Health Service. Even George W. Bush proposes increasing federal funds for public education. And Republican support for vouchers to pay for private schools has found little public support thanks to the opposition of the unjustly maligned teacher unions such as the AFT and NEA. And what about the work of Socialists like Léon Blum in Br.'s native France? Communism may be dead in Russia and dying in China and Cuba, but to judge from the protests in Seattle last year and in Genoa this year, the global free market promoted by the World Trade Organization is also not without opponents.

In contrast to ancient states, the modern state tends to furnish services rather than redistribute revenues. On the other hand, the Earned Income Tax Credit is not all that different from the Theoric Fund in Classical Athens. In contemporary Alaska, the state government still distributes to citizens money from the sale of oil leases not unlike the way the Athenians considered distributing the money from Laurion mines in 483 (Herodotus 7.144). Finally, I doubt that the majority of Americans who voted for Gore and Nader last year considers the Chicago School the prevailing orthodoxy. Many of us (at least the members of my union) regard them (rightly or wrongly) as dangerous extremists.

Second, ancient states did not ignore the need to provide order and regulate economic actitivities. Indeed, Homer (Od. 19.10-16) links eudikia with wealth and prosperity, and Solon (fr. 4 [West]) makes the same connection. Here Br. appears to have forgotten everything he wrote about the power of the agoranomoi to regulate prices and the role of the polis in controlling foreign commerce in his earlier chapters. He also ignores the importance of the courts, which judged cases involving contracts and helped to enforce market regulations.33 Demosthenes (10.41-45) thought the polis fulfilled both the role of distributing public funds and that of protecting the rights of ownership and contracts.34 In short, the gap between the ancient and the modern economy posited by Br. simply does not exist. While I believe that Br. is right to criticize Finley for failing to describe the structure of the ancient economy, one cannot address that task unless one looks first at the nature of ancient technology and the specialization of labor. To construct a model of the ancient economy without considering labor and technology is to build an edifice without a solid foundation in material reality. Finley made the mistake of attempting to explain economic activity solely in terms of social practices and attitudes. Here Br. gets perilously close to viewing the ancient economy in purely political terms.

The final chapter "The Greek Cities, the Market, and Prices" contains a better analysis of the relationship between the polis and the economy. Br. begins by examining the views of K. Polanyi. While Adam Smith saw capitalism as the progressive extension of exchange as a result of the increasing division of labor, Polanyi argued that market exchange was marginal in pre-capitalist societies, where gift-giving and redistribution were the dominant practices (264-5). Local commerce was tied to local needs, while foreign trade catered only to the tastes of the elite. Polanyi attributed the rise of capitalism to the advent of centralized monarchies, which established legal order over large territories. Br. criticizes Polanyi for lumping together many different societies under the enormous rubric "pre-capitalist." Such a simplistic approach tends to evaluate all previous societies as failures to achieve an ideal they could have attained if they had just tried a little harder (265). Yet Br. rightly gives Polanyi credit for seeing fourth-century Athens as a partial exception to his ideas about capitalism (266). Br. then contrasts Finley's approach, which has become the New Orthodoxy, with that of Weber. Despite Finley's praise of Weber, their ideas were very different. Weber believed there was a form of capitalism in the ancient world, but criticized Meyer for not seeing the differences between ancient and modern capitalism. Unlike Finley, Weber saw the ancient economy in more dynamic terms, not as a static stucture (267).

Br. then sums up several of his criticisms of Finley from the previous chapters: he again faults Finley for disregarding the interest of the Greek poleis in commerce whether by making treaties about exports and imports or by cooperating to form an emporion like Naucratis. He claims the division between private and public was different in antiquity, and the polis was actively engaged in the economy by collecting and distributing prosodoi (270-1). Every polis (including Sparta) had its agora, where buying and selling took place (Herodotus 1.153) What brought the market into existence was the juridical and political equality of free and equal partners.35 Some have called the polis a club of warriors; Br. rightly observes one could also call it a club of buyers and sellers. This stood in contrast to the redistributive economies of the Near East. In Greece, the contract regulated the distribution of goods and services. In court, judges examined not a man's status but the nature of the case (272-3). This section is very persuasive, especially the remarks on the role of law and contracts. But his view of the role of the polis here appears to contradict his statements in the previous chapter: when the polis enforced contracts, it was like the modern state in acting to regulate the economy not just collecting and redistributing prosodoi.

Br. continues his criticism of Finley by disputing his view that most farmers aimed providing only for their own needs and met shortfalls by borrowing from neighbors and relatives. Farmers did not produce an ocasional surplus, but must have regularly sold their products on the market to obtain the cash needed to pay for rents, taxes like the eisphora, and to buy miltary equipment (274-5). Yet Br. is no modernist: he rejects the idea that the Mediterranean formed a single unified market. Although some commodities traveled long distances, most trade circulated within separate regions (275-6). At the same time one should not underestimate the volume of trade between regions: Athens was far from alone in relying on imported grain (276-9). Br. notes that the laws prohibiting the export of grain only make sense if farmers and merchants knew that prices might be higher elsewhere. There was no single price for grain in the Aegean, much less the entire Mediterranean, but events in one area might affect prices in another as news of prices made its way to different markets (284-7). Between the primivists and modernists Br. tries to find a middle ground: markets were interdependent but lacked a mechanism like the Chicago Board of Trade that could act to form an international price for any given commodity. On the local level there was enough specialization of labor to permit regular markets (294-95).36 Br. also observes that several poleis specialized in certain items (Chios and Thasos in wine, Megara in textiles, Athens painted pottery), which indicates they were clearly producing for export (293-4).37 And there is no reason to doubt that the ancient Greeks could think in market terms when evaluating different investments (294-5).38

Br. ends the chapter by criticizing the view of J.-Y. Grenier that prices in the Greek poleis were not shaped by the forces of supply and demand. Since the Greek world was divided into hundreds of independent poleis, merchants could choose where they would buy and sell their cargoes by comparing prices in different markets (Dem. 56.8-10; X. Ec. 20.27-8). The forces of supply and demand were regulated by the prices established by officials within the poleis, but these two might fluctuate, as the inscription studied in Chapter 8 illustrates. This made ancient Greece very different from France under the Ancien Regime, where royal Intendants might direct the flow of food supplies to various regions (297-304). According to Br. the Greeks were the first to develop a monetized market economy. It would therefore be wrong to consider the ancient economy based on reciprocity and to contrast it with a modern economy motivated by profit. I think Br.'s view of the ancient economy of the Greek poleis is on the right lines, but the differences he draws between the ancient and modern economies remain slightly vague (304-7).

Before concluding this review, I ought to apologize for its length. I have summarized Br.'s arguments in detail not only to show the wide range of his interests but also to highlight the importance of his views and his conclusions for the study of the ancient Greek economy. His study should also serve as an example for future work in the field. Unlike Finley who relied mostly on the literary sources (with a few inscriptions and excavation reports thrown in), Br. draws on a wider range of evidence and does not neglect numismatics and papyrology.39 If one had to criticize these essays, one could object that like much recent work Br.'s essays tend to focus on trade and exchange and contain a blind spot for the forces of production and the organization of labor. And there could be more on the importance of developing a legal infrastructure to support the growth of market relations. But it would be unfair to criticize Br. for the book that he did not write. The book Br. has written is one of the most significant contributions to the study of the ancient Greek economy in the past twenty years. If you want to invest in the study of the ancient Greek economy, use some of your assets to buy Br.'s book.40


1.   R. Macve, "Some Glosses on Ste Croix's 'Greek and Roman Accounting'," in P. A. Cartledge and F. D. Harvey, eds. Crux: Essays in Greek History presented to G. E. M. de Ste. Croix on his 75th. Birthday, London 1985, 253-64.
2.   K. Greene, The Archaeology of the Roman Economy, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1986, 170.
3.   J. H. D'Arms, Commerce and Social Standing in Ancient Rome. Cambridge, MA 1981.
4.   D. Rathbone, Economic Rationalism and Rural Society in Third-Century A. D. Egypt. The Heroninus Archive and the Appianus Estate. Cambridge, 1991.
5.   A. Tchernia, Le vin de l'Italie romain (Rome 1986) 21-27. Cf. A. Chaniotis, "Vinum Creticum excellens: zum Weinhandel Kretas," MBAH 7.1 (1988) 62-90, who shows that Crete exported a substantial amount of wine to Rome.
6.   D. Engels, Roman Corinth: An Alternative Model for the Classical City, Chicago 1990.
7.   W. E. Thompson, "The Athenian Entrepreneur," AC 51 (1982) 53-85.
8.   T. R. Martin, Sovereignty and Coinage in Classical Greece, Princeton 1985.
9.   E. Cohen, Athenian Economy and Society: A Banking Perspective, Princeton 1992.
10.   E. M. Harris, "When is a Sale not a Sale? The Riddle of Athenian Terminology for Real Security Revisited," CQ 38 (1988) 351-81 and "Apotimema: Athenian Terminology for Real Security in Leases and Dowry Agreements," CQ 43 (1993) 73-95.
11.   R. Osborne, "Social and Economic Implications of the Leasing of Land in Classical and Hellenistic Greece," Chiron 18 (1998) 279-323.
12.   For instance. P. Millett, Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens, Cambridge 1990, still adheres closely to many of Finley's main ideas. See my review in Classical Review 43 (1993) 102-7. Perhaps the most extreme primitivist on the Greek side is S. Meikle, "Modernism, Economics, and the Ancient Economy," Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 42 (1995) 174-91.
13.   This essay was originally published in Dialogues d'histoire ancienne 6 (1980) 291-349.
14.   Many of Br.'s points in this chapter have been endorsed by A. Moeller, Naukratis: Trade in Archaic Greece, Oxford 2000, 182-215.
15.   V. Velkov and L. Domaradzka, "Kotys I (383/2-359) et l'emporion de Pistiros en Thrace," Bulletin de Correspondence Hellénique 118 (1994)1-15. For a new edition see V. Chankowski, and L. Domaradzka "Réédition de l'inscription de Pistiros et problems d'interprétation," Bulletin de Correspondence Hellénique 123 (1999) 247-58. L. Loukopoulo, "Sur le statut et l'importance de l'emporion de Pistiros," Bulletin de Correspondence Hellénique 123 (1999) 358-71, accepts Br.'s conclusions about the status of Naucratis and applies them to the emporion in Thrace.
16.   Br. compares the phrase mnêmon phortou at Od. 8.163, which he thinks refers to a keeper of written documents on a ship, but the word mnêmon is surely an adjective in this context, not a noun (cf. Od. 21.95).
17.   This essay was previously published in Index 9 (1980) 144-49.
18.   One cannot always be sure that two men who have the same name and patronymic are necessarily the same person. For a cautionary note see C. Habicht, "Namensgleiche Athener in verschiedenen Demen," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 103 (1994) 117-27.
19.   J. Hasebroek, Trade and Politics in Ancient Greece, trans. L. M. Fraser and D. C. MacGregor, London 1932, 22: "Traders belonged to the lowest social and economic plane." M. I. Finley, The Ancient Economy^2, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1985, 51-2 uncritically endorsed Hasebroek's view. J. G. Kron, Landed and Commercial Wealth at Classical Athens (diss. Toronto 1996) has now demolished this view, showing that elite citizens in Athens showed no aversion to investing in shipping and workshops.
20.   This essay was previously published in Cahiers Radet (Université de Bordeaux III), 3 (1983) 11 p.
21.   Br. could have done more with the evidence from Thucydides and Xenophon to support his point. For instance, Methymna's contribution of ships to the Sicilian expedition (Th. 7.57.5) and her ability to resist a siege by Thrasybulus (Xen. Hell. 4.8.29) are surely good indications of her prosperity.
22.   This chapter was originally published in Revue des Études anciennes 89 (1987) 217-38.
23.   This essay was previously published in P. Briant, R. Descat and J. Andreau, edd. Les échanges dans l'Antiquité: le rôle de l'État, Entretiens d'archéologie et d'histoire 1, Saint-Bertrand de-Comminges, 1994, 47-68.
24.   G. Steinhauer, "Inscription agoranomique du Pirée," Bulletin de Correspondence Hellénique 1994 (118) 51-68.
25.   Br. draws on the valuable essay of L. Migeotte, "Le contrôle des prix dans les cités grecques," in J. Andreau, P. Briant, and R. Descat, edd. Prix et formation des prix dans les économies antiques. Entretiens d'archéologie et d'histoire 3, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges 1997, 33-52.
26.   R. S. Stroud, The Athenian Grain-Tax Law of 374/3, Hesperia Suppl. 29 (1998).
27.   See E. M. Harris, "Notes on the New Grain-Tax Law," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 128 (1999) 269-72. On this law see also the discussions by M. Faraguna, "Intorno alla nuova legge ateniese sulla tassazione del grano," Dike 2 (1999) 63-97, and J. Engels, "Das athenische Getreidesteuer-Gesetz des Agyrrhios," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 134 (2001) 97-124, and the important review of R. Osborne in Classical Review 50 (2000) 172-3, who clarifies the method of auctioning the taxes, which permitted bidders to gain a profit. Osborne, Faraguna and Engels accept Stroud's idea that the dodekatê was a tax on produce grown in the islands, though Engels accepts my interpretation of the final clause.
28.   L. Robert, Hellenica 11/12 (1960) 189-203.
29.   This essay was previously published in Ktema 23 (1998) 243-62.
30.   M. Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, trans. A. M. Henderson and T. Parsons (London and New York 1947) 156.
31.   On this topic see L. Rubinstein, "The Political Perception of the Idiotes," in P. Cartledge, P. Millett, and S. von Reden, Kosmos. Essays in Order, Conflict, and Community in Fourth-Century Athens (Cambridge 1998) 125-43.
32.   M. Faraguna, "Individuo, Stato, e comunità. Studi recenti sulla polis," Dike 3 (2000) 217-29.
33.   Br. appears to be aware of the regulatory role of the polis in the first part of the essay (246) but does not see the implications of his observation for his general point.
34.   On Dem. 10.41-45 see my remarks in "Demosthenes and the Theoric Fund" in R. W. Wallace and E. M. Harris, Transitions to Empire: Essays in Greco-Roman History, Norman and London 1996, 57-76.
35.   I made this basic point in "When is a Sale not a Sale?" Classical Quarterly 38 (1988) 379-81, an essay that Br. appears to have overlooked. For the role of the polis in maintaining evidence of ownership see the important article of M. Faraguna, "Registrazioni catastali nel mondo greco: il caso di Atene," Athenaeum 85 (1997) 7-33.
36.   Br. does not build a detailed case for his views about the specialization of labor, which is basically correct but needs to be qualified. See my "Workshop, Household and Marketplace: The Nature of Technical Specialization in Classical Athens and its Influence on Economy and Society" in P. Cartledge, L. Foxhall, and E. Cohen, edd. Kerdos: Money, Labour and Land in Ancient Greece, forthcoming. On the importance of production for export outside Athens see the valuable survey of T. Fischer-Hansen, "Ergasteria in the Western Greek World" in P. Flensted-Jensen, T. H. Nielsen, and L. Rubinstein, edd. Polis and Politics: Studies in Ancient Greek History, Copenhagen 2000, 91-120.
37.   For the cachet of foreign imports as early as the Archaic period see the provocative essay of L. Foxhall, "Cargoes of the Heart's Desire: the Character of Trade in the Archaic Mediterranean World," in N. Fisher and H. van Wees, Archaic Greece: New Approaches and New Evidence, London 1998, 295-309.
38.   Here one misses a reference to the essay of Macve (note 1 above).
39.   In his rather selective "survey" or recent work on the Greek economy, I. Morris, "The Athenian Economy Twenty years after The Ancient Economy," Classical Philology 89 (1994) 351-66, dismisses the evidence of the Attic orators on flimsy grounds, does not mention other literary sources, ignores the contribution of epigraphy, and has nothing to say about numismatics and papyrology. The contrast with Br.'s thoroughness in collecting the evidence could not be more glaring.
40.   I would like to thank Professor Christian Habicht for reading a draft of this review and offering suggestions for improvements.

Read Latest
Index for 2001
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:27:32, Friday, 03 April 2009