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Prosperity & Art in Athens (527 – 449 B.C.) – Petros Themelis

Wealth as a constituent element of human “happiness” is composed of money, land, buildings, livestock, and slaves. Athenian slaves took part in the battle of Marathon, and their dead were honored with burial in a special tomb (Paus. 1.32.3).

Slaves in the Athenian state were divided into domestic slaves, who worked in the home, the fields, or the shop of their master, public slaves, who performed policing, clerical, street-cleaning, and escort duties, and prisoners of war (andrapoda/captives) who worked mainly as rowers on merchant ships or laborers in mines. The functioning of the silver mines of Laurion depended on the slaves of Attica. To slaves was owed in some degree the economic flourishing, the social organization, and the cultural (artistic) explosion of the Athenian state during the transitional period defined by the end of the archaic age and the development of the so-called “Classical miracle.”

The existence of the mines of Laurion is mentioned by Aeschylus (Pers. 238: ἀργύρου πηγή). According to Xenophon (Vect. 4.2), the mines (μέταλλα) operated in early ages, and there is no doubt that the production of silver was one of the principal reasons for Athenian prosperity. They were property of the Athenian state, which sold or leased certain areas of the Laureotike to individuals or companies at prices equivalent to one twenty-fourth of total production. Shortly before the beginning of the Persian Wars, a large quantity of money deposited in Athenian funds came from the silver and lead of Laurion, of which one part, worth ten drachmas, was distributed to each Athenian citizen. Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to make these monies available for building ships to enlarge the Athenian fleet (Hdt. 7.144; Plut. Them. 4). With its successes in the Persian Wars, Athens significantly strengthened its prestige and is deservedly recognized as the dominant power of the age.

The first half of the fifth century B.C. was for Athens a period of wealth, absolute dominance, and constant overseas expeditions, a period during which the democratic constitution was transformed and stabilized, while the procedures for choosing the city’s leaders were also established. The view that the Athenian state did not prosper during the 470s and 460s as it had in the preceding decades is not supported by the extant evidence. The Athenians reaped huge profits from the military spoils of battles on land and sea at Salamis, Plataia, Mycale, and especially at the Eurymedon. The end of the first fifty years of the fifth century B.C. is marked by the peace with the Persians and the planning of the program for rebuilding the destroyed temples that was subsequently implemented…

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Prosperity & Art in Athens (527 – 449 B.C.) – Petros Themelis