There were two characteristic features of the Athenian economy
in the fifth and fourth centuries: 1) the traditional way of
dealing with landed estates
and farming was preserved, these being the most reliable sources
of income; and 2) there was a spirit of adventure, as expressed
via progress in trade and the
development of a banking
Tilling the land, trading voyages, and the slave trade,
together with tribute from the allies: all these
significantly strengthened both private property and the
coffers of the polis.
The Athenian hegemony's
expansionism and consolidation brought the city enormous
wealth; and enabled her - even when defeated in the
Peloponnesian War - to adopt a policy of social welfare.
She thus introduced institutions such as the Theoric fund and public pay - an
opportunity for the citizens to augment their income.
Athenians' relations with their state were marked by
a tendency to mutual exploitation. Athens increased her
revenues by a sophisticated tax system, and also by
(sponsorship) to citizens of means. The latter in turn
undertook their obligations gladly, as a rule, though
occasionally they would try and dodge them by concealing
The Athenian population can be divided, on the basis of economic
obligations, as follows:
||The 'liturgic' class. This consisted of
300 or so persons (fewer no doubt in the opening decades
of the fourth century). The sources describe them as wealthy.
The members of this class took the economic strain of the
'liturgies', and the estate of each was (in the fourth
century at least) of the order of three to four talents.
||The propertied class. This was made up of
1,200 men whose estate came to not more than one talent.
||Payers of eisphora (property-tax).
At the end of the fourth century these were, it has been
calculated, not more than 6000 or so citizens. The estate
of each was valued at not less than 2,500 drachmae.
||The hoplite class. This was composed of
the citizen infantry, who numbered about nine thousand by
the end of the fourth century and whose estate was in
excess of 2,000 drachmae.
||The thetes class. At the end of
the fourth century about 11,000 men, with an estate of
less than 2,000 drachmae.
||Finally, those whom our sources describe
as poor, meaning penniless.
Below is a short description of some aspects of
Athenian economic life, based partly on the works of Thucydides,
Xenophon and Aristotle, but mainly on surviving speeches and
|Subdivisions of the Athenian coinage:
||6 obols = 1 drachma
||100 drachmae = 1 mna
||60 mnae = 1 talent = 6.000 drachmae