The Economics and Law of Ancient Greece

The Economics and Law of Ancient Greece

(864 words)



Many items found in Athens Greece dating back to ancient times have led excavators today to believe that Greece had a very sophisticated law and economic method regarding the supply and demand of grain. There has been sufficient evidence showing the first account of the earliest antitrust trial regarding the grain economics of Athens approximately around 388 B.C. according to Wayne R. Dunham as he has constructed a peer-reviewed article detailing his interpretations of how laws imposed by Athens on grain importers created serious negative consequences for the inhabitants. This article goes in depth on the detail of society that ancient Greece used to dictate the complex economy of grain as Athens relied heavily on the importation of grain, but decided to create unbalanced laws that ultimately did exactly opposite of its intentions.

The author claims that an unintentional spike in the price of imported grain was caused by the collision of law and economic motives. Just as the America is dependent on its petroleum from other countries, the author argues that Athens had a similar dependence on the importation of grain, so when Athens chose to create laws to lower the charged rate on imported grain to help support low prices. Although it may seem logical, the reduction in wholesale prices actually resulted in a decrease in the ambition of farmers in other regions to import grain to Athens, and retail grain prices increased substantially. Due to the collusion of grain importers to create an out-of-market price they soon found themselves on trial for their lives in what is probably the earliest recorded antitrust trial in ancient Greece history[1].  The author argues that most antitrust trials are related to monopsony power, the illegal collusion of businesses, so it would follow that logic to best explain the disruption in the grain markets that is clearly documented in ancient Greece history, but is not thoroughly detailed with the exact causes.

The author is able to make many claims from the evidence found from other authors, especially when the evidence supporting such claims have sufficient logic. Dunham does a great job of using evidence to show support for his arguments. His first explanation based upon an article written in 1988 regarding the  land layout of Athens that shows it would be unable to support less than half a million people, therefore creating an dependence upon outside sources of grain for the proper support of a more industrialized society[2]. Another article written by a peer author in 2004 estimates that the die price of grain inflated substantially while the average wage or income stay relatively the same[3]. Dunham draws upon these earlier authors’ writings to conclude his points and effectively does so by using accurate evidence, and also helps provide advancement in his field of study through helping draw new conclusions showing the complex structure of ancient Greece society.

The author draws upon the findings and insinuations of other authors in his field to rationalize all his possible motives for reaching a reasonable explanation for the disruption in the grain markets. The depiction of a highly complicated grain market structure is shown through the author’s reference of older authors finding articles covering the poor quality of agricultural land surrounding Athens, and the possibility of war or vicious weather that lead to a dependence upon the importation of grain[4].  With such a large trade of grain in Athens it  is not too surprising that there would be laws regulating trade, but once importers became unsatisfied with the compensation received for their trade, their ambition to sell more grain at a lower-than-average market price decreases by an amount that become detrimental to the society of Athens. Many other authors have found evidence supporting the conclusion made that grain merchants colluded to help keep their profits and businesses alive, but in doing so violated trade regulation that put them on trial for the cause of large market decrease in grain importation. Dunham relies on factual evidence combined with his knowledge of modern day methods to clarifying the causes of such incidents involving the politics of managing the economics of ancient Greece’s grain market.

This article does a very good job examining all aspects that might have played a role in the collapse of the grain market in 4th and 5th century B.C. and explains all its’ accusations by relying on factual data and modern methods for dealing with similar situations. It would be a very valuable to researchers in related fields of study because it shows a new correlation and explanation for the cause and effect of events in ancient times. These correlations and new illustrations add more in depth evaluations to better understand the motives and events of early civilizations which in turn helps all of society better understand history. Researchers would most definitely benefit from reading this article as it would help them analyze their personal findings along with discoveries of others to create new trains of thought leading to a better excavation of ancient Greek history.


Annotated Bibliography:

Wayne R. Dunham, Cold Case Files: The Athenian Grain Merchants, 386 B.C., The Cato Journal, Fall 2008. Web.


[1] Dunham pp.495

[2] Dunham pp.499

[3] Dunham pp.400

[4] Dunham pp.499

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