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Financial Indemnities: A Greek Economic Aftermath of War

Matthew Trundle

The University of Auckland

The economic aspects of classical Greek warfare are well studied (Pritchett 1974; 1991; Kallet-Marx 1993; Kallet 2001; van Wees 2004 and 2013; Trundle 2016). As the fifth century progressed, coinage professionalized and centralized warfare, which became bigger and less seasonal (Trundle 2010; Pritchard 2010). The fifth century, especially, saw war become as much an economic as a socio-political phenomenon (Thuc. 1.10-13). States fought wars for economic gain, but not all wars were profitable. Losers suffered deprivation, and wars cost winners dearly. Plunder rewarded victors’ immediate lust and imperial tribute (phoros) longer term greed, but the Athenians added indemnities, whereby losing states paid for the wars they lost rather than suffered total appropriation. An agreed cash payment over time paid the war’s costs often in addition to phoros. This development laid new foundations for fighting and settling wars in the fourth century BC. 

Fifth-century Athenians had thus added a new mechanism for ending wars economically. The Athenians had long extorted money from their allies (as had the Persians, see e.g. Hdt. 3.90.1) and were not adverse to plunder (see Thuc. 1.96, 98). From the beginning of the Delian League, wealth remained the goal (Thuc. 1.96; Plut. Arist. 24; Arist. Ath. Pol. 23.5–24.3) but gathered momentum as greed grew through the fifth century. Kagan (1974, 37-40) thought the Archidamian War cost Athens 2000 talents a month. Athens spent 2000 talents besieging Potidea alone (Thuc. 2.70.2). Such investment peaked in the Sicilian Expedition (Thuc. 6.24, 46), costing two sizable fleets, 50,000 men and at least 4,000 talents of silver (Thuc. 7.87; cf. Rhodes 2006, 93; Gabrielsen 2001). Athens had extracted indemnities after its allies had fought to leave the league. Thucydides noted such indemnities after the defeats of Thasos (1.103.3) and Samos (1.117.3). Both states had to pay for the wars they lost themselves. Significantly, Nicias offered to pay the Syracusans’ hefty military expenses as he surrendered (7.83.2). Epigraphic evidence also confirms the role of such indemnities in warfare’s aftermath, as IG1(3) 118 states that in 407 BC the defeated Selymbrians had to restore the losses of Athenians and their allies.

Indemnity for losses incurred was an alternative to plunder and tribute, as a phoros. Indemnities were part of a major shift towards the centrality of money in prosecuting warfare. In response to Athenian fiscal thinking, Sparta too required its allies to pay coins rather than provide men for military service (Xen. Hell. 5.2.21). Xenophon (Hell. 5.4.66, 6.2.1) records two instances when Athens made peace due to lack of money. Athens finally ran out of money after the Social War (Dem. 20.115; 3.28). In 351 BC Demosthenes (4.28-9) proposed hiring men with food-money and paying them with plunder. The Phocians held the sanctuary of Delphi in the Third Sacred War from 356-346 BC, paying the soldiers with melted down dedications (Williams 1976; Buckler 1989). Despite calls to destroy the Phocians entirely, Philip imposed, inter alia, an indemnity of 30 talents each half-year on the survivors (C. Delphes ii 36; see also Diod. 16.60; Aesch. 2.142; Dem. 19.64-66).

As this paper demonstrates, indemnities at the end of wars reveal the paramount role that money came to play in the prosecution of warfare. In a poor country like Greece indemnities seeking recompense were one means by which states might recoup the costs of military actions in addition to more traditional plunder and phoros.

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Learning from War: Greek Responses to Victory and Defeat

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