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Feeding the DemocracyThe Athenian Grain Supply in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BC$

Alfonso Moreno

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199228409

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199228409.001.0001

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(p.334) APPENDIX 4

(p.334) APPENDIX 4

The Regulation of the Grain Market

Feeding the Democracy
Oxford University Press

I. Besides being required by law to discuss the grain supply (alongside national defence) at the principal meeting of the assembly (ekklesia kyria) of each prytany, i.e. ten times a year ([Arist.] Ath. Pol. 43.4; see Arist. Rhet. 1359b21–3, 1360a12–17; Xen. Mem. 3.6.1), fourth‐century Athens yearly elected at least 50 magistrates responsible in different ways for the supply and sale of grain. At least some of these offices seem to originate in the fifth century. The complex interplay between them was carefully regulated (see e.g. in the currency law of 375/4: see GHI II 25, ll. 18–23). This evidence shows the grain trade and the grain market (sitikon emporion) as by far the most heavily regulated part of the Athenian economy. See Engels (2000), 99–101; Whitby (1998), 120–3; Rosivach (2000), 44–52 for further discussion of these officials.

10 Agoranomoi (5 in Piraeus + 5 in the asty, elected by lot). Kept order in the agora, enforced good quality, and prevented fraud. Collected market dues and a market tax from metic retailers. Had some judicial and executive powers (see Ar. Ach. 723–4, 968; [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 51.1) (for full references to these and the other magistrates see Rhodes (1993), 575–9).

10 Metronomoi (5 in Piraeus + 5 in the asty, elected by lot). Policed all weights and measures used in the Athenian markets (see [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 51.2).

10–35 Grain guardians (Sitophylakes) (5 (later 15) in Piraeus + 5 (later 20) in the asty, elected by lot). Were the principal magistrates overseeing the grain market (sitikon emporion: see GHI II 25), kept accurate records of the amount of grain entering the Piraeus (Dem. 20.32), and enforced:

  • (a) the Solonic prohibition on export of any agricultural product except olive oil (Plut. Sol. 24.1);

  • (b) the prohibition for any Athenian resident to engage in, or lend money on, any grain shipment not destined for Piraeus ([Dem.] 34.37; 35.50–1; Lyc. 1.27). With this and the previous law, compare the public imprecations at Teos, c.470, on anyone preventing the import of grain or its re‐export (= GHI 30A, ll. 6–12); see Millett (1991), 206–7;

  • (p.335)
  • (c) the prohibition against hoarding or monopolizing (sympriasthai) more than 50 phormoi of grain (Lys. 22.5–6); see Ch. 5, pp. 213 ff. above; cf. Thuc. 8.90 in 411;

  • (d) the prohibition against making a profit of more than one obol per phormos (Lys. 22.8, 12);

  • (e) similar price and profit controls imposed on millers and bread‐sellers ([Arist.] Ath. Pol. 53.3);

  • (f) the sale of bread‐loaves at prescribed weights;

  • (g) the levying by tax‐farmers of the special pentekoste (2%) harbour tax on all grain entering or leaving Piraeus (Dem. 20.32 with [Dem.] 59.27).

NB: The consequences of violating any of these laws could be dire—death being usually invoked by prosecutors: Lycurg. 1.27.

10 Overseers (Epimeletai) of the Emporion (in Piraeus, elected by lot). Compelled the emporoi to unload all grain at the sitikon emporion at Piraeus, and from there to transfer to the asty two‐thirds of it ([Arist.] Ath. Pol. 51.4); cf. Garnsey (1988), 140–1, with Gauthier (1981); Rosivach (2000), 45, 47; and Whitby (1998), 121 n. 35.

10 Overseers of the Grain (tou sitou) (in the asty, elected by vote). Oversaw the scheduled transport, weighing, and storage of the public grain raised by the Grain‐Tax Law of 374/3, and its sale at the price set by the people (see GHI II 26 and Appendix 3); see Rosivach (2000), 44–5, notes 41, 43.

II. Other attested Athenian grain‐officials include:

In 426 bc:Hellespontophylakes (Guards of the Hellespont) controlling the passage of grain from Byzantium to the Aegean (IG I3 61 = GHI 65; Ar. Vesp. 235–7; Eupolis fr. 247 K‐A; Xen. Hell. 2.2.1–2).

In 338 bc: Demosthenes elected (by vote) as sitones (grain controller) in charge of purchasing a supply of public grain (Callisthenes may be the first such officer attested, c.357 (Dem. 20.33)). In Athens the office was later standardized as a board of 10 (then 12) men. These sitonai became a widespread institution in the Hellenistic world.

Note also the crucial (if increasingly cash‐strapped) role of Athenian generals and trierarchs in convoying and protecting merchant ships (see [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 24.3 (478); Xen. Hell. 1.1.36 (c.409); Lys. 19.50 (388/7); [Dem.] 50 (362–1); Dem. 8.25 (341); Philoch. FGrHist 328 F162 (340)).

III. Legislation also protected emporoi and made it more attractive to bring grain to Athens (also see the numerous proposals in Xen. Vect. 3.3–14). Prospective measures included: (p.336)

  • (a) faster trials: e.g. for the Phaselites in the 460s or 450s (GHI 31), culminating in the fourth‐century commercial suits (dikai emporikai) (see [Dem.] 32; 33; 34; 35; 56; [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 59.5, with Ch. 5, pp. 285 ff. above; and Rhodes (1993), 664–5 for full references to the scholarship);

  • (b) tax exemptions: e.g. GHI II 21 for the Sidonians in the first half of the fourth century;

  • (c) land for building temples: GHI II 91 for the Citians in 333, “just as [before] for the Egyptians”).

Retrospective measures essentially consisted of personal privileges, stopping short of Athenian citizenship, for great benefactors (see e.g. Heracleides of Salamis: GHI II 95 in the 320s). Grants of citizenship were reserved for much bigger players (e.g. the kings of Bosporus: see GHI II 64).

IV. To the extent that these laws were meant to regulate and protect a supply of grain available to the entire population of Athens, irrespective of status, they may be taken as evidence of a “disembedded” economy at Athens: cf. Rosivach (2000), 56.