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Economy & Trade in Ancient Greece

Economy & Trade in Ancient Greece



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Economy & Trade in Ancient Greece

We provide quality resources for teachers and homeschoolers on Ancient and Medieval History, our domain of expertise. Here you will always find lesson plans for your students, together with plenty of engaging activities and supporting material. Make sure to check out our collections where we gather, on a specific theme, articles (over 50 are audio), definitions, images (sometimes 3D), videos, maps from our website to help with class preparation and to make connections. Make history relevant!

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  • Greeks and the Sea
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  • Greek Pottery and the Amphora
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Business in Ancient Greece

Trading what you have for what you don’t have is the basis for the idea of import and export. Civilizations throughout time have used this trade of goods to survive and thrive. As early as Homer and Hesiod, we can see written evidence of the existence of trade and merchants to buy and sell goods. This simple form of exchange is at the heart of business all over the world.

Ancient Greece relied heavily on imported goods. Their economy was defined by that dependence. Agricultural trade was of great importance because the soil in Greece was of poor quality which limited crop production. However, some food items could be produced in the Mediterranean climate such as olives, olive oil, figs, honey, meat, cheeses, and wine. These items were traded domestically among the various city-states in Ancient Greece. These could also be exchanged for other necessary items from other countries. In addition to food, Greek pottery was also valued. Ancient Greece’s position in the Mediterranean allowed them to control some crucial trade routes and seaports. Some popular imports at the time were salt fish, wheat, papyrus, wood, glass, and metals such as tin, copper and silver.

In addition to trade with products, the Greek’s also used currency. The drachma was a silver coin used by the ancient Greeks. The drachma dates back to the mid-6th century BC and is one of the world’s earliest coins. One drachma was valued to be equal to a handful of arrows. By the 5th century BC, the Athenian drachma became the preferred version of the coin and the monetary unit used throughout the Hellenistic world. Eventually, the drachma evolved into other types of coins and currency types.

The government was not heavily involved in the trade business of ancient Greece except when it came to grain. Grain was vital to the survival of the Greek people and was controlled by purchasers known as sitones. Officials ensured the quality of the grain that went to the markets to be sold and prices were regulated.

Taxes were a part of the ancient Greek business system. They were imposed on the movement of goods through road and transit taxes. Levies were placed on imports and exports at the seaports. Special courts were established and private banks were able to perform currency exchanges and protect deposits.

Taxes in Ancient Greece were progressive. This means the taxes were imposed on the wealthy who were the most able to pay them. They thought of taxation as a matter of ethics. They believed that a society’s liberty or oppression was expressed through their system of taxation. Income was not taxed. Taxes were, for the most part, voluntary. They were considered “liturgy” which in ancient Greek literally translated to “the work of the people.”

This idea had its roots in mythology. Prometheus created humanity and was its greatest benefactor. The Goddess Athena gave the olive tree to be a symbol of prosperity and peace. The idea was that the rich should absorb the expenses of the city such as improvements to infrastructure or for military spending. Those that gave the funds for a project received honor and prestige. Sometimes, they competed to be the most honorable, resulting in many new buildings constructed while the wealthy sought these accolades.

The liturgy with the highest prestige was donating funds for the navy. The seaports were a crucial part of the business of ancient Greece and they had to be protected. The benefactor to the navy was known as a trierarch. They were responsible for building and maintaining warships. These warships kept the ports and waterways safe from pirates. In some cases, the trierarch was also responsible for the operation of the warship. He could, however, hire a specialist do that type of work.

Another thing funded by the wealthy were festivals and events. The Panathenaic Games were a theatrical festival paid for by these funds. The benefactor had to select a team and fund its training to prepare to participate in athletic, dramatic, or musical contests during festivals held primarily in Athens. The trophies won would often be shared with the contestants and some of them survive today to be viewed and enjoyed by modern people.


Economic Success in Ancient Greece

Learn how ancient Greeks viewed the success of the individual as the success of the community.

Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, World History

Ancient Greeks may have been the original &ldquorugged individualists.&rdquo They believed in &ldquogood strife,&rdquo which encouraged competition and championed traits such as hard work, education, and innovation.

Ancient Greeks thought that the success of an individual, assuming a level playing field, also meant success for the community. Today, this idea can be seen in the work of philanthropists who share their wealth with others.

loosely united civilization founded on and around the Peloponnese peninsula, lasting from about the 8th century BCE to about 200 BCE.

economic system where the free exchange of goods and services is controlled by individuals and groups, not the state.

system of organization or government where the people decide policies or elect representatives to do so.

system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

person who donates money, goods, or services to those in need.

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Writer

Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society

Editor

Caryl-Sue Micalizio, National Geographic Society

Producer

Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society

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Ancient Greece

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Related Resources

Economy

The economy is the system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. There are different types of economies: command, traditional, market, and mixed. Each varies in their ideals and systems of controls. Economies are not borne in a vacuum. These controls, or regulations, are established by norms or laws put into place by those in power--usually a government--and they apply to individuals, industries, and governments alike. Select from these resources to teach your students about economies.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek politics, philosophy, art and scientific achievements greatly influenced Western civilizations today. One example of their legacy is the Olympic Games. Use the videos, media, reference materials, and other resources in this collection to teach about ancient Greece, its role in modern-day democracy, and civic engagement.

Economy

The ancient Greeks were the original economists. They believed in good strife, which encouraged competition to be the best craftsman and developed the cult of the individual.

Life in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece was a hub of trade, philosophy, athletics, politics, and architecture. Understanding how the Ancient Greeks lived can give us unique insights into how Greek ideas continue to influence out own lives today.

Social Networking in Ancient Greece

Learn about how the ancient Greeks viewed the sharing of ideas as an important part of learning.


The Ancient Greek Economy

This book has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Online publication date: November 2015
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online ISBN: 9781139565530
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139565530
  • Subjects: Ancient History, Classical Studies, Classical Studies (General)

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

Book description

The Ancient Greek Economy: Markets, Households and City-States brings together sixteen essays by leading scholars of the ancient Greek economy specialising in history, economics, archaeology and numismatics. Marshalling a wide array of evidence, these essays investigate and analyse the role of market-exchange in the economy of the ancient Greek world, demonstrating the central importance of markets for production and exchange of goods and services during the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Contributors draw on evidence from literary texts and inscriptions, household archaeology, amphora studies and numismatics. Together, the essays provide an original and compelling approach to the issue of explaining economic growth in the ancient Greek world.

Reviews

'All in all the arguments are very persuasive - more so possibly than the authors are prepared to admit. At a recent reception I was firmly told that the Greeks had no concept of economic theory because Aristotle would have said so if they had. I wish that that I had read this exciting compilation before that discussion.'


What Was It Like to Live in Ancient Greece?

The government in Athens was very democratic, and some city-states offered the right to vote. They did have an assembly, where men in power would discuss issues regarding the life and management of the city.

Greek homes were situated around or near a garden or open space. The rich decorated their homes, while the poor did not. They took baths in public bathing areas.

Greeks at fruit, bread, cheese, and wines. Depending on their wealth or occupation, they ate vegetables, eggs, nuts, figs, or cakes — the wealthy and noble at meat like boar and rabbit. They were the only citizens that could afford to eat meat.

Children went to school and learned art, letters, science, and politics. Many boys went to a military school after they completed their primary schooling. To complete education took around 20 years for boys.

Girls were less likely to go to school. Instead, they were taught by their mothers based on their social standing and education. Girls were taught to run the household, and they only learned writing and reading if the mother knew it.

Greek Religion

The Greeks were polytheistic, meaning they had many gods. They believed that the gods directly intervened or interfered in their lives. Religion was an integral part of Greek life, and Greek citizens found it was their moral and civic duty to worship their gods and goddesses.

As part of worship, they sacrificed animals and offered other gifts of food and wine to the gods. Women would dance for the gods in different festivals.

Each god had a distinct character, appearance, name, and realm. Their gods could change into animals and plants, or they could make themselves look like other humans. Some of the gods were adopted and changed during the expansion of the Roman Empire.

Zeus was the king of the gods. He was the god of the sky and thunder. He was married to Hera, who was the god of women and family. Other gods included Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, and Dionysus.

Here are some of the Greek gods:

  • Poseidon: God of the sea
  • Hades: God of the underworld
  • Ares: God of war and battle
  • Athena: Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Justice
  • Hephaestus: God of craft, skill, and craftsmanship
  • Apollo: God of light, music, and flocks
  • Aphrodite: Goddess of love and beauty
  • Hermes: God of travel and messenger to the gods

Economic organization in the earliest civilizations of the fertile crescent was driven by the need to efficiently grow crops in river basins. The Euphrates and Nile valleys were homes to earliest examples of codified measurements written in base 60 and Egyptian fractions.

Egyptian keepers of royal granaries, and absentee Egyptian landowners reported in the Heqanakht papyri. Historians of this period note that the major tool of accounting for agrarian societies, the scales used to measure grain inventory, reflected dual religious and ethical symbolic meanings. [5]

The Erlenmeyer tablets give a picture of Sumerian production in the Euphrates Valley around 2200-2100 BC, and show an understanding of the relationship between grain and labor inputs (valued in "female labor days") and outputs and an emphasis on efficiency. Egyptians measured work output in man-days. The development of sophisticated economic administration continued in the Euphrates and Nile valleys during the Babylonian Empire and Egyptian Empires when trading units spread through the Near East within monetary systems. Egyptian fraction and base 60 monetary units were extended in use and diversity to Greek, early Islamic culture, and medieval cultures. By 1202, Fibonacci's use of zero and Vedic-Islamic numerals, motivated Europeans to apply zero as an exponent, birthing modern decimals 350 years later.

The city-states of Sumer developed a trade and market economy based originally on the commodity money of the Shekel which was a certain weight measure of barley, while the Babylonians and their city-state neighbors later developed the earliest system of economics using a metric of various commodities, that was fixed in a legal code. [6] The early law codes from Sumer could be considered the first (written) economic formula, and had many attributes still in use in the current price system today: codified amounts of money for business deals (interest rates), fines in money for 'wrongdoing', inheritance rules, laws concerning how private property is to be taxed or divided, etc. [7] For a summary of the laws, see Babylonian law.

Earlier collections of (written) laws, just prior to Hammurabi, that could also be considered rules and regulations as to economic law for their cities include the codex of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (c. 2050 BC), the laws of Eshnunna (c. 1930 BC) [8] and the codex of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (c. 1870 BC).

Some scholars assert economic thought similar to the modern understanding occurred during the 18th century or the Enlightenment, as early economic thought was based on metaphysical principles which are incommensurate with contemporary dominant economic theories such as neo-classical economics. [1] [9]

Several ancient Greek and Roman thinkers made various economic observations, especially Aristotle and Xenophon. Many other Greek writings show understanding of sophisticated economic concepts. For instance, a form of Gresham’s Law is presented in Aristophanes’ Frogs, and beyond Plato's application of sophisticated mathematical advances influenced by the Pythagoreans is his appreciation of fiat money in his Laws (742a–b) and in the pseudo-Platonic dialogue, Eryxias. [10] Bryson of Heraclea was a neo-platonic who is cited as having heavily influenced early Muslim economic scholarship. [11]

Within the pre-Classical and Classical culture, horses and cattle were considered to be a measure of wealth. [12]

Hesiod Edit

. Through work men grow rich in flocks and substance .

In the opinion of the Austrian School of economics the first economist is thought to be Hesiod, by the fact of his having written on the fundamental subject of the scarcity of resources, in Works and Days. [14] [15] [16] His contribution to economic thought is at least in his relevancy to the practice of economical activity in the depositing and lending of grain, as his writings are ". the chief resource for details as to Grecian agriculture . " and that according to Loudon (1825) he provided " . directions for the whole business of family economy in the country". [17]

Xenophon Edit

The influence of Babylonian and Persian thought on Greek administrative economics is present in the work of Greek historian Xenophon. Discussion of economic principles are especially present in his Oeconomicus, Cyropaedia, Hiero, and Ways and Means. [18] Hiero is a minor work which includes discussion of leaders stimulating private production and technology through various means including public recognition and prizes. Ways and Means is a short treatise on economic development, and showed an understanding of the importance of taking advantage of economies of scale and advocated laws promoting foreign merchants. The Oeconomicus discusses the administration of agricultural land. In the work, subjective personal value of goods is analyzed and compared with exchange value. Xenophon uses the example of a horse, which may be of no use to a person who does not know how to handle it, but still has exchange value. [19]

Although this broadens the idea of value based in individual use to a more general social concept of value that comes through exchange, scholars note that this is not a market theory of value. [20] In Cyropaedia Xenophon presents what in hindsight can be seen as the foundation for a theory of fair exchange in the market. In one anecdote, the young Cyrus is to judge the fairness of an exchange made between a tall and a short boy. The tall boy forces the pair to exchange tunics, because the tall boy's tunic is too short, shorter than the short boys, which is too tall for him. Cyrus rules the exchange fair because it results in a better fit for both boys. Cyrus' mentors were not pleased with Cyrus' basing his decision on the values involved, as a just exchange must be voluntary. [21]

Later in the biography, Xenophon discusses the concept of division of labor, referencing specialized cooks and workers in a shoemaking shop. [22] Scholars have noted that Adam Smith's early notes about this concept "read like a paraphrase of Xenophon's discussion of the role of the carpenter as a "jack of all trades" in small cities and as a specialist in large cities. [23] Marx attributes to Cyropaedia the idea that the division of labor correlates to the size of a market. [24] Xenophon also presents an example of mutual advantage from exchange in a story about Cyrus coordinating an exchange of surplus farmland from Armenians, who were herders, and surplus grazing land from Chaldeans, who were farmers. [25]

Plato Edit

Of Plato's works those considered the most important to study of economics are Nomoi, Politeia and Politikos (Backhaus). [26] In his work Laws Plato writes on the three things as important to a person of these mind he stated as the most important, then body and lastly estate (Χρήματα). In Phaedo, Plato makes the first distinction between things which are thought necessary and those thought a luxury (Bonar). [1] [27] [28] [29] [30]

Plato promoted the exercise of temperance in respect to the pursuit of material wealth such that by strengthening moderation a person there-by preserves the order of their psyche. In The Republic he gives an account of the manner by which a state is to be formed with the skills (techne) of individuals supporting economic sustainability. [31] [32] With respect to the identification of skill Plato's writing in the Republic also deals with the specialization of skills as the concept of division of labour (Wagner 2007). [33] [34]

Aristotle Edit

Aristotle's Politics (ca. 350 BCE) was mainly concerned to analyze different forms of a state (monarchy, aristocracy, constitutional government, tyranny, oligarchy, democracy) as a critique of Plato's advocacy of a ruling class of philosopher-kings. In particular for economists, Plato had drawn a blueprint of society on the basis of common ownership of resources. Aristotle viewed this model as an oligarchical anathema. In Politics, Book II, Part V, he argued that:

"Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business. And further, there is the greatest pleasure in doing a kindness or service to friends or guests or companions, which can only be rendered when a man has private property. These advantages are lost by excessive unification of the state." [35]

Allocation of scarce resources was a moral issue to Aristotle. He also wrote in Politics (book I), that consumption was the objective of production, and the surplus should be allocated to the rearing of children, and personal satiation ought to be the natural limit of consumption. (To Aristotle, the question was a moral one: in his era child mortality was high.) In transactions, Aristotle used the labels of "natural" and "unnatural". Natural transactions were related to the satisfaction of needs and yielded wealth that was limited in quantity by the purpose it served. [36] Un-natural transactions aimed at monetary gain and the wealth they yielded was potentially without limits. He explained the un-natural wealth had no limits because it became an end in itself rather than a means to another end—satisfaction of needs. This distinction is the basis for Aristotle's moral rejection of usury. [36]

Later, in book VII Chapter 1 of Politics, Aristotle asserts

external goods have a limit, like any other instrument, and all things useful are of such a nature that where there is too much of them they must either do harm, or at any rate be of no use, to their possessors

and some interpret this as capturing a concept of diminishing marginal utility, though there has been marked disagreement about the development and role of marginal utility considerations in Aristotle's value theory. [37] [38] [39] [40] [41] Certainly this book formulates an ordinal hierarchy of values, which later appeared in Maslow's contribution to motivation theory.

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, particularly book V.v, has been called the most economically provocative analytic writing in ancient Greece. [42] Therein, Aristotle discusses justice in distribution and exchange. Still considering isolated exchanges rather than markets, Aristotle sought to discuss just exchange prices between individuals with different subjective values for their goods. Aristotle suggested three different proportions to analyze distributive, corrective, and reciprocal or exchange transactions: the arithmetic, the geometric, and the harmonic. The harmonic proportion implies a strong commitment to the subjective values of the traders. [42]

Sixth century AD philosopher Boethius used the example of 16 as the harmonic mean of 10 and 40. 16 is the same percentage larger than 10 as it is smaller than 40 (60 percent of 10 is 6, while 60 percent of 40 is 24). Thus if two bargainers have subjective prices for a good of 10 and 40, Aristotle points out that in exchange, it is most fair to price the good at 16, due to the equality proportional differences from their price to the new price. Another nuance in this analysis of exchange is that Aristotle also saw a zone of consumer surplus or mutual advantage to both consumers that had to be divided. [42]

Roman law Edit

Early Greek and Judaic law follow a voluntaristic principle of just exchange a party was only held to an agreement after the point of sale. Roman law developed the contract recognizing that planning and commitments over time are necessary for efficient production and trade. The large body of law was unified as the Corpus Juris Civilis in the 530s by Justinian who was Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 526-565.


Olive Oil In Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire occupied Greece, and along with it, they conquered the secrets of the cultivation of olives. Greece was no longer the major exporter of olive oil.

But the importance of olive oil as a commercial commodity increased after the Roman conquest of Egypt, Greece, and parts of Asia, as it led to more trade.

During the Roman Republic and Empire’s evolution, olive trees were planted throughout the entire Mediterranean basin.

According to the historian Pliny, the Elder, Italy had “excellent olive oil at reasonable prices” by the 1st century AD and “the best in the Mediterranean.”

As the olive production expanded in the 5th century AD, the Romans began to employ more sophisticated production techniques like the olive press and tapetum.

From then, olive oil has also made its way into religions, such as Christianity and Judaism.


Manufacturing

The manufacturing sector in Greece is weak. An established tradition exists only for the production of textiles, processed foods, and cement. One of the world’s largest cement factories is located in Vólos. In the past, private investment was oriented much more toward real estate than toward industry, and concrete apartment blocks proliferated throughout the country. In the 1960s and ’70s Greek shipowners took advantage of an investment regime that benefited from foreign capital by investing in such sectors as oil refining and shipbuilding. Shipping continues to be a key industrial sector—the merchant fleet being one of the largest in the world—though many of Greece’s ships are older than those of other leading countries. In the 1970s many ships that had hitherto registered under flags of convenience returned to the Greek flag only a small proportion remains under foreign registry. Greek ships, which are predominantly bulk carriers, are extremely vulnerable to downturns in international economic activity, as they are principally engaged in carrying cargoes between developing countries. In the early 21st century about one-fifth of the labour force was employed in manufacturing and construction.


Farming in Ancient Greece Facts For Kids

In Ancient Greece, the economy was not as agriculture-based as in many other ancient civilizations. That’s because Greece has many mountains and the soil is not very good for growing crops.

Still, there were plenty of farmers in Ancient Greece. They raised sheep and goats and grew barley, grapes, and olives.

Let’s explore some interesting facts about farmers in Ancient Greece.

Land in Ancient Greece

It’s estimated that only about 20 percent of land in Ancient Greece was ideal for growing crops. But the land that could grow crops was very fertile.

The best areas for farming included the Peloponnese and islands like Ikaria and Crete.

Some places, like Argos, were very bad for growing crops. People believed that the gods Hera and Poseidon had argued over who was the patron god of Argos.

When Hera won the argument, Poseidon dried out her land for revenge.

Weather in Ancient Greece

The weather in Ancient Greece wasn’t very helpful for crops either. They had very hot, dry summers and mild winters with lots of rain and sometimes violent rain storms.

Rainfall in Ancient Greece was unpredictable and often led to crop failure. Wheat crops failed about once every four years and barley crops once every ten years because they didn’t get enough rain.

In the mountains of Ancient Greece, winters could be extremely cold and snowy.

What were Ancient Greek farms like?

Most farms in Ancient Greece were small to medium with four or five acres of land. Farmers grew crops mostly to feed their families. If there were leftover crops, they sold them in the marketplace, called the agora.

However, there were some larger farms. These were usually run by overseers. Records show that at least one farm earned 30,000 drachmas a year. (Average workers earned about two drachmas a day.)

Sons usually inherited equal shares of their father’s land. This is another reason that many small farms existed throughout Ancient Greece.

Poor men who couldn’t afford land might find work on someone else’s farm. Others would rent land from wealthy men to farm for themselves and their families.

What did the Ancient Greeks grow on their farms?

The most common crops in Ancient Greece were wheat, barley, olives, and grapes. Wheat and barley were used for bread and porridge.

Grapes were used to make wine and sometimes raisins, and olives were used to make olive oil. The Ancient Greeks were famous for their olive oil and their wine.

Barley and wheat were planted in October and harvested in April or May. Olives were harvested sometime between November and February, while grapes were picked in September.

During the busiest harvest seasons, there were no religious festivals or government meetings to distract the farmers from harvesting their crops.

The Ancient Greeks grew other crops, too, like apples, figs, pears, pomegranates, cucumbers, lettuce, garlic, and onions.

Did animals live on Ancient Greek farms?

Although the Ancient Greeks didn’t usually have large herds of livestock, farmers might have had up to 50 animals in a herd.

These animals might include sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and cows. They were used for meat, milk to make cheese, and fertilizer for crops. Sheep were valuable for their wool, which was used to make clothing.

Some people kept horses, mules, and donkeys for transportation.

How did the Ancient Greeks take care of their crops?

The Ancient Greeks used farming strategies like crop rotation, and fields were left fallow (without crops) to allow the soil to recover and build up moisture.

They sometimes dug trenches around trees to catch rainwater for the crops.

The Ancient Greeks used mostly basic tools for farming. Digging, weeding, and ploughing was done by hand using wooden or iron ploughs, hoes, and mattocks (like a pickaxe).

Wealthy farmers used oxen to help plow their fields.

Hooks called sickles were used to harvest crops. To separate grains from plants, the Ancient Greeks often put plants on a stone floor and then had livestock trample on them.

The Ancient Greeks stomped on grapes to crush them, and they used stone presses to crush olives.

What did Ancient Greek farmers do with their crops?

Some farmers just used their crops to feed their families. With the leftovers, they would trade for everyday necessities and food items they didn’t produce themselves, like fish, shellfish, cheese, or honey.

Wealthier farmers produced lots of crops and would sell or trade them at the marketplace. At market, Ancient Greeks sold and traded cereals, wine, olives, figs, beans, cheese, honey, and meat. Meat was very expensive.

Greek merchant ships also took goods like wine, olives, and olive oil to faraway places.

Other Interesting Facts About Ancient Greek Farmers

Many Ancient Greeks were beekeepers. Bees helped fertilize the crops and produced honey. The Ancient Greeks hadn’t discovered raw sugar, so they used honey as a sweetener. It was also used in some medicine.

The Ancient Greeks only drank wine if it was watered down. Drinking wine without water in it was considered barbaric.

Demeter was the Greek goddess of the harvest and grain. She was very important to farmers. The people held ceremonies and rites that were supposed to please Demeter and ensure a good harvest.

Some Ancient Greeks wouldn’t eat beans because of a superstition that beans held the souls of dead people.

Even though some land couldn’t produce crops in Ancient Greece, almost 80% of people had some involvement with farming.


Watch the video: Economy Of The Ancient Greece (August 2022).