Trade had existed in the ancient Greek areas right from the Minoan and Mycenean and we get the earliest reference to trade from the writings of Hesiod and Homer
Ancient Greek imports played an important role in the Greek economy. The quality of land around Greece was not very fertile. Because of this, most people of Greece worked hard at agriculture to produce the necessary crops. This also prompted the growth of trade during the ancient Greek period.
What made importing possible in ancient Greece?
The ancient Greek states made elaborate ships which could use both oars and sails to move. Their ships were quite strong and were specially designed merchant ships reducing their chances of shipwrecks and piracy.
Special trackways known as Diolkos were set up across the Isthmus of Corinth which allowed ships to be moved over the isthmus instead of moving across the dangerous and long Peloponnesian peninsula.
There were special permanent trading posts known as Emporia which attracted merchants from all over the world, making Greece a very attractive trading hub which was a big reason for their prosper
Athens became one of the leading trading states of Greece because of its great maritime prowess. The powerful navy which kept Athens well supplied with many imported goods made this city-state a strong force in the country.
Land routes of trade also developed, but the maritime trade continued to dominate the Greek economy during much of the ancient period. These trade relations developed with the various kingdoms of Asia Minor, South Asia, Persia, Africa and even parts of Europe and later, Rome.
Why were imports important?
The Greek land is filled with rough terrain and mountains with about 80 per cent of the land being mountainous. This type of topography made communication with the other Greek states to be very difficult and as result, a huge number of city-states grew up with their distinct cultures, political structures and economy.
Most of these city-states were near the seas which made overseas travel easier rather than inland domestic trade, which led to increased imports from foreign lands.
This type of rough topography in which only 20 per cent of land is farmable along with the Mediterranean weather which has very hot and humid summers along with heavy erratic rains made agriculture very difficult. This prevented most of the states from being self-sufficient in food production which led to increasing imports.
The common Ancient Greek imports
Different accounts are available from where you can know about the trade and ancient Greek imports and exports.
Food grains were probably the most important of the ancient Greek imports. The land was not very arable and the weather was also harsh which resulted into produce was often not being sufficient to support the growing population. Many of the city states being predominantly urban like Athens had less arable land which made feeding the entire population with their produce very difficult. So, food grains had to be imported. From the official documents, we can see that the import of food grains was controlled by the state.
Wheat was the chief food grain to be imported into Greece. It was brought from regions around the Black Sea, Egypt, Cyrenaica and even Italy. The Grecian colonies in South Italy like Magna Grecia and Sicily also supplied wheat.
After the expeditions of Alexander the Great, closer trade relation was established between Greece and South Asia. Precious stones like emeralds, rubies, amethysts, and garnets begun to be imported in order to incorporate into Hellenistic jewelry.
Special measures in Grain trade
Most of the trade in ancient Greece was conducted with private initiatives by traders and without any government intervention. But grain trade was the only trade which was regulated by the state. They were always at the fear of shortage of food due to excessive exports or less imports which in most cases also led to revolution and overthrow of governments.
The maximum amount of grain which could be exported was limited by the government so that the citizens of the state would not go into a food crisis due to the profit motive of the traders.
Trading especially through seas was quite dangerous and often risky. But the importance of the grain trade made the government take important measures to continue the regular importing of grains. Athens developed special bureaucratic machinery to ensure the mobilization of the crew, and ships to the merchants to make it lucrative. Even loans were provided by the state which would be forfeited in case of the sinking of the ships. All these measures show the importance of the food grain trade in ancient Greece.
Metals like bronze, gold and even iron were another important category of ancient Greek imports. They were used for a variety of purposes ranging from construction of weapons to creating artifacts. The precious metals were used to create coins as well as used as the medium of exchange.
Other items imported
- Papyrus, probably from Egypt formed another ancient Greece import.
- Several other objects were also imported. These include fabrics, textile, spices etc.
- The import of fish was also not unknown.
- The ancient Greece imports include supplies for shipbuilding. The naval nations like Athens were in particular need of these. These included timber, pitch, and even linen.
- Athenian pottery was also in great demand. Olive oil was another important product.
- Finally, marble was exported for creating fine works of art.
Of course, the ancient Greek states exported a number of commodities in order to finance these large imports, especially that of the food grains. The Athenian wine was one of the most important items of export.
The brisk trade helped in the development of two major city-states of Greece. These were Athens and Corinth. They were strategically located and controlled the flow of trade. As a result, Athens is best known for being the receiving stations of many of the imports in ancient Greece.