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Redistribution, Public Wealth, and the Cretan Andreion

Evan Vance

University of California, Berkeley

While the Cretan andreion has of late been the focus of important studies on citizenship and commensality (Seelentag 2015, Whitley 2018), this paper focuses on the andreion’s economic role. It argues that the Cretan andreion can be considered as part of a broader system of redistribution and mobilization beyond the aim of providing citizen subsistence. There existed in sixth- and fifth-century Crete intersecting public economies in kind and coin. The scale of the public economy in kind may serve to explain some interesting features of Cretan economic life and provides a case study in redistributive economies in the broader sense now suggested by Nakassis et al 2011.

The Cretan andreion has often been described as redistributive, but in the narrow sense of feeding the citizen body (e.g., Lavencic 1988). The epigraphic evidence for public wealth in kind and in coin is difficult to reconcile with a narrow image of the andreion as a site for citizen subsistence, but makes sense when seen as part of a wider redistributive sphere. I begin with two fifth-century Gortynian inscriptions, G77B and G75B2 (following Gagarin and Perlman 2016’s nomenclature). G77B has generally been interpreted as relating to the andreion because it empowers officials known as karpodaistai (produce distributors) to seize produce, although the andreion is not explicitly mentioned. The magistrate title and the difficulty of understanding the flow of produce in this inscription may attest to a degree of state management that transcends andreion allocations. G75B2 is generally considered a list of private goods safe from seizure, but contains a puzzling clause about the andreion that is difficult to reconcile with this reading: included on the list are “from an andreion, whatever the leader provides for an andreion” (ἐς ἀνδρείο ὄτ’ ὀ ἀρκὸς παρέκει κατ’ ἀνδρεῖον). Whether this inscription enjoins or prevents seizure, it attests to the phenomenon of goods moving in and out of the andreion outside the strict sphere of subsistence needs.

Wages in kind (G79, Da1), including sustenance (tropa/thropa: Axos1, Da1), suggest substantial resources in kind at the state’s disposal. It is likely that the andreion was just one component of publicly managed agricultural goods. In particular, the cycling of payment in kind and fines in coin seen in G79 suggests that the in kind and in coin economies were both important and ongoing features of public wealth. The existence of a wage in addition to sustenance also suggests a sphere of secondary exchange of goods and coin, raising questions about the pessimistic view of Cretan economic life painted by Davies 2005 on the basis of the andreion system.

With the epigraphic evidence in mind, this paper briefly returns to the literary sources. I reconsider Dosiadas’ testimony (BNJ 458 F 2), which describes precisely the broader kind of redistribution envisioned in this reading of the epigraphic evidence. His notion of the andreion remains difficult, but could reflect the reality of an earlier system as understood in later history. Likewise, the confusion endemic to the passage of Aristotle’s Pol. (1272a) on the funding of the Cretan syssitia (Chaniotis 1999) may stem precisely from the high degree to which the andreion was embedded in broader modes of public property. Because later authors were so interested in comparing Crete and Sparta (Perlman 1992), the institution of the andreion took on an oversized role in the narrative.

I conclude by considering what this reading of the andreion as an institution for managing Cretan public property contributes to our understanding of Crete’s economic life, particularly its atypical behavior around coinage (Stefanakis 1999). Crete may have coined later than other regions of the Greek world, not simply out of a lack of bullion but because its structures for wealth in kind functioned at an exceptional scale. We are thus presented with a different notion of economies in kind in historical periods.

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Greek History

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