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ShoEconomics: Market size and Supply of Footwear in Classical Athens

Graham Oliver

ShoEconomics explores the likely market size in Classical Athens for the sale and consumption of footwear. This micro-economic approach combines the data from fourth century inscriptions at Eleusis, other sources for the shoe-market in the Greek city, and a hypothetical reconstruction of market size and shoe production in Classical Athens based on a Feri estimate. This small-scale approach to quantification complements the broader presentations of state-level operations (e.g. Ober 2008; Pritchard 2015).

Inscriptions from Eleusis in the 330s and 320s BCE preserve details of the contracted supply of shoes, nails, and shoe repairs (primarily IG ii2 1673 = I. Eleusis no. 159; IG ii2 1672 = I. Eleusis 177). Although the difference in prices has suggested inflationary pressures (Loomis 1999, 103 n. 17 and 119 n. 46), it is possible to use the figures as a basis for a closer analysis of the shoe industry, and therefore market for shoes.

IG ii2 1673 (= I. Eleusis no. 159 lls 48-51) details the shoes for the workers responsible for the transportation of quarried stone from Penteli to the sanctuary. Three suppliers produced twenty-eight pairs of shoes, each supplier receiving different sums per pair. A fourth craftsman repaired the shoes (cf. Diggle 2004, 427-8 with Theoph. Char. 22.11 on shoe-repairs).

The data from Eleusis does not represent the varied shoe-market at Athens. But the costs of shoes and repairs and materials allow one to move beyond the projections attempted by Acton (2014, 165—70 and 313). Indeed, if the shoe industry and market resembled the large city described in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (8.2.5; with Amemiya 2007, 65-6), then one would have to allow for considerable complexity. The Attic stelai indicate the high-end footwear that contrasts the workers’ shoes worn by the transporters of stone to Eleusis (Pritchett 1953, 252, stele II lls. 203-5; on cost-ranges for clothing, Pritchett and Pippin 1956, 204). This paper therefore offers a perspective of the market for shoes at Athens using both the epigraphical data as well as the literary evidence.

Those contracted at Eleusis to provide shoes and repairs include an Athenian, a metic, and two men without demotics, or indication of metic status. Not all “workshops” would have resembled the nine- to ten-man (slave) operation of Timarchus’ father (Aeschines Ag. Tim. 1.97). Certainly the Attic stelai give the impression that smaller-scale operations (involving slaves) also existed (Pritchett 1953: stele VI lls. 20, 21-22, 31-46).

Using this evidence, one can present different scenarios for both the industry and the market at Athens. The physicist Enrico Fermi made famous the estimation of the number of piano tuners in Chicago based only on the city’s population and a series of assumptions about the behavior of its piano-users and tuners. Similar approaches can be deployed for the shoe-market at Athens. Here the paper considers not only the production and supply side of the shoe market at Athens, but also the market size. More variables can be injected into this analysis than have been offered by Acton (2104, 313). His demand analysis has considered several important factors but deploys less data.

The inter-related aspects of market size, supply, and demand, have rarely been subjected to quantitative approaches in the ancient Greek polis. Questions of scale lie at the heart of many misunderstandings about the ancient Greek economy. The scale of the market and industry reveals more clearly the likely repercussions of factors that impacted on relatively small industries and an important market.

An estimate therefore of the “size” of the shoemaking industry based on supply and demand makes more tangible the nature of the market and therefore the economics of shoes (thus ShoeEconomics). Relatively small numbers of craftsmen were able to provide for a relatively large market. The micro-historical and micro-economic approach of this paper casts a new light on the much broader issues of not only industry, but also the markets of the Greek polis.

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Markets and the Ancient Greek Economy

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