BMCR 1999.03.13

The Athenian Tax Law of 374/3 B.C. Hesperia Supplement 29

, , The Athenian grain-tax law of 374/3 B.C.. Hesperia Supplement ; 29. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1998. xiv, 140 pages : illustrations ; 28 cm.. ISBN 9780876615294 $35.00.

This law, inscribed on a stele which has survived in two joining fragments, was found in 1986 in the wall of the Great Drain of the Agora where it passes the Stoa of the Basileus, very close to the find-spot of the law of 375/4 on approvers of silver coinage (SEG xxvi 72; first published by Stroud in Hesp. 43 [1974], 158-88). The finding was announced by T. L. Shear, Jr., then Director of the Agora Excavations, in 1987; he originally hoped to publish the text himself, but subsequently entrusted it to Stroud; Stroud originally envisaged an article in Hesperia, but finally decided that proper treatment of the text required more space. Stroud has been active in consulting colleagues about problems in interpretation and generous in showing them the text; and now the text is published and fully discussed for the first time.

The stone is complete, and fully legible apart from a few letters at the right-hand ends of lines; the cutter has omitted the cross-bar of several letters, but except at one point (ll. 25-6: on pp. 58-9 Stroud suggests ἐπὶ τῆ[ι ξ]ών < η > ι or ἐπὶ τῆ[ι ζ]ών < η > ι there are no uncertainties about the Greek text apart from a couple of places where more than one ending of δεκατ – is possible. There are 61 lines, inscribed stoichedon 31 from l. 5 onwards with one extra letter in l. 58.

The text is a law, enacted at a time when the Athenians distinguished between laws (nomoi) and decrees (psephismata). It begins not with a full prescript but simply with an invocation of the gods, a record of the archon, a subject-heading (“Law about the twelfth of the grain of the islands”) and a record of the proposer (Agyrrhius, the well-known politician of the early fourth century). The coinage law of the previous year has an enactment formula, lacks the gods and a subject-heading, and otherwise is equally austere. This law, although it has been published, does not contain a publication clause: the coinage law does.

Agyrrhius, as a man involved in tax-collecting in 402-400, is an appropriate man to have proposed this law. The law lays down arrangements for the farming of the tax of one twelfth (though arithmetically correct it is psychologically misleading of Stroud to render this as 8 1/3 %) of the grain of Lemnos, Imbros and Scyros, and of a separate tax of one fiftieth. The collection is to be auctioned in “portions” (merides) of 100 medimnoi of wheat + 400 medimnoi of barley (one meris undertaken by a single man or a six-fold meris undertaken by a symmoria of six men), which are to be conveyed to the city “before the month Maimakterion (v)” at the expense and the risk of the collectors and stored in the Aiakeion. An elected committee of ten men is to supervise the weighing of the grain there, and, when authorised by the assembly (“not before the month Anthesterion [viii]”), sell it; and the proceeds of the sale are to be paid to the stratiotic fund.

This text is remarkable in many respects. It significantly extends the career of the proposer, Agyrrhius, since previously all that was known after his generalship of c. 389/8 was that he spent a long time in prison until he had repaid a public debt (Dem. 24. Tim. 134-5). Sitonai, commissions of grain-buyers, are attested later in the fourth century (cf. below), but here for the first time we are given detailed arrangements for the acquisition and sale of grain by the polis, and these arrangements involve the levying of a tax in kind on Athens’ three north-Aegean islands (the collection and sale of first-fruits for the Eleusinian sanctuary provides the closest parallel). The text reveals the existence of an elected body of civilian officials, earlier (I believe: cf. below) than the elected treasurers of the theoric fund. And, if Stroud is right, it enables us to identify as the Aiakeion the much-discussed peribolos to the west of the South Stoa on the south side of the Agora. From l. 9 to l. 36 the text uses neither the infinitives (dependent on Δ εἶπεν) which are most usual in decrees and laws (used here in ll. 6-7 and 55-end) nor the imperatives which are the most common alternative to infinitives, especially in laws (used here in ll. 36-55), but future indicatives: Stroud notes that this idiom is characteristic of contracts, and suggests that the part of the law expressed in this way may be regarded as a contract with the collectors.

In his first chapter Stroud gives the text and translation of the law, with comments on its epigraphic features. In the second he gives a thorough, sentence-by-sentence commentary on the law, which amounts to half of the volume. In the third he presents a persuasive case for the identification of the Aiakeion, where the grain was to be stored and in front of which it was probably to be sold. In the fourth he discusses the law in the context of Athenian taxation — inter alia wondering what the collectors would gain from their involvement, and suggesting that the twelfths which they collected might amount to more than the merides which they had contracted to deliver to Athens (this must be right, I think: it is analogous to the cash profit expected by those who contracted to collect taxes in cash), and that they would be advantageously placed to buy further quantities of grain for resale. In the fifth he discusses the law in the context of the year 374/3, i.e. shortly after 376, when the Spartans had threatened Athens’ grain imports until defeated in the battle of Naxos. There is no other evidence for these taxes or for the elected committee, and we cannot tell how long the law remained in force; Stroud argues that both the twelfth and the fiftieth were taxes which already existed but had previously been collected in cash.

Stroud may not be right on every point — he remarks in his preface on the impossibility of producing an editio princeps which is definitive — but his interpretations are well argued and make good sense. He has done a splendidly thorough job — in places I think too thorough, in that there are some points over which he labours more than was necessary (e.g. pp. 18-20 on the early career of Agyrrhius; p. 86 with n. 3 on Athens, Aegina and the foundation of the Aiakeion), perhaps because, after deciding that the text merited a volume and not simply an article, he felt bound to justify that decision and produce a volume of reasonable size. It would have been kind, however, if he had reminded readers who do not carry this information in their heads what positions the months named occupy in the Athenian calendar.

I add notes on some details.

P. 15 “lacks the enactment clause, ἔδοξεν / δεδόχθαι τοῖς νομοθέταις“: the enactment formula, with ἔδοξεν, and the motion formula, with δεδόχθαι or ἐψηφίσθαι, are different, and appear at different points in a law or decree; this text has neither.

P. 16 list of inscribed laws: SEG xviii 13 and IG ii 2 334 are parts of the same inscription, but the first is a law and the second is a decree; SEG xxx 61 (now Agora xvi 56) and xxxii 81 ( IG ii 2 412) do look like laws, and SEG xvi 55 and xxv 82 (Agora xvi 67) may be laws, but I see no reason to doubt the restoration of Schweigert’s text (Agora xvi 72) as a decree.

Pp. 21-2: Stroud first says that the theoric fund “was probably instituted by” Eubulus (which I believe to be correct), but then goes on to defend the alternative attribution to Agyrrhius and date of 395/4, while allowing for a transformation by Eubulus.

P. 22 Agyrrhius’ generalship “securely dated” to 389: 389 is as likely as any to be the correct year, but the chronology of this period is not secure.

P. 25 “persuade his fellow nomothetai”; I do not think the proposer of a law had to be one of the nomothetai; indeed, if (as the literary evidence suggests) the nomothetai acted as a quasi-jury to decide between the existing laws and the new proposal, it is likely that the proposer had not to be one of the nomothetai.

Pp. 41-2 on the number of merides to be auctioned: Stroud suggests that the boule, in consultation with the poletai and others, had to decide in advance. I suspect caveat emptor: men who thought that more merides could profitably be collected than had already been auctioned could go on bidding — at their own risk if their bids were accepted.

P. 69 on the committee’s term of office: Stroud suspects the term would begin immediately after the election. Presumably it was the job of one year’s committee to receive and sell one consignment of grain: a regular office would normally be tied to a standard year, whether archontic or (beginning slightly later) Panathenaic; Stroud reckons that the annual delivery of grain would begin before the Athenian new year; that would certainly be true of the harvest, but I wonder whether it would be true of the delivery of the tax-grain to Athens, which did not have to be completed until the month Maimakterion (v).

Pp. 69-70 on the appointment of the committee by election: Stroud justifies this in terms of the skills which the men would need to have, but other committees which might require comparable skills were appointed by lot, and I think the decision to elect in this case is more remarkable than Stroud allows; but it set a precedent, and sitonai were elected later (Dem. 18. Crown 248).

P. 71 Stroud claims that if the contractors did not deliver on time the committee would report to the poletai; cf. p. 113, where he suggests that the committee reported on its work to the boule and the poletai: I should guess simply the boule both for defaults and for tasks performed; when the contracts had been made, the poletai had completed their share in the process.

P. 71 Stroud accepts the view of M. H. Hansen (which I doubt) that in the fourth century most officials were not paid.

Pp. 74-5 Stroud thinks that the grain might have been sorted by quality and the better grain sold at a higher price than the worse, although this was not done by the Eleusinian epistatai in 329/8 (IG ii 2 1672): I doubt this.

P. 78 payment of the proceeds of the sale to the stratiotic fund (here mentioned one year earlier than we previously had evidence for it): if I am right (The Athenian Boule, 105), this will accord with the principle in force before the creation of the theoric fund that in time of war any surplus revenue should go to the stratiotic fund.

Pp. 78-81 lines 55-61 of the text are puzzling: Stroud suggests that the taxes with which the law is concerned already existed but previously were collected in cash, and that here we have provision for a transitional year between the old system and the new; it is any case interesting that a law, which ought to be not ephemeral but permanent, should contain references to “last year”, “now” and “the future” — but the dioikesis mentioned in l. 81 ought to be the state’s financial administration as a whole, not (as Stroud supposes) an otherwise unattested general fund distinct from the various ring-fenced funds which received allocations in the merismos.

Pp. 99-101 with 90-1 Stroud makes the interesting suggestion that fragments of plaster with large painted letters could be from notices of court cases or records of court decisions, displayed temporarily on the outside of the north wall of the Aiakeion (cf. his restoration of P. Oxy. 2087. 16-18: ZPE 103 [1994], 1-9).

This is a fascinating and important text, and Stroud’s publication of it is an exemplary piece of work.