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Ancient Economies of the Northern AegeanFifth to First Centuries BC$

Zosia Halina Archibald

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199682119

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199682119.001.0001

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(p.1) 1 Introduction
Ancient Economies of the Northern Aegean

Zosia Halina Archibald

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at the northern Aegean from a continental perspective, through the eyes of nineteenth-century explorers and twentieth-century scholars. It explains the link between maritime and continental communities, using the historian Thucydides' analysis of Peloponnesian micro-state relations. It introduces the evidence for intra- and inter-continental relations in the north Aegean-east Balkan area. This includes a limited range of texts and documents, and a much larger range of artefacts and monuments, which cumulatively reinforce the notion of a regional network of inter-connected social entities, linked at the most fundamental level through bilateral agreements, which were extended into more complex, nested patterns through the search for rarer, highly desirable commodities and manufactured products. The perceptions of historians of what this mass of information could mean for the societies of the northern Aegean in the last five centuries bc have been shaped by the major historiographical trends of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Keywords:   economy and environment, Thucydides, royal economies, Via Egnatia, regionalism, rural and urban culture, continental communities, maritime communities

The geography of north Aegean economies

A short history of exploration

When Léon Heuzey directed a ‘mission’ to northern Greece over two years, between 1855 and 1857, he was masterminding a pioneering venture on several counts. This was the first coordinated, scientific project in the region that aimed to document information about important historical locations in a structured way. Heuzey’s activities were conducted under the auspices of the École française d’Athènes, founded in 1846, but his project was funded by the Emperor of France, Napoleon III. This generous subvention enabled the first results of his investigations to appear in print promptly, in 1860, with the title: Le mont Olympe et l’Akarnanie, exploration de ces deux régions. In the following year, he was active again in the field, with a new programme of excavation close to the township of Palatitsa (now incorporated into the modern city of Vergina), where Heuzey explored traces of a royal palace below a fortified acropolis on the western slopes of the Pierian moutains. The results of these subsequent studies were published, in collaboration with H. Daumet, as Mission archéologique de Macédoine, in 1876, including a splendid topographic plan of the ancient remains that he and his team had identified—the palace, cemeteries with individual mound-covered tombs, and the two closest contemporary settlements, called Koutles and Barbes, overlaid on the irregular terrain, broken by ravines, extending from the mountain slopes down to the River Haliakmon. Heuzey’s topographic plan has yet to be superseded. The project in the township of Palatitsa, and its immediate environs, was one of the most successful pieces of targeted investigation in the Balkans before the emergence of modern nation states in this area.

The third quarter of the nineteenth century was a critical period in the development of the institutional background of historical research in the (p.2) Aegean and its neighbouring mainland and offshore regions. In the 1850s most of the area was still under Ottoman rule, except for the nascent state of Greece, which at that time consisted of the central part of the peninsula, roughly south of Euboia, and the Peloponnese. Research investigations in the Balkans north of the Greek state were thus negotiated with Ottoman officials. Many of the visitors and scholars to the region still thought of journeys around the Aegean as congenial settings rather than targets of investigation. Over the next two decades, both the context of research and approaches to it were transformed. The École française came under the formal scrutiny of the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, and its members were now required to provide regular reports of their activities. The second director of the École française, Albert Dumont, was responsible for setting up guidelines for the training and research objectives of its members, and of the Bulletin de Correspondence Hellénique, in 1877, to disseminate research in the eastern Mediterranean. He too travelled widely and published a range of monographs that gather documents and data from different parts of the Balkans, including Le Balkan et l’Adriatique, Les Bulgares et les Albanais, in 1874, and Inscriptions et Monuments figurés de la Thrace, in 1876. In Sofia, the capital of the newly liberated state of Bulgaria, the first National Museum was mooted alongside the National Library in 1878, although it did not open its doors to the public until 1905, in the former Buyük mosque that still forms the Archaeological Museum’s principal interior.1

The twilight years of the Ottoman Empire were a fruitful period for ambitious ventures, which aimed to capture geographical and topographical as well as historical data. In the half century prior to the First World War, and in the wake of the subsequent territorial negotiations and population transfers ratified at the Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923, scholarly activities ranged widely over the east Balkans. Some, like G. Perrot, the Czech K. Jireček, or the Austrian Franz Kanitz, operated independently or on behalf of national scientific organizations. Members of the École française were active in the vicinity of Thessaloniki, in the countryside around Plovdiv, in the middle Maritsa valley, as well as in Philippi, Kavala, and Thasos (in addition to Delphi, Argos, Delos and (p.3) elsewhere in central and southern Greece). Members of the British School at Athens developed an active programme in the Thermaic Gulf and in central Macedonia during the period 1911–1918.2

Investigations of historical topography were conducted against a background of political uncertainty and periodic insecurity. The success of such projects during this period of immense political upheaval seems astonishing to observers of later generations. The two final decades of the nineteenth and the first twenty years of the twentieth century witnessed the partitioning of the former Ottoman provinces in Europe into new nation states and the emergence of Bulgaria and of the west Balkan polities that were subsumed, after the Second World War, into Yugoslavia.3 The upland areas were particularly dangerous for foreign travellers, even in peaceful times. Insurgencies and armed conflicts disrupted, but did not put an end to scholarship. Historical investigators sometimes had access to military maps, whose precision was driven by strategic concerns unconnected with scholarly endeavours. But researchers had to have a variety of practical skills that are no longer considered especially useful for a historical or archaeological career. Heuzey’s ascent of one of the southern peaks of Mount Olympos provided valuable technical information for mountaineers over the next half century.4 Transport still retained the timeless rhythms of the pre-modern era. Travel was conducted either on horseback, or on mules, or simply on foot. Carriages were only realistic where there were serviceable metalled roads, which provided access between major towns, but most ancient sites were off the beaten track. An expedition consisted not just of the scholar himself (occasionally herself), but of a whole party of local technicians and guides, who could assist with identification and documentation, as well as informal protection.5 The strategic interests of various international (p.4) powers in the Mediterranean region gave historical research particular immediacy and relevance in this period.

Economy and environment

Economies, historical or contemporary, involve the manipulation or transformation of material resource. Economic activities also have non-material dimensions, in terms of expertise and technical skills, but these do not exist in isolation. In the remote past, skills were intimately connected with the processing and exchange of commodities. In the second half of the first millennium BC, the range of natural resources exploited in the Balkans—cereals, market gardening, stock rearing, mining, clay extraction for pottery and brick making; leather and other animal by-products; textiles and woodwork, as well as a wide range of foodstuffs—expanded and developed on a considerable scale. These activities built on, and ramified from, the practices of earlier prehistory. The consequences of what took place in the first millennium BC were of critical importance for the economic architecture of early Medieval Europe. Byzantion emerged as a key hub of east Mediterranean trade in the final three centuries of the first millennium BC, reinforcing the north–south trajectory of traffic between southern Europe and the wider Mediterranean, as well as acting as the bridge between Europe and Asia.

Most of this economic activity in the remote past was virtually unknown in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when the first systematic investigations of the region’s early history effectively began. References to the mines and timber resources of Macedon and Thrace were familiar to readers of Herodotus and Thucydides, and the early fourth-century BC inscription from Olynthos, according to which the Macedonian king Amyntas III affirmed the rights of local Chalkidians to export timber as part of a mutual alliance, was published in 1883.6 The investigation of Olynthos itself did not begin until the late 1920s and study of the Chalkidian peninsula as a whole has had to wait until the final decades of the twentieth century.

(p.5) Without close geographical knowledge, any study of economies is bound to be deficient. We need not just to see and comprehend how people in the remote past perceived their environment and utilized what they saw, either for their own use, or for exchange with others. We also need to have some means of evaluating how these transformations operated in space and time; how clay and stone and ores were transformed into bricks, masonry, and metal; which commodities moved by mule and cart to the nearest locality, and which travelled for weeks because they had special value. None of these mechanistic simulations is particularly meaningful unless we take a further step and try to discover why so much human effort was devoted to the cultural manifestations that give the east Balkan regions their distinctive historical character. The environment that we discover, as twenty-first-century observers, was structured through a symbiosis between peoples and their landscapes. This is why Heuzey’s grand publications, which marry contours with monumental remains and living communities, still have lasting value.

Since the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the east Balkan region has been trisected by modern state boundaries. The area that constitutes the focus of this book has therefore been explored, by modern scholars, within three different cultural environments (four if we include the FYROM); three or more independent institutional frameworks, operating, for much of the last century, under starkly differing ideological regimes. Until comparatively recently, these regimes constituted separate, virtually vacuum-sealed academic traditions, publishing research in different languages and journals, preoccupied with quite distinct abstract problems, whose direction and colouring was shaped by national Academies of Sciences and national research programmes. The administrative district of Macedonia was incorporated into the Greek state only in 1913, Thrace in 1923. Field research along this coastal strip of the north Aegean has caught up with other parts of Greece only since the 1980s. Mapping of the kind undertaken by Heuzey was resource-intensive and gave way, during the twentieth century, to more geographically restricted projects. In Bulgaria the energetic studies of the early 1900s, expanding over the next half century, were succeeded in the 1950s by new trends, which drew archaeologists and ancient historians away from topographically orientated fieldwork to theoretically inspired approaches, influenced by Soviet historical materialism. The project to map the country’s archaeological sites, set out in a programmatic statement by the participants in a national Conference of Archaeological Societies in 1913, generated a series of volumes until the 1960s, then languished, until it (p.6) was reinstated in a considerably updated form during the 1990s.7 The Greek local historical societies, whose conscientious accumulation of inscribed stones and other historical remains formed the nucleus of civic museums in the twentieth century, have lacked the institutional capacity to undertake significant topographical projects outside urban centres.8 Such initiatives seem even less likely today, at a time of economic crisis, than they did a few decades ago.

The end of a royal economy

When Perseus, king of Macedonia, was defeated in open battle towards the end of June 168 BC, the Roman state effectively acquired the power to do with his realm, and with a plethora of Macedonian dependencies, what it wished. By this artless device, the Romans and their Italian allies levered themselves into a permanent footing on the Greek mainland.9 Until that time, Roman legions or naval ships, and Italian or other allied troops, had been sent on campaign to support specific, short-term political objectives—as well as a vestigial protectorate along the coastline of southern Illyria and northern Epiros, a narrow toe-hold on the Adriatic coast. The victory at Pydna gave the Roman side an unrivalled negotiating advantage. The rules of engagement changed suddenly and dramatically.

There may have been no Italian soldiers stationed in Greece, and no formal or official presence. Yet inter-state decisions were no longer made without the approval of the Roman state. Roman intervention in the administration and internal affairs of the Balkan peninsula over the course of the second century BC provides an unusual opportunity to look closely at the anatomy of this well-watered, generously populated and resourced region. The importance of this juncture in the expansion of Roman power across the eastern Mediterranean attracted responses and reflections from a variety of ancient authors and modern scholarship has accorded it equal prominence. The spotlight of Roman political action soon moved elsewhere, but the concentration of many kinds of evidence, and the unusual conjunction of very different viewpoints, makes this an unrivalled chance to see behind the veil of inter-state preoccupations to the way of life of societies that are at once very (p.7) much part of what we consider the classical heritage of antiquity and, at the same time, remain enigmatically mysterious.

The extraordinary material world of ancient cultures around the north Aegean shores has shown that these societies enjoyed many of the same traditions as their more southerly counterparts in central and southern Greece. There are many similarities in cult practices, in the athletic and military training of young men, and in farming practices and other forms of subsistence. There are also significant differences, particularly noticeable, to modern eyes at least, in the special treatment of certain members of society after death; and in some forms of social organization, which valued individual leadership and provided institutional mechanisms for identifying leaders, who also had a less immediately apparent but evidently substantive role in ritual. The special training for leadership within these societies is often seen, in modern political analyses, as an autocratic tendency,10 perhaps because our own societies have been much preoccupied with the failings of leadership, in times when social forms have become remarkably complex. Aside from the rhetoric induced by political disputes, there certainly are some grounds for thinking that the rulers of the north were seen by their contemporaries in other parts of Greece as exceptionally powerful individuals. Such kings could send letters to Greek cities and expect action in return.11

Yet the forms of leadership that emerged in the north-east Balkans provided the foundations of the Successor kingdoms of Alexander the Great’s realm—arguably among the most successful kingdoms of pre-modern times, since they lasted not only for the three centuries leading up to the Roman Empire, but laid the institutional foundations of the eastern provinces up until the Ottoman conquests.

There is another aspect of leadership in the north-east Balkans that has received less attention, namely the ability to coordinate complex functions. The ancient kingdoms of the Balkans encompassed irregular terrain—mountains draped in thick, impassable forests; distant plains; waterlogged and alluvial coastlines. This topography was hard to exploit effectively without a clearly coordinated set of organizational structures. Historians draw attention to the timber and mineral deposits of the Chalkidic peninsula, of Aegean Thrace or of lower Macedonia. Even today it is far from easy to exploit these resources without systematic planning and coordination. Maps all too easily disguise what the traveller discovers at his or her cost—steep, tortuous roads, rocky, precipitous (p.8) terrain, and inaccessible coastlines. The valuable timber, mineral, and plant resources could not be accessed without developing a partnership; but coordination was hard to achieve without pyramidal social structures.

What made these kingdoms attractive to ambitious Italian merchants from the second century BC onwards was indigenous success in exploiting these resources, so clearly apparent in the generous provision of gilding, silver ornament, and other decorative elaborations of military apparel. If the conquerors could decapitate the apex of the pyramid, in the same way that human societies replaced the pack leader or bell-weather in a herd of animals, they could enjoy the benefits that the infrastructure of command entailed. It is the economic framework of these northern kingdoms in their heyday before Roman imperial expansion that deserves serious consideration, and what this book seeks to reveal and understand.

Neither Livy, nor his predecessor, Polybius, had much appetite for a dispassionate evaluation of what amounted to asset-stripping on a breath-taking scale (6,000 talents in gold and silver from the royal treasury alone: Plb. 18.35.4).12 Macedon was, quite literally, dismembered. The anatomy of this process gives us a clear insight into the methods and tactics deployed by Roman commanders and senatorial advisors in order to ensure that the former kingdom’s assets either passed directly under Roman control, or could be effectively diverted for later exploitation. We can look back at the evolution of Macedonia’s earlier success through the social and cultural connections accumulated over many centuries with its neighbours; and forwards in time beyond the circumstances of military disaster. Although Macedonia’s history after Alexander the Great is often seen by historians as one of decline (in terms of manpower as well as resources), there are other ways of looking at the evidence which explain the kingdom’s prosperity up until Perseus’ defeat. Nor should we assume that provincial status condemned Macedonia to economic stagnation. Rural as well as urban investigations of ancient sites (Fig. 1.1), triggered in part by development work, especially motorway networks, show that the rhythms of economic life were not so simple.

Perseus’ defeat may have signalled the end of the Macedonian ruling house, despite subsequent attempts to revive it. In regional terms this was the end of one historical chapter and the opening of another. From the point of view of the region’s inhabitants, it was an unlooked-for intrusion that could, indeed had to be accommodated. Whatever the advantages that the Roman authorities enjoyed immediately after Pydna, these (p.9)


Fig. 1.1. Dion, Macedonia: sanctuary of Isis, second century AD. Dion was first identified for modern scholarly purposes by Colonel William Leake during a reconnoitre in 1806, when he noted the city?s fortifications and various still-visible monuments. Léon Heuzey followed in 1855 and 1861. Giorgios Sotiriadis began systematic excavation on behalf of the University of Thessaloniki in 1928, which still sponsors current investigations.

gradually dissipated over time. The Via Egnatia, one of the great arterial highways of the Roman Empire, which began at Dyrrachion on the Adriatic coast, extending across the Pindhos range to Thessalonika on the Thermaic Gulf, and thence parallel with the Aegean shoreline, eventually joined up with Byzantion. It was conceived in the aftermath of experiences during the Second Macedonian War against Perseus’ father, Philip V, when Roman troops had trouble moving overland in the mountainous terrain of Pindhos, although the main period of construction probably began in the third quarter of the second century BC. The chief purpose of the road was therefore to convey troops quickly and easily from Italy or the Adriatic coast into the Balkans. Once the road had been built, it reconfigured human dynamics within the continental area. With the extension of Roman power in Illyria, and up to the Danube in the first century BC, the principal theatre of military operations moved northwards, while administrative and commercial traffic dominated the Via Egnatia. Italian and Roman merchants, negotiatores, and civic officials, whose names proclaim their high social standing, are documented in cities positioned along the road, such as Edessa, Herakleia Lynkestis, Beroia, and Philippi. There appears to be a direct connection between the route of the Via Egnatia and these social networks.13

(p.10) The road was of course a creation of the Roman imperial authorities. Yet its course encapsulates the close underlying connections between lower Macedonia and the Aegean coast of Thrace that preceded Roman expansion. A prior route network can be traced back at least to the road built by Persian armies under the Great Kings Dareios and Xerxes in the first two decades of the fifth century BC. The ecology of communities along this coastline presupposes tracks and roads linking settlements on the sea with those farther inland.

Conceptualizing royal economies

Monarchic ‘economy’ is one of the four forms of economic management identified by the pseudo-Aristotelian pamphlet [Ar.] Oeconomica, and the most important of the four in the author’s view. This document is really a sketch of what were perceived by some contemporaries as the main fiscal tools of crown authority.14 It is not therefore the best starting point for understanding the interplay of ambitions, aspirations, and achievements in real time scenarios. Close study of epigraphic documents has made it easier to understand how kings interacted with cities and other political entities in the final three centuries BC. Documents from Macedonia and Thrace are beginning to fit the rulers of these kingdoms into the patterns of policy exhibited by other Hellenistic monarchs.15

The Macedonians had a good deal in common, culturally, socially, and economically, not only with their southerly Greek neighbours, but also with their eastern counterparts in Thrace. Before his eventual capture, Perseus was apparently planning to flee to the Odrysian king Kotys (Livy 45.6). Polybius tells us that Kotys was a likeable man, which suggests that he was personally rather better known within Greek and Macedonian circles than the surviving sources imply (27.12; cf. Livy 42.67.3). The Odrysian cavalry played a loyal part in supporting Perseus’ forces at Pydna. Moreover, Livy tells us that even before hostilities emerged with Rome, Kotys was (42.29) ‘secretly’ on the side of Perseus. Notwithstanding Philip V’s invasion of central Thrace in 204 BC, both Philip V and Perseus maintained strong relations with the Odrysian princes and their kin, confirmed by at least one known marriage alliance. This (p.11) acknowledgement opens a new understanding of the ‘Balkan’ strategy of the last Antigonid rulers.

Kings could impose taxes on their subjects. We know something about the kinds of taxes that Macedonian and Thracian rulers did impose and these provide the outlines of how general revenues were raised on behalf of the central authorities.16 Tax details nevertheless provide only a starting point. Scholarly interest has focused heavily on military expenditure. The military campaigns of the Macedonian and Thracian kings form the substance of narrative histories, so this bias is not surprising. Economic information appears only sporadically in such accounts.17 Nevertheless, ancient rulers lacked many of the tools that have been developed since the Middle Ages to regulate the terms of loans, control flows of capital, and, in particular, to enforce fiscal policies. Ultimately, the only sanction a ruler had against a recalcitrant entity was brute force. As Philip II and his later namesake Philip V found, this tactic could be ineffective, if not counter-productive. Cities with strong maritime links could resist military attack, given the right extra-territorial support.18 Even when vulnerable to arbitrary pressure from central authorities, cities and looser community structures within the east Balkans could and did develop their own economic networks, because of the segmentary nature of ancient trading relationships (see ‘Continental trade’, below). Rulers might appropriate harbour dues from successful commercial political units, a technique also adopted by Roman authorities when their portorium charges were similarly exacted. They did not usually intervene, however, to dictate with whom commerce might be transacted.

The capacity of Macedonian and Thracian rulers to facilitate the provision of scarce resources is an aspect of power that has received far less attention than their military, not to say predatory, activities. The documentary record is rather different for cities within these two kingdoms, as compared with other areas of the eastern Mediterranean, partly because the nature of the relationship between rulers and cities was different in the core areas directly administered by kings. In the case of Macedonia and of the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace, formal negotiations between rulers and cities within their territories (as reflected in inscribed texts) were required principally in cases where the negotiating authorities were in some sense heterodox. Thus we find Amyntas III negotiating an alliance with the Chalkidians of Olynthos in the document referred to (p.12) above. Similarly, a successor of Kotys I outlined in a decree recorded on the so-called Pistiros inscription the terms on which merchants from Thasos, Apollonia, and Maroneia could operate in the emporion of Pistiros and other emporia, named and unnamed.19 Hatzopoulos has characterized the distinction in Macedonian territory as that between the ‘Old kingdom’ and the ‘Macedonian commonwealth’. Yet our modern concepts of Macedonian territory rely far more than we may care to admit on the seemingly arbitrary divisions effected in 167 BC by Aemilius Paullus and his Roman officials (Livy 45.29). From the point of view of their southerly neighbours, the territorial dimensions of the Macedonian and Thracian kingdoms appear to have been unstable, highly dynamic, and altogether rather unclear. What is more, when Thracian rulers were acting in close cooperation with their Macedonian peers, as occurred in the 330s, and again under Philip V and Perseus, much of Thrace south of the Danube also seems to have been aligned with Macedonian policy. This apparent ambiguity about territory means that we need to take a closer look at the nature of territorial power and consider what the relationship was between the region as a whole and the economies of kingdoms, cities, and other entities.

Regional economies of the north Aegean

Exploring regional approaches

It is one thing to consider Macedonia, the template in organizational and political terms for the Hellenistic kingdoms of Alexander the Great’s Successors; in what sense, however, do the other parts of the east Balkans constitute a ‘region’ that can be explored as a coherent economic phenomenon? The area considered in this book explores several heterogeneous political entities, which changed over the time span within its scope. In addition to Macedonia, there were several princely entities in Thrace, including the long-lived Odrysian kingdom, and independent territorial polities, including native ones of the interior, as well as Greek-speaking civic communities along the Aegean and Black Sea coastlines.

Regional approaches to the ecologies of the Mediterranean past have proved to be a fruitful way of enhancing our understanding of historical (p.13) economies. A number of different approaches have been pursued in recent studies. Horden and Purcell have used the term ‘definite places’ as a means of redefining the nexus of human behaviours within four regional zones—the Biqa, southern Etruria, Cyrenaica, and Melos—emphasizing the progressive fragmentation that can, in practice, be discerned as the warp and weft of behavioural patterns. Their focus has been concentrated at least as much on perceptions of difference, as identified by travellers, whether witnesses from remote times, or more recent observers, as it has traced the material imprint of conscious transformations of the landscapes sketched.20 Reger has identified three separate trajectories along which regional and inter-regional economic connections can be explored, namely geography, ethnicity, and polity.21 Historians and geographers have not abandoned the conceptual connection between regions as topographic units, and certain cultural forms of expression that coincide with these notional territorial entities. There is, nevertheless, a conscious emphasis in these studies on the complex behavioural patterns that can reinforce a sense of congruence between regions and their inhabitants, either amongst the inhabitants themselves, or as articulated by observers. Fluctuating powers, migrating groups, and graduated changes of cultural practice have served to modify the human and constructed textures of Mediterranean as of other regions, sowing multiplicity and heterogeneity. This heterogeneity has, in turn, provided the fuel for innovation and further cultural transformations. If we accept that changing configurations within a given landscape can become the subject of regional enquiry, it is evident that the boundedness of the region in question can be defined in a variety of ways. The contents of this book provide one framework, following a pattern of interconnections that is especially prominent within the five centuries explored. This framework could in principle be enlarged, to include parts of western Turkey (since the Bosporus was in the first millennium BC, as it remains today, a bridge between Europe and Asia); northwards, to include the Carpathian Basin, as well as the Danube estuary; or westwards, as far as the Adriatic. The connections with these wider territories are acknowledged under different topics in the following chapters. The justification for concentrating on the east Balkans is partly a matter of historical (p.14) coherence and partly a reflection of current research, which has exposed the trajectories explored here most clearly. In future other configurations may well be revealed alongside them.

The east Balkan—north Aegean region

In the case of the east Balkans, evidence for the intersection of historical with ecological and economic dynamics is surprisingly rich and varied. We may include the direct political links between the kingdoms of Macedonia and Thrace; those between individual cities; and between cities and kingdoms. Political connections are rather better represented at inter-state level than those of a more local kind.22 More distant contacts evidently required a more transparent, lasting set of signifiers; hence the production of documents in stone, which record alliances, agreements, and the terms applicable to them. Local exchanges operated within the parameters of various higher-level agreements, so can rarely be tracked in a direct way, except by certain kinds of inorganic objects, or by the existence of routes and tracks that were indispensible to traffic. One of the single most powerful material indications of traffic across this region is the distribution of wine amphorae from the island of Thasos.23 Thasian wine was among the four most widely distributed varieties in the eastern Mediterranean between the fourth and second centuries BC. Current analyses of the volume of this traffic, and of its destinations, suggests that the east Balkan region, from lower Macedonia in the west to the Danube estuary in the far north-east, formed a regular, if fluctuating pattern of recipients and partners for many centuries. The broad parameters conditioning this traffic were shaped by Aegean-wide trading relations. Changes within the large-scale conditions of trade facilitated the emergence of these regional markets in the first place and also determined the demise of this traffic in the second century BC. What did the Thasians exchange for wine? The answers to this question have varied as historians and archaeologists have increasingly refined their knowledge of local production and brought a wider range of activities into consideration. These answers will be reconsidered later in this chapter.

Modern ways of thinking about the history of the Balkan peninsula are strongly shaped by the region’s organization in Roman Imperial times. Pausanias, whose Guide to Greece is undoubtedly the most complete and (p.15) articulate work of scholarship to present Greek culture in its setting during the Imperial period, did not travel farther north than the district of Phocis. His survey of monuments and sanctuaries, both those surviving in his day and those long gone, occasionally refers to people and places outside the purview of his itinerary.24 Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace, and Epirus are nevertheless rare entries. The first part of Book 7 of Strabo’s Geography, which, according to the opening chapter (7.1.1, C289) covered the landmass of the European interior from the River Rhine to the Don and the Sea of Azov, provides a sketch of some prominent peoples within this enormous area, including Germans, Thracians, the inhabitants of the lower Danube, the western approaches of the Black Sea, and Epirus. After 7.7.12, in the midst of a section that explored southern Epirus, culminating in an account of the oracle at Dodona (7.7.9–10), the narrative comes to a halt. The later sections, which explored Macedonia and the southern parts of Thrace, are missing, and the reader must bear in mind that the disconnected fragments that are appended to the surviving sections are little more than citations of the Geographer in other, later authors, and lack the coherence of a sustained exposition. We do not have the guiding hand of a witness, who can offer a distinct narrative, providing a window onto these northern localities, whose formal defeat freed Italians from the burden of any form of tribute at a stroke (Cicero, de Offic. 2.76; Pliny NH 33.56).

New research directions

Given the fragmentary nature of the written evidence, it has been tempting for historians to limit their investigations to coastal settlements where a representative sample of epigraphic documents can be demonstrated. The difficulty with this approach is that it elides the deep hinterlands that provided the fundamental resource base for such harbour towns.25

During the last thirty years the enigmatic pall has begun to lift from our limited modern impressions of this region. Material discoveries, particularly the recovery of intact and extremely wealthy tombs in lower Macedonia and in inland Thrace, have generated popular interest and stimulated much-needed research grants. The new information base is not confined to the socially better-off. Environmental and spatial data (p.16) offer a far broader canvas against which to make sense of the entrances and exits that narrative histories proffer. What is more, new discoveries have not been confined to material culture. Important textual evidence, including the papyrus fragments from one rich burial at Derveni, north-east of Thessaloniki, and a growing body of inscriptions in Greek, offer a rich and articulate resource independent of the kinds of narrative account already referred to.

Much of the scholarly as well as popular interest in the region has been preoccupied with the identities and cultural associations of the communities to which the material evidence and documents belonged. Were the Macedonians Greeks? In what sense did Macedonian and Thracian societies share features in common with their Greek-speaking neighbours to the south? These questions are difficult to answer, because they have been formulated according to fixed assumptions about past identities that are rarely disconnected from questions about identity and ownership in the present. Perhaps these and similar questions need to be reformulated before satisfactory answers can be produced. In the meantime, we may consider the consequences of the dissemination of the Greek language throughout the peninsula and the ways in which this communication tool provided access to a new community of cultural practices, new kinds of knowledge, and above all, a greatly enhanced social network.26

The material culture of the Balkans invites economic questions alongside cultural ones. Where did the wealth of these rich northern societies come from? What happened to their wealth once Roman military personnel and administrators had created a new institutional framework for the region’s inhabitants? The coastline of the north Aegean and the geological formations of central Thrace contain some of the most significant mineral resources of the eastern Mediterranean that were exploited in antiquity. Mount Pangaion was the single most important source of precious metals in the north Aegean. Competition for its wealth explains why so many different agents attempted to monopolize (p.17) access to it. The proximity of timber for shipbuilding constituted another major attraction. The principal waterways and overland coastal plains enabled corn and human resources to be transported with comparative ease from the continental interior. The same areas were used for intensive horse and cattle rearing, and were therefore among the most valuable sources of large breeds of animal stock. Seen from this perspective, close study of older evidence can yield new information. Nevertheless, some of the innovative cultural phenomena that we now recognize in Macedonia, Thrace, and the Propontis would have been hard to identify without the discoveries of recent decades.

Urban development in the east Balkan region during the late twentieth and start of the twenty-first century makes it easier to understand what the structures of everyday life were like in classical antiquity, in part because modern development also leads to the discovery of ancient remains, but also because we can conceive other ways of landscape use that may be directly applicable to the remote past. The comparative underdevelopment of large parts of the west and east Balkans in early modern and more recent times has encouraged the creation of historical models of settlement in antiquity that make rural and ephemeral forms of community life the dominant ones. This tendency has encouraged a perception that social units in the northern Balkans were fundamentally different from those in the rest of the peninsula and islands. A visitor to the Aegean islands recognizes congruence between the indigenous style of dry stone architecture in picturesque harbour towns and the nucleated pattern of stone paved streets in ancient civic communities. It is rather more difficult to see what the relationship is between modern towns in the Balkan interior and their ancient predecessors. What would such towns have been like? Recent research suggests that although the ecology of the north favoured a rather different set of social configurations from those of central and southern Greece, the observable differences may have been much less marked than the terminology of poleis and other forms of community organization imply. Until quite recently many scholars assumed that classical city-states were absent from the north, except for a limited number of ‘colonial’ foundations strung out around the coast from lower Macedonia to the Black Sea.27 After all, when geographers of the fifth and fourth centuries BC described these regions, they referred most frequently to poleis in the coastal areas and had little to say about what was happening farther inland—or so it appears at first glance.

(p.18) Continental trade

The ancient coastal harbour towns of the north Aegean (Fig. 2.2) were dominated by a commercial network of Greek-speaking ship-owners, captains, and agricultural producers providing for them. In order to understand the close relationship of the former to the inhabitants of the continental hinterland, whether westwards, towards Macedonia, or northwards, into Thrace, we should begin not with the periploi that trace port-to-port traffic, but with Thucydides’ analysis of the interdependence between inland communities and coastal ones:

those who live inland, or off the main trade routes, ought to recognise the fact that, if they fail to support the maritime powers, they will find it much more difficult to secure an outlet for their exports, and to receive in return goods which are imported to them by sea. (Thuc. 1.120.2)

Thucydides put these words into the mouths of the Corinthian delegates to the congress that took place at Sparta in 432 BC, on the eve of the Peloponnesian war. The people whom the Corinthians wanted their fellow delegates to pay special attention to were the Athenians, whose collective policies were consciously intended to restrict traders from Megara. On the other hand, the warning was intended to remind inland cities of the Peloponnese that Corinth was the largest and most active regional exchange centre. Whatever the precise reasons for this celebrated


Fig. 1.2. A fishing boat at anchor on the Sithonia peninsula of Chalkidike.

(p.19) spat, it was perfectly possible for one state to deny another access to its markets, because commercial transactions between states were predicated on a system of mutual agreements to trade. Individual traders from a partner state could then operate freely under these previously agreed terms.28

We think first of all about trading agreements between Greek-speaking states, because much of the surviving written evidence for trading agreements reflects transactions between such partners. However, there is no reason to believe that commercial agreements (synthēkai) of this kind were concluded only with Greek-speaking communities. The Greek alphabet was used by many non-Greeks in the Iberian peninsula for a variety of local languages besides Greek, to say nothing of the diffusion of Phoenician scripts. The inland distribution of such scripts makes it clear that the received picture of predominantly coastal users of Greek is false.29 In the same way, some of the north Aegean and Hellespontine harbours developed an international profile, which allowed traders from many different parts of southern Europe and the Aegean to conduct transactions. Kyzikos and Byzantion became the best-known commercial centres of the northern periphery of the Mediterranean, with an international reputation. Although it is hard to point out documentary evidence of transactions with the cities and communities of the continental interior, the clearest evidence is in the wide, capillary-like distribution of finds that have a distinct commercial profile. Kyzikene electrum staters enjoyed a wide circulation in the Black Sea, continental Thrace, and western Asia Minor. We know much less about its port history. Byzantion, on the other hand, was an entrepôt for inland communities on either side of the Bosporus, as well as a port for ships travelling through the Straits. Much of the direct documentary evidence belongs to the final three centuries BC. But its origins go back to much earlier times (Hdt. 4.144.2).30 The long-term success of the network of tax stations on both shores of the Bosporus, and of Byzantion in particular, accounts in part for the extraordinary rise of this city. The process by which it began to develop its assets can be traced from the later years of the Peloponnesian war down to the introduction of the Tax Law of Asia in the first century BC. Byzantion began to develop a regional strategy in the fourth century BC, as it gradually loosened the hold previously imposed on it by the Athenian navy. During the third century, Byzantion (p.20) enhanced this strategy by encouraging the ‘Northern League’ of cities with shared economic interests.

Traffic in antiquity was, for the most part, local traffic. Analyses of transport patterns in Egyptian papyri demonstrate that most journeys were local journeys.31 In terms of global transport dynamics, even in the early nineteenth century only a tenth of the traffic in commodities travelled by water, because the great majority of journeys involved short distances—carting foodstuffs from fields to barns and mills; fuel to households; livestock to market.32 This near constant hum of carts and beasts of burden is what made more complex, strategically driven journeys possible. Those who owned animals in the countryside had to invest resource in order to maintain their beasts. Sheep and pigs might be kept on marginal land, but cattle and horses require pasture and water, and are consequently among the most expensive forms of livestock. There was little point in keeping such animals, unless they paid their way. Hiring out cattle and horses for traction or for private travel was the easiest and the most flexible way to maintain them, as commentators for many historical periods agree.33 Whether we consider the historical narratives of Herodotus, or Thucydides, or Xenophon, or the historians of Alexander the Great; the iconography of royal and civic coins, the imagery of private monuments, or excavated osteological remains, the message that these sources convey is clear. Horses and cattle were highly prominent in the economies of Macedonia and Thrace. They provided these societies with resources in transport and communications that their less well-endowed neighbours could not, indeed did not compete with.

The focus of this book is not on a single political entity or kingdom, but on a network of socially and politically interdependent and interlinked units. The kingdom of Macedonia under the Argead and Antigonid dynasties was politically and culturally orientated not only to its southern neighbours but also north-eastwards, towards Thrace, the Propontis and Black Sea coastline. Argead Macedonian and Odrysian Thracian rulers competed for influence along the Aegean littoral, the principal harbours of which were dominated by wealthy families of merchants and landowners whose primary affiliations were overseas. The affairs of these port cities, and of offshore islands such as Thasos and Samothrace, became deeply engaged with their continental hinterlands. Whilst stressing their pedigree (p.21) as offshoots from major civic centres in Aegean Greece, these ports conducted close trading relations with their continental neighbours, many of whom spoke local dialects or languages unrelated to Greek. There may well have been a greater degree of shared vocabulary between these communities, particularly along the coastal lowlands, as a result of long-term cultural communication and commodity exchange. Greek was the lingua franca of commerce in the region, and those engaged in commerce are likely to have been Greek speakers, whether as bilingual or multilingual agents. There was a stronger incentive for non-Greek speakers to learn Greek than the other way around. This might also explain why the civic histories in these ports seem to reflect little of the commercial activity that is so evident in their material culture and in the tastes and preferences of their non-Greek neighbours. Monoglot Greeks living or working in the port towns had to negotiate with non-Greek speakers through interpreters. This was the experience of Xenophon, who, as an Athenian mercenary captain of a Peloponnesian army, gives a unique insight into the busy comings and goings of Thracian regional administrators and opportunistic commercial travellers, as well as of soldiers of fortune.34

A learned quartet: Michael Rostovtzeff, Andrew Sherratt, Velizar Velkov, and Manolis Andronikos

The Balkan region has not played a prominent part in handbooks and general studies of ancient Mediterranean economies. Southern Greece, particularly the islands of the southern Aegean, Athens, and the Peloponnese, often appear as case studies. Northern Greece, Macedonia, and the Straits have rarely been included. The inaccessibility of material published in local languages is perhaps partly to blame. A more significant influence on the selection of suitable examples has been the conceptual history of Europe, which has most often been subdivided in a polarized scheme, whether between east and west, or north and (p.22) south.35 Nevertheless, the north has certainly not been neglected by scholarship. Four individuals are singled out here to illustrate the kinds of trajectories that research into the economic history of the region has taken in the last century. Each of them has played a significant role, not only in shaping scholarly perceptions of this sector of the ancient Mediterranean hinterland, but also in developing specific methodologies. These different approaches provide a useful starting point for considering how a history of northern economies can be written.

Rostovtzeff and the grand narrative

Although Michael Rostovtzeff’s Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World has more often been invoked, in recent times, as the anti-type, rather than the prototype of scholarship on ancient economies, the example he set of combining different types of data, epigraphic and archaeological, as well as literary and historical, continues to provide a model of the primary resource base with which historians should begin an enquiry of historically remote economies. Indeed, this has even been called ‘the only way forward’ (Horden and Purcell, 32). The Russian historian gave far more prominence to Macedonia and Thrace in his magisterial history than many subsequent writers on the Aegean area. His knowledge of Cyrillic scripts and of Slav languages made the source material accessible, but this familiarity also made him sensible of the possibilities that the limited evidence available at that time could offer. The problems that historians have since identified with Rostovtzeff’s approach have less to do with his materials, and more to do with his conceptual framework. His economic history is couched in a political narrative, which is, in essence, the political history of a subset of the agents concerned:

The history of the commercial relations between Greece (especially Ionia and Athens) and Thrace is similar [to the Bosporan kingdom]. Thrace exported to Greece through the colonies of the Euxine (Apollonia and Mesembria) and those on the Aegean coast (especially Abdera, Maronea, Aenus, and Amphipolis), large quantities of the same products as were exported from South Russia (chiefly grain and fish) and of metals and timber as well. The imports from Thrace in the early years were probably balanced by exports of wine and olive oil from Greece. But the Greek cities of the Thracian coast very soon became notable centres of wine production, (p.23) and the Thracians themselves were from an early date expert viticulturalists. It is therefore highly probable that from very early times the exports of Greece to the Greek cities of Thrace and to Thrace itself consisted chiefly of olive oil and manufactured goods. (Rostovtzeff, SEHHW, 111).

Rostovtzeff assumed that the principal driver in these economic relations was the city of Athens: ‘Athens supported, if not created, the Odrysian kingdom, as it had the Bosporan kingdom’ (ibid.). This argument needs to be unpicked. The Athenians had the most powerful navy in the Aegean after the Persian Wars, and continued to enforce policies favourable to themselves for much of the fourth as well as the fifth century BC. But there is no evidence that the Athenians helped to create the state entities of Thrace and the Bosporan kingdom. This assumption, which may have more to do with the experience of nineteenth-century imperialist policies in the region than with ancient realities, has been shown to be the weakest part of his interpretation.36 On the other hand, his appreciation of local ecologies, which included the native domestication of vines and the production of wine, are only beginning to be re-evaluated, with the scientific study of organic remains (see Chapters 6 and 7). He was right to draw attention to the intrinsic advantages of the resource base that was available in the north, and of how these resources were exploited, both independently and in conjunction with traders, who were in many cases Greek traders. Here Rostovtzeff’s approach is most clearly in tune with the tenor of current international research programmes in the Black Sea area.37

Nevertheless, Rostovtzeff’s was a rather complex attitude to these northern regions and his cultural interpretations changed as he moved during the 1920s from his Russian origins, and university post at St. Petersburg, to Yale, via a brief sojourn at Oxford. For Rostovtzeff the Russian professor, the Bosporan kingdom was a deeply oriental place. Subsequently, for Rostovtzeff the exile, it became a place imbued with the Greek genius.38 Yet the achievements he ascribed to an energetic ‘bourgeoisie’ form the real focus of criticism by fellow historians, rather than his assumptions about a generalized form of cultural superiority that has yet to receive objective treatment.39

(p.24) In their magnificent and immensely erudite survey of history of, not in, the Mediterranean, Horden and Purcell have rejected Rostovtzeff’s socio-economic construction as an obsolete relic of early twentieth-century scholarship. Their argument relies partly on a perceived contrast between his ‘grandly interactionist’ conception and an ‘ecologizing’ one. Whilst their own approach is avowedly ecological, they reject the tendency of the Annaliste school of history, whose practitioners have so consistently attempted to unite geographical with historical approaches, towards ‘a somewhat dogmatic substitution of analysis for narrative; statistics for impressions; comparativism and methodological self-consciousness for naïve positivism; and, above all, as befits a broadly sociological approach, a concentration on the anonymous masses instead of conspicuous individuals, and on continuities and regularities instead of rapid changes.’40

Rostovtzeff’s narrative consciously or unconsciously comprised a deterministic tendency that merges, ironically perhaps, with the geographical determinism that Horden and Purcell have criticized so trenchantly. The Hellenistic world tended to decay in Rostovtzeff’s imagination, and the city of Rome reshaped the inner forces of the eastern half of her Empire to prevent decay and restore peace.41 Whatever we think of the political narrative encapsulated in this vision, it does not begin to describe the economic relationships within the region, even for the latter end of the five centuries under consideration in this book. An economic narrative will not necessarily coincide with the kind of grand political narrative espoused by Rostovtzeff. Ultimately, his single, overarching explanatory theory meant that the historian downplayed the very components that constituted the ‘bourgeois’ productivity that created material success for the north Aegean.

Had he considered the productive technology that his footnotes and figures illustrate so effectively in the context of more specific, time- and space-limited parameters, later historians might well have paid more serious attention to these material developments and to their irregular distribution in space and time. As it is, the grand historical narrative of political conquest and expansion in the eastern Mediterranean has more often than not been retained, whether out of conviction, or in order to counteract the tendencies towards impersonal patterns to which Horden and Purcell allude, while the clues inherent in the material evidence have been judged less relevant. Before considering the role and significance of productive technologies, an even grander perspective should be considered than the one presented by Rostovtzeff, and on a longer time scale.

(p.25) Andrew Sherratt’s continental merry-go-round

Moses Finley’s The Ancient Economy promoted the view that long-distance patterns of exchange were comparatively unimportant within the economies of ancient Mediterranean societies. The down-playing of distant exchanges as macro-economic drivers was an argument that mirrored Finley’s insistence on social structure as the fundamental operating mechanism of ancient economies.42 A quarter of a century ago, Finley’s low evaluation of material production and exchange seemed convincing to ancient historians, whose theoretical ideas were drawn primarily from cognate work in medieval and early modern history, and not from archaeology or indeed from economics.43 Discussions of material production and distribution were thus dominated by the ‘primitive’ nature of agricultural practices; the difficulties of transportation; and the low levels of urban growth (excepting a few large cities), which limited both mechanical production and consumption. Moreover, concern for status discouraged investment, according to this view. The editors and many of the contributors to the new Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World have set out to show that Finley’s preoccupation with social status simply avoided fundamental questions about production. This new synthesis encapsulates the emphasis in much recent research not only on per capita growth in the pre-Roman as well as the Roman Imperial Mediterranean world, but also on the nature of demand and patterns of consumption.44 Although the ghost of Finley still stalks historical narratives,45 approaches to ancient economies have developed in directions that render the old obsession with ‘primitivist’ (or substantivist) and ‘modernist’ credentials no longer relevant. The notion that historians should be obliged either to assume that ancient economies were deeply and fundamentally different from those of later periods, or that they were somehow analogous to more recent times, short-circuits any attempt to understand the dynamics of long-term change and the distinctiveness of specific historical phenomena. Many of the tools of economic transactions that we recognize today, including deeds of sale, (p.26) contracts, loans, bank deposit accounts, and various kinds of taxes, were widespread within the time span examined here. But that rather broad reference frame is where any analogy with more recent times ends.

The conceptual difficulties encountered by historians are rather deeper than what may appear to contemporary onlookers as a minor ideological diversion amongst scholars of equally remote times, whether students of classical antiquity, or the Eurasian Middle Ages. As financial systems in the Atlantic world have seemed to falter alarmingly since 2008, the need for historical perspective has become imperative. Historical memory has acquired a relevance that has often been lacking in conventional analyses of contemporary financial systems.46 What is less clear is the depth of time that may be relevant for understanding the relationship between present and past economic phenomena. Since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, politicians, writers, and economists, as well as historians, have used examples from classical antiquity to draw very different conclusions about the relationship between the modern world and its antecedents. The observations of Jean Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche, about the value or otherwise of confronting the ancient past with their own eras, could not be more starkly different.47 One of the reasons why it was possible for commentators to take such different positions was the fact that individual aspects of past economies, whether the existence of slavery, or the extraordinarily creative character of artistic production, were features of classical antiquity considered largely in isolation from other economic phenomena. Karl Marx likened ancient slavery to the ‘plantation economy’ of the antebellum United States rather than with early modern Europe.48 This admission shows that nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians found it difficult to locate ancient slaves into a formal theoretical framework that would help contemporary readers to differentiate between ancient and more recent forms of slavery. Ancient slaves in many cases enjoyed a social intimacy with free men and women that was wholly different from more recent forms of enforced servitude. If we want to think about the significance of slavery within the wider economy, then (p.27) slave labour needs to be integrated with free labourers into a broader set of costs and prices, since that is how slaves appear in contracts and other documents relating to specific projects.49 So a more balanced or a more coherent evaluation of ancient economies would require an integrated approach, one that unites different kinds of social interaction, including economic exchanges.

Is such an attempt doable? After all, surviving data is uneven and fragmentary, and we still lack convincing, widely agreed methods of interpreting the data. Modelling at least provides ways of assessing whether a particular approach makes sense.50 The outline of an integrated model, one that unites social practices as well as forms of consumption and exchange, has been presented in a series of diagrams by John Davies for the city of Athens during the fifth to fourth centuries BC, in the form of flows of resources within a topological space.51 As the author readily admits, this model is a simplified scheme, which is intended to make the components clear and comprehensible. Any serious attempt to understand diachronic patterns of exchange requires a far greater integration of the different elements that played a part within the economy of any single community than has ever been attempted by historians of economies, recent or ancient. Davies’ model does not try to specify precise chronological boundaries, but rather to characterize the distinctive features of a known historical community over an extended time period of several centuries. Since we lack, for the world of classical antiquity, the kinds of accounting statistics that are considered to provide good enough economic snapshots for contemporary economies, a long view can provide important insights that are not particularly visible within shorter time scales.

Some of the most valuable insights about long-term historical processes in the remote history of the Balkan region have emerged in the work of a prehistorian, Andrew Sherratt, a research student of one of the greatest analytical archaeologists, David Clarke, but an admirer of Gordon Childe. Sherratt consciously aimed to combine Clarke’s analytical rigour with Childe’s large-scale cultural conceptualizations. In contrast to the majority of scholars, who confined their research to particular sub-regions within the continent of Europe, Sherratt was interested in broad inter- and intra-regional phenomena, as well as localized ones. By enlarging the canvas under investigation, Sherratt was able to detect (p.28) significant changes within patterns of exchange at considerable distances, which have clear economic implications:

Mycenaean Greeks maintained links – notoriously ambivalent – with Troy and the local Black Sea routes to the Danube mouth, and also with central and northern Italy.…These two routes (which should be envisaged as multiple-stranded chains of contacts between many different settlements and small polities in fairly broad corridors, based on fluctuating alliances rather than on any imposed authority) must be reckoned as to some degree in competition with each other, or at least as largely incompatible alternatives.…There is a repeated pattern here which is worth making explicit.…When the centre of gravity has been in the eastern Mediterranean, the Danube route has been important; as the focus moves westwards the trans-Alpine routes take over. Two crucial urban centres came to occupy nodal points where the east–west maritime trade routes of the Mediterranean articulate with north–south feeder routes from the interior of the continent: Rome and Constantinople.52

Sherratt emphasized that the significance of the two nodes he identified were articulated by continent-wide patterns. This interpretation effectively reverses Finley’s proposition that relegated distance exchange to a marginal role. It does not imply that commercial or other transactions played a very large part in terms of overall economic activities. There is no reason to doubt that most forms of economic endeavour were local and related to personal subsistence. The importance of Sherratt’s model lies in its successful integration of many separate economic entities into an interrelated network, articulated by a minimal formula of mutually agreed transactions. Such transactions may well have occurred on an irregular basis. What matters is the evidence that these patterns reveal of a continent-wide set of mutual relations, which enabled commodities and people to travel from one end of the network to another. The most visible and incontrovertible evidence of this traffic is amber, whose dissemination in the Aegean area for the south-east of Europe (as in the Adriatic for the west) is represented residually in women’s funerary ornaments.53 Nevertheless, amber is unlikely to have travelled as a single high-value commodity, but was one of a range of northern exports or commodities penetrating into southern Europe, including rare minerals (notably Bactrian gold and Breton or Cornish tin), as well as perishable organic materials, notably furs, exotic pelts, and manufactured items. The disappearance of organic remains from the material record has reduced the visibility of the traffic and the importance of the network (p.29) as a whole. Sherratt could not demonstrate the political form of the network, or the ways in which it may have been protected or reinforced, but the broader cultural relationships between regions amply support the scheme he postulated.54 Far from being marginal, these deep trajectories linking continental regions with south-eastern Europe were the essential motors of intra- and extra-continental dynamics. The eastward movement of Celtic mercenary bands during the third and second centuries BC was as much a response to changes in the dynamics of intra-continental commodity transfers as they were to political developments.55 A web of mutual transactions and obligations linked coastal and inland settlements, which can now be examined in ways that Sherratt did not live long enough to explore, including Horden and Purcell’s ‘connectivity’, as well as Network theory.56

Velizar Velkov and settlement history in the Balkans

Velizar Velkov (1928–1993) was both a product of the post-war academic environment and one of the key figures who helped to transform it. A relative of one of the pioneers of Bulgarian archaeology, Ivan Velkov (1891–1958), Velizar Velkov revealed his nascent curiosity in the evolution of settlement types in his postgraduate research dissertation, entitled ‘City and village in Thrace and Dacia, fourth to sixth century AD’ (1954). He studied at Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia and from 1955 worked at the Institute of Archaeology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and simultaneously as a university assistant professor. He was primarily a classical philologist, promoted to the Chair of Ancient and Medieval History, and directed the Epigraphy Section from 1972 onwards. The publication of a wide variety of Greek and Latin inscriptions furnished a distinguished record in itself. But Velkov had a wider vision. In 1982 he initiated an important series of colloquia on Settlement Life in Ancient Thrace. This was a uniquely inspired initiative, which survived him to be continued by a new generation of archaeologists and philologists.57

(p.30) Velkov’s principal scholarly focus was, throughout his career, the settlement history of Thrace under the Roman Empire, particularly the period between the fourth and sixth centuries, and the transition to Byzantine rule.58 The range of information available for this period gave him an acute awareness of the different types of evidence that need to be taken into account in order to provide a coherent and rounded picture of settlement life. Notwithstanding the central role played by the Balkan provinces in the politics of the later Empire, historical narratives were nevertheless of limited use, whereas inscriptions offered a rich and, in many respects, far more nuanced reflection of settlement life in its various permutations. The major civic conurbations, whether imperial foundations (and re-foundations), or veteran colonies, flourished alongside other sites, whose nomenclature implied native origins. The suffixes of many place names, including—bria—diza,—para, and occasionally prefixes (notably the Byzas that underlies the name Byzantion), indicate the strength of local settlement traditions, as well as the persistence of native linguistic patterns.

The history of these native foundations was not easy to tease out. Most of the epigraphic texts were and are of imperial date, so of little use in clarifying how the educated, propertied families, whose members usually contributed to the cost of such documents, came to wield their influence. Some were immigrants, but many local men could continue to be prominent through grants of Roman citizenship. The views expressed in Velkov’s publications of the 1960s and 1970s on the development of civic entities were consistent with the widespread opinion among Balkan scholars that city life, understood as the organization of poleis on the Greek model, was a development that post-dated the Macedonian conquest of Thrace.59

Karl Marx had promoted the view that slavery in classical antiquity was a defining characteristic of Greek and Roman societies. Although some twentieth-century Marxists, such as G. E. M. de Ste Croix, departed from this all-embracing definition, preferring to identify slavery as the means by which the propertied classes extracted a surplus from their landed wealth, rather than the general means of production in ancient classical societies, these kinds of distinctions were not at all well known in the countries of the Communist bloc.60 Unlike many of his contemporaries, Velizar (p.31) Velkov was disinclined to speculate and eschewed theoretical exposition, preferring to explore the available evidence as fully as possible. Since his own systematic investigations ventured into the civic histories of the coastal trading towns of the Black Sea coast, such as Odessos and Mesambria, as well as into classical slavery and mining, it was clear enough to his scholarly eye that no cordon sanitaire could realistically be constructed around the coastal communities, isolating these enclaves of foreign contagion from the healthy independence of rural communities in the interior. Whilst he acknowledged that slavery was, in his view, much less widespread in the Balkan heartlands than in the cities of the Aegean, he was well aware of the circumstances that allowed Xenophon’s mercenary army to acquire 1,000 slaves, 4,000 oxen, and 10,000 sheep, simply by force of arms (Xen. Anab. 7.3.48). It was equally clear to Velkov that Thracian rulers did own slaves and were therefore implicated in the process by which free individuals came to be enslaved as a result of inter-community violence (Xen. Anab. 7.7.53).61 The acquisition of property, including human chattel, far from being a specific characteristic of the slave-owning, corrupt, money-driven world of Greek and Roman cities, was just as much part of native Balkan experience, and by no means confined to the ruling élite. In Xenophon’s world, mercenaries, traders, small time husbandmen, and farmers, could and did negotiate their own terms, unconstrained by outside powers. So Marxist attempts to separate the organization of European tribal societies from classical (market-regulated, slave-dominated) ones, in terms of distinct social and economic features, looked rather less convincing to a scholar like Velkov, sensitive to the ambiguities of narratives such as Xenophon’s.

An early Byzantine village unit consisted of a dozen or so domestic structures plus units of land that could be assessed for tax purposes.62 This kind of village might have housed between 75 and 1,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, many of the named historical locations in ancient written sources referred to settlements that were noticeably larger, involving populations of several thousand. Sites with names terminating in –bria, (p.32) -para, and –diza frequently became civic entities over the course of time. How should such sites be compared, at early stages of their development, with Greek municipal governments? International scholarship of the last two decades has greatly enlarged the scope of discussion about ‘big’ sites, in spite of the lack of a clear ancient nomenclature that might distinguish a hierarchy of agglomerations by size, or by forms of public organization.63

Forty years ago, Velkov recognized this problem. Along with other members of the excavation team at Kabyle in the 1970s and 1980s, he could see that the material data did not seem in tune with widespread assumptions about this site, made on the basis of a limited range of literary references. Reported to be among the conquests of Philip II, there was very little evidence at Kabyle of Macedonian authority. On the contrary, the stratified sequence at the eastern gateway of the city, and the burials in the necropolis nearby, pointed to an ephemeral presence at best.64 Most scholars, of East and West, had assumed that Greek forms of political organization and urban planning were introduced into the Balkans in the wake of the Macedonian conquests. Velkov was beginning to see that this simple explanation was not borne out on the ground. Nor did the burgeoning archaeological discoveries, at Kabyle and elsewhere, suit received or modified Marxist views, which treated evidence of classical Mediterranean culture in the Balkan interior as signs of enforced political exploitation by the ruling élite. A different framework was required for understanding what was happening in this region in the final four centuries BC. The ideological underpinnings of academic perceptions of classical antiquity were beginning to collapse at the same time as the old Communist order of contemporary politics was being superseded. A further complication to perceptions of the Balkan past came in the form of new material discoveries in Macedonia.

Vergina and the Macedonian Kings of Manolis Andronikos

When Manolis Andronikos introduced the plenary session of the Eleventh International Congress of Classical Archaeology on 4 September 1978 in London, he was met not just by a packed hall of scholars, but by journalists and cameramen. It was in London that he unveiled his most recent discoveries that brought to light the unplundered remains of a Macedonian ruler, identified by him as Philip II, and those of his spouse, (p.33) which justified every superlative adjective that historians, ancient and modern, had heaped upon the economic success of the kingdom’s Argead kings. The peak of Andronikos’s career coincided with a new era of communications media, which he was quick to exploit in the promotion of his academic and cultural objectives. His aptitude for communication explains both the epithets that he was given—shaman and showman.65 The shamanistic qualities have been connected with his initiation of a new debate in Greece about the cultural role of Macedonia’s early royal dynasties, both in antiquity and in terms of contemporary heritage.66

Much of the intense discussion of Andronikos’s discoveries in the Greek press, and the wider controversies about Macedonia’s Greek heritage discussed in Hamilakis’s biographical chapter on Andronikos have by-passed international audiences. The scientific importance of Andronikos’s research was masked, during his lifetime, by the sensationalist tendencies of his media appearances. Beneath the cloud of controversy was a serious programme of investigation. This began with Manolis’s first excavations in the royal palace at Vergina under K. A. Rhomaios in 1952, and continued there during the 1960s, in association with Giorgios Bakalakis, after a scholarship to Oxford. Andronikos’s first substantial monograph was on the Early Iron Age burials in the vicinity of the palace, published in 1969. A series of inhumations, belonging to men and women, provided the first systematic evidence of the inhabitants of the landscape first mapped by Léon Heuzey almost a century earlier. They revealed a population of men imbued with martial aspirations. Their burials contained a plethora of iron weapons, among the earliest iron objects identified in the region, bronze fittings and ornaments (a metal well-represented in the women’s burials too), and a range of other materials, including ivory and amber, the precious stone that played such a key role in Sherratt’s intercontinental configurations.

Although he was also involved in excavation at other Macedonian locations, including Verroia, Dion, Kilkis, and the Chalkidic peninsula, the principal focus of Andronikos’s later excavations was the palace and the royal burials in the ‘Great Tumulus’ at Vergina. As the wealth of individual artefacts has emerged from laboratory conservation and museum catalogues, the nature of Macedonian élite lifestyles has become increasingly apparent. Military equipment, some of it of exceptional design, was certainly present, but the overall tenor of mortuary practice, (p.34) and of grave goods, is noticeably different from that of the Early Iron Age burials in the same cemetery, and even from more recently excavated interments of the later sixth century BC. These chronological distinctions reflect significant socio-economic changes in Macedonian communities over the course of the first half of the first millennium BC, including the enrichment of rural foci, the emergence of urban centres, and the self-conscious display of an expanding array of material possessions. The economic development of the modern regional units, or nomes, of Macedonia has triggered a vast array of new field investigations, which have produced rich rewards in research terms, much of it still awaiting full study and publication. Alongside town plans, élite country residences, and organic remains of dinner parties, a wide range of inscriptions and other written data has transformed the basis on which historians form their basic ideas about northern communities.

The discoveries of Manolis Andronikos were in the van of this river of change. The social iconography and dinner sets of Macedonia’s cavalry class have strong resemblances with the material culture and lifestyles of their peers in Thrace and north-west Anatolia. Unplundered tombs, such as Tomb II at Vergina, and the quantities of grave goods that have emerged in Central Thrace, provide more information than ever before about landowners in the east Balkan region, their cultural tastes and social connections. Such cachets of wealth were not restricted to a narrow, centralized élite, but widely distributed in all regions, as the geographical network of cavalry-type burials demonstrates. Élite tomb distributions in turn prompt a reconsideration of the assumptions that can be made about forms of social control, about the nature of local community organization, and the kinds of social contacts that existed between such landowners and their opposite numbers within the east Balkan region and across the Straits.

The members of our scholarly quartet shared several common features. They were visionaries, able to make connections beyond the specific, localized evidence that they were concerned with. They were all interested in the value of artefacts for the study of long-term history. Each of them grappled with the abstract and conceptual implications of the material that they studied. Hence they travelled farther in seeking ways to explain historical processes.

If we look at the Aegean from the north, through the eyes of our four scholars, then economic relations between north and south begin to look very different from southern ones looking northwards. The hinterland does not consist simply of a narrow coastal strip, but extends deep into the continental interior. The organization not only of agricultural resources and their by-products, but equally the exploitation of minerals, (p.35) and the development of overland routes, are central to understanding how the landscape contributed to wealth and revenues beyond subsistence level. Recent methodological trends that focus on the mutual interdependence of urban and rural communities, and the networked patterning of human dynamics in these historical societies, reinforce the need to look at the whole Balkan region and its Aegean coastline as an interrelated area. The chapters that follow explore the kind of evidence that can be marshalled to investigate these postulates and discuss how we might interpret the results in economic terms.


(1) Leekley and Efstratiou 1980, 69; 148 for the earliest modern discoveries of ancient remains on Olympos; Vokotopoulou 1985 provides a selection of extracts from early travel accounts and reports of monuments and inscriptions by, among others, M. Cousinéry, W. M. Leake, and M. Demitsas, focusing on the remains of Thessaloniki; Ruseva-Slokoska 1993 gives a full account of the foundation of the National Museum in Sofia; see also Nikolov 2006.

(2) Casson provides a list of sites investigated in the east Balkans up to the mid 1920s (1926, x–xiii; Ch. III, Appendix B, pp. 168–74, with map XIX at end). A notable contribution was made by scholars and engineers in the British Salonica Force. Treuil (1996, 410 Carte 1) shows prehistoric sites excavated by the ÉfA in the period 1846–1919, including Pylaia, Thermi, and Gona on the eastern shore of the Thermaic Gulf, with Kostievo, Mačkur, Ploska Mogila, in the Hebros valley, Rašov on the right bank of the Tundja, close to the bend near Kabyle; Grandjean and Salviat 2000, 38–41 for Thasos; Waterhouse 1986 and Gill 2011 on students of the British School at Athens.

(3) Glenny 1999, 135–48, 307–402.

(4) Heuzey’s description of the ascent assisted in determining which of the peaks was the highest; eventually this was ascertained as that dubbed Venizelos (Baud-Bovy 1921).

(5) Philippa-Touchais (1996, 231, fig. 7) shows a photograph of Polygnotos Kionaris standing beside a diligence drawn by a pair of horses, with the archaeologist Charles Picard seated, a horseman in attendance (July 1912, close to Maroneia).

(6) The Thasians drew 80 talents a year from the mine at Skapte Hyle/Syle (Hdt. 6.46.3); the miners of Mount Pangaion were the Satrai, the Pieres, and Odomantoi (Hdt. 7.110, 111, 112–13). The Athenian tyrant Peisistratos took an interest in the mining activities of the area (Ar. Ath. Pol. 15.2). The lucrative potential of the mines, and the timber resources of the upland zone, were among the motives behind the Athenian siege of Thasos (Thuc. I.100.2). Thuc. 2.97 for the revenues of the Odrysian kings; alliance of Amyntas III and the Chalcidians: SIG3 135; Hatzopoulos 1996, II, I; RO 12 (dated 390s–380s BC); Millett 2010, 472–5. Mining resources are discussed in more detail in Ch. 4.

(7) Domaradzki 2005, 261.

(8) Loukopoulou 1989, 27–38.

(9) Eckstein 2010, 567–8 and n.3, discusses the Roman understanding of ‘empire’ c.150 BC; cf. also Champion 2007.

(10) Errington 1990, 4–5; HM II, 160, 162; Mari 2002, 49 with further refs.

(11) On royal letters see now the volume edited by Yivtach-Firanko, esp. the contributions by Ceccarelli and Harris (see Harris forthcoming).

(12) See the analysis in Gruen 1982.

(13) Walbank 1985 and 2002b; Fasolo 2003; Lolos 2009; cf. also Sève 2005.

(14) Van Groningen 1933; Descat 2003; Brodersen 2006.

(15) Bringmann and von Steuben 1995, 110–85; 233–34 (Samothrace); pp. 550–51 (Index 5.1, Argeadae; 5.2, Diadochen); Hatzopoulos 1988a; 1996, I, 334–59, 361–9, 371–460, 1999b; Archibald 2010.

(16) See Ch. 2 for more detailed analysis and discussion.

(17) See for example the comments of Millett 2010, 472–5.

(18) See eg. Avram 2003; Gabrielsen 2007; Archibald forthcoming b/.

(19) SEG xliii, 486; xlvi, 872*; xlvii, 1101; Velkov and Domaradzka 1994; Chankowski and Domaradzka 1999; see further Chs. 2 and 5.

(20) Horden and Purcell, 53–88; coincidentally, their Map 31A corresponds in essence, if not in the exact contours selected there, with the area covered in these pages; cf. Purcell and Horden 2005; Millett considers that Macedonia ought, in principle, to be a good candidate for such a regional approach (2010, 483).

(21) Reger 2011; cf. also Reger 1994; Oliver 2006a; Elton and Reger 2007, 13–14; Reger 2013a; 2013b.

(22) Reger 2011, 368–9; for an earlier analysis of the internal traffic of the Odrysian kingdom, see Archibald 1998.

(23) Tzochev 2010, and forthcoming.

(24) e.g. the pillar and urn commemorating the supposed tomb of Orpheus outside Dion (9.30.7); cf. 6.20.18, 9.17.7, 30.4–12.

(25) See Reger (2013b) for reflections on this very topic.

(26) ‘For my purposes the “Greek world” is, broadly speaking, the vast area (described below) within which Greek was, or became, the principal language of the upper classes. … In Europe the dividing line began on the east coast of the Adriatic, roughly where the same [19th meridian east of Greenwich] cuts the coast of modern Albania, a little north of Durazzo (the ancient Dyrrachium, earlier Epidamnus); and from there it went east and slightly north, across Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, passing between Sofia (the ancient Serdica) and Plovdiv (Philippopolis) and joining the Danube at about the point where it turns north below Silistra on the edge of the Dobrudja.’ (De Ste Croix, G. E. M. 1981, 7–8). This process was already well under way by the fourth century BC, judging by the widespread evidence of graffiti (See further Ch. 2).

(27) Compare the description of cities in Macedonia by Papazoglou 1988, 37 and n.1 and Hammond in HM II, 61–5 on the one hand, with Hatzopoulos 1996, I, 49–123, esp. 105–23; Hatzopoulos and Paschidis 2004 on the other.

(28) Bresson 2000a, 116–30, for a detailed exposition of the political mechanisms and further discussion of this key text.

(29) See the discussion and detailed distribution maps in de Hoz 2010.

(30) See further Chs 2 and 3; Archibald forthcoming b/.

(31) Adams 2007, 103–4, 119–95; Adams 2012, 218–40.

(32) Archibald (forthcoming a/), citing Braudel 1982, 350–2 on road traffic volumes in Europe between 1800 and the 1820s.

(33) Adams 2007, 281–2, 287–9; cf. Chandezon 2005.

(34) Book 7 of Xenophon’s Anabasis reveals the permeability of south-eastern Thrace to travellers. Herakleides of Maroneia (Anab. 7.3.16–19, 4.2, 5.2, 4–5, 6–8, 9–11, 6.2, 41, 7.41; Stronk 1995, ad loc.) is given a rather dubious profile as a money-grubbing go-between, but this may have more to do with Xenophon’s own self-justification than with any basis in reality.

(35) Horden and Purcell provide an extensive discussion, which has not been superseded in subsequent debates (2000, 9–25).

(36) Archibald 1998, Ch. 4; Archibald 2001, 380–5; Bresson et al. 2007; and esp. Müller 2010, 19–20; cf. 23–66.

(37) Bresson et al. 2007 and other contributions to the same volume.

(38) Müller 2010, 19 and nn.4244, citing Bowersock 1993. Rostovtzeff also spent time at the University of Wisconsin in Madison before moving to Yale. (I am grateful to Gary Reger for this additional link in R’s North American itinerary).

(39) Horden and Purcell, 32; Archibald 2001, 382; Müller 2010, 19.

(40) Horden and Purcell, 39.

(41) Archibald 2001, 380.

(42) Finley 1985, 44–61, 65–94, 185–6, 177–8 on distance trade; see the Introduction by I. Morris, xx–xxiii; xxviii–xxxi.

(43) Hopkins 1983, xi–xii; reproduced in CEHGRW, 4, in order to illustrate the contrast between the Finleyan position and these editors’ own views.

(44) CEHGRW, esp. 3–6; the nexus between supply and demand is examined most closely by M. Dietler (258–76), A. Möller (362–84), N. Morley (570–91), and W. Jongman (592–618); cf. Bowman and Wilson 2009, 23–60, 213–65.

(45) Andreau 2010, 21.

(46) Cf. Ferguson 2008, 362: ‘When we withdraw banknotes from automated telling machines, or invest portions of our monthly salaries in bonds and stocks, or insure our cars, or remortgage our homes, or renounce home bias in favour of emerging markets, we are entering into transactions with many historical antecedents.’

(47) Morley 2009, 31–9 (on David Ricardo and early modern economists); 50–4, 66–9, 123 (Jean-Jacques Rousseau); 39–44, 146–8, 150–6 (on Karl Marx); 82–3, 88, 92–6, 101–13, 131–2, 142–5 (on Nietzsche).

(48) Morley 2009, 42–3 with discussion, citing K. Marx, Kapital, III [1894] in Marx-Engels Werke, 25, Berlin, 1983, 795.

(49) See now Feyel 2006, 331, 339–40, 395–438, 442–64, 509–10.

(50) Epstein 2008.

(51) Davies 2005, 142–54, with figures 6.8–6.10, 6.12–6.14.

(52) Sherratt 1995, 17–19.

(53) Beck and Bouzek 1993; Kilian-Dirlmeier 2002, 73–5, 227.

(54) Bauer 2011, 99–103.

(55) Sherratt 1995, 20–3; Vagalinski 2010.

(56) Networks; Manning 2011; Malkin 2011.

(57) Volumes I and II were edited by V. Velkov; volume III by D. Draganov; and volume IV by Iliya Ilyev; a fifth symposium was convened in 2010 under the chairmanship of Lyudmil Getov, in coordination with Totko Stoyanov, Peter Delev, Kostadin Rabadjiev, Iliya Iliev, and Veneta Handjiyska.

(58) Velkov 1988, 139–277 with further references.

(59) Cf. Velkov 1970, 14 (= 1988, 236). See further Ch. 2 on settlement patterns and types.

(60) On Karl Marx’s views on ancient slavery: Morley 2009, 42–3, 151–6; de Ste Croix 1981, 52: ‘the most significant distinguishing feature of each social formation, each “mode of production”, … is not so much how the bulk of the labour of production is done, as how the dominant propertied classes, controlling the conditions of production, ensure the extraction of the surplus, which makes their own leisured existence possible’. Cf. ibid. 52–7; 140; 144–5; 172–3; 256–8; slaves from Thrace: 163, 227; Tacheva 1997, 131–60 with bibliography on Russian and Bulgarian historiography of the topic; Nafissi 2005, 248–56; see further Chs 4 and 5.

(61) Velkov 1964, 125–8 (= Velkov 1988, 113–15); on mining, Velkov 1971. For Velkov’s career, see also Delev 2009.

(62) Velkov 1962, 53–4, 65–6 (= Velkov 1988, 202–3, 215–16).

(63) See further Chs 2, 3, and 4.

(64) Archibald 1998, 311–16 with further refs; Chs 2, 4, and 5 for full discussion.

(65) Hamilakis 2007, 125–68.

(66) Hamilakis 2007; Lane-Fox devotes the introductory chapter to his edited volume on Macedonia entirely to the chronology of the royal tombs at Vergina (Lane-Fox 2011).