Aristotle gives us some information about the importance of trade in the Greek society. He writes in the 4th cenury BC and in his work Athenaion Politeia, he mentions that there were five ways to survive and acquire property: agriculture, stockbreeding, piracy, fishing and hunting. Trade was not included in them, since it was based on transactions and sales and was not considered to be a primary means of obtaining goods (Aristotle, Politics 1256 b40-1257 b25). Of course nothing stops us from presuming that this was Aristotle's personal opinion. Scholars however adopt it considering that it represents the ancients' way of perceiving trade -not only necessarily during the period in which Aristotle writes- but also since earlier times, since the first stages of trade transactions.

However, in contrast to the categorical position of Aristotle regarding the underestimated role of trade, it is known from archaeological finds that since the 8th century BC the Greeks had started to engage in maritime trade in several regions (Herodotus, Historia 2.43.15-16, Simonides of Ceos, extract 16 in West, 1993). The simultaneous development of shipbuilding allowed them to get involved to such a degree, that they could be considered sea merchants, even though such characterizations should be used with caution. Among them, those who transacted on behalf of aristocrats were many more than those who traded as individuals (B. Bravo, Dialogues d' Histoire Ancienne 1(1974):123).

Instances of aristocrats who through representatives bore an indirect relation to trade were few. Initially, members of the aristocratic class did not participate in transactions, nor in manual occupations, because these were considered activities that did not honour those who engaged in them (Herodotus, Historia 2.167). In one extract, Heraclides Ponticus mentions the laws that were in force in Thespiae, Thebes and Boeotia, from which results that aristocrats were excluded from having any contact with the above occupations (Heraclides Ponticus, FHG extract 43). As a result, the aristocracy had time to engage in government, judicial and military affairs. They could travel for commercial reasons, in order to obtain goods for personal use or consumption, without risking their social status. But buying and selling products with the sole purpose of profit was not allowed to an aristocrat.

However, due to the high cost of sea journeys, at least in the beginning, only aristocrats could undertake them. So it is possible that since the beginning of the Archaic period and until the end of the 7th century BC, some of the aristocrats transported and traded goods with their ships and men. Herodotus refers to Colaios of Samos, who travelled in Spain around 638 BC with his companions and brought back large gains to the island. It seems that he was an aristocrat and he is the first merchant that we learn about from the sources (Herodotus, Historia 4.152).
Hesiod on the other hand writes about several cases of citizens who cultivated their own land and then loaded their products in small boats, in order to transport them and sell them elsewhere. Usually, they must have resorted to this solution, if there was no other available market in their region (Hesiod, Works and Days 618-694).

Since the 7th century BC and forth, trade, and mainly maritime trade, is based on a developed net of colonies, trade stations and foreign but friendly harbours. Until 475 BC approximately, independent merchants who were trading via sea had inreased in relation to their land colleagues, thus defining the nature of trade during the Classical period.

During this period trade is also related to piracy, which is associated with an important source of income, the slave trade. Most islands' inhabitants, such as Aegina, Crete and Samos, occupied themselves in it since very early times.
In the Archaic period, Aegina presented something new for the Greek mainland, the coinage.

In the Hellenic world, trade transactions -imports and exports- constituted a male activity. If we take into account the problem that there is virtually complete lack of sources on the subject, it is worthwhile mentioning two, which give some information about woman's presence in the trade activity of the Greeks. Athenaeus says that Solon prohibited men from participating in perfume trade and Pherecrates, when referring to it, speaks of it as being a woman's monopoly. Nevertheless, in this case too it is very likely that women did not have the chief role.

Men negociated the buying and selling of products, while women belonging to economically weak classes were employed in their promotion. There was a law by Solon saying that, if someone talked rudely to a man or woman who worked in the market, he could be sued for slander. That could be considered as indicative of a certain negative predisposition from a part of well-off citizens, which was expressed through insults and taunts towards poorer fellow-citizens who traded in the market.

| introduction | agriculture | trade | state organization | Archaic Period

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