Ancient Greek Economics: The word “economy” is Greek, but to the Greeks, it meant something like “rules of a household”. 8th-century Greece depended clearly on farming. It had an aristocracy based on ownership of large estates and special claims to military service.

The bulk of the population of the Greek and Hellenistic world was rural. A life on the land, farming to produce only so much as was needed for consumption and leaving enough leisure time for active participation in the public life of the polis, was the social ideal.

Ancient Greek Gold Coin

Ancient Greek Economics

Production and exchange were to be undertaken only for personal need, to help out friends, or to benefit the community as a whole. Such activities were not to be undertaken simply to make a profit and certainly not to obtain capital for future investment and Ancient Greek Economics growth.

The agricultural base of Mediterranean society must be kept in mind even though the leading political and cultural activities occurred in cities. Rural peoples preserved distinctive rituals and beliefs.


Also, the Greek sailors found a lot of different ways to make their living from sailing. Some of them were fishermen, and ate some fish and sold some in markets. Other Greeks were traders, who bought things at one port and sold them at another port and made some profit for themselves along the way.

Other Greeks were soldiers for their city-state, who conquered other cities and forced them to pay tribute. Many Greek sailors worked as mercenaries, hiring out themselves and their ships to fight for other countries like Egypt.

economi coin Ancient greek


Although Ancient Greece are famous for its urban culture like that of Athens but food and agriculture were extremely important for any ancient civilization.

if we look at the quote by Socates it makes the importance of agricultre clear: ” Nobody is qualified to become a statesman who is entirely ignorant about the problem of wheat”.

Greece had only only about 20 per cent land which were suitable for agriculture with most lands being mountainous and quite hard. The Mediterranean weather was another factor hindering agricultural prosperity. Dry and hot summers along with sudden spells of heavy erratic rains seldom caused famines and scarcity in the food supply.

To adapt to this problem they planted crops requiring less water like wheat, barley olive trees, and grapes.Olive oil and grape wine was specialized products of Ancient Greece.

Animal husbandry also came up in certain areas with animals like pigs, sheep, and goats which provided them extra income to compensate for the agricultural difficulties. Bees were also used for making honey, the only known source of sugar for the ancient Greeks. People along the coasts of Aegean and Ionia also engaged themselves in fishing.

The Capture of colonies by powerful states like Athens in Asia minor was also motivated by controlling the supply of wheat.


The ancient Greek craft workers were very skilled in their work and specialized in tools and products made out of wood, clay, bone, and metal. The difficulty in farming and the hardiness of the soil led to many innovations. Iron farming tools created by craftsmen helped the Greeks to farm much more efficiently and as a result, sustain as well as grow their population.

Craft working was mostly a domestic affair with workers working in their homes for their craft but it began to change gradually with increasing commercialization in the Greek economy.

Activities like weaving and baking, which produced their fine woolen clothing, were extremely important for the economy and were done by women until the 6th century BC and then by the slaves. With increasing, commercialization slaves began to be employed more in this sector.

A very wealthy class of workshop owners grew, especially tannery owners like Cleon and Anytus and kleophon owning an Iyres producing factory.

Ancient Greek clay pottery was another feature of ancient crafts. They produced exquisite designs on pottery and foreign influences are also seen in them. The Corinthian black figure-styled pottery is a really brilliant piece of craftsmanship.

Ancient Athens economy and trade

The importance of trade in basic goods dictated extensive concern with commercial arrangements, despite the ambiguous status of merchants themselves. Private merchants operated most of the ships that carried foodstuffs and other goods. But Greek governments supervised the grain trade, providing not only transportation facilities but also storage depots to try to minimize the chance of famines. Other kinds of trade were vital also.

The shops of urban artists and craft workers played a vital role in the lifestyle of the upper classes, and some commodities, such as tools and pots, were sold more widely. The Greeks made important advances in shipbuilding and navigation, which were vital for their trading Ancient Greek Economics.

Seeing extensive trade and use of money in Greece from the fifth century B.C. onward, the modernists extrapolated the existence of a market economy in Classical Greece. On the other hand, seeing traditional Greek social and political values that disdained the productive, impersonal, and industrial nature of modern market economies, the primitivists downplayed the existence of extensive trade and the use of money in the Ancient Greek Economics.

As trade in wheat and foodstuffs was extremely crucial for the survival of the states so they took great interest in this trade.

Firstly only the wheat trade was regulated by the government in fear that excess wheat would be traded out of their lands leaving their population impoverished and causing famines. So there were strict laws regulating the amount of wheat that could be exported.

And states like Athens which had a large population had to import wheat from outside. The amount of wheat coming was almost equal to their own produce feeding two-thirds of the population.

But as long voyages in the sea were dangerous so the state had to develop something to keep those attractive and continuing.

For this states like Athens had formed elaborate machinery for chartering the ship, finding crew members, and supplying capital to ensure the voyages. They even had financial contracts and ensured loans for the trade. If the ships sank or were looted the loans could be forfeited. There were jurors who judged defaulting on financial contracts

Slave Economy of Ancient Greece

The Ancient Greek economy remained dependent on the extraction of labor from the slaves. They were employed daily in household work, in the agricultural field, in mines, etc. According to Aristotle slavery was essential for the well being and balance in society.

For example, in Sparta, all free men were soldiers, and farming was done by slaves or helots.

These slaves were mainly born into slavery or captured in wars. They did not enjoy any rights and could not hold private property. The slaves had a big role in the prosperity of ancient Greece as their toil and hard work made ancient Greek states what it was.

Ancient Sparta Economy

Sparta in Ancient Greece mainly had an agricultural economy. It depended on capturing farmlands and slaves for farming.

The free men were all engaged as soldiers and agriculture were done mainly by the slaves or helots as they called them and also their women.

Their money was also not very popular among the other Greeks as they used heavy iron bars as currency which according to legends was done to protect themselves from theft.

They also despised material comfort as they thought it leads to softening of men and preferred a martial way of life with little place for luxuries and material comforts.

Ancient Athens Economy

Athens mainly had a maritime economy supported by a well-developed navy.
Athens could not provide food for their entire population with just production from their own lands. So they imported grain through maritime routes and exchanged it for their excellent craft articles like pottery, silver and also olive oil, honey, etc.
They had set up a marketplace named agora where many items were sold including slaves. It had its own coins which were decorated with images of Athena and an owl on the two sides.
They had even set up colonies that brought in immense wealth as tributes. Their strength on the waterways was the best in the Greek world and that led to supremacy in maintaining a large empire and collection of revenues.

Ancient Thebes Economy

Thebes was another prosperous state situated to the northwest of Athens. It was situated on rich agricultural land which was the main reason for its prosperity.
It traded in wheat, cotton, olive oil, wine, tobacco, and also silk. It even had its coins pointing to its elaborate economic transactions.