Friday, August 7, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Alain Bresson, L'économie de la Grèce des cités (fin VIe-Ier siècle a. C.). I. Les structures et la production. Collection U. Paris: A. Colin, 2007. Pp. 264. ISBN 9782200265045. €25.00 (pb). Alain Bresson, L'économie de la Grèce des cités (fin VIe-Ier siècle a. C.). II. Les espaces de l'échange. Collection U. Paris: A. Colin, 2008. Pp. 335. ISBN 9782200353582. €28.50 (pb).
Reviewed by Ephraim Lytle, University of Toronto

This two-volume guide to the economy of the Greek city-states is destined to become an invaluable research tool for at least a generation of students and scholars. This is owed in part to the recent explosion in focused studies on various aspects of the Greek economy. Add the emergence of a range of innovative approaches and the constant accumulation of material evidence and you are left with a field increasingly difficult to navigate, even for specialists. These volumes, however, are much more than a mere introductory guide to scholarship subsequent to Cavaignac, Heichelheim or Rostovtzeff. Their greater value lies in the lucidity and learning of Alain Bresson, whose contribution to the field is very nearly unrivalled. Bresson insists with characteristic humility that his guide is not intended to produce an economic history of Ancient Greece, or even a narrative history of the ancient Greek economy, but rather selective thematic analyses of the structures of the polis economy during the roughly five hundred year period from the late Archaic to the end of Hellenistic age. In fact these fifteen chapters amount to far more than a select survey, offering what is in my view the most thorough and compelling portrait of the ancient Greek economy available in any format, in any language.

Given the remarkable range of themes Bresson covers and the vast array of evidence he commands, I can only hope to offer a basic outline of the work's content, highlighting novel interpretations of key evidence. The first volume opens with a chapter ("The Economy of the Greek Cities: a Theoretical Horizon") introducing Bresson's neo-institutionalism and placing it in the context of previous theoretical approaches to the ancient economy. At the risk of perverse over-simplification (a caveat that holds throughout), neo-institutionalist economists reject the false dichotomy that would characterize modern, capitalist economies as "rational" and pre-modern economies as "irrational." On the contrary, ancient institutions responded to unique constraints, and by understanding the internal logic of these institutions it is possible to describe the Greek economy and establish comparatively its degree of performance.

The second chapter ("Humans in their Environment") outlines some of the basic geological and climatic constraints on economic activity in the ancient Aegean, before turning eventually to demographic questions, including discussions of issues ranging from fertility and mortality to growth potential. Paying particular attention to Athens, Bresson concludes that in the Greek world there existed the potential for explosive population growth and that phases of expansion or contraction depended not only on environmental but also social and economic factors.

In the subsequent chapter (3: "Energy, Economy and Costs of Transport") Bresson begins with the familiar problem of Heron's steam device and the ancient Greeks' failure to find industrial applications for it. Bresson turns this evidence of ancient lack of interest in economic innovation on its head, noting that in addition to insurmountable technical problems, between Heron and Newcomb's engine there stood nothing less than the 3.5 million tons of English coal produced annually in the early18th century. With no access to abundant fossil fuel the Greeks relied instead on harnessing cheap and renewable wind for maritime transport. It is for this reason that economic growth stemmed primarily from growth in trade and the market. What follow are detailed discussions of the costs of land and sea transport, the conditions and techniques of maritime transport, and the nature and limits of civic investments in ports and related infrastructure. Here Bresson offers a novel thesis about the nature of the Hellenistic project at Lake Nicomedia (Pliny, Ep. 10.41), suggesting it involved a short canal not to the west but to the east, connecting the lake and the river Sangarios. Noteworthy too is an interesting discussion of the Corinthian diolkos.

Chapter 4 ("The City and the Economy") properly introduces the relationship between the emergence of the polis and the evolution of the Greek economy. In distinguishing the Greek economy from its peers, Bresson focuses especially on the fact that, unlike producers in royal economies, the citizens of Greek poleis controlled directly most of their surplus production. This allowed in turn for the development of the closely related phenomena of market exchange and the division of labor. Bresson suggests that this distinction explains in part why the demarcation between civic and royal land is carefully observed in the Hellenistic period. Here he interprets records of royal gifts being transferred to the status of civic land as suggesting that such gifts normally remained royal land, subject to the appropriate rights and taxes. As a formal demonstration Bresson offers a novel interpretation of two Macedonian inscriptions. The first document (Hatzopoulos, Macedonian Institutions 20; Syll.3 332) is essentially a dossier recording a gift by Philip II of two estates to a certain Polemocrates, with this gift renewed by Antipater, likely to the benefit of Polemocrates' son Koinos, and then a third time under Cassander, this time for the benefit of Polemocrates' grandson Perdiccas. The second document (Hatzopoulos, Macedonian Institutions 22; SEG 38.619) records an estate gifted by Lysimachus to a certain Limnaios in 285/4 BC. Bresson argues that in each case these estates ultimately remained the property of the king, requiring that each legal heir have the gift renewed.

Chapter 5 ("Agricultural Production") turns well-tilled soil but even here Bresson manages to offer an engaging synthesis, discussing the central role of the Mediterranean Trilogy (grain, vine and olive), then the important part played by complementary crops, before moving on to consider l'élevage. Bresson's discussion attempts to avoid the common pitfall of conceiving of ancient agricultural production as a timeless, unchanging regime, preferring instead to stress the existence of evolution and change, while allowing for the possibility of growth in production. On ancient é levage Bresson's incorporates a wide range of epigraphic evidence and includes a current and markedly sane discussion of transhumance.

In the subsequent chapter (6: "The Economy of the Agricultural World") Bresson examines the evidence for land-holding patterns, for the leasing of public, private and temple land, for inheritance laws, for the alienability of land, and for settlement patterns, before discussing the economics of production, noting that the problem of uncertainty, especially in grain production, led to the development of two strategies he characterizes as individual and collective. The former requires further distinguishing between small landowners attempting to minimize risk through polyculture and accumulation of surpluses and larger landowners who might pursue very different strategies. Bresson then touches on the relationship between tradition and innovation in agriculture and stock rearing, observing that, while traditional practice is not necessarily conducive to rapid change, we ought not be blind to the possibility of innovation accumulating over time. Bresson additionally argues that Greek agriculture did in fact know more rapid changes based on innovations that included the introduction of new crops and practices. Another source of increased production is owed to a corresponding increase in cultivable surfaces, primarily by terracing and by exploiting marsh and wetlands. The latter leads to an insightful discussion of the evidence for drainage projects, including that of a certain Chairephanes attested by an inscription at Eretria as having assumed the costs of such a project in exchange for the rights to exploit the reclaimed farmland for ten years at the annual rate of three talents (IG XII.9 191). Here Bresson builds on Knoepfler's important discussion,1 placing the inscription in a broader economic context and suggesting that this Chairephanes be identified with a citizen of Cassandreia mentioned in another inscription (SEG 47.940) as the recipient of privileges from Cassander. In other words we have a precious example of an Hellenistic political elite productively investing the spoils of power. Bresson suggests the estates of landowners like Chairephanes likely had much in common with that of Apollonius in the Fayoum, where ample evidence from Zenon's archive shows a careful attention to increasing the productivity of the land. Rather than being sources of economic stagnation, following Weber and Finley, these estates may have been hotbeds of innovation, with owners who could afford to wait many years to see their investments bear fruit.

Bresson then tackles head-on the problem of assessing levels of agricultural production that were by modern standards decidedly low. Much like his discussion of Heron's steam engine, Bresson uses modern comparative evidence to turn on its head the argument that the inability to break free of a traditional system of biennial fallow is attributable to a kind of cultural lack of interest in agricultural innovation, concluding that a Greek 'Norfolk Revolution' (resorting to a program of intense agricultural fertilization depending in turn on massive stock rearing in close containment) was never a practical possibility. He ends this chapter by tracing some of the possible relationships between agricultural changes and trade, concluding that the profit motive drove productivity and that the man vehicle was the market. Much of the detailed discussion that follows (including a novel treatment of I.Milet I.3 [Delphinion] 149.39-47) draws on evidence for wine production, which depended not just on local but regional and long-distance trade, with the price data clearly reflecting distinct markets for wines of various qualities and from various regions. The compelling portrait Bresson sketches here is a long way from a world of autoconsumption.

Chapter 7 ("Production, Capital and Innovation") opens by arguing that Aegean ecologies allowed for productive activities other than agriculture. Bresson begins with a useful survey of the evidence for fishing and related activities like salt production and the exploitation of marshlands before turning to a host of artisanal activities, paying special attention to the logic of production and the question of innovation. Here Bresson offers a fascinating discussion of the ancient evidence for textile production, including the emancipation dedications of female wool-workers from Athens, suggesting that the concentration of this kind of artisanal production resulted in part from the freeing up of female labor thanks to more efficient technologies for milling grain. Introducing overlooked evidence that raw wool was transported on a large scale from zones of much greater productivity, Bresson suggests that it was this trade in surplus raw material that allowed cities like Megara and Athens to become centers of production. It was not only exported silver, in the form of coined money, but also the excess production of finished goods that allowed a city like Athens to finance the purchase of oil and grain.

The first volume concludes with an important and strikingly original chapter (8: "The Logic of Production") offering an overview of the basic structures of the Greek economy in their larger historical context. Bresson begins by effectively demolishing the thorny obstacle of autoconsumption (or autosubsistance), often used to argue that markets could only have played a marginal role. In fact as soon as the price of grain falls to the level of that of its cost, the whole notion of natural surplus disappears, and we ought to abandon altogether a rousseauiste vision of autosubsistence: those farms consuming 80% of their production would have been most dependent on the market simply because their survival was always most precarious. This phenomenon is introduced to explain some of the changes witnessed in Attica in the early third century, when falling prices led to the abandonment or forced sale of many small and marginal farms. This was a radical departure from those conditions that prevailed right up until 322, when a large population and high prices led to the maximal expansion of Athenian agriculture. The trend accelerated over the course of the next two centuries, when again only the largest landowners survived and surveys suggest that even many average sized farms disappeared from the landscape.

Bresson next tackles the question of growth, conceding that by modern standards one might judge the Greek economy primitive. Bresson of course rejects this approach, noting that we ought to judge the economy in its specific institutional context, and here it cannot be denied that the economy knew considerable growth. Summarizing much of the discussion from previous chapters he points to some of the developments responsible for economic growth that he estimates at 0.4% annually, far more feeble than the full percentage point(s) shown by modern economies but comparable to that of Holland during its Golden Age. This is followed by an attack on the old question of the "failure" of ancient civilization to achieve the industrial or capitalist revolutions. Bresson observes that the entire approach is colored by the decline of Rome. Bresson proceeds to re-evaluate the reasons for that decline, arguing that the failure of the Roman economy was not due to the absence of innovation or properly functioning markets, but rather the Roman Empire was the victim of its own success: technological and institutional innovation occurred constantly but only at a rate that was much slower than the rate at which market forces undermined the social conditions that allowed for their existence. This engaging portrait affords a useful contrast with the Classical poleis, wherein the growth of the economy fundamentally relied on the prosperity of egalitarian civic bodies. The existence of the civic cadre and a multiplicity of independent city-states, a society of poleis, allowed exceptional economic development resulting in an interregional division of labor and the maximal utilization of diverse ecological resources. The remarkable achievements of the Greek economy mark a distinct phase of progress that can best be appreciated by abandoning an approach that polarizes ancient versus modern.

Volume II

The second volume moves from the basic structures of the Greek economy to themes specifically related to markets and trade. Bresson opens the first chapter ("Institutions of Internal Exchange") by treating the relationship between Greek law and various concepts like private property, commercial exchange and contracts. This is followed by a long section detailing the world of the agora, characterized as above all a legal space where the city played an active regulatory role. This institution, Bresson argues, was a powerful factor in inciting exchange, offering decided advantages to both buyers and sellers, including its ability to lower the costs of exchange, in part by minimizing the persistent economic problem of asymmetry of information (the difference in quality and quantity of information that sellers and potential buyers possess regarding goods offered for sale). Finally he concludes with a detailed discussion of the politics and economics of price controls.

In the subsequent chapter (2: "Money and Credit") Bresson briefly traces the development and extent of Greek monetary and credit systems, with a special emphasis on coinage, which he characterizes as a novel by-product of a polis system that encouraged lateral exchange among peers. He then explores a number of related themes, including the emergence of truly international types, the usages and circulation of coinage, and the tricky question of whether money can be anything other than a measure of economic activity or if it can actually itself contribute to this activity. Here he is decidedly Keynsian, arguing that Attic coinage constituted the triggering factor in a dynamic of production and exchange, and accompanying economic growth, for a vast region of the Mediterranean. Finally Bresson surveys the forms of credit available in the Greek poleis, concluding that the various credit institutions available in the Greek poleis acted in conjunction with a markedly original monetary system as powerful stimulants to the development of trade and to economic life more generally.

In the next chapter (3: "Cities, Taxes and Exchange") Bresson treats the evidence for the taxes on exchange that represented a principal source of revenue for the cities, especially for those with direct access to the sea. Noteworthy is Bresson's discussion of the evidence for grants of fiscal privileges to foreigners. He agrees with Knoepfler that in many instances these decrees were intended to grant privileges already enjoyed by citizens,2 but observes that the evidence specifically for customs exemptions is more problematic. Here Bresson includes a novel argument about the honorary decrees from independent Delos, which frequently include grants of ateleia. Arguing that for the purposes of trade the Delians are unlikely to have actively disadvantaged themselves relative to privileged foreigners operating at a lower cost, Bresson concludes that the Delians likely exempted themselves from customs duties on commercial goods, a practice that seems also to be attested elsewhere. This analysis would have obvious consequences for discussions about the scale of trade on Delos before 166, given that the figures preserved in the accounts for revenues from the sale of the pentekoste would in no way correspond to the true volume of trade. Likewise the establishment of Delos as a free port after 166 consisted of simply extending these exemptions to all foreigners putting into port.

There follows a detailed discussion of the economics of customs duties. Bresson admits that duties would have inhibited trade and indeed economic development, with the strong growth enjoyed by Delos after 166 providing a telling opposite case. But the weight of taxation was alleviated in part by the benefits owed to what Bresson describes as the transparency of institutional information and by the security of the sea. Bresson describes the way in which networks of exchange also acted as information networks, with certain locales functioning as veritable emporia of information, offering as an example Hieron at the entrance to the Black Sea.3 He similarly argues that cities took an active role in promoting trade by attempting to guarantee the security of international exchange. Here Bresson introduces evidence for a range of phenomena from the payment of reparations to the "sacralization" of trade routes. He closes by treating the central problem of piracy, arguing that investments in fighting the problem likely repaid themselves in the increased security of exchange.

In many respects the next chapter (4: "The Emporion and Markets") is the most important in either volume. Bresson opens with an interesting discussion of a passage of Chariton (Chaireas and Callirhoe 1.11.4-2.1.9), wherein Theron's predicament reveals the advantages offered by the emporion: goods might be subject to duties but these costs could easily be offset by legal protections and the increased transparency of transactions. Bresson subsequently discusses the evidence for special officials and various taxes distinct from those levied on cargo, before turning to a detailed treatment of the collection of duties and the passage of goods into the emporion and the deigma ("bazaar"). There are a host of noteworthy discussions here. For example, Bresson argues that the common portrait of the deigma as a place of fluctuating prices constantly (re)negotiated between importers and middlemen is misleading, in part because it does not take into account constraining regulatory practices, such as the (postulated) general requirement that importers declare their intended sale prices to customs agents. And, regarding the difficult question of the relationship between emporia and local ports, Bresson concludes that purchases could have been effected in the deigma or emporion with the subsequent documentation allowing for the local embarking of cargo, thereby avoiding a ridiculous inefficiency of transport. Next surveying the evidence for specific regulations in the emporion, Bresson argues that officials took an active role in regulating exchange and especially in trying to keep price pressures low, offering as a key illustration a reconstruction of the Athenian grain market. Having already concluded that the sale price would have been previously declared and formed the basis for import duties, Bresson attempts to explain evidence attesting active negotiations over price by arguing that importers could only negotiate prices lower than their declared price.

Bresson next argues that we ought to avoid the fatalistic view that international traders were subject to the law of the jungle. Networks of laws and conventions may have been complex, but they recognized shared legal principles capable of explaining the intense growth of commercial exchange among the Greek states. Here the right of reprisal always played a key role, but treaties between Greek city-states also attest the existence of legal guarantees and procedures for mediating disputes that might allow merchants to seek justice without having to resort to reprisals.4 And, discussing a host of treaties, Bresson notes that financial clauses are very frequently found even if they are not exclusively the focus. Here he argues that formulas with συμβόλαιον, such as that found in a 4th century treaty between Miletus and Pontic Olbia (I.Milet I.3 136.14-17=Syll.3 286), frequently refer specifically to commercial contracts, with the key point that commercial disputes were heard in the city where the contract itself was made, which he argues was a dominant principle of international law. But at Athens we find another principle giving rise to very different judicial processes related to international commerce, δίκαι ἐμπορικαί. This process accorded foreign merchants access to a civic tribunal and also formally allowed for procedures to be brought in a location other than where the contract itself was concluded, so long as Athens was designated as the final destination for the goods.

Bresson concludes this important chapter by surveying the various methods city-states employed to try to ensure the adequate provisioning of their markets while attempting to ameliorate the constant problem of price shocks, especially for grain. These tactics included granting privileges to merchants willing to provide grain at below market cost during short-term crises, and it is again in this context that Bresson argues that one responsibility of Athenian market officials was to encourage importers to sell at an "official price," a practice that he argues may have contributed to conditions of monopsony, wherein the existence of a single buyer can indeed lower prices but generally leads to an overall reduction in supply. Finally Bresson discusses the evidence for public grain funds and buyers as well as the more draconian measures that might be resorted to in times of crisis, including the public seizure of grain from producers or the forced sale of stores.5

In Chapter 5 ("International Networks of Exchange") Bresson argues that there existed in the world of the Greek cities a true international division of labor and that this can best be demonstrated by an analysis of the flow of goods over international networks of exchange. Bresson relies especially on the theory of comparative advantage, concluding that the development of the Greek economy was possible due to strong differences in productivity between the Aegean and regions at its periphery, with the integration of these regions by international trade giving rise to important gains in productivity. Subsequent discussions include the concepts of center and periphery, the structure of networks of exchange, and the evidence for niche markets. As a detailed illustration, Bresson brings together the archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence for the small city of Hermione in the Southern Argolid. Its diverse specializations included the production of purple dyes, concerning which Bresson offers a novel interpretation of the anecdote given by Plutarch (Alexander 36) about the discovery at Susa of 5,000 talents of purple from Hermione, arguing that this was liquid purple dye rather than dyed wool, and that these "talents" corresponded to 5,000 amphoras of dye. Bresson concludes that specialization allowed Hermione to support a population exceeding the carrying capacity of the land, feeding it with imports of grain paid for by exports of oil, textiles and dyes.

What follows is a discussion of the effects of the costs of transport as a constraint on networks of exchange, including the tendency of goods to circulate regionally, with long distance trade generally reserved for goods with a high unitary value relative to volume and weight. Exceptions can be explained by the notion of "free riders," a concept that Bresson illustrates with a discussion of ancient trade in ceramics. Finally Bresson discusses the various actors involved in trade and the structure of the networks they traveled, concluding that local merchants may have dominated most commerce zones but international traders could easily move across those zones and in fact the origin of a particular trader mattered less than the place in which a contract was made. After a discussion of the evidence for direct trade and cabotage, including a useful synthesis of the shipwreck evidence, Bresson concludes by observing some of the various ways in which merchants, producers and consumers may have exchanged information, none of which need imply or require direct contact between producers and consumers.

Bresson opens Chapter 6 ("Strategies of International Exchange") by observing that the necessity of resorting to foreign trade gave rise to a collective relationship, a kind of "society of cities." What follows is a thorough treatment of shared principles and the range of trade strategies employed by cities. Here he argues that during the Classical and Hellenistic periods cities could not rely solely on reciprocal trade agreements and that exclusive trade pacts could not even have constituted the usual method of exchange. Instead cities increasingly depended on private actors, guided by their own initiative, to move goods across networks of exchange. This market orientated system of exchange had limits however, especially with regard to needed imports of grain for smaller, out-of-the-way cities, with limited supplies of silver, and particularly during times of political uncertainty. In these instances cities frequently resorted to strongly proactive approaches such as appointing commissioners to negotiate purchases of key commodities.6

Bresson next observes that while certain regions were regularly exporters of grain, nevertheless prohibitions against export appear to have been common in Aegean cities and would have contributed to measurable inefficiency in the grain market. And just as a city could intervene to prevent exports of grain, it could also augment supplies made available for export by employing various strategies including taxation or forced sales.7 Bresson concludes the chapter by offering a detailed portrait of the perpetual problem of the grain supply at Athens in the light of demographic and modern comparative evidence, arguing that the history of Athenian imperialism must be understood in the context of a dependence on imported grain that goes all the way back to Solon. Athens was in a certain sense exceptional, but a host of other cities also had annually to import grain, a basic underlying economic condition that informs the entire history of Aegean conflict. This, however, need not be thought of as a necessarily damaging situation in that it allowed these cities to benefit from differential productivity yields of as much as 30 to 43%.

The final chapter (7. "Greek Cities and the Market") seeks to tie together much of the material introduced in previous chapters while addressing the larger tasks of assessing the scale and limits of ancient markets and evaluating their relative degree of performance. Particularly noteworthy discussions include Bresson's treatment of the problem of prices, regional divergences in which have been used to argue for the absence of ancient market integration. Bresson acknowledges regional or even local divergences, chiefly owed to discontinuity of supply, but argues that short-term swings should not obscure the existence of long-term trends over wide regions responding in part to a global money supply. Price trends in the Archaic and Classical period correspond to the activity of the Laurion mines and phenomena such as the monetization of reserves from Delphi. Attested inflation in the early Hellenistic period is owed to the liberation of Persian reserves, while the subsequent price declines at Delos in the early third century cannot be attributed to purely local or regional factors, but must reflect the erosion of Aegean monetary supplies. Bresson similarly reprises his recently presented conclusions about the Delian price data for oil and grain versus those for wood and pork, arguing that prices for the former rose in response to intense local demand exceeding available supply in a decidedly regional market, whereas stagnant or declining prices for oil and grain reflect broader trends in international markets.8

Bresson next examines the performance of ancient markets in the context of a theoretically perfect market, suggesting that with respect to the agora many of the conditions were met: buyers and sellers were not constrained to buy or sell, could carry away or introduce goods at their leisure, and were both present in sufficient numbers. And market officials, by enforcing regulations, saw to the transparency of information about prices and the quality of goods. Likewise the initial impression of international markets is no different. There existed zones of different productive levels, between which there was intense exchange on a large scale, at least in certain cities, and in some a majority of consumer goods might be imported, their value balanced by corresponding exports. These exchanges created an international division of labor and great productivity gains. But here Bresson admits there were also serious divergences from the ideal, most notably in how markets were provisioned, especially for commodities like grain and oil. Market interventions and risk management strategies such as banning exports or hoarding surpluses would in aggregate have greatly limited the supply of grain on the market. Conditions of monopsony and monopoly would have exacerbated the supply problem, as would inelasticity in demand, even in good years, when interdictions against export would force prices strongly downward leading to the paradox whereby farmers might suffer as badly in years of good harvests as bad. These factors certainly affected the performance of ancient markets, especially by limiting supply, but without paralyzing them. At the same time, given the fierce competition between cities, with the logics of security and predation often trumping open cooperation and free markets, it is clear that for any individual city to adopt a radically different attitude would have been a form of suicide. And here Bresson identifies another of the chief paradoxes of the ancient Greek economy: its performance and those limits on its performance were inexorably linked. The internal rationality of each city as an institution prevented the maximal optimization of an external rationality. Conversely it is this same internal logic that allowed for individual cities to offer internal markets that were exceptionally legally secure. And by optimally utilizing the ecological milieu and exploiting the possibilities of wind and sea, the Greek cities managed to put in place a less than ideal but nevertheless well performing international market, resulting in a society of cities much better integrated into networks of external trade than most of their medieval or even early modern counterparts. Properly understood in its institutional contexts, the economy of the Greek cities is, Bresson concludes, an astonishing achievement.

The criticisms I can offer of the work's production are slight. The text is attractive and generally free of errors. Those that exist seem concentrated in the notes and bibliography (for example, just among those works that I have cited above, the title of Knoepfler 2001a is misspelled and the book is routinely cited in the notes as 2001b). Here my greatest complaint is that the volumes are not always easy to use. Chasing a reference will often involve turning back to remind oneself of the chapter number (the endnotes are not indexed by page number), before turning to the end of the volume to find the appropriate endnote, a process required to find even basic epigraphic citations. And author-date citations in the endnotes often can be decoded only by further consulting the bibliography in the back of the second volume.

My criticisms of the content are even slighter. Given the diversity of themes Bresson tackles, and the vast range of evidence he incorporates, errors are inevitable. These are often borrowed from his sources. For example, in his discussion of fishing, Bresson claims (I.186) that tuna dedications to Poseidon are attested at Halieis in the Southern Argolid, when in fact this relies on an unlikely interpretation of an oft-emended passage of Antigonus of Karystos.9 Likewise Bresson follows Dumont in citing IG IV 941 as a document concerning Troezen and Hermione, when in fact this is the same inscription republished as IG IV2 77, subsequently shown to join with IG IV2 76 and record the arbitration of a dispute not between Troezen and Hermione but Troezen and Arsinoe (Ager 138).10 More problematic here is that Bresson has also followed Dumont in suggesting that this document supports the notion that Greek cities routinely laid claim to territorial waters wherein marine fishing rights were controlled, much like the rights of pasturage on public domains.11 But the tuna fisheries and accompanying installations attested near Troezen were located at specific points on a stretch of coast held in common with Arsinoe, with the revenues from their lease subsequently shared. This practice in no way suggests a general attempt (or ability) to control marine fishing rights or the existence of territorial waters. One could argue (in another venue) that much of the other evidence cited by Dumont (and subsequently Bresson) has been similarly misinterpreted. It is noteworthy, however, that these and similar quibbles in no way invalidate Bresson's larger conclusions about the importance of marine fisheries for the economies and alimentation of coastal poleis.

Nevertheless even sympathetic readers will likely take issue with various of Bresson's larger conclusions. I for one find myself unconvinced by Bresson's argument that customs duties were routinely assessed based on declared sale prices, for which his key comparandum, the Delian charcoal law (I.Délos 509; Syll.3 975), is decidedly imperfect. This interpretation affects in turn Bresson's reconstruction of the functioning of the deigma and the Athenian grain market. Speaking of that grain market, the relevance of monopsony to its functioning relies entirely on Bresson's interpretation of καθεστηκυῖα τιμή as corresponding to an "official price" actively negotiated by Athenian market officials, about which I continue to harbor serious reservations.12 In places a less sympathetic reader is likely to have even stronger doubts, particularly where Bresson's narrative seems to rely more on comparative indications and inference than explicit ancient evidence. For example, Bresson's discussion of the productive gains achieved by the Greek economy is fascinating, but skeptics are unlikely to be reassured by the fact that his proposed annual rate of growth relies solely on Ian Morris' analysis of the size of Greek houses.13 Likewise I suspect some orthodox monetarists are unlikely to be convinced by Bresson's argument that some (unquantifiable) share of economic growth coinciding with the rise of Athens can be attributed specifically to an increase in the money supply. On the other hand, this discussion, much like his discussion of the economic benefits of regulating exchange in the agora, is given a fascinating urgency by events currently unfolding in the world economy, and here even critics will have to concede that Bresson and his neo-institutionalist approach succeed not only in offering a great deal of unexpected insight into the economy of the Greek poleis but also in demonstrating the continued relevance of its study.


1.   D. Knoepfler, "Le contrat d'Érétrie en Eubée pour le drainage de létang de Ptéchai," in: P. Briant (ed.), Irrigation et drainage dans I'Antiquité. Qanats et canalisations souterraines en Iran, en Égypte et en Grèce, séminaire tenu au Collège de France sous la direction de Pierre Briant (Paris 2001) 41-80.
2.   D. Knoepfler, Eretria, XI, Décrets érétriens de proxénie et de citoyenneté (Lausanne 2001).
3.   This section, as well as Bresson's earlier work on Hieron ("L'attentat d'Hierón et le commerce grec," in: P. Briant, R. Descat and J. Andreau (eds.), Économie Antique, Les échanges dans l'antiquité: le rôle de l'état [Entretiens d'Archéologie et d'Histoire 1] (Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges 1994) 47-68 [repr. in La cité marchande (Bordeaux 2000) 131-149]), can profitably be read in conjunction with Alfonso Moreno's recent detailed study of the site and its history, "Hieron: the Ancient Sanctuary at the Mouth of the Black Sea," Hesperia 77 (2008) 655-709.
4.   Bresson interprets one of the oldest of these treaties, that concluded between Athens and Phaselis (IG I3 10, c. 460 BC), as an addendum to conventions already concluded in greater detail, and he suggests that Phaselis is being offered commercially valuable concessions intended to compensate it for the loss of a privileged position of trade with the Persian Empire after Eurymedon and as an enticement to enter the Delian League. Commercial disputes would not be mediated by a small board of officials in the emporion but would be introduced before the Polemarch, suggesting the Phaselites would have the privileged status of metics in seeking justice before a jury.
5.   Concerning famine at Pisidian Antioch in 92 or 93 AD, where the governor Antistius Rusticus intervened at the behest of civic officials in regulating the sale of grain, Bresson argues, against most recent interpretations, that the emptors named in the inscription (AE 1925, 126b) correspond precisely to the public buyers of grain, or sitonai, for the colony of Antioch. The interpretation that follows is one of radical intervention, with the grain market superceded by a system of requisitioned grain sold by public officials.
6.   In this context Bresson includes novel discussions of a number of documents. He argues for example that a decree honoring the Rhodian financier Athenodoros (IG XI.4 1055+1025=Syll.3 493) for having assisted sitonai from Histiae at Delos, is likely a result of the Byzantine blockade of the Bosporus and Macedonian preparations for war. Bresson interprets another decree from Delos (IG XI.4 1049) as recording the intervention of the Delian financier Mnesalkos on behalf of public grain buyers sent to buy grain on behalf of their city and likewise, perhaps, to procure financing. Bresson also proposes, convincingly in my view, that the city in question is likely Karystos and that the Theophantos named in the decree is likely the same Theophantos of Karystos attested on Delos in 279 BC (IG XI.2 161.A.52).
7.   Here Bresson suggests that much of the gain made available by Cyrene in the early 320s may have been collected by some form of requisition, likewise the more than 80,000 medimnoi of grain furnished to Rome by the Thessalian League at the request of Quintus Caecilius Metellus (SEG 34.558).
8.   A. Bresson, "Marché et prix à Délos: charbon, bois, porcs, huile et grains," in: R. Descat (ed.), L'économie hellénistique [Entretiens d'archéologie et d'histoire 7] (Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges 2006) 311-339. As a final illustration of the relationship between coinage and broader social and economic developments Bresson introduces evidence for the annual production of Athenian stephanephoroi between 164/3 and 87/6, suggesting that these saw a big jump in production after 146 because the destruction of Corinth favored the development of Delos, where these stephanephoroi exercised a quasi-monopoly. And Bresson ties the marked decline in 137/6 through the end of the 130's to the war with Aristonicus and perhaps the great slave revolts on Sicily.
9.   Quoted in Athenaeus at 7.297e (Bresson misprints 6.297e) and mentioned again at 7.303e. Here Bresson has followed Jameson et al. (A Greek Countryside: the Southern Argolid from Prehistory to the Present Day (Stanford 1994), p. 314, n.7) in interpreting ἁλιέας as referring specifically to the citizens of Halieis. Although emended by Wilamowitz (Antigonus von Karystos [Philologische Untersuchungen 4] (Berlin 1881, repr. Zurich 1965), p. 174) to refer specifically to the Aeolians (Αἰολέας) and by Töpffer (Attische Genealogie (Berlin 1889), p. 301) to the residents of Attic Halae (Ἁλαιέας), the passage is, as the Roberts saw ("Pêcheurs de Parion," Hellenica 9 (1950) 80-94, at p. 83, n.6), certainly best interpreted as referring to a general practice among tuna fishermen.
10.   Cristina Carusi has recently offered a welcome new edition of the inscriptions, although I am unconvinced by her argument that IG IV 752 preserves not a second copy of the same document preserved in IG IV^2 76 + 77 but a distinct Troezenian document concerning the same dispute, ("Nuova Edizione della Homologia fra Trezene e Arsinoe (IG IV 752, IG IV^2 76 + 77)," Studi Hellenistici 16 (2005) 79-139).
11.   J. Dumont, "Liberté des mers et territoire de pêche en droit grec," RD 5 (1977) 53-57.
12.   "Economic Growth in Ancient Greece," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 160 (2004) 709-742.
13.   This discussion reprises arguments presented already in A. Bresson, La cité marchande (Bordeaux 2000) 183-206.

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