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In this paper I will offer some new insights on the lease terminology in classical Athens, while dealing with the structure and purpose of the Piraeus decree concerning the lease (misthosis) of the deme theatre in 324/3 (Agora XIX L13).

The exemplary re-edition by Stroud (1974) has enlightened many aspects of this inscription, but its structure and purpose are still debated, due to the non-univocal terminology employed in the text (Behrend 1970). While the agreement under which the Piraeus deme rents out the theatre is called a lease (misthosis), the four entrepreneurs signing the agreement are not calledlessees(misthosamenoi), as we might expect, but purchasers(priamenoi and onetai). This seems to conflict with the common Attic usage (e.g. Xenoph. Vect. 4.19), where one usually rents (misthousthai) public properties, such as plots of lands, houses, etc., but buys (oneisthai, priasthai) the right to collect public revenues, exploit mines, etc. As there are some exceptions to this usage in the sources, some scholars have concluded that the two terminologies were completely interchangeable (Rosivach 1992) or indifferently employed (Harrison 1968; Csapo 2007).

Even though the analysis of these exceptions shows that the two terminologies can be applied to the same object (e.g. quarries in SEG 28, 103, mines in Dion. Hal. Din. 13), I will argue that each of them is employed to stress a different aspect of the action involved. The sale terminology stresses the fact that the entrepreneur, as a purchaser, has bought the right to exploit the property; the lease terminology points to the conditions of acquisition and enjoyment of the property by the entrepreneur, as a lessee. The difference between the two is also proved by their not completely overlapping usage: the renting of such properties as lands, quarries, and mines can be perceived as the purchasing of the right to exploit them, but the purchase of the right to collect taxes, for example, cannot be defined as «renting» the collection of taxes. In the light of this argument I will propose also a slightly different interpretation of the passage of the Aristotelian Athenian Constitution (47.2) concerning the duties of the public sellers (poletai).

The Piraeus decree did not merely relate the decision of the deme to rent out the theatre, but explained also the terms of the contract (synthekai) under which the entrepreneurs were bound to operate. I will argue that these terms are completely in line with the conditions usually attached to lease agreements; moreover, as the contract included some building works the entrepreneurs had to perform, I will show that the decree contained also the building specifications for these works (a fine parallel to this structure being the Attic decree IG I³ 84).

The complexity of the structure must not divert the attention from the nature and purpose of the agreement. The four entrepreneurs are correctly described as the purchasers of the theatre, because at the cost of 3300 drachmas (ll. 29-31) they bought the right to exploit the theatre, i.e. the right to collect the admission fees paid by the spectators (ll. 9-11). The agreement, however, can be correctly described also as a lease, whose attached conditions, concerning the acquisition and enjoyment of the theatre, were listed in the decree. The presence of building works does not qualify the contract as a different form of agreement, e.g. a contract for services (Papazarkadas 2007), or a kind of liturgy, where the purchasers were unlikely to be recompensed by the admission fees (Walbank 1991). Maintenance works were frequently included in lease contracts without alterations to the nature of the agreement; even though the agreement was meant to ensure the deme with a settled income, while providing for the upkeep of the theatre, this does not imply that building works were its main purpose, or that the purchasers did not make a profit from the whole operation.


  • D. Behrend, Attische Pachturkunden, Munich 1970, 86-88.
  • C. Carusi, Alcune considerazioni sulle syngraphai ateniesi del V e del IV secolo a.C., ASAA, s. III, 6/I (2006), 11-36, esp. 20-21, n. r.
  • E.Csapo, The Men Who Built the Theatres: Theatropolai, Theatronai, and Arkhitektones, in P. Wilson (ed.), The Greek Theatre and Festivals, Oxford 2007, 87-115, esp. 90-94.
  • N. Papazarkadas, Four Attic Deme Documents Revisited, ZPE 159 (2007), 155-177, esp. 167-168.
  • R. Stroud, Three Attic Decrees, CSCA 7 (1974), 290-298, n. 3.
  • M.B. Walbank, Agora XIX. Leases of Public Lands, Princeton 1991, 194-195, n. L13.

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