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D’Homère à Plutarque. Itinéraires historiques

Claude Mossé

Première partie. Économie et société

II - The “World of the Emporium” in the private speeches of Demosthenes1

Texte intégral

  • 1 Trade in the Ancient Economy, P. Garnsey – K. Hopkins – C.R. Whittaker éd., Londres 1983, 53-63.
  • 1 Erxleben 1974, 460-520; Gluskina 1974, 111-138; Pecirka 1976, 5-30.

1In an article published in 1938 in the Revue des Études grecques, Louis Gernet remarked that the institution of the dikai emporikai, commercial actions, towards the middle of the fourth century, signified the entry of commercial law into the law of the city (186), and the existence of a clearly defined “world of the emporium” (185, n. 5). The guarantee of protection that was afforded to merchants by the possibility of bringing rapid commercial actions had as its essential goal the assurance of the city’s supplies and of the advantages that it derived from having an active port, – advantages that Xenophon had already stressed in the Poroi. That is not to suggest that there existed in Athens “a merchant class which played an active role in the affairs of the state or even which exerted any influence over legislation” but it nevertheless revealed the existence of a “professional circle”, a specific world of the emporium. On this point Gernet was in essential agreement with the views expressed by Hasebroek (1933, 43), views according to which commerce in Athens was never an affair of the state since the majority of merchants were poor and foreigners to the city; the only part rich citizens took in commercial activities was in putting up maritime loans. Although these views found only a little support initially (Will 1954, Finley 1962), they are now generally accepted. But since then the problem has, characteristically enough, been given a new slant; it has even been suggested that the marginality of the world of commerce was a factor in the interpretation of the “crisis” of the democratic city of the fourth century. I have myself suggested (Mossé 1972) the possibility of such an analysis, taking care however not to draw any conclusions of a too specific nature regarding the consequences of this marginality. Since then three articles, all produced by scholars from Eastern Europe and all influenced by Marxism, have returned to the question. With nuances that vary from one author to another, they all reaffirm the conviction that the antagonism that existed between foreigners or metics and citizens, the former being the promoters of commercial activity, the latter the beneficiaries of that activity in which they only played an indirect part, was in the last analysis the determining factor in the “crisis” of Athenian democracy1. So I thought it might be interesting to return to the question, working with a limited corpus of writing, that of Demosthenes’speeches, in order to form a clearer and more specific idea of the nature of this commercial milieu, the degree of its professionalism and the closeness of its relations with the city.

2What picture do Demosthenes’ speeches present of the world of the emporium and what place do citizens hold there? From what we can learn of the social and legal status of those active in this world, it would seem possible to make a distinction between those Athenians involved in commercial affairs who do no more than provide bottomry loans, while in every other respect leading the lives of “free men” and those for whom commerce is a profession, whether in the sense that they belong to more or less permanent commercial partnerships or whether they themselves actually go to sea. In the first category we may include Demosthenes’ own father who left a fortune that included 70 minae of nautika (27.11), Nausimachus and Xenopithes, whose fortunes included credits, one of them, at least, in the Bosphorus (38.11) and probably also the Stephanus of Dem. 45. However, the second category is much more interesting. Thus, Damon, the litigant in Against Zenothemis (Dem. 32), not only lends money to a certain Protus to go and collect a cargo of wheat from Sicily but also appears to be directly involved in the complicated deal which is the subject of the speech. The principal characters who appear in this speech meet frequently in the Piraeus. Furthermore, Damon has a number of associates (§ 21) and Protus is not simply a merchant with whom he has chance dealings. The ties that exist between him and the group formed by Damon and his associates (§§ 8 and 12) appear to be of a much closer nature. Unlike the first group we have mentioned, these men, who repeatedly stress the fact that they are Athenians (§ 23), engaged in maritime loans on a professional basis and if the full extent of their fortunes were known it seems likely that an essential part would be found to be made up of credits. That probability is even higher in the case of the litigant in the Against Apaturius ([Dem.] 33) if, as Gernet believed, he was an Athenian. For many years he had been “engaged in maritime business”. In later years and, no doubt, with a certain fortune amassed, he gave up actually going to sea but continued notwithstanding to live off maritime trading by means of nautika. He was without doubt a habitual frequenter of the trading port since, when two Byzantines arrived in the Piraeus, they came to seek him out “in the market” (33.6). Another merchant citizen appears in the speech Against Pantaenetus (Dem. 37). The case concerns a loan, but not a maritime one, made by a certain Nicobulus to this Pantaenetus who was running a workshop in the mining district. Nicobulus appears to be a trader who sailed to the Black Sea (cf. § 6: the typical use of ekpleon; cf. also § 56) whose affairs do not seem to be particularly flourishing. We may further cite the Micon who appears in the Against Theocrines ([Dem.] 58), who is described as a naukleros (§ 12), that is, a man who spends most of his time at sea (§ 15).

  • 2 Davies 1971, 418.

3It would certainly be interesting to know who these men were and what position they held in contemporary Athenian society. We know that Demosthenes’ father possessed a considerable fortune. According to his son’s testimony, he ranked among the richest of the Athenians. Nausimachus and Xenopithes were members of the same social group, given that they were trierarchs, even if their family fortunes do appear subsequently to have declined2. Stephanus, who provides his daughter with a dowry of one hundred minae, is a rich man who engages in making maritime loans with the intention of becoming even richer (Dem. 45.65 ff.). He too appears on a list of trierarchs in 322 (IG, II2, 1632, 29). He was connected, on his mother’s side, with a family which Davies describes as “well-off but rather shadowy” (Davies 1971, 437).

4What do we know of the men who appear more directly involved in commercial affairs in that they themselves go to sea or have done so in the past? Damon was related to Demosthenes. It seems reasonable to suppose that he belonged to the same social group as the men mentioned above. Maritime trade seems to be his principal activity and we know nothing of him in any other context. The name of the litigant in the Against Apaturius is not known. Nor do we know any more about Nicobulus, the adversary of Pantaenetus. However, a number of details suggest that his means were modest. For instance, he refers to the difficulties of his life at the time when he was obliged to go to sea and confront dangers with no way of knowing whether he would be able to repay the money he had borrowed (§ 54). As in the case of the litigant in the Against Apaturius, it was only once he made his fortune that he in turn began providing loans, but even then he retained certain characteristics that betrayed his origins and his adversaries drew attention to them: he walked quickly and talked loudly. We know equally little of Micon, as also of a certain Timosthenes of Aegylia who, around the sixties of the fourth century, was travelling “on his own business”.

5So it would seem that the two groups of citizens connected with commerce – on the one hand those who simply provided loans and were not professional traders and, on the other, those who had themselves gone to sea before providing loans or who still did so, corresponded to two distinct social categories. The first group, composed of men of wealth, only concerned themselves indirectly with maritime loans and those loans represented no more than a fractional part of their total fortune. Connected as they were with political circles and belonging to the group of men expected to provide liturgies, they derived material advantages from their nautika but their relations with the world of the emporium were no more than indirect.

6The second group was a quite different matter: it was composed of men of modest origins much more deeply involved in maritime commerce and it had far fewer connexions with the life of the city. Commerce belonged to the private domain. This is precisely the point that Demosthenes makes to his relative Damon when the latter asks him to help him defend himself. He points out that, now that he is involved in public affairs, it is out of the question for him to intervene in the private domain (Against Zenothemis, Dem. 32.32).

7However, it is important to enquire whether the distinction that I have attempted to make between these two groups is repeated at the level of their relations with their foreign partners. None of the men belonging to the first group appear to have any connexions with foreigners belonging to the world of the emporium. The situation is quite different where the second group is concerned. Take the case of Damon, the litigant in the Against Zenothemis: when he needs to bring back Zenothemis’vessel which has put into port at Cephallonia, he sends out a certain Aristophon whom he recruits in an ergasterion of “disreputable men” located close to the Piraeus and it is also in the Piraeus that his meetings with the various characters involved in the affair take place. The same goes for Timosthenes of Aegylia: he is an associate of Phormion’s at the time when the latter is still merely Pasion’s freedman. The litigant in the Against Apaturius has business connexions with the two Byzantine emporoi who come to meet him in the Piraeus. Of course, all these are isolated examples and it could well be objected that the documentation is extremely incomplete. However, I should like now to turn my attention to three speeches that I have not mentioned hitherto: the Against Callipus ([Dem.] 52) which Gernet dates as 368 BC, the Against Lacritus ([Dem.] 35) of 350 to 340 and the Against Dionysodorus ([Dem.] 56) which cannot be earlier than 323/322.

8The Against Callipus speech presents us with an emporos from Heraclea, Lycon by name, a client of Pasion’s bank. His associate is a metic, Cephisiades, a resident of Skyros, also engaged in maritime trade. When he comes to Athens he is the guest of two Athenians, Aristonus of Decelea and Archibiades of Lamptrae and he has, in the past, had occasion to lend money to two Athenian emporoi, Megaclides of Eleusis and his brother Thrasyllus. Of these four Athenians, only Archebiades of Lamptrae is known in other connexions, for his son was a trierarch in 373/372 (IG II2, 1607, 10). But in this context he is simply the host of two traders from Heraclea and he has no particular connexions with maritime commerce. On the other hand, nothing is known of the two emporoi to whom Lycon of Heraclea lends money. And it is characteristic that the proxenos of the men from Heraclea, to wit the Athenian Callipus against whom the speech is directed, makes a number of remarks about the metic Cephisiades which are, to put it mildly, of an insulting nature (§ 9).

9The speech Against Lacritus is particularly worthy of attention given that it was made right at the beginning of the period upon which I am concentrating my analysis, namely the second half of the fourth century which, with the institution of the dikai emporikai, marks the entry of the world of the emporium into the life of the city. Foreigners and citizens appear side by side in the extensive roll-call of men involved, either directly or as witnesses, in the affair. First, the money-lenders, who are partners in a loan of three thousand drachmae are, on the one hand Androcles, a citizen, and on the other Nicostratus, a Euboean. The loan was made to merchants from Phaselis. When it comes to recovering his loan, Androcles contacts the brother of his debtors, the sophist Lacritus, through the intermediary of two other Athenians, Thrasymachus and his brother Melanopus, the sons of Diophantes of Sphettos, the deme to which he himself belongs. No other information is given about Androcles except that he declared himself to be an emporos. Nor do we know any more about the two sons of Diophantes of Sphettos.

10Among the witnesses we also find quite a number of Athenians who in all likelihood frequented the emporium. Of the eight names that appear only one is identifiable: Philtiades, the son of Ctesias (or Ctesides) of Xypete, who is later mentioned as being a trierarch in 322 (IG, II2, 1632, 243). Even in his case the identification is not certain.

11So the Against Lacritus would seem to confirm what has been suggested above, to wit that the citizens who frequented the emporium were men of modest means who never seem to have held important responsibilities in the service of the city. The Against Dionysodorus which introduces foreigners almost exclusively, indirectly confirms this conclusion. When giving an account of the bargaining which took place between himself and his adversaries, the litigant who is himself a foreigner tells the Athenian judges, without giving names, that some of their fellow citizens were present and took part in the discussion. If they had been men in the public eye he would not have failed to make the most of the point.

  • 3 I should explain xhat I mean by “circles of leadership” more fully. Athens was a democracy and, fur (...)

12So although there certainly were Athenians involved in commercial affairs and although some of them were not merely money-lenders but personally took part in maritime commerce, either themselves going to sea or managing offices in the port, these Athenians in no sense belonged to the circles of leadership in the city3. Furthermore, although Athenians and foreigners worked side by side in the world of the emporium, that does not mean that they constituted a “class of rich merchants” whose common interests, notwithstanding the legal and political differences between them, would clash with those of men with fortunes of a traditional nature. The maritime loans mentioned in the corpus range from one to seven thousand drachmae (the latter sum being the somewhat exceptional loan made by Demosthenes’ father). Even if we take it that, for certain rich men not involved in the world of the emporium, a maritime loan could represent an investment the interest from which would be added to the revenues which they derived from the land, slave workshops or mining concessions, the “professional” moneylender would seem, in contrast, to have made only modest profits: even with a 30 per cent interest rate, two thousand drachmae would, even at the best of times, never realize more than a six hundred drachma profit. In view of the delays and difficulties of sea voyages, such an operation did not often bear repeating. So the sums with which we are concerned are a far cry from the fortunes of those who were committed to fulfilling liturgies, and it is not surprising that we do not find among these citizens involved in commerce any names that also appear in such documents as naval inscriptions or lists of the holders of mining concessions.

13But there is another aspect to the question which needs to be stressed. Not only were the Athenians who engaged in maritime commerce men of modest means; they were also the objects of, if not the scorn, at least the distrust that was meted out to those – mostly foreigners – with whom they found themselves doing business. As Nicobulus, the litigant of the Against Pantaenetus, reporting the words of his adversary, remarks: “We in Athens do not like money-lenders” (§ 52). Even more significant, in my view, is the way that the interested parties themselves make similar points. Nicobulus openly admits that “there are some money-lenders who deserve to be loathed”, those whose only concern is to make an unfair profit. He declares that he himself is an honest “worker” who has every right to make a profit on his hard-won money. And it is not surprising to find xenophobic talk on the lips of these “little Athenians” whose affairs regularly bring them into contact with foreigners. Thus, the hostility that Androcles, the litigant in the Against Lacritus ([Dem.] 35), displays towards his adversaries is compounded by the fact that they are foreigners and, addressing the Athenian judges, he emphasises the fact that it is “in our town” that these men have taken over “our possessions”, they who are Phaselites (§ 26). This insistence upon his own membership of the civic community and this concern to differentiate himself from the foreigners is all the more remarkable given that although Lacritus is certainly a foreigner he is not one that belongs to the world of the emporium, since he came to Athens to follow the lessons of Isocrates. And it is almost with bravado that Androcles declares that he, for his part, is an emporos and is careful to insist that the arrogance of his adversary is out of place since his – Lacritus’ – own brother is an emporos too.

14It would be easy to point to many other traces of these “complexes” from which the Athenians involved in maritime trade suffered and against which they defended themselves both by dissociating themselves from dishonest merchants – especially foreigners – and by stressing their own integrity and their services to the city, notably through guaranteeing its grain supplies (cf. Against Phormion [Dem.] 34.38 ff.). But the most telling example, in my opinion, is that of Apollodorus, and I should like to consider it more fully.

15It is not necessary to dwell upon what is already well known: the exceptional role of Pasion, a banker and the owner of a workshop of metal workers and a former slave who had been freed by his master and who received Athenian citizenship for himself and his descendants in return for his services to the city. One of his descendants was his son Apollodorus, who was to play a political role in the years preceding Chaeronea. Apollodorus was several times a trierarch and a number of speeches in our corpus are attributed to him. It is by means in particular of a “reading” of the speeches of Apollodorus that I would like to specify what, borrowing D. Whitehead’s expression, I shall call the ideology of the world of the emporium. They are, as is well known, [Dem.] 49 (Against Timotheus), [Dem.] 50 (Against Polycles), [Dem.] 52 (Against Callipus), [Dem.] 53 (Against Nicostratus) and [Dem.] 59 (Against Neaera). To these are sometimes added the two Against Stephanus ([Dem.] 45-46) which involve Apollodorus personally although Gernet believes them – the first at all events – to be by Demosthenes. The Against Callipus dates from 368, the Against Neaera from 340. We can thus follow the turns taken by the career of this figure over a period of close on thirty years. We know from the speech For Phormion ([Dem.] 36, composed by Demosthenes on the occasion of the lawsuit between the banker and the son of his former master that Pasion had freed his slave just before he died, entrusting to him the bank and the workshop producing shields which constituted a part of his huge fortune. As well as this the banker Pasion had also given in marriage to Phormion his own wife Archippe, the mother of Apollodorus. From Apollodorus’ first speeches we learn that after his father’s death he had remained closely associated with his stepfather and with the world of the emporium. The emporos in Against Callipus, Lycon from Heraclea, was “as were all the emporoi” a client of Pasion’s bank (§ 3). Just before sailing for Libya he set his affairs in order, requesting the banker to hand over the money that he left deposited in the bank, a sum of 1640 drachmae, to his partner, the metic Cephisiades. Not long after, Lycon was drowned in a shipwreck. Phormion, acting on Pasion’s behalf, stood by his promise and paid over the money to the metic. In a while, Callipus, the proxenos for the merchants of Heraclea, came forward to claim the money and filed a lawsuit against Pasion. He subsequently withdrew his suit, preferring to have recourse to private arbitration. But as Pasion died before a decision could be reached, he renewed his suit, this time against Apollodorus. In the speech that the latter composed for his own defence, he appears closely associated with Phormion, well-informed about business affairs and certainly involved in the world of the emporium with which his father had had connexions. However, we sense him to be already sensitive on the score of the citizenship he has acquired for he refers to Cephisiades as a metic “without power” (§ 25). The Against Nicostratus reveals him still to have relations with the Piraeus and the world of the emporium generally (§ 17). But by now he has decided to lead the life of a “true” citizen, even if he is only “a citizen by decree”. He accordingly lives in the country, on the domain left to him by his father, where he grows walnut trees, vines and olive trees and even roses; and is anxious at all costs never to be accused of having treated any “true” Athenian wrongfully (§ 18). Despite all this, he is still not completely integrated even though he is, by reason of his fortune, a plan in the public eye and has been named as a prospective trierarch. The speech of 358, Against Polycles, is revealing in this respect, Apollodorus is clearly particularly sensitive to the remarks of his successor in command of the ship who, learning that he has fallen into debt in order to fulfil his obligations, exclaims: “Just see what happens when a man tries to be an Athenian!” (§ 26). Honours have clearly not rid Apollodorus of his “complexes”. As we have already seen, in the case of the Athenian merchants whose business ties have brought them into association with foreigners and who never let slip a chance to underline the difference between them, similarly Apollodorus, in the lawsuit against Phormion twenty years after his father’s death, is at pains to draw attention to Phormion’s own servile origin. In the speech which he composed for the defence of the banker, around 350, Demosthenes does not fail to make that argument recoil against his adversary: “As for nobility of birth, if you renounce Phormion as your stepfather, beware lest it make you a laughing stock”. Phormion’s career was indeed reminiscent of that of Pasion, the former slave who had become an Athenian, and there was no need for Demosthenes to labour the point as it was lost on none of his listeners. Apollodorus’ consciousness of being a citizen only by adoption betrays itself again in the words ascribed to him in the first speech Against Stephanus. Addressing the Athenian judges, he exclaims: “Even if it does behove me to consider myself less than all of you, I believe I may at least set myself above him!” Ten years ater, in the speech Against Neaera, he returns to this question of his acquired citizenship, appealing to a number of historical examples, in his instance the granting of citizenship to the Plataeans, and also to the most traditional topoi of the official ideology.

16The reason I have lingered so long over this portrait of a parvenu is that I see it as exemplary. If, more than thirty years after the death of his father, the son of a rich banker, with connexions in the political world, a trierarch several times over and a member of the boule to boot, still feels the need to justify both his status as a citizen and himself personally, it is testimony to the distrust provoked in the city by all those who engaged in activities in the emporium, citizens and foreigners alike. The world of commerce in effect remained on the periphery of the city and its peripheral character was manifest in spatial terms. The Piraeus was the place where men who belonged to that world would meet. That was where partnerships of varying durability were formed and where, in the presence of witnesses, loans were negotiated. The men who frequented this emporium included Athenians, metics, foreigners. But, as we have seen above, these Athenians did not belong to the “political” world despite the fact that, when involved in a lawsuit, they would be anxious to draw attention to the difference between themselves and the partners with whom they happened to be associated.

  • 4 The litigant in Against Theocrinos (Dem. 58) refers to a decree proposed by a certain Moerocles, wi (...)

17It was not possible for the city to ignore these people of the emporium: in the first place because it depended upon them for its grain supplies and, secondly, because, as Xenophon pointed out in the Poroi, their activities were a source of revenue. Hence the hastily carried through procedure of the dikai emporikai and the protection extended to merchants4.

18To end this analysis of the world of the emporium in the second half of the fourth century, we may, I believe, formulate a few prudent conclusions. The first seems to me to be that among the men who financed commercial operations or took part in them in person, making trading voyages by sea, citizens and foreigners rubbed shoulders, entered into partnerships and shared both their risks and their profits. The second is that these men, mostly of modest means, nevertheless did not constitute a class whose common interests brought them into opposition with those whose fortunes were of a more traditional kind. As we have seen, the two groups were still deeply divided by the issue of their membership or non-membership of the civic community. Thus, even if commercial activity forged links between citizens on the one hand and metics or foreigners on the other and even if these links created common interests between them, those interests were not powerful enough to overcome the divisions made by the differences in their status.

19There remains the problem of those rich Athenians of whom Demosthenes’ father is the best known example, who invested a proportion – albeit a relatively small one – of their fortune in maritime loans. The problem is mentioned by P. Millett in his paper. He remarks of Demosthenes’ father that he was “wealthy without owning much land”. In the Athens of the fourth century, to be sure, land was no longer considered the only honourable form of wealth and among the twelve hundreds or so Athenians called upon to provide liturgies there were quite a number of workshop proprietors, holders of mining concessions and men who derived their income from hiring out slaves. I am not suggesting that this was necessarily a new situation or that it was peculiar to the fourth century. On this point I am in agreement with Pecirka: it was as early as the middle of the fifth century that men whose incomes were not derived solely from landownership began to play an important role in the leadership of the city. Should we believe that it was only these “nouveaux riches” who invested their money in maritime loans? I think not. But, conversely, I do not think that we can use Isocrates 7.32-33 to maintain that the practice of rich Athenians outside the world of the emporium making maritime loans went right back to the archaic period. Here, I am entirely in agreement with P. Millett and, by the same token, do not follow Bravo (1974, 151-153) or Erxleben (1974, 471-473).

20Which brings me back to my original problem: can the marginality of the emporium be regarded as an explanation for the crisis of the Athenian city in the fourth century? I consider today that the cautious hypotheses that I formulated ten years ago may have stemmed from a concept of the nature of the crisis that depended too heavily upon a priori considerations. I remain convinced that the fourth century was a decisive turning point in the history of Athens and that the way had been paved for the split precipitated by the Macedonian military victory by a series of more or less visible transformations. But it seems increasingly clear to me that those transformations took place outside the sphere of commerce. In this respect, the institution of the dikai emporikai should be related to the collapse of the empire following the social war rather than to any developments of a commercial nature. If the world of the emporium remained marginal in relation to the city during this second half of the fourth century to which the speeches of the corpus of works by Demosthenes belong, it surely is because “trade and politics” belonged to two mutually impenetrable domains.

21Depuis la publication de cet article, dans la ligne des travaux de Moses I. Finley, une réaction s’est manifestée dans les publications récentes, qui tend à réhabiliter l’activité marchande et son importance dans le monde grec. Voir ainsi en particulier le livre d’Alain Bresson, La cité marchande, Bordeaux 2000 et le chapitre de Raymond Descat, “L’économie” dans Le monde grec aux Temps classiques. T. II: le ive siècle (P. Brulé – R. Descat éd.), Paris 2004. Voir également M. Faraguna, “Commercio, scrittura, pratiche giuridiche. Recenti studi sull’emporia greca”, Dikè, 5, 2002, 237-254.


1 Erxleben 1974, 460-520; Gluskina 1974, 111-138; Pecirka 1976, 5-30.

2 Davies 1971, 418.

3 I should explain xhat I mean by “circles of leadership” more fully. Athens was a democracy and, furthermore, a direct democracy. A “political personnel” nevertheless existed, even if a popular vote could at any moment remove one or other of its members. This “professionalism” becomes more marked in the fourth century, as the role of the orators becomes more important. Now, so far as we can tell, all the men who in effet controlled the affairs of the city appear to have benn well-to-do.

4 The litigant in Against Theocrinos (Dem. 58) refers to a decree proposed by a certain Moerocles, with protected the emporoi against any slenderous attacks (§ 10, 53). This Moerocles may have been the opponent of Eubulus, mentioned in the speech On the Embassy 293, a man who appears to have been a supporter of Demosthenes at that time. In all probability, the only purpose of this decree was to ensure supplies for the city and it did not imply any agreement reached between any particular party and the world of the merchants. In this respect the remark of the litigant in Against Zenothemis (Dem. 32), when he refers to Demosthenes' refusal to ensure his defence because thenceforward he would be taken up with public affairs (§ 31-32) is revealing.

Notes de fin

1 Trade in the Ancient Economy, P. Garnsey – K. Hopkins – C.R. Whittaker éd., Londres 1983, 53-63.

© Ausonius Éditions, 2007

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