Economy, Money and Mining in Ancient Greece

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Female baker
After the Persian Wars, the city-states of Greece produced a government and culture organized and wealthy enough to allow the development of a private citizenship and with this a fledling capitalist society. Wealth became separated from state ownership allowing individuals, some of whom became powerful oligarchs, to accumulate property and assets. Many loans were recorded on documents from the classical age but few of them were banks. The annual interest rate typically was around 12 percent. [Source: Wikipedia]

The ancient Greeks city of Aphrodisias boasted three supermarkets with set prices. To keep the economy stable sometimes the currency was devalued and wage and price controls were implemented. Yet, the French historian Fernand Braudel "observed that the Alexandrians had enough technical knowledge to start an industrial revolution but lacked the economic incentive to create labor-saving machinery because they relied on slaves."

Grain (wheat, oats and barely), olives, grapes, olive oil and wine were commonly traded goods. They were stored and transported by ships in large jug-like clay amphoras. Merchants in the Italian colonies grew wealthy by exporting wheat, oats and barley to Greece in return for pottery and bronze figurines. The Greeks had schools for mirror making, where students were taught the finer points of sand polishing.

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Agoras (Marketplaces) in Ancient Greece

Most Greek cities and towns were organized around an agora (known to Romans as a forum), which served as a market area and meeting place Bronze workers, marble craftsmen, makers or terra cotta figurines and farmers all sold their products in the agora.

Grecian Flower Market by John William Waterhouse

Nearly every city of ancient Greece had an agora by about 600 B.C., when Greek civilization began to flourish. Heather Whipps wrote in Live Science: “Not only did the ancient Greeks go to the agora to pick up fresh meat and some wool for a new robe, but also to meet and greet with friends and colleagues.... Usually located near the center of town, the agora was easily accessible to every citizen, with a large central square for market stalls bound by public buildings. [Source: Heather Whipps, Live Science, March 16, 2008]

“Who knows where we'd be without the "agoras" of ancient Greece. Lacking the concept of democracy, perhaps, or the formula for the length of the sides of a triangle (young math students, rejoice!). Modern doctors might not have anything to mutter as an oath. What went on at the agora went beyond the simple daily transactions of the market. The conversations that happened there and the ideas that they bore continue to affect us to this day, from the way scientists carry out their work to how we pass our laws.

“The agora of Athens – the hub of ancient Greek civilization – was the size of several football fields and saw heavy traffic every single day of the week. Women didn't often frequent the agora, but every other character in ancient Greece passed through its columns: politicians, criminals, philosophers and traders, aristocrats, scientists, officials and slaves.”

Athens Agora

The ancient agora (market) of Athens was located just below the Parthenon on the north side of the Acropolis. It was where people shopped, voted, socialized and discussed the issues of the day. The comic poet Eubulus wrote: "You will find everything sold together in the same place at Athens: figs, witnesses to summons, bunches of grapes, turnips, pears, apples, givers of evidence, roses, meddlers, porridge, honeycombs, chickpeas, lawsuits, bee-sting-puddings, myrtle, allotment machines, irises, lambs, water clocks, laws, indictments."

Agora of Athens

Located between ancient Athen's main gates and the Acropolis, it was filled with workshops, markets, and law courts and was huge area, covering about 30 acres. On work days, vendors set up shop in wicker stalls. There were areas for moneychangers, fishmongers, perfumeries, and slave traders. Visitors today still find hobnails and bone eyelets in an ancient cobbler' shop. Laid out today like a park, and littered with thousands of pieces of columns and building, the Agora was ancient Athens' administrative center and main marketplace and gathering place.

Socrates likes to hang out the agora in Athens. Xenophon wrote that his former teacher "was always on public view; from early in the morning he used to go to the walkways and gymnasia, to appear in the agora as it filled up, and to be present wherever he would meet with the most people." Socrates used to address his followers in the Agora. While on trial for insulting the gods, he was kept in the prison annex outside the angora. Plato, Pericles, Thucydides and Aristophenes all spent a lot of time in the agora. Citizens who avoided military service, showed cowardice in battle and mistreated their parents were forbidden from entering the Angora.

Buildings in Athens Agora

Around the agora were courts, assembly halls, military headquarters, the mint, keepers of weights and measurements, commercial buildings, a racetrack and shrines. On a hill behind the agora are the remains of the columned halls of the Hephaisteion (449 B.C, a temple dedicated to Hephaisteion), the best preserved Doric Temple in Greece. It contains friezes of Theseus battling the Minotaur, the labors of Hercules and the battle of the Centaurs.

Below the Hephaisteion is the New Bouleuterion, where the 500-member Boule (Senate) met. Nearby is the Tholos, where the 50 members of the executive committee of the Boule met. In front of the Bouleuterion there were statues of the Eponymous Heroes (ten tribal namesakes chosen by the oracle of Delphi). This was a popular gathering spot.

Other building in and around the Agora included the Shop of Simon the Cobbler, the Stoa of Zeus (a covered colonnade and religious shrine for Zeus), the Royal Stoa, the Painted Stoa (contained beautiful wall paintings that were taken by the Romans and have since been lost), the Altar of the Twelve Gods, the Panathanaic Way (a diagonal street running uphill to the Acropolis and parade route during major festivals), Mints, Fountain House, South Stoa and a, Racetrack.

Stoa of Attalus (159-138 B.C.) is completely restored two story building in the Agora, with internal and external rows of columns, that was formerly an arcade with 21 shops. The museum inside the Stoa Attalus contains a slotted marble slab with numbered balls used to select assembly members, a water clock that ensured that speeches did no exceed six minutes, thimble-size terra cotta vessels used by executioners to measure doses of hemlock, pottery shards that were used for secret votes to ostracize people (a 10 year banishment), part of an old ballot box used for the election of city officials and a bronze shield taken from the defeated Spartans.

Athenian citizen used to line the promenade of the Stoa of Attalos in the Agora to watch the Panatheenaic procession in which a huge dress was hauled up to the Acropolis as an offering to Athena. Near the Parthenon was a 30-foot-high bronze statue of Athena Promachos, the Warrior, whose metal glistened so brightly it was said it could be seen by ships approaching Athens.

reconstruction of the Athens agora

Social, Political and Intellectual Life in Athens’s Agora

Heather Whipps wrote in Live Science: Athens’ agora “was the heart of the city – where ordinary citizens bought and sold goods, politics were discussed and ideas were passed among great minds like Aristotle and Plato. Some of the world's most important ideas were born and perfected within the confines of the Athenian agora including, famously, the concept of democracy. [Source: Heather Whipps, Live Science, March 16, 2008 ]

“The Athenian democratic process, whereby issues were discussed in a forum and then voted on, is the basis for most modern systems of governance. Regular Athenian citizens had the power to vote for anything and everything, and were fiercely proud of their democratic ways. No citizen was above the law – laws were posted in the agora for all to see – or was exempt from being a part of the legal process. In fact, Athenians considered it a duty and a privilege to serve on juries. Both the city law courts and senate were located in the agora to demonstrate the open, egalitarian nature of Athenian life.

“Scientific theory also got its start in the agora, where the city's greatest minds regularly met informally to socialize. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all frequented the Athenian agora, discussed philosophy and instructed pupils there. Aristotle, in particular, is known for his contributions to science, and may have developed his important theories on the empirical method, zoology and physics, among others, while chatting in the agora's food stalls or sitting by its fountains. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine and its Hippocratic Oath, and Pythagoras, a mathematician who developed the geometric theory of a triangle's sides, were both highly public figures who taught and shared ideas in their own hometown agoras.”

Ancient Greek Seaside Strip Mall


In the summer of 2013, archaeologists uncovered a 2,500-year-old portico — a bustling public space likened to ancient strip mall — in the ancient city of Argilos, situated on the scenic northern coast of the Aegean Sea in present-day Greece. At the time five of the seven storerooms that make up the portico had been excavated. Megan Gannon wrote in Live Science: “The seaside portico, or stoa, stretches 130 feet (40 meters) across with seven rooms inside, each bearing the distinct architectural touches of their ancient shop owners, the site's excavators say. Strewn about the ruins, archaeologists found coins, vases and other artifacts that hold clues to when and how people lived in the archaic city. “Porticos are well known from the Hellenistic period, from the third to first century B.C., but earlier examples are extremely rare," archaeologist Jacques Perreault, a classicist at the University of Montreal, said in a statement. "The one from Argilos is the oldest example to date from northern Greece and is truly unique." [Source: Megan Gannon, Live Science, October 10, 2013]

“Perreault is a co-director of the dig at Argilos, which was strategically located just west of the Struma River, an area dotted with ancient gold and silver mines. Researchers think the city was founded around 655 B.C., making it perhaps the earliest Greek colony on the Thracian coast. Argilos hit its stride in the fifth century B.C., but went into decline shortly after, when the nearby city Amphipolis was founded as an Athenian outpost. In 357 B.C., Philip II of Macedon conquered the region and deported the residents of Argilos to Amphipolis. Archaeologists at the site think Argilos was largely deserted after its fourth-century inhabitants were forced to leave; excavations have not turned up any Roman or Byzantine ruins from later periods, according to the dig's website.

The remains of the portico were discovered during this past summer's field season, at the edge of the city's former commercial district, about 160 feet (50 m) from the ancient port, the researchers say. The archaeologists partially dug up five of the portico's storerooms, finding curious differences in each space that suggest the building was not a city-sponsored project with one architect in charge. The construction techniques and the stones used are different for one room to another, hinting that several masons were used for each room," Perreault explained in a statement. "This indicates that the shop owners themselves were probably responsible for building the rooms, that 'private enterprise' and not the city was the source of this stoa."”

Spartan Economic Life

According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “Spartans were absolutely debarred by law from trade or manufacture, which consequently rested in the hands of the perioeci (q.v.), and were forbidden to possess either gold or silver, the currency consisting of bars of iron: but there can be no doubt that this prohibitian was evaded in various ways. Wealth was, in theory at least, derived entirely from landed property, and consisted in the annual return made by the helots (q.v.) who cultivated the plots of ground allotted to the Spartans. But this attempt to equalize property proved a failure: from early times there were marked differences of wealth within the state, and these became even more serious after the law of epitadeus, passed at some time after the Peloponnesian War, removed the legal prohibition of the gift or bequest of land. [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]

“Later we find the soil coming more and more into the possession of large landholders, and by the middle of the 3rd century B.C. nearly two fifths of Laconia belonged to women. Hand in hand with this process went a serious diminution in the nwnber of full citizens, who had numbered 8000 at the beginning of the 5th century, but had sunk by Aristotle's day to less than 1000, and had further decreased to 700 at the accession of Agis IV. in 244 B.C. The Spartans did. what they could to remedy this by law: certain penalties were imposed upon those who remained unmarried or who married too late in life. But the~decay was too deep-rooted to be eradicated by such means, and we shall see that at a late period in Sparta's history an attempt was made without success to deal with the evil by much rnore drastic measures.”

Money in Ancient Greece

20120222-Coins_of_Reigns_of_Ptolemy_II_and_Ptolemy_III 6.jpg
coins for Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III
The first coins appeared in Lydia, a small kingdom in Asia Minor, around 600 B.C. Coinage was introduced to Asia Minor by the Lydians and was used by several Greek city-states on Asia Minor within a few decades after it first appeared. The Greeks made coins of various denomination in unalloyed gold and silver and the stamped them with images of gods and goddesses.

Coins were the primary means of exchange (paper money was first used by the Mongols and the Chinese around A.D.1000). Coins were usually made by striking the smooth gold and silver blanks between engraved dies of bronze or hardened iron. The die for one side usually contained the face of a ruler. The other die was for the back of the coin. Molds were only rarely used.

Talents and drachmas were the names of the ancient Greek currency. One talent equaled 6000 drachmas. By one estimate a drachma was worth about $2.00 in present-day money. By another estimate it was worth about half a cent. The cost of sending a letter was around 2 talents and 300 drachmas. In most reckonings talents were a lot of money. A single talent could pay a month’s wages for a 170 oarsmen on a Greek warship. The cost of the Parthenon in Athens was estimated to worth 340 to 800 silver talents.

In addition to being legal tender, coins were also regarded as works of art and forums for political views. Every city state struck its own coins, usually from silver, and their designs changed constantly to commemorate victories or rulers. The figures on these coins conveyed emotion, sereneness and strength and some their makers considered them be such works of art the coins were signed.

Origin of Coinage in Ancient Greece

20120222-Coins_of_Reigns_of_Ptolemy_II_and_Ptolemy_III 4.jpg
coins for Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III
According to the Canadian Museum of History: “Throughout history and throughout the world all sorts of things have been used for money… beads, shells, salt, amber, cocoa beans, jade, ivory, copper, silver, gold, pigs, oxen, feathers, tobacco and so on. Some of these were selected for portability, some for their decorative appeal, and others for their immediate availability as food. What all had in common is that, for some period of time, they were recognized by the society in which they were used as an acceptable medium of exchange and as a means of paying debt. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“There were various occasions in the lives of the early Greeks when they were called upon to make payments. Perhaps someone in the family had deliberately or accidentally (it made no difference!) killed another person. In lieu of killing the offender, arrangements were frequently made to accept an appropriate payment as an alternative- hence the term “blood money ”. Possibly a father had agreed (occasionally with her consent) to provide his daughter's hand in marriage to a prospective husband. Naturally she was expected to come with an adequate dowry, and one she was entitled to get back with interest should the marriage not work out. (In earlier times, the dowry arrangements were reversed. Originally, it was a payment made to the father of the bride by the prospective groom in compensation for the loss of the daughter's services. But times change!) There were also taxes to be paid, tribute that was expected, the need to fulfill religious obligations, opportunities to trade with foreign merchants – all demands which could be easily satisfied via a portable and widely-accepted currency. |

Lydian Coins: the World's First Money

The worlds' first money, scholars say, was circulated in the 7th century B.C. by the Lydians.. According to Herodotus, the Lydians — who lived in Lydia, which was located adjacent to Ionia in Western Asia Minor in resent day Turkey — began using silver and gold coinage around 650 B.C. The thumb-nail-size coins were struck from lumps of electrum, a pale yellow alloy of gold and silver, that had washed down streams from nearby limestone mountains. The late Oxford scholar Colin Kray surmised that the Lydian government found the coins useful as a standard medium of exchange and merchants liked them because they didn't have to do a lot of weighing and measuring. [Source: Peter White, National Geographic, January 1993]

Lydian gold coin of Croesus

The Lydian “coins” were marked small lumps of electrum with consistence weights. Some scholars insist that spade money was made by Zhou dynasty in China in 770 B.C. is the world's oldest money. What made the Lydian currency different was the fact it had inscriptions. Some coins had portraits of Lydian King Gyges. These have been found as far east as Sicily. Others were struck in denominations as small as .006 of an ounce (1/50th the weight of a penny). Electrum was panned from local riverbeds.

First unearthed at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Lydian coins had many of the same features of modern coins: they were made of a precious metal, the were a specific measured size and they were stamped with images of rulers, animals and mythical beasts. Some think Lydians developed the scheme to pay mercenary soldiers.

Problems with Early Lydian Coins

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The first generation of coins produced by the Lydians was made of electrum, a naturally-occurring pale yellow alloy of gold and silver, commonly called white gold. These were not perfectly circular like today's coins. In fact, they looked somewhat like squashed kidney beans or flat pebbles with a stamped design on one side. (If you want to get a good approximation of the size and shape of early coins, make a short rope out of plasticene or putty and squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger. What you will be left with is a piece of material indented in the middle with irregular edges, thicker in some places than others. This made the coins difficult to stack. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“Also, because the shapes and thickness of the coins varied it wasn't long before some enterprising cheaters began to shave bits off the thicker parts of the coins. The minters responded by putting extensive designs on the coins and by impressing a raised circle around the rim. These only remotely resembled the handsome coins that eventually would be distributed by any Greek city-state of significant size, the coins proudly bearing the city's emblem on one side and, perhaps, the head of its patron god or goddess on the other. It is enlightening to look at the evolution of coin production.

“The early coin producer would take a valuable metal (gold, silver, copper), weigh out the appropriate amount for the coin he was minting, heat the metal until it was malleable enough to fit into an iron or bronze mold (die) and then hit the metal with a hammer to flatten it out. What resulted was a flattish, irregularly shaped object that could be used as money. Later minters or coin producers improved upon the process, engraving images in the die that could be transferred to the coin and, eventually, adding a second engraved die so images could be impressed unto the two sides of the coin with the same strike of the hammer. |

Lydian coin

Development of Greek Coinage

The idea of coinage was popular that it was adopted by several Greek city-states only a few decades after the first coins appeared in Lydia. From Lydia, coinage spread throughout the Greek realm and soon cities such as Aegina, Corinth, Rhodes and Athens were minting their own coins, according to their own standards.The Greeks made coins of various denominations in unalloyed gold and silver and the stamped them with images of gods and goddesses.

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The ever-competitive Greek city-states then did with coinage what they did in so many other cases. They improved it by adding beauty, minting coins during the 5th Century B.C. that have often been described as the most beautiful coins ever made. It was the Greek sense of aesthetics at work. Cities vied with each other to produce quality coinage that proudly carried imagery representative of the city far beyond its borders…the owl of Athens, the turtle of Aegina, the Pegasus of Corinth. The best instrument of propaganda until the invention of the printing press was probably the coin. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“Sparta , which always seemed to be the exception to the standard Greek way of doing things, lived up to her reputation. As a society, they had concluded that the accumulation of wealth was not a Spartan value. But there was a need to pay debt among themselves, so they went with the iron spit (a slender, pointed iron rod used to hold meat over the fire) as their unit of currency. Prior to the introduction of coinage virtually all of Greece used these 3 ft (1m) lengths of iron as currency but Sparta was the only state to continue that usage while other states were using more precious metals. The cooking spit, which was about 3 ft. (1m) long, did have a long history as a unit of currency dating back to Homer. In fact the drachma coin seems to have derived its name from drax which means “handful” referring to the half-dozen iron spits one could hold in one hand. |

Ancient Greek Coins

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The names of a couple of dozen coins are known and examples exist. Why they survived and were not melted down for their metal content is the result of where ancient Greeks tended to store their wealth- buried in the ground. A number of these hoards have been unearthed in modern times. Some of the more common denominations were as follows:
Obol = the smallest silver coin, equal to one cooking spit
6 obols = made up a drachma
1 stater = equaled two ( or sometimes three) drachmas
100 drachmas = 1 mina
60 minas = 1 talent
12 chalkoi = 1 obol (The chalkoi were made of copper.)
[Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

Alexander the Great gold coin

It is difficult to make a comparison between our currency today and the currency of ancient Greece. According to the historian Donald Kagan (The Peloponnesian War, page 61) one talent was the cost to build one warship of the trireme class. It was also the cost of paying the crew of that warship for a month (approximately 200 bodies). The published accounts of the Parthenon construction project (which were engraved in stone and put out in the agora for everyone to see) said the temple cost 469 talents. (A talent represented 57 lb (26 kg.) of silver. An ordinary clay pot sold for one obol. A labourer working at the time of Pericles could expect to earn 2-3 obols per day while an artisan or specialized tradesman such as a stonemason earned twice that. One could buy an upper-middle-class house for about 3000 drachmas or ½ talent. Then, as now, people in the entertainment business made disproportionately more than anyone else. The famous 4th Century actor Polus is reputed to have received one talent for only two performances. |

“Usually Greeks carried coins in their mouths since their clothing lacked pockets. When someone died they were buried with a couple of coins in their mouth to pay the ferryman Charon their passage across the river Styx to the underworld.

Aristotle on Property

Aristotle wrote in “Politics” Book I; Chapter V: “Property is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household; for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided with necessaries. And as in the arts which have a definite sphere the workers must have their own proper instruments for the accomplishment of their work, so it is in the management of a household. [Source: Aristotle, “The Politics of Aristotle,” translated by Benjamin Jowett,(New York: Colonial Press, 1900), pp. 4-9]

“Now instruments are of various sorts; some are living, others lifeless; in the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a living instrument; for in the arts the servant is a kind of instrument. Thus, too, a possession is an instrument for maintaining life. And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments.

“For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods; if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.”

Law Code of Gortyn (450 B.C.) on Property and Inheritance

Alexander silver Babylon victory coin from 322 BC

The Law Code of Gortyn (450 B.C.) is the most complete surviving Greek Law code. According to the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: “In Greek tradition, Crete was an early home of law. In the 19th Century, a law code from Gortyn on Crete was discovered, dealing fully with family relations and inheritance; less fully with tools, slightly with property outside of the household relations; slightly too, with contracts; but it contains no criminal law or procedure. This (still visible) inscription is the largest document of Greek law in existence (see above for its chance survival), but from other fragments we may infer that this inscription formed but a small fraction of a great code.” [Source:Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]

“V. If a man die, leaving children, if his wife wish, she may marry, taking her own property and whatever her husband may have given her, according to what is written, in the presence of three witnesses of age and free. But if she carry away anything belonging to her children she shall be answerable. And if he leaves her childless, she shall have her own property and whatever she has woven, the half, and of the produce on hand in possession of the heirs, a portion, and whatever her husband has given her as is written. If a wife shall die childless, the husband shall return to her heirs her property, and whatever she has woven the half, and of the produce, if it be from her own property, the half. If a female serf be separated from a male serf while alive or in case of his death, she shall have her own property, but if she carry away anything else she shall be answerable.

“VII. The father shall have power over his children and the division of the property, and the mother over her property. As long as they live, it shall not be necessary to make a division. But if a father die, the houses in the city and whatever there is in the houses in which a serf residing in the country does not live, and the sheep and the larger animals which do not belong to the serf, shall belong to the sons; but all the rest of the property shall be divided fairly, and the sons, howsoever many there be, shall receive two parts each, and the daughters one part each. The mother's property also shall be divided, in case she dies, as is written for the father's. And if there should be no property but a house, the daughters shall receive their share as is written. And if a father while living may wish to give to his married daughter, let him give according to what is written, but not more. . .

“X. As long as a father lives, no one shall purchase any of his property from a son, or take it on mortgage; but whatever the son himself may have acquired or inherited, he may sell if he will; nor shall the father sell or pledge the property of his children, whatever they have themselves acquired or succeeded to, nor the husband that of his wife, nor the son that of the mother. . . If a mother die leaving children, the father shall be trustee of the mother's property, but he shall not sell or mortgage unless the children assent, being of age; and if anyone shall otherwise purchase or take on pledge the property, it shall still belong to the children; and to the purchaser or pledgor the seller or pledgee shall pay two-fold the value in damages. But if he wed another, the children shall have control of the mother's property.

“XIV. The heiress shall marry the brother of the father, the eldest of those living; and if there be more heiresses and brothers of the father, they shall marry the eldest in succession. . . But if he do not wish to marry the heiress, the relatives of the heiress shall charge him and the judge shall order him to marry her within two months; and if he do not marry, she shall marry the next eldest. If she do not wish to marry, the heiress shall have the house and whatever is in the house, but sharing the half of the remainder, she may marry another of her tribe, and the other half shall go to the eldest. . .

“XVI. A son may give to a mother or a husband to a wife 100 staters or less, but not more; if he should give more, the relatives shall have the property. If anyone owing money, or under obligation for damages, or during the progress of a suit, should give away anything, unless the rest of his property be equal to the obligation, the gift shall be null and void. One shall not buy a man while mortgaged until the mortgagor release him. .

Banks in Ancient Greece

Cleopatra coin

According to “During the whole Graeco-Roman period (332 B.C. – 642 A.D.), banks were of three types, either privately run, leased, or owned by government, of which included within this last group were some organizations having dual roles including being additionally treasury departments. [Source:, March 7, 2016]

“In ancient Greece, private entrepreneurs, as well as temples and public bodies, undertook financial transactions. They took deposits, made loans, changed money from one currency to another and tested coins for weight and purity. They even engaged in book transactions. Money lenders can accepted payment in one Greek city and arranged for credit in another, avoiding the need for the customer to transport or transfer large numbers of coins. Ancient Rome adopted the banking practices of Greece.”

Trapezitica is the first source documenting banking. According to one source (Dandamaev et al), trapezites were the first to trade using money, during the 5th century B.C, as opposed to earlier trade which occurred using forms of pre-money. The speeches of Demosthenes contain numerous references to the issuing of credit. Xenophon is credited to have made the first suggestion of the creation of an organisation known in the modern definition as a joint-stock bank in “On Revenues” written circa 353 B.C. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The temple of Artemis at Ephesus was the largest depository of Asia. A pot-hoard dated to 600 B.C. was found there. During the time of the first Mithridatic war the entire debt record at the time being held was annulled by the council. The temple to Apollo in Didyma was constructed sometime in the 6th century B.C.. A large sum of gold was deposited within the treasury at the time by king Croesus. Before its destruction by Persians during the 480 B.C. invasion of Athens, the Athenian Acropolis stored money. Pericles rebuilt a depository afterward within the Parthenon and controversially took money from it pay for the Peloponnesian War. Mark Anthony is recorded to have stolen from the deposits of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus on an occasion. This temple served as a depository for Aristotle, Caesar, Dio Chrysostomus, Plautus, Plutarch, Strabo and Xenophon. +

Resources and Mining in Ancient Greece

mining slave

Greece was resource poor and overpopulated. They needed to colonize the Mediterranean to get resources. The Greeks processed iron from ore mined on Etruscan lands. The Greeks called amber “ elektron” (the root of the word "electricity"), or "substance of the sun," perhaps because of its golden color and the fact that it absorbed sunlight and gave off heat. According to Greek mythology, it was created from tears shed by Apollo's daughters over the death of their dead brother Phaëton.

Cristian Violatti wrote in Listverse: “Mining has always been a highly profitable activity, and ancient Greece was no exception. The profits from mining were as immense as the risks of working in the mines. It’s no wonder that the Athenians employed slaves for a job so dangerous. Large profits were made not only from the actual mining activity, but also by those who could supply slave labor. We know that the politician and general Nicias (fifth century B.C.) supplied as many as 1,000 slaves to work in the mines, making 10 talents a year, an income equivalent to 33 percent on his capital. [Source: Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016]

“The fate of slaves working in the mines was precarious. Many of them worked underground in shackles, deprived from sunlight and fresh air. In 413 B.C. an Athenian army was captured during a disastrous expedition to Sicily, and all 7,000 Athenian prisoners were forced to work in the quarries of Syracuse. Not one of them survived.

Roman historian Diodorus Siculus wrote in the first century B.C. "The men engaged in these mining operations produce unbelievably large revenues for their masters, but as a result of their underground excavations they become physical wrecks...they are not allowed to give up working or have a rest, but are forced by the beatings of their supervisors to stay at their places and throw away their wretched lives...Some of them survive to endure their misery for a long time because of their physical stamina or sheer will power; but because of the extent of their suffering they prefer dying to surviving." [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum]

Tourism in Ancient Greece

Herodotus is sometimes considered the first author of tourist guides.

The ancient Greeks were big souvenir collectors. Silver images of Diana and her temple were sold on the streets of Ephesus like miniature Eiffel towers and Statues of Liberty are sold today. During the festival of Artemis images of Diana were placed on the steps of her temple for worshipers to kiss.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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