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Demosthenes and Athenian Finance

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Yale School of Management
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Demosthenes was one of the greatest public speakers of antiquity, and his writings are a key source of insight into the politics and finance of Greece in the fourth century BC.

Demosthenes' oration 35, "Against Lacritus," contains the only surviving maritime loan contract from the period. The contract demonstrates the existence of a commercial code that tied together the economic lives of people from all over the Greek world. Athenians and non-Athenians alike came to the port of Piraeus to trade freely: in "Against Lacritus," the merchants borrowing money for the voyage were from a city on the southern coast of Asia Minor, and the lenders financing the voyage were from a city outside Athens and from another Greek city-state in the northeast, Boethia.

The port of Piraeus served as the point of departure for the voyage, but more importantly, it served as the legal venue in which the parties contracted. When the deal was broken, the ability of the lenders to sue for compensation over events that occurred in the Black Sea--and the power of Lacritus to defend himself using agreed upon rules of evidence--are evidence of the complex infrastructure that made long-distance trade possible.

Published Date: 03/09/2010

Suggested Citation: Andrea Nagy Smith and William Goetzmann, "Demosthenes and Athenian Finance," Yale SOM Case 10-029, September 3, 2010.

Keywords: Athens, shipping, ancient economics