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The Temple of Artemis on Lemnos: Athenian Land Allotment and Imperial Banking in the Fifth Century BCE

Tim Sorg

Stanford University

This paper argues for an economic and imperial approach to the Athenian temples built on confiscated land during the fifth century BCE. For nearly a century, the Athenians regularly confiscated land from communities around the eastern Mediterranean. Afterwards, they often reserved a portion of the land as sacred property to subsidize a temple. In the generation after the conquest of Lemnos c. 500, the Athenian lotholders at Myrina built a temple to Artemis who, according to Herodotus (6.137-140), offered a kind of imperial justification for the Athenian conquest: the Athenians claimed they were seeking revenge for a group of Athenian women kidnapped while celebrating the Artemesion at Brauron and taken back to Lemnos. In this paper, I offer a new approach to studying the Athenians’ imperial temples by exploring the imperial history of sacred property, agricultural rents, and temple banking. I argue that the same temple that sanctified the conquest of Lemnos also facilitated the exploitation of the land by the lotholders, who had only minimal help from the Athenian state when they went to start a new life on the island. With the help of temple banking, the lotholders on the island were better suited to profit from their land allotments and, over time, reorient the island’s network of exchange to import products produced in Athens.

In recent years, Parker (1994), Salomon (1997), Beschi (2001), and Culasso Gastaldi (2012) have all looked to the Temple of Artemis on Lemnos to show how the Athenians used sacred property to mark a break with the island’s native religions and develop a kind of imperial legitimacy. Despite all their valuable insights, none of them have studied the temple in its full imperial context, as an institution of economic exploitation. In light of renewed interest in the ways land allotment generated new forms of extraction (e.g., Zelnick-Abramowitz 2004; Moreno 2007) and the economic world of the Athenian empire (e.g., Morris 2010; Ober 2015), this paper explores how temples helped Athenian lotholders exploit and invest in their land allotments. By incorporating historical and epigraphic sources with archaeological material, it demonstrates the importance of a comparative perspective to Athenian land allotment and draws wider conclusions about Athenian imperialism in the fifth century.

My study develops through three sections. First, I look to the horoi that document the temple’s sacred property (IG I3 1500-1501) and archaeological material for ceramic production and distribution on the island (e.g., Danile 2012; Ficuciello 2012). Taken together, they help illustrate how land allotment on Lemnos initiated a period of drastic economic change on the island. What we see is that the lotholders transformed Lemnos by reorienting the island’s links as an economic hub away from producing goods to export accross the northern Aegean to a new network of exchange centered on importing goods from Athens. Second, I draw on two other cases when the Athenians reserved a portion of confiscated land as sacred property at Mytilene (Thuc. 3.50) and Chalkis (IG I3 418; Ael. Var. Hist. 6.1) to understand how this kind of economic change could help finance imperial temples on confiscated land. In both cases, the temples earned a great deal of money farming and leasing their sacred properties. Finally, I turn to similar horoi from Aigina (IG I3 1481-1490, with Polinskaya 2009) and a loan contract from a temple at Plotheia (IG I3 258, with Bogaert 1968; Davies 2001) to show how temples could have used agricultural rents to finance private investment. As one of the island’s premier institutions of credit, the Temple of Artemis likely made it possible for Athenian lotholders to move to the island, invest in their land, and plug into Athens’ growing economic network in the eastern Mediterranean. Altogether, this is a story about the Athenians finding creative, and indeed exploitative, ways of financing imperial investment from sources beyond the limited reach of the Athenian state.

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