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The economy of ancient Greece was defined largely by the region's dependence on imported goods. As a result of the poor quality of Greece 's soil , agricultural trade was of particular importance. The impact of limited crop production was somewhat offset by Greece's paramount location, as its position in the Mediterranean gave its provinces control over some of Egypt's most crucial seaports and trade routes. Beginning in the 6th century BC, trade craftsmanship and commerce , principally maritime , became pivotal aspects of Greek economic output.
Greece lacked a consolidated, centralized economy in the modern sense of the word. There was a relative absence of contemporary phrases to describe overarching systems of commerce and trade organization, and economics was primarily understood in terms of the localized management of necessary goods. Greek soil has been likened to "stinginess" or "tightness" Ancient Greek: The olive tree and grapevine were complemented by the cultivation of herbs , vegetables , and oil-producing plants.
Husbandry was badly developed due to a lack of available land. Sheep and goats were the most common types of livestock. Woods were heavily exploited, first for domestic use and eventually to build triremes. Bees were kept to produce honey , the only source of sugar known to the ancient Greeks.
Agricultural work followed the rhythm of the seasons: In the ancient era, most land was held by the aristocracy. During the 7th century BC, demographic expansion and the distribution of successions created tensions between these landowners and the peasants.
In Athens , this was changed by Solon 's reforms, which eliminated debt bondage and protected the peasant class. Nonetheless, a Greek aristocrat's domains remained small compared with the Roman latifundia. Much of the craftsmanship of ancient Greece was part of the domestic sphere.
However, the situation gradually changed between the 8th and 4th centuries BC, with the increased commercialization of the Greek economy. Thus, weaving and baking , activities so important to the Western late medieval economy, were done only by women before the 6th century BC. After the growth of commerce, slaves started to be used widely in workshops. Only fine dyed tissues, like those made with Tyrian purple , were created in workshops.
On the other hand, working with metal , leather , wood , or clay was a specialized activity that was looked down upon by most Greeks. The basic workshop was often family-operated. Lysias 's shield manufacture employed slaves; Demosthenes ' father, a maker of swords , used After the death of Pericles in BC, a new class emerged: Examples include Cleon and Anytus , noted tannery owners, and Kleophon , whose factory produced lyres.
Non-slave workers were paid by assignment, since the workshops could not guarantee regular work. In Athens, those who worked on state projects were paid one drachma per day, no matter what craft they practiced.
The workday generally began at sunrise and ended in the afternoon. The potter's work consisted of selecting the clay, fashioning the vase, drying and painting and baking it, and applying varnish. Part of the production went to domestic usage dishes, containers, oil lamps or for commercial purposes, and the rest served religious or artistic functions. Techniques for working with clay have been known since the Bronze Age ; the potter's wheel is a very ancient invention. The ancient Greeks did not add any innovations to these processes [ citation needed ].
The creation of artistically decorated vases in Greece had strong foreign influences. For instance, the famed black-figure style of Corinthian potters was most likely derived from the Syrian style of metalworking. The heights to which the Greeks brought the art of ceramics is therefore due entirely to their artistic sensibilities and not to technical ingenuity.
Pottery in ancient Greece was most often the work of slaves. Many of the potters of Athens assembled between the agora and the Dipylon, in the Kerameikon. They most often operated as small workshops, consisting of a master, several paid artisans, and slaves. Deposits of metal ore are common in Greece. Of these, the best known are the silver mines of Laurium. These mines contributed to the development of Athens in the 5th century BC, when the Athenians learned to prospect, treat, and refine the ore.
Fortuitously, the composition of the earth below the mines rendered drainage unnecessary, an important provision given that ancient mine drainage techniques did not allow for excavation below the level of subsoil waters.
The passageways and steps of Greek mines were dug out with the same concern for proportion and harmony found in their temples. The miner, armed with his pick and iron hammer and hunched over in two, labored to extract lead ore. The Laurium mines were worked by a large slave population, originating for the most part from Black Sea regions such as Thrace and Paphlagonia.
Weapons, armor tools, and a variety of other goods were created with these metals. The state collected a duty on their cargo. By the end of the 5th century, the tax had been raised to 33 talents Andocides , I, These duties were never protectionist , but were merely intended to raise money for the public treasury.
The growth of trade in Greece led to the development of financial techniques. Most merchants, lacking sufficient cash assets , resorted to borrowing to finance all or part of their expeditions.
The terms of the contract were always laid out in writing, differing from loans between friends eranoi. The lender bore all the risks of the journey, in exchange for which the borrower committed his cargo and his entire fleet, which were precautionarily seized upon their arrival at the port of Piraeus.
Trade in ancient Greece was free: In Athens, following the first meeting of the new Prytaneis , trade regulations were reviewed, with a specialized committee overseeing the trade in wheat, flour, and bread. The number of shipwrecks found in the Mediterranean Sea provides valuable evidence of the development of trade in the ancient world. Only two shipwrecks were found that dated from the 8th century BC. However, archeologists have found forty-six shipwrecks dated from the 4th century BC, which would appear to indicate that there occurred a very large increase in the volume of trade between these centuries.
Considering that the average ship tonnage also increased in the same period, the total volume of trade increased probably by a factor of Greece's main exports were olive oil, wine , pottery , and metalwork. Imports included grains and pork from Sicily , Arabia, Egypt, Carthage.
Grouped into guilds , they sold fish, olive oil, and vegetables. Women sold perfume or ribbons. Merchants were required to pay a fee for their space in the marketplace. They were viewed poorly by the general population, and Aristotle labeled their activities as: Parallel to the "professional" merchants were those who sold the surplus of their household production such as vegetables, olive oil, or bread.
This was the case for many of the small-scale farmers of Attica. Among townsfolk, this task often fell to the women. Aristophanes , The Acharnians , v. Direct taxation was not well-developed in ancient Greece. Large fortunes were also subject to liturgies which was the support of public works.
Liturgies could consist of, for instance, the maintenance of a trireme , a chorus during a theatre festival, or a gymnasium. In some cases, the prestige of the undertaking could attract volunteers analogous in modern terminology to endowment, sponsorship, or donation.
Such was the case for the choragus , who organized and financed choruses for a drama festival. In other instances, like the burden of outfitting and commanding a trireme, the liturgy functioned more like a mandatory donation what we would today call a one-time tax. In some cities, like Miletus and Teos , heavy taxation was imposed on citizens.
On the other hand, indirect taxes were quite important. Taxes were levied on houses, slaves, herds and flocks, wines, and hay, among other things. However, this was not true of all cities. Thasos ' gold mines and Athens' taxes on business allowed them to eliminate these indirect taxes. Dependent groups such as the Penestae of Thessaly and the Helots of Sparta were taxed by the city-states to which they were subject. Coinage probably began in Lydia around BC, and circulated in the cities of Asia Minor under its control.
The technique of minting coins arrived in mainland Greece around BC, beginning with coastal trading cities like Aegina and Athens. Their use spread, and the city-states quickly secured a monopoly on their creation. The very first coins were made from electrum an alloy of gold and silver , followed by pure silver, the most commonly found valuable metal in the region.
The mines of the Pangaeon hills allowed the cities of Thrace and Macedon to mint a large quantity of coins. Laurium's silver mines provided the raw materials for the "Athenian owls", the most famous coins of the ancient Greek world. Less-valuable bronze coins appeared at the end of the 5th century. Coins played several roles in the Greek world.
They provided a medium of exchange , mostly used by city-states to hire mercenaries and compensate citizens. They were also a source of revenue as foreigners had to change their money into the local currency at an exchange rate favorable to the State. They served as a mobile form of metal resources, which explains discoveries of Athenian coins with high levels of silver at great distances from their home city.
Finally, the minting of coins lent an air of undeniable prestige to any Greek city or city state. The shopping centers in Ancient Greece were called agoras. The literal meaning of the word is "gathering place" or "assembly". The agora was the center of the athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city.
The Ancient Agora of Athens was the best-known example.