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Athens, Cyprus, and Phoenicia: Trade Relations and Official Policies in the Fourth Century BC

Brian Rutishauser

The nature of economic relations between the Greek mainland and the Persian Empire has been a long-neglected area in scholarship. Most studies have focused on the issue from a Greek (specifically Athenian) viewpoint, and also from a viewpoint of hostility and mutual distrust. An example would be the old concept of ‘culture wars’ between Greeks and Phoenicians on Cyprus (for criticism of this view see Raptou 2004). During the fourth century, there were several moments of crisis in the eastern Mediterranean that involved the interests (both political and economic) of Persian monarchs, their satraps and client rulers, and Greek powers such as Athens. The literary sources for these events are sparse, and many aspects of the political narrative are still unclear, although recent scholarship has produced a more complete picture (Ruzicka 2012). What is still lacking is a proper evaluation of the economic factors that may have helped drive political developments.

During the first half of the fourth century, Athenian pottery imports to the Levant, in Phoenicia and further south along the coast (such as at Dor and Tell Mikhal) were of very high volume, and Phoenician cities such as Tyre and Sidon changed their coinage to the Attic standard by the middle of the century (Jigoulov 2010). In addition, Philistia and Judah saw massive production of imitation Athenian owls in the fourth century. Several fourth-century Athenian inscriptions detail honors to merchants from Cyprus and from Phoenician ports such as Sidon. In particular, trade links between Athens, Salamis on Cyprus, and Sidon appear to have created an economic network that worked to the advantage of Athens, while satraps and client kings of these regions (such as Evagoras I of Salamis and Strato of Sidon) appear to have promoted this trade in order to fuel their own ambitions (Elayi 2005). The Persian kings, for their part, would have favored prosperity and commerce to ensure the payment of tribute, particularly by Phoenician cities, and to provide support for their attempts to reconquer Egypt, although they reacted swiftly to curb rebellious local leaders. While the volume of Athenian pottery imports to these areas slowly declined during the latter half of the century, the continuing need of Athens to secure its grain supplies from this direction is shown by several honorary inscriptions for merchants from Cyprus. Such changes may be reflections of shifting trade patterns rather than a reduction in the actual volume of trade between Athens and these eastern regions.

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Greeks and Achaemenids: War, Diplomacy, Trade, and Culture

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