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Epigraphical Evidence for sovereign lending in Classical Athens

Georgios Tsolakis

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

This paper aims to provide a comparative approach of the epigraphic evidence for instalments and for the acquisition of debt from the city of Athens by private individuals in order to understand question of sovereignty as it pertains to the use of currency by centralized authorities. Hunter initially categorized types of loans by the apparent relationship of the state to the citizen, as well as different types of penalties placed upon debtors (Hunter 2000). However, these initial categories need further nuancing to be able to grasp initial conceptualization of the goals of the economic policy of Athens. In order to begin to understand the operation of the Athenian government as it pertains to debt, and thus questions of the Greek political economy at large, it is imperative to investigate further the way the city lent money to its citizens. Moreover, as the majority of attested cases are preserved because the individuals failed to repay the debt of the city in a timely manner or at all, the epigraphic evidence illustrates how the debtors brought to justice and how they were penalized by the city, along with the specified terms of lending instituted.

            The most important conclusion that could be drawn by the examination of these epigraphical texts, however, is the way in which they portray the sovereign power of the city of Athens- the way that the polis could have potentially utilized debt in order to control its citizens. Smith 2015 defines sovereignty as ‘that dense array of practices that simultaneously authorize the polity as a legitimate association and defend its order through various disciplinary institutions’. I shall examine the political and juridical institutions that ensured the repayment of the public debt, the procedures followed for the policing of loans, and the mechanisms that were put in action for payout the debt. First, I shall seek a classification of cases which occur in the epigraphical texts and a categorization of the public debt, then I will set them in a political and judicial context. Finally, I shall examine debt as a form of obligation; the imposed by the state regulations to individuals to meet and settle these obligations; and the limits of sovereignty as an expression of the Greek polis’ apparatus and a “a condition of political interactions” in the historical context and within the “actualities of relations” of the Classical Athens.


Session/Panel Title

Sovereignty and Money (Joint AIA-SCS Panel)

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