7. The economy

In their accounts the hieropoioi recorded details of the sanctuary’s revenues and expenditure, whether these were one-off windfalls, annual revenues such as taxes and rents, regular maintenance expenditure, or construction costs. The epigraphic documentation from the Independent period hence makes it possible to reconstruct price lists, essentially from the accounts of monthly expenses. These are basically the piglets for the monthly purification sacrifices, wood for heating, oil and pitch, as well as other commodities bought less regularly: cereals, ivory, incense, fabrics, and so on.
This section of the accounts is of interest for two reasons: enough steles have been preserved from between 314 and 168 to make it possible to trace the development of the prices of these commodities over a century and a half, but we also have monthly prices, which allow us to see the changes in the cost of a product in the course of a year.
These price lists therefore constitute a set of documents unique in the Greek world, of which the only equivalent is the papyri from Lagid Egypt. They recount a part of the history of trade at Delos and of the evolution of prices on the local market. By observing them one can see the relationships between the values of the different goods being devised, and obtain information about the cost of living and the price of services. They are also valuable testimony about the operation of the local market, which is otherwise not at all well known.

The extent of trade

Three types of trade relations were organised around Delos, like other maritime cities in antiquity: Mediterranean and inter-regional, regional, and local. However, for a long time the role played by Delos as a free port during the second Athenian domination, when it attracted a cosmopolitan clientele that came to trade on the island, was detrimental to the understanding of the situation on Delos during the Independent period. Now, it was only in time that Delos became an emporion welcoming trade that was international in scope; in the third century, by contrast, Delos was a small community of c. 5000 people, with little transit trade.
In this period, the situation of Delos is more conducive to understanding these series of prices in the context of regional structures. Delos, which had to import an large proportion of its supplies, largely had recourse to the neighbouring Cyclades; accordingly the Delian market was regional above all else. The monthly variations of prices can be explained by seasonal production cycles and the rhythms of the selling season in the Aegean Sea.
However, the sanctuary was not only a consumer of locally supplied products. It also bought products imported over longer distances: luxury goods such as ivory, myrrh, incense, papyrus, which came from Egypt and the Middle East, and items required for the maintenance of its buildings, like pitch, which could come from northern Greece and Asia Minor. In this area, the Delian market could take advantage of intermediary dealers; from the small number of names of merchants preserved in the accounts can be identified Astypalaeans, Chians, a Clazomenian, Naxians, and others.


The market’s organisation

At the end of the third and the beginning of the second century Delos experienced a greater influx of foreign merchants and the volume of local transit increased; from this period onwards it may have played the role of a regional redistribution centre for the Cyclades, which foreshadowed its activity as a free port after 167.
Two external factors bore on the market rates and the setting of prices: interventions by the city of Delos and the influence of the sanctuary.

  • As in all Greek cities, the Delian market was governed by the city’s laws, which sought to maintain the good order of transactions and protect consumers from excessive speculation. The law concerning the sale of wood and charcoal (ID 509) to some extent illuminates how the city could intervene in the local market by limiting the possibilities for resale, and so for price increases. The accounts also tell us that the city of Delos possessed, at least from 209 (ID 362 a, l. 11), a fund intended for the purchase of cereals, the sitonikon. This fund, which allowed the city to sell back grain to its inhabitants at a reduced price, guaranteed a regular supply and regulated the price fluctuations that would have been experienced if the market had been subject to the uncertainties of supply and demand.
    The market was also influenced by the presence of the sanctuary, which had specific needs and acted as an ‘economic agent’. Building maintenance and the organisation of religious festivals required special supplies; the sanctuary’s demands on the market were not like those of a family, and we very rarely see the hieropoioi buying cereals, while they generally bought in maintenance products like pitch and recorded the purchases of piglets for sacrifices each month. The sanctuary also functioned as an employer and recruited craftsmen for its construction sites. In another respect, its fame and that of the panegyria festivals attracted crowds that at set times came to increase the number of local consumers and swell demand.

The epigraphic documents from Delos, and especially the accounts of the hieropoioi, therefore shed light on a major sanctuary's actions towards the market; to a large degree dependent on market conditions, it nevertheless brought substantial weight to bear on the monetary and financial equilibrium of the Cyclades through the wealth it held and the loans it granted.

The real estate and property of Apollo

Like most deities in the ancient Greek world, Delian Apollo was the owner of property that was rented to individuals and each year provided the sacred treasury's main revenue. Given the number of houses (oikiai) and agricultural estates (temene) that he owned on Delos and also Rhenea and Mykonos, this god was indisputably the biggest landowner in the Cyclades. Thanks to the accounts rendered of the sacred fortune's management, the information we have about this real estate and property is without parallel in all of ancient Greece, in terms of the number of surviving documents alone.

However, it is the relative continuity of information over more than two and a half centuries, from the period of the Amphictyony (see ID 89, dated to 434-432) until the beginning of the second Athenian domination (see ID 1417, dated to 156/5), as well as the possibilities for cross-referencing data within the vast Delian epigraphic corpus, that make this dossier especially interesting. Unusually, they make it possible to understand the social character of the god's farmers and tenants and to outline an economic study of the development of land and property rents in the course of the Independent period.

Acquisition and composition of holdings

The successive administrators of the god's fortune never pursued a policy of planned acquisitions: it was in a range of different situations, consecrations, confiscations, debt foreclosures, gifts and legacies that over time this real estate and property capital took shape and grew gradually.

The agricultural estates were divided between Delos and Rhenea, with ten properties on each island. It is less easy to draw up a precise list of so-called 'sacred' houses. Indeed, the way in which these different sites used as housing or for craft and trading activities are designated is not consistent throughout the period. In total, it seems that Apollo was the owner of around twenty properties in the town, with seventeen at most being rented out at the same time.

Rules concerning the renting of the sacred properties

In Greek cities, it was customary to define in advance, in a standard contract (syngraphe) that was generally engraved, all the conditions according to which a sacred property or one belonging to a community was leased. Subsequently, it was considered sufficient to insert only the essential details into a specific contract (the name of the tenant, the fee, and perhaps a brief inventory valid as the contract came into force). This 'abridged' version of the contract implicitly or explicitly (see IG XI 2, 287 A, l. 142) referred to the general agreement.

It is therefore very probably that on Delos a syngraphe governing the leasing of Apollo's properties was enacted from the period of the Amphictyony onwards, but it has not come down to us. We do, however, have fragments of a general agreement referred to as the hiera syngraphe (ID 503), which was adopted at the beginning of the Independent period, in 300. It was certainly a law or decree of the city of Delos which was enacted at this date with the specific goal of taking the leasing system in hand, after a period of dysfunctionality that followed the island's liberation in 314. With regard to the renting of property, no reference is made to a similar text, but its existence must be posited because the provisions for renting farms and housing are different in a large number of respects: the hiera syngraphe could not therefore have served as a reference agreement for the renting of sites in the town.


© EfA / V. Chankowski, M. Brunet

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