RHODES, DELOS AND HELLENISTIC COMMERCE
THE UNIFICATION OF RHODES. RHODIAN COMMERCE
IT is not an easy task to give an adequate picture of the life of the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea in the Hellenistic period. The literary evidence is scanty and the archaeological material, especially inscriptions, most unevenly distributed. Very few of the Greek cities of the islands of the Aegean sea have been carefully and systematically excavated. Good, almost exhaustive, work has been done for Delos, Cos and Thera; partial excavations of a scientific character have been, and still are being carried out on Samos, Thasos, Aegina, Tenos, Crete, Cyprus and Rhodes; but most of the Greek islands have been never even touched by the spade. All that has been done is careful surface investigation. This is the reason why for some of the islands and island cities we have abundant epigraphical material, of which in some instances only part is published—this is true of Cos, of Lindus in Rhodes, and to a certain extent of Delos—whereas for others evidence of this kind is almost lacking.
It is not, however, possible by merely combining such evidence as we have to give a satisfactory general picture of the Greek islands. Each had its own development, its own cultural and political conditions, its own preoccupations. As in the Greek cities of the mainland of Greece, of Asia Minor and of the other parts of the Mediterranean world, life on the Greek islands was highly individualized. It was, indeed, perhaps more individualized than in the cities of the mainland. A real history of the islands will only be possible when we have good monographs based on abundant material for each. This was fully understood by the ancients as is shown by the notable development of local historical production, for example the chronicle of Lindus compiled with the help of numerous local and general works by a Lindian citizen Timachidas. This historical material, however, has almost wholly perished, leaving very slight traces in the extant tradition, and a modern substitute for this lost wealth of knowledge is still to seek.
Finally, among the many islands of the Aegean there were but few that had any real importance in the history of the period. Most of the islands were little provincial communities living in the shadow of one of their more progressive continental or insular neighbours, and their life, however interesting it might be in itself, for the historian of Greek civilization, no more than a variant and often an imitation of the type of life which prevailed among their more powerful neighbours. We cannot yet tell for certain which of the islands were among the leaders of politics and culture in Hellenistic times. Lesbos and Samos had, no doubt, lost the importance which they possessed at the dawn of Greek history, and the same is true of Aegina and Euboea. Crete has some effectiveness—but it is in the ways of destruction rather than of progress—and the tiny island of Cos looms large in the literary history of the early Hellenistic period. But all our evidence suggests that in the third and second centuries two islands alone —Rhodes and Delos—played a really important part in the historical developments of the time.
Of the two, far the more important was Rhodes. The marvellous advance of this little island struck the imagination of those who witnessed the zenith of its greatness and elicited from them enthusiastic eulogies which were later repeated by writers of the Roman period. If there was unanimous agreement among the ancients on any subject, it was in high praise of the achievements of Rhodes in politics, war and civilization. Among historians Polybius and the writer followed by Diodorus come first; then follows Strabo or his source, and after him Dio Chrysostom and the rhetorician Aristides, to name only the more important. ‘The city of the Rhodians’, says Diodorus, ‘strong in her navy and enjoying the best government among the Greeks, was ever a subject of competition between dynasts and kings, as each sought to win her to their friendship.’ Strabo is still more explicit: ‘The city of the Rhodians’, he says, ‘...with her harbours, streets, walls and other public works so greatly surpasses all other cities that there is none which is her match much less her superior. Equally admirable are her constitution and laws and the care which she lavishes upon her institutions, especially upon all that concerns her navy.’
From the dawn to the evening of her history Rhodes was first and foremost a commercial community. An island so limited in size and natural resources cannot maintain a very large population or aspire to play any important role unless it has an extensive commerce, especially a carrying-trade not confined to her own products. And so it was with Rhodes from the earliest period of her existence. Above all else it was her situation between Egypt, Cyprus, the Syrian and Phoenician coast and the world of the Greek cities, which made Rhodes, from the Mycenean age at least, an important intermediary between Greece and the Orient. This fact was as obvious to ancient observers, like Polybius, as it is to us. Thus the first task of the historian is to trace her commercial development.
We are not concerned here with the earlier development of Rhodes. Archaeology shows beyond doubt that from time immemorial Rhodes turned her face to the East, and that her civilization had in early times a semi-oriental aspect. Our task begins with the great reform in the constitution of Rhodes, the synoecism in 407 bc of the three ancient communities, Camirus, Ialysus and Lindus, into one, the new city and state of Rhodes. Ancient and modern historians agree in tracing the brilliant commercial development of Rhodes back to this fateful decision of some political genius who lived at that time in the island. It is true that even before that time, in the period after the Persian Wars when Rhodes became a member of the Delian Confederacy and subsequently a subject of the great commercial city of Athens, she had a considerable trade and commercial resources. The Athenians had no intention of destroying Rhodian commerce with Egypt and Syria, especially after the failure of their own oriental enterprises. There are, indeed, two inscriptions which show how close even in the late fifth century were the commercial relations between Rhodes and Naucratis. But the hostility between Persia and Greece and the state of war which prevailed most of the time in the southern waters of the Aegean naturally prevented the exchange of goods between the Orient and Greece from being very large, quite apart from any jealousy which may have existed between Athens and Rhodes.
However that may be, it is certain that, once the synoecism was complete, Rhodian commerce advanced by leaps and bounds, despite the fact that in the closing years of the fifth and in the fourth century Rhodes was in turn dependent politically on Athens, on Sparta, again on Athens, and finally on the dynasts of Halicarnassus. We know it from such statements as that of the orator Lycurgus, who describes the Rhodians as ‘men who sail for trade all over the inhabited earth,’ from the fact that Cleomenes, the powerful governor of Egypt in the time of Alexander the Great, chose Rhodes and not Athens as his agent in his well-known commercial operations and, above all, from the story of the first great attempt of Rhodes in 305 bc to free herself from external political control by her struggle against Antigonus. Unless we assume the existence of enormous resources in men and money accumulated in the city of Rhodes, and of far extended commercial relations which made the existence and prosperity of Rhodes a vital question for many of her clients and partners, we cannot account for the success with which the little city withstood the overwhelming forces and consummate siege-craft of Demetrius.
It is evident that during the fourth century bc Rhodes succeeded in concentrating a large volume of trade in her harbour and a large population in her towns. This trade cannot have been in oriental luxuries alone, though they were far from unimportant; it must have included a commodity which was vital for everybody in Greece. This commodity was no doubt the corn of Egypt and of Cyprus, second to which came metals from Cyprus and linen and dyed woollens from Egypt and Syria. Without the concentration of the corn-trade of Egypt in the hands of the Rhodians we cannot account for the marvellous growth of the city. And as we have seen elsewhere, the fourth century was a time when regular corn-import became more vital for Greece than ever. This concentration of a part of the corn-trade in the hands of Rhodes Athens was unable to prevent. She was content to enjoy for a while a prior claim on Pontic corn and to have a fair share in corn that came from the West.
Freed from the danger of political subjection to one of the great powers, Rhodes sedulously guarded her independence. She understood that however great the privileges which she might derive from siding with one or other of the kings, it would be foolish to forfeit her liberty for a temporary material gain. For some decades after the great siege she remained, as was natural, in close commercial and political relations with Egypt and the first two Ptolemies, especially Soter. Rhodes, indeed, was probably the first to establish a real cult in honour of that monarch. But so soon as the successor of Soter, Ptolemy Philadelphus, sought to maintain a true hegemony in the Aegean, to treat the Island League, created by Antigonus and reorganized on new lines by Soter, as a subject, and probably to use Rhodes as he used the other islands and to promote Delos to her detriment, Rhodes became recalcitrant, joined Antigonus Gonatas, and defeated an Egyptian fleet off Ephesus.
This spirited action by Rhodes did not spoil for long her relations with Egypt and the Ptolemies. Since they were not able to force Rhodes into subjection, it was in their own interests to maintain friendly relations with her. And this they did. We hear of no conflict between the two navies after the battle of Ephesus. Indeed, almost the only monuments erected to kings at Rhodes were those made for the Ptolemies. Apart from these the Rhodians showed extreme moderation in granting honours and statues to monarchs, in this respect so unlike Delians and so like Romans.
The years of the entente cordiale with the Ptolemies were years of great prosperity for the island. Even our scanty evidence reveals Rhodes in the early third century as the home of powerful merchants and influential bankers. With her money and by means of her diplomacy Rhodes endeavoured not only to promote her own interests but also to help the Greek cities to secure and maintain independence and constitutional government. Thus in 300 bc the Rhodians lent money to the citizens of Priene to assist them to assert their liberty against a tyrant. Another act of the same kind is the loan, without interest, of 100 talents to Argos for the improvement of their fortifications and of their cavalry. These two loans were clearly political, and this explains why they were given by the city and not by private Rhodian bankers. The state, it appears, had important sums of money stored in her treasury or kept on deposit in private or public banks in or outside the city of Rhodes. It was indeed more usual for similar loans, even political in purpose, to be made not by the city but by private citizens, rich merchants and bankers. Thus Ephesus, a city which maintained most cordial relations with Rhodes and largely depended on her for its foodsupply and no doubt its commerce, as appears from the reform of the Ephesian coinage about this time on Rhodian patterns, was helped in critical times by a rich Rhodian who sold her a considerable amount of grain at less than the very high ruling price.
With the naval battle of Ephesus which was presently followed by the two defeats of the Ptolemies by the Antigonids—the battles of Cos and Andros—the situation in the Aegean changed completely. Macedonia now became theoretically the mistress of the sea and the suzerain of many islands, among them Delos. The Island League displayed no signs of activity, and Egypt retained very few of her possessions in the Aegean area. Rhodes gained everywhere. There was no question of dependence on Macedonia, which, at least in the time of Antigonus Gonatas, made no effort to attract Rhodes into her political orbit. On the contrary, it seems as if the Macedonian kings, after their great victories over Egypt, neglected their navy and tacitly allowed the Rhodians to be masters of the sea with all the consequences which this fact implied, first and foremost the duty of curbing piracy, a task which had been previously performed by the Ptolemies and the fleet of the Island League. In the Aegean Rhodes stood for the ‘freedom of the sea,’ which meant no privileges for anyone like those enjoyed by Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries, the greatest possible security afloat, a minimum of taxes and duties, and the recognition of some general legal principles as applied to the maritime commerce. Those principles Rhodes tried to carry out by means of a common understanding on the part of all the cities which took an active share in overseas commerce, and she soon acquired the reputation of being the ‘ protector of those who use the sea.’
The new role which Rhodes began to play implied of necessity the maintenance of a strong permanent navy in Aegean waters. The cost of such an achievement was very high—according to the treaty between Rhodes and Hierapytna the maintenance of one trireme cost the Rhodians 10,000 drachmae a month—but it was more than covered by the extension of Rhodian commerce. From the third century onwards her trade spread from the South to the North-East and to the West. The abundant finds of Rhodian jars and sherds show how Rhodes, in extending her commercial relations in general, took the opportunity to sell her own goods, especially wine, in the newly acquired markets, for example in Asia Minor, in the Black Sea, Southern Italy and Northern Africa. The coin-standard which Rhodes introduced soon after the synoecism was adopted, not only by most of the islands of the Aegean and many towns of Asia Minor, but also by cities on the Hellespont and the Propontis and in Thrace. Besides this sign of the extension of Rhodian trade, we find the spread of alliances especially among the islands, e.g. with Ios, and vigorous action against piracy in the Aegean, as Demetrius of Pharos and the Cretans found to their cost. Most remarkable of all is the constant endeavour of Rhodes to take her share along with Athens and her successor Delos in the Black Sea trade. When Byzantium imposed c. 220 bc a ruinous tax on those who passed through the Bosporus, it was not Athens but Rhodes to whom the merchants appealed to force Byzantium to abandon it, and Rhodes promptly and willingly carried out the commission. A little later (219 bc), when hard pressed by Mithridates II of Pontus, Sinope appealed to Rhodes and received from her substantial help in form of war-machines and food. All this shows how influential Rhodes was in the North and how rapid was the decline of Athenian prestige.
Rhodes presently began to be too strong for the Macedonian kings who had so quickly succeeded in getting rid of the Ptolemaic domination in the Aegean Sea. However, in the reigns of Demetrius II and Antigonus Doson relations between Rhodes and Macedonia remained friendly. There may have been a short interruption during the problematic expedition of Antigonus Doson to Caria and at the time of his short-lived attempt to establish a real domination in the Aegean Sea. But, on the whole, Rhodes and Macedonia even in the first years of Philip V appear as friends and allies. This explains the offers of the Rhodians (together with other Greek commercial powers) to mediate between Philip and the Aetolians in 218, in 217 and again in 207, another proof how seriously Rhodes regarded her mission of safeguarding peace in the Aegean waters.
And yet there are some signs that Macedonia from the very beginning of the Rhodian ascendancy regarded it with suspicion. It is interesting to see how Antigonus Gonatas and his successors, soon after their great victories over the Ptolemies, established their suzerainty over the sacred island of Delos and began to use this island, with its splendid situation, as a rival to their old enemy Athens and the new commercial power Rhodes. There are inscriptions which show that the Antigonids made Delos their own clearing-house and attracted to it especially the northern corntrade and traffic in the chief products of the Macedonian kingdom, such as timber, pitch, and tar. Thus Demetrius II through his agent, and about the same time a sitones of Histiaea, a subject city of Macedonia, buy corn at Delos, which is full of inscriptions testifying to honours granted to Macedonians. All this together with the fact that the Bosporan kings ceased to court Egypt and began to cultivate the friendship of Delos shows that the Antigonids did their best to promote Delian trade with the North, which began its natural development as early as the beginning of the third century bc.
It cannot, however, be said that the Antigonids succeeded in destroying the friendship of the two islands. From very early times Delos maintained cordial relations with Rhodes, and it seems as if Rhodes intended to make the sacred island a kind of a branch institution of her own clearing-house. It is true that after the collapse of the Ptolemaic hegemony in the Aegean and down to the early second century the relations between Rhodes and Delos begin to cool. But their business ties were too strong to be wholly broken. Thus in the inscription which speaks of the Histiaeans buying corn at Delos it is a Rhodian banker, probably established at Delos, who advances him the money without interest. In the light of this evidence it is easy to understand why Philip V, in his endeavour to extend his own power at the expense of Egypt, looked upon Rhodes as the main hindrance of his plans rather than the Seleucids, the legal overlords of Asia Minor, or Attalus I, the new aspirant to this same suzerainty. Philip had, however, no good justification for an open attack on Rhodes, the champion of liberty and the guardian of the seas, the great republic which had earned the enthusiastic assistance of states from Asia Minor to Syracuse when, in 227/6 bc, a terrible earthquake almost destroyed the city. Meanwhile Rhodes grew stronger every day. Philip decided not to attack Rhodes at once, but first to weaken her by undermining her commercial prosperity. His natural though unavowed associates were those who made piracy their profession, especially the Cretans, bitter enemies of the Rhodians—not without cause, for it was the Rhodians who had supplanted them in commerce and left them piracy as their one resource. The Cretans were assisted by the malignant activities of the agents of Philip, Dicaearchus and Heracleides, until Rhodes realized her danger and viewed Philip with justified suspicion. There were constant hostilities against Crete, followed by a declaration of war against Philip himself. Only the fact that Rhodes foresaw that any delay was fraught with danger for her prosperity could have driven her peace-loving citizens to challenge the power of Macedon. More than this, it led them to ally themselves with Attalus and invoke the intervention of Rome which led to the utter defeat of Philip. It is in their fear of Philip and his imperialistic ambitions that we must seek the explanation of the Rhodians’ alliance with Rome. They sincerely expected that Rome would pursue a policy of laisser aller towards the Greeks, which meant the continuation of Rhodian prosperity and security, whereas it was evident that Philip’s victory meant for Rhodes at the very least subjection.
The humiliation of Philip brought Rhodes a notable increase in wealth and power. She was not only now the chief power in the Aegean Sea, the recognized president of the Island League which she now revived, but also the sovereign of considerable possessions on the mainland of Asia Minor. Antiochus III had already ceded to her Stratoniceia in Caria and she had purchased Caunus from the Ptolemies. Finally, in return for the active and efficient aid which she had given to the Romans in their struggle against Antiochus, she received Caria south of the Maeander and all Lycia except Telmessus. For about twenty years after the Peace of Apamea Rhodes became one of the most important factors in the balance of power which the Romans temporarily set up in the East.
For these palmy days of Rhodes we have ample and trustworthy information. We see the Rhodians fighting the pirates with all their strength. Many of her citizens fell in these conflicts and were honoured by their countrymen. The number of her allies steadily increased. Even certain influential cities of Crete became allies of Rhodes and pledged themselves to combat the pirates hand in hand with the Rhodians, as is shown by the treaty with Hierapytna. Rhodian admirals and captains were everywhere. They appear in time of war as commanders of strong squadrons of Rhodian and allied ships. They firmly resisted such attempts at blockading the trade in the Hellespont, as that of King Eumenes II c. 183/2. If need arose they sent their governors (epistataij to the cities of the Island League in order to defend them from enemies or to settle their internal and external affairs. Most interesting, as showing the relations they had with the cities of the League, is a group of inscriptions from Tenos, which at that time was the headquarters both of the Island League and of the Rhodian and allied navy. This fact made it the administrative and the financial centre of the League. Financially, however, Tenos was entirely dependent on the great bankers of Delos and behind them probably on those of Rhodes. This appears from a group of inscriptions relating to a banker, Timon of Syracuse, who resided at Delos and had business relations with Delos herself and with other islands. Tenos, too, at that time adopted the Rhodian currency and imitated her political institutions. Not very different were the relations of Rhodes to the other members of the League, such as Ceos and Amorgos. Outside the Cyclades Rhodes was satisfied with making new allies. We hear, for example, of alliances with Eresus in Lesbos and with Miletus. Rhodian influence stretches as far as Cyzicus, Sinope, Olbia, the Scythians of the Crimea and the Bosporan kingdom.
This great increase in power and prestige meant for Rhodes a corresponding increase in wealth. This is attested by the Rhodian currency which is dominant in the Aegean market and far beyond it and, faute de mieux, by the Rhodian stamps on the handles of their jars. The export of wine was but a trifling part of Rhodian trade, but its spread testifies to the extended voyages of the Rhodian ships which imposed their mediocre wine on customers with whom they were in constant relations and for whom Rhodian merchants with their money and influence were always welcome guests. The collection and examination of Rhodian stamps found outside and inside the island show that most of the Rhodian amphorae were produced between 225 and 150 bc, especially in the early second century. Rhodian stamps are found in great numbers in Alexandria and in Egypt in general, in Syria, in Palestine, in Asia Minor (especially in Pergamum), even as far as Susa in Persia, and, in the West, in Sicily and southern Italy and at Carthage. Rhodes failed, however, to conquer the whole of the northern market for her wine, a fact which suggests that she never succeeded in becoming dominant in the north Aegean. Of the jar stamps found at Delos 70 per cent, are Cnidian, and only 25 per cent. Rhodian. The same is true for the Aegean in general. On the other hand in South Russia of 1500 stamps found in the excavations at Olbia some scores only belong to Thasos, Cnidos and elsewhere, while the remainder are Rhodian. During the second century Rhodes reached the Crimea by way of Olbia and her trade dominated the capital of the Scythian kings Scilurus and Palacus. In the Bosporan kingdom Rhodes is less prominent and shares her commercial influence almost equally with Thasos and Sinope. Apparently the dynasts of the Bosporus refused to submit entirely to the Rhodian maritime hegemony.
Finally, just as many foreign merchants resided at Rhodes, so Rhodians are found at this time at all the great commercial centres of the Greek world. This is abundantly proved, although all the available evidence has not yet been put together except for Alexandria, where, in the early Ptolemaic period, Rhodians play an important part. We need not be surprised to find Rhodian merchants all-powerful in many of the smaller Greek islands.
It is not easy to say wherein lay the main business of Rhodes. The little we know shows that Rhodes, like Athens in the fifth century and London in modern times, was a great clearing-house for international commerce and exchange, especially between Greece and the Orient. Greece was at that time the main market, the western market gradually gaining in importance. The staple article of trade was corn. All our evidence converges to suggest that except for a large part of the Black Sea trade, which never left Delos, Rhodes had become the greatest corn-market of the world. To Egypt and Cyprus Rhodes added the western market, especially Sicily and Southern Italy, and it was Rhodes that opened up Numidia to the products of Greek industry and attracted Numidian corn to the Aegean world. Rhodian bankers, as we have seen, were actively concerned in the corn-trade of Delos, and their influence is further attested by the part played by a Rhodian merchant in the corn supply of the little island of Ios and by the relations between Rhodes and Tenos which have been mentioned already. Trade in slaves also played an important role in the business life of Rhodes. The island itself possessed a great number of slaves, and it was from the slavemarket of Rhodes that Mysta, after being taken prisoner and enslaved by the Galatians, was restored with all due ceremony to her royal lover, Seleucus III.
We must not underestimate, however, another side of Rhodian business. The Rhodians were not only merchants, but more than merchants, they were bankers. Capital migrated largely from Athens to Rhodes and to Delos, which was a still safer place even than Rhodes for people who wished their money to be deposited out of the reach of pirates and the admirals of rival monarchies. To the instances already cited of Rhodian banking operations may be added a modest document, characteristic in its modesty. Epitaphs of Rhodians rarely reveal what professions or trades they had followed. One of the rare exceptions is that of a respectable Rhodian, whose profession is thus described: ‘for three decades he kept on deposit gold for foreigners and citizens alike with purest honesty.’
But the heyday of Rhodes’ prosperity was soon past. After the Third Macedonian War, Rome decided to punish her for having behaved as though she was free and independent, and chose her most vulnerable point—her commerce. To undermine Rhodian prosperity, the source of her pride and self-confidence, it was not necessary for Rome to declare war against her or to send her legions to Rhodes. That would be a scandal in the Greek world, and scandals Rome avoided as much as she could. A simpler and less drastic measure sufficed. It was suggested by the policy of the Antigonids. Delos was played off against Rhodes. By an apparently benevolent gesture towards the merchants of the Greek world Delos was made a free harbour. And inevitably a large volume of commerce, especially in slaves, at once migrated to Delos. This did not, however, mean ruin. Rhodes was still the great centre of banking, and of course not all the merchants moved to Delos. We do not know how Rhodes answered the declaration of Delos as a free port. A few years later the Rhodians complained to the Senate that as a result of its action, the customs- dues of the State fell from 1,000,000 Rhodian drachmae to 150,000. This may have been because commerce migrated to Delos or because the Rhodians were forced to match the attractions of Delos by reducing the rate of their own duties. But the loss fell on the revenues of the State and had only an indirect and lessened effect on the commerce and banking of the Rhodian merchants. Another great blow to the State treasury was the loss of Rhodian possessions on the mainland, particularly of Stratoniceia and Caunus, which had brought in a revenue of 120 talents. But, as Rhodes had grown rich and powerful without foreign possessions apart from the Peraea, so the forfeiture of these territories did not mean utter ruin to Rhodian merchants and to the business community as a whole.
In fact, the loss experienced after Pydna was great but not irreparable. What was more serious was that the Romans made it very difficult for the Rhodians to police the sea. From now onwards piracy grew steadily, despite all that Rhodes could do, and developed at the end of the century into a plague which made commerce in the Aegean almost impossible. Rome made spasmodic efforts to take the lead in fighting piracy with the help of Rhodes as one of her agents. This is shown by the operations of M. Antonius in Cilicia (102 bc) and the law against piracy of about 100 b.c. found at Delphi. But she failed ignominiously. It was hard on the one hand to patronize the trade in slaves and on the other to strike at the main source of the supply. Along with the growth of piracy went a general impoverishment of Greece. The cosmopolitan foreign colony of Delos and, through it, some Athenians, grew rich, but the rest of Greece became ever poorer. The Greek commerce which had once enriched Rhodes was now of little importance. And Italy and the West were able to deal with Egypt and Syria without the help of Rhodes.
The convulsions of the East in Mithridates’ times and the subsequent civil wars aggravated the situation. Not that Rhodes was even yet wholly ruined and powerless. The brilliant part which her navy played in the Mithridatic war of Sulla, the dramatic story of the last battles of Rhodes for liberty, the many monuments which belong to this time and the renown of the city in the eyes of the Romans, a renown based on the great achievements of Rhodes in the field of civilization, show that Rhodes was still the city par excellence among the other Greek communities. It was reserved for Cassius in 42 bc to reduce Rhodes to real poverty and temporary desolation. But even Cassius was not able finally to undermine the resources of the city. As soon as the Orient recovered its shattered prosperity under the Roman Empire and Greece became a little richer, Rhodes once more became a wealthy and famous city which earned the enthusiastic panegyrics of Dio Chrysostom and Aristides.
THE CITY OF RHODES. RHODIAN CONSTITUTION. ARMY AND NAVY. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
It was the common opinion of the Greeks that Rhodes was the most beautiful city of the Greek world. We have not the means to judge how far Greek opinion was right. The city of Rhodes itself has not been excavated, and the excavations of the much ruined acropolis of Lindus and of some buildings (for instance, a beautiful public fountain) of Ialysus are a poor substitute. The best descriptions of Rhodes are those of Strabo, of Diodorus and of Dio Chrysostom. They show us the three harbours of Rhodes, all the work of man, the city descending to the harbours from the hills, fan-like or theatrelike, the city walls surrounding the city even on the sea side, the famous deigma, where the wares of all nations were displayed, the squares around it, the shrine of Dionysus and the gymnasium near it, and, last but not least, the pride of the Rhodians, the famous docks. We hear also of the acropolis with its open spaces and groves, of the temple of Helios, of that of Apollo Pythias and of Zeus Atabyrios, but we are not able to determine their sites. No doubt the story about the famous Hippodamus of Miletus being the builder of Rhodes is an invention. It is significant, however, of the great reputation of the city that her building should be attributed to the greatest town-planner of the ancient world.
We are also ill-informed about the adornment of the city by statues and pictures. Most of the famous sculptures of the Rhodian school found homes in later times away from Rhodes and we do not know what part they played in the beauty of the city. Even the famous colossus of Rhodes is a mystery to us. We believe that we know its face from the coins, but we are still ignorant what the figure of the Rhodian harbour-Apollo as sun-god was like. The statues which have been found at Rhodes are few and, in general, disappointing; strangely enough, none of themshow the peculiarities of what is called the Rhodian school of sculpture.
Better known than the external aspect of the city is the peculiar constitution of the island after the synoecism. The constitution and the legal system—the eunomia—of Rhodes were famous. Of the latter we know very little, a little more about her political institutions. The constitution in the main was democratic, but Rhodes was notable for having found a middle way between democracy and aristocracy: ‘The Rhodians,’ says Strabo, ‘care for the demos, though they are not ruled by it, but they intend to exercise control over the masses of the poor. The people are rationed with corn and the well-to-do support with provisions those in need according to ancestral practice (and there are also liturgies). Thus the poor have the means to live, and at the same time the city has its needs amply supplied especially as regards its shipping’.
Such was the spirit of the Rhodian constitution. Like the Roman it was an aristocracy disguised as a democracy. The forms of constitutional life were as follows. The citizens were divided into three phylai, representing the ancient cities of Lindus, Camirus and Ialysus, and these again into damoi, the same damoi as existed before the synoecism, the constituent parts of the three ancient cities. A similar division into damoi is also found in Rhodian territory outside the island, that of the mainland (the Peraea) and of the subject islands. There existed a complicated system, little known to us, of relations between those damoi and the three cities of Rhodes. Outside the damoi stood the provinces or subject cities of the Rhodian possessions in Caria and Lycia, which were administered in the same way as the subject cities of the other Hellenistic powers. The system of taxation in the provinces is unknown to us, but, as we have seen, the revenues from Stratoniceia and Caunus amounted to 120 talents.
The government was in the hands, not so much of the popular assembly, as of the Council and of its presidents, the five prytaneis. Both the Council and the chief magistrates were elected for six months, during which period one of the prytaneis acted as president of the republic. He and the council were assisted by a secretary and an under-secretary. In time of war there were commanders-in-chief of the naval and land forces, the navarch and the chief General. The navarch was assisted by a group of advisers, mostly former presidents of the republic or prytaneis. In his hands lay diplomatic relations with foreign countries, and in this capacity he might represent Rhodes abroad, as Foreign Secretaries do now on great occasions.
Beside the prytaneis there were of course other magistrates and public officers. The most important were the ten or twelve strategoi and the seven treasurers. Characteristic of Rhodes are the curators of the merchant harbour and the guardians of the corn with a special prytanis (known from a later inscription) at their head. A special curator was appointed for dealing with the affairs of the foreigners. A group of epistatai took charge of public education, the cost of which was borne by liturgies. We know from a recently discovered inscription the minute care that was taken, for example, of the public libraries. The gymnasia and the provision of games were the care of the agonothetai and choregoi. Order was maintained by special astynomoi, and the public cults had their appointed priests.
We would gladly know in greater detail than Strabo gives how the State took care of the poor and thus avoided revolutions. It was not, in fact, very difficult for a city that controlled a large part of the world corn-trade to provide an abundant food-supply for its population. At the same time the Rhodians, even more than the Athenians, relied upon imported corn. The large export of wine alone shows that the island itself produced but little corn. Some, indeed, may have been supplied by the other islands of the Dodecanese and by the Peraea. But it appears probable that these parts of the Rhodian State availed themselves of the chance of selling their wine along with that of the island and devoted themselves chiefly to its production. In any event, whether the task was difficult or not, intelligent organization was needed, and Strabo is witness that the Rhodians found a fair scheme for satisfying the needs of the population and for preventing hunger riots. It is probably not an accident that we have no evidence at Rhodes of gifts of corn for feeding the populace. The present of corn made by Eumenes II was a substitute for money and was destined to pay for the education of children, and the permission to import corn from Sicily granted to Rhodes by the Senate in 169 bc was a war measure.
The most important reasons, however, for the peaceful life of the Rhodian community are to be found not so much in the organization of the corn-supply as in its steadily growing prosperity and the resulting social and economic progress of the Rhodians. The prosperity of Rhodes depended very largely on its foreign policy, and this in its turn on the great care which the Rhodians devoted to the maintenance of their naval pre-eminence over other Greek states. As yet little is known of the technical progress achieved by the Rhodians in shipbuilding. The ancients admired their achievements immensely. We know from Strabo that the Rhodians themselves kept some of their docks strictly closed and that no stranger was admitted into them. It was not only because of the danger of damage which might be done to the ships by agents of some foreign power like Philip’s emissary Heracleides, but also because the Rhodians had secret devices which they sought to keep for themselves. The Rhodians showed their engineering skill in countering the attacks of Demetrius and it is evident that they improved their technique after the siege; as we have seen, Rhodian warengines were sent to help the citizens of Sinope. But they also enjoyed a like reputation as shipbuilders, and it is not impossible that a careful study of the ship monuments of Rhodes may reveal some of the novelties invented by the Rhodians in this field. Inscriptions supply evidence of the care which the Rhodians took of their dockyards. In some Rhodian inscriptions set up to commemorate war services we find not only names of those who served in the navy as soldiers and officers but also of men connected with the docks. In one inscription we have at the end of the list the name of a shipbuilder and of the workmen. It is interesting to observe that all the workmen (six names are preserved) are Rhodian citizens, from which we may conclude that slaves and foreigners were not admitted to the docks even in that capacity. In another similar inscription are found the names of a chief ship-guard and of a guard, very probably belonging to the police force of the docks.
The navy of Rhodes was highly organized and consisted of all kinds of craft from quinqueremes downwards, with a hierarchy of officers and skilled seamen and marines. The fighting men on board were Rhodian citizens, as we know from lists of soldiers and officers, and the same may be true of the sailors and rowers. Whether naval service was compulsory or voluntary we do not know, nor how long it lasted or how often a Rhodian might be called upon. Most of the ships were built by rich citizens, the trierarchs, who in time of war provided pay for the crews, but on the understanding that the State would reimburse them. The emulation of the trierarchs was kept up by competitions between the ships, and a victory in such an agon was counted a very high distinction. The Rhodian sailors, whether in the navy or the merchant fleet, enjoyed a great reputation for bravery and skill among all the Greeks. One piece of their sea-lore time has spared in a Rhodian sailor’s song recently found in Egypt.
The most lasting of Rhodian achievements in nautical matters was probably the famous Rhodian Law. It is characteristic of the state of our information that our only evidence on the Rhodian Law consists of a fragment of the Roman jurist Paulus who mentions the lex Rhodia de iactu. Appended to this fragment is a statement of Volusius Maecianus who speaks of a decretum of an emperor Antoninus (Antoninus Pius or M. Aurelius) in which the emperor directs that in naval suits the ‘law of the Rhodians’ should be taken into consideration so far as it does not contradict the Roman law. From these references is derived the description of the law in Isidore of Seville. The quasi-historical evidence which is contained in the title of and the introduction to the so-called lex Rhodia of the Byzantine period has no value, the title and the introduction being compiled in the twelfth century. Meagre as our evidence is, it shows that the current sea-law of the Mediterranean, the rules which were known to every seaman and of which the Roman administration and the Roman jurists had to take account in building up their own sea-law, was commonly called in the Mediterranean the law of the Rhodians. This implies that the Rhodians, in the period of their rule, enforced on the seas a set of rules which probably sought to sum up and perhaps to codify all that the Greeks had previously achieved in this field, a law which thus was acceptable to all who used the sea.
About the Rhodian army less is known than about the navy. The general belief of modern scholars is that the army consisted exclusively of mercenaries. This belief is founded on the provision for the raising of mercenaries in Crete in the treaty between Rhodes and Hierapytna. We may however deduce from a statement of Livy that along with detachments of allies most of the soldiers of the Rhodian land army were recruited in the Peraea of Rhodes. These soldiers probably served for money and so far may be called mercenaries, but it is to be remembered that the inhabitants of the Peraea were incorporated in the Rhodian damoi. It is, however, worthy of note that service in the land army was apparently regarded as inferior to service in the navy. While highborn Rhodians never fail to mention in their cursus honorum that they began their public life by serving in the navy as marines, they never mention service of the same type in the army. It was probably taken for granted that service in the army, except as an officer or general, was no occupation for a respectable Rhodian. The Rhodian army stood under the command of strategoi and hegemones and was divided between the island and the Peraea. In time of war a generalissimo was sometimes appointed. It is not probable that the Rhodians maintained a standing army, though during the short period in which they had considerable overseas possessions they may have kept permanent garrisons in some cities. The high regard in which service in war was held is attested by the beautiful monuments built in honour or to the memory of heroes on sea or land in the form of a ship’s stern or of a panoply or trophy. Some of these monuments are very fine, especially the ship’s stern cut in the rock near the entrance into the Acropolis of Lindus, and it is natural to compare them with the Nike of Samothrace.
It is striking, indeed, how high was the spirit of comradeship. Such a spirit is indeed characteristic of all Hellenistic armies. It is a common feature of the military dedications all over the Hellenistic world that officers and men appear together in the inscription, and that in the appended lists of dedicants no distinction is made between officers and privates. But in Rhodes alone do we find associations of men who served on the same ship. The ties of comradeship formed during service were made permanent, and officers and men alike belonged to the same associations of ex-service men, which, beyond doubt, did much to keep alive in many a Rhodian citizen the spirit of military valour, of patriotism and of comradeship.
The normal career of Rhodians of good birth may be reconstructed from the inscriptions. Though the highest offices, both civil and military, and the more eminent priesthoods were, in practice at least, the monopoly of an aristocracy of birth, wealth and state service, even the noblest Rhodians began their career as private soldiers in the fleet. After that their advancement begins. As an example may be given the cursus honorum of one Polycles, son of Sosus, as attested by an inscription set up by his grandchildren. After serving as a private in the fleet, he became a hegemon in the army without salary, then commanded first light vessels and then a squadron of quinqueremes and finally held a high command either on the island itself or on the mainland. The climax of his military career was that he was navarch;and after that was three times appointed general of the land forces in the Peraea. At this point begins the list of his civil distinctions. He was prytanis during the First Mithridatic War and at the same time adviser to the navarch, Demagoras, and took part in the funeral ceremonial for fallen citizens. During this war and later he supported exceptionally burdensome liturgies, being probably a very rich man. He twice built a quadrireme and was active in his support of the gymnasia and the games and in providing choruses. He received honours from his fellow-soldiers, from citizen associations, from allied communities and foreign cities. No doubt he added to his military positions the practice of diplomacy. Such was the career of a Rhodian even in the time when Rome overshadowed the free Greek states.
We do not know how large was the population of the cities of Rhodes and of the State as a whole. No ancient statistics are available, and modern conditions are misleading, for Rhodes is nowadays an agricultural not a commercial community. Nor do we know what was the proportion of citizens, slaves and foreigners. If, however, we analyse the population of Rhodes according to its political rights and social standing we find it highly differentiated. The full citizens are those who belong to one of the old cities of Rhodes. They append to their names the name of their fathers and the name of the damos to which they belong. Next to the full citizens stood those who had the right of naming their father but did not belong to a demos. As will be seen later, there were great numbers of foreigners in Rhodes, and it is no wonder that many of them tried to become in one way or another Rhodian citizens. It was not easy. Foreigners first received the right of residence, the epidamia, and later might be advanced to the standing of a Rhodian, a kind of minor franchise. But no examples are known of a foreigner who became a full citizen. On the contrary those born of one Rhodian parent became a kind of political mongrel with the name of matroxenos, i.e. born of a foreign mother. The constitution of such a mixed family is well illustrated by an inscription of about 200 BC. In a well-to-do Rhodian family of prosperous bankers the grandfather was a regular Rhodian citizen. He married a foreign woman, and his son was therefore a Rhodian, but only a matroxenos. Finally his grandson, perhaps in turn born of a foreign mother, was not reckoned as a citizen but as a foreigner, a Samian with the right of residence.
A special class was that of paroikoi and katoikoi. Their standing is a riddle. We have two references to a
special group of residents in the city of Lindus, ‘resident and holding land’.
In the first of the two they are called aliens, and yet they were permanent
residents and landowners and apparently well-to-do people, since the city of
Lindus decrees they should take part in the provision of choruses. Parallels
from Asia Minor suggest that these katoikoi were natives of Rhodes, but
belonged to the pre-Hellenic population of the island. It is possible that this
class was also widely spread in the Peraea and formed there the population of
Our scanty evidence produces the impression of a strict exclusiveness if not of the Rhodian citizens in general at least of the group of aristocratic families. They have their own associations of an archaic character, based on a mixture of religious and family ties. No foreigners were admitted to these associations and on the other hand no good Rhodian would take an active part in the associations reserved for the foreigners. Families were kept alive by adoption, a habit as widely spread at Rhodes as at Rome. Lastly, the Rhodians educated their children and took their exercise in gymnasia which were strictly reserved for Rhodian citizens. We have seen in the inscription about Polycles that those who granted honours to him were his former colleagues as magistrate, his fellow-soldiers, members of eight associations of the type described above, and, finally, allies and foreign cities. Not one of the associations of foreigners at Rhodes presumes to vote any honour to him—a striking contrast to the practice which prevailed in Rome. If we take into account how much the citizens of Rhodes were supposed to do for the State in the naval service, in the docks, as public officers and members of the council, we need not wonder that the economic life of Rhodes was based, not on the work of Rhodian citizens, but on that of foreigners and of slaves.
Among the foreigners also we may distinguish different classes. The right of residence seems to have been a kind of distinction carrying with it the right to the description metoikos, and differentiating its possessors from ‘aliens’ It is possible that some metoikoi were freedmen. Foreigners and freedmen formed the most active and the most numerous body of the free residents of Rhodes. In their epitaphs and in the inscriptions bearing on their associations—the only evidence which we have of them— they almost never tell us of their occupation. Many of them, however, were very rich. They take part in the liturgies of the state, they make liberal benefactions to the associations to which they belong. It is evident that they become rich by productive work—no doubt, commerce, banking, industry. Their provenance supports this suggestion. Most of them come from regions which had brisk commercial relations with Rhodes. The majority are natives of Asia Minor, the Greek islands, Syria and Phoenicia and Egypt. Very few Greeks from Southern Italy and Sicily are found among them and not very many from Greece itself and from the Black Sea region. It is striking not to find Romans and romanized Italians. They were, perhaps, too proud to settle on an island where they would have such restricted rights.
Excluded from public life and from the aristocratic associations of the citizens, the foreigners developed a life of their own in the scores of associations which they formed all over the island. All these associations are religious; some, if not all of them, provide for a burial for their members. None of them are strictly national or vocational. In all of them we find a mixture of men of various origin and probably men of different professions. Thus in the inscription cited below the great benefactor of the association is a man from Selge. In the same document are mentioned three other foreigners, one fromPhaselis, another a Galatian, and the third an Arab. Some associations admit slaves. Otherwise slaves, especially public slaves, have their own associations.
The slave population seems to have been very large. The public slaves form the upper class and intermarry with foreigners. Next come the class of slaves born in Rhodes, which corresponds to the home-bred slaves of other cities, and finally a mass of those who were bought in the slave-market and who are designated in their short epitaphs by the name of their country of origin. Most of them came from Asia: Lydians, Phrygians, Cilicians, Cappadocians, Galatians, Syrians, Armenians, Medians. There are very few from Thrace, some from South Russia—Scythians, Sarmatians, and Maeotians.
To sum up, Rhodes enjoyed a long and glorious life. By her energy and skill she created for a while conditions which made commerce possible and profitable, and that not for herself alone. She did her best to keep peace among the Greeks, to safeguard liberty for the Greek cities and to combat destructive forces in Greek life. Submission to a monarch seemed to her more dangerous than an alliance with a city-state in Italy. She could not foresee that this sister Republic would become a greater menace than any Hellenistic monarch. And, last but not least, from the beginning to the end, Rhodes was a home of Greek civilization, Greek learning and Greek art. A glance at the long list of names of the sculptors active at Rhodes or even the reading of the Lindian Chronicle will show how active a part Rhodes took in the building up and the spread of Greek civilization. Her greatest sons, indeed, one a Rhodian by birth, the other by adoption, Panaetius and Posidonius, had a widespread influence on the hellenization of Rome, possessing as they did instincts and intellects which may even be called Roman rather than Greek.
DELOS. ITS COMMERCE, CONSTITUTION, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
As has been said, close relations existed between Rhodes and Delos, especially in the third century b.c. It was natural for Delos, the age-old sacred island of Apollo, the seat of an ancient religious federation, to become a trading and banking centre of importance. The panegyris of Delos attracted large masses of pilgrims and the sanctity of the place guaranteed safety for deposits which were under the care of Apollo and of his attendants.
So long, however, as the island was a subject or subject ally of Athens, she could not look for commercial development of any importance. The situation changed when in 315/4 bc. Delos recovered complete independence. She soon became the centre of the Ptolemaic Island League and therefore no negligible factor in the political and economic life of the Aegean. We hear occasionally of Delos lending money to the islands (probably for paying the contribution to Demetrius) and trying to collect it in 280 bc., not without difficulties, with the help of Philocles, king of the Sidonians and admiral of Ptolemy. After the collapse of the League Delos enjoyed the protection and patronage of the Antigonids, who sought to find in her a substitute for their enemy—Athens. The corn-trade and some commerce in other products of the North concentrated gradually at Delos. It is no wonder that the banking operations of the island assumed at this period ever growing proportions. This is true, not so much of the banking of the temple, which was strictly limited in its operations and gave loans on very precise conditions, as of the business of many private bankers, most of them foreigners, who took an active part in the corn-trade and were no doubt connected with the banking houses of Rhodes. Corn attracted to Delos both sellers and buyers, and both brought with them in exchange other goods. Relations with Egypt and with the cities in the North—Cyzicus, Lampsacus, Abydos, Byzantium, Chalcedon, Olbia and Panticapaeum—were firmly established and lasting. This fact accounts for the gradual growth of the foreign colony at Delos, composed partly of residents in the city, partly of visitors. The earliest mention (about 178 bc?) of an important group of such foreign traders is the honorary inscription for Heliodorus, the prime minister of King Seleucus IV of Syria, set up by a group of shipowners and storehouse-owners of Berytus, who probably had important trade relations with Delos of a permanent, not merely casual, character. These were not, of course, the first oriental merchants of whom this can be said. Meanwhile, the Syrian kings came to rely more and more in the development of their trade on their Phoenician cities and the Greek and Italian markets. For example, from the fourth century b.c. onward we have abundant evidence of Tyrian merchants at Delos, and about the same time many important business men came to reside in Delos from the neighbouring islands, such as Eutychus of Chios (. The first Italians arrived a little later.
A new era began for Delian commerce in 167 or 166 when the Romans declared Delos ‘free of taxes,’ which is commonly interpreted as the proclamation of Delos as a free port. This measure of the Senate cannot be explained by a desire to promote the interests of the few Italian merchants and bankers who had at that time business in the Aegean Sea. Their influence with the Senate was negligible, and the Senate had not the knowledge of economics needed to foresee how its decision would influence the commercial life of the Aegean Sea. It was as we have seen a strictly political measure, intended to inflict on Rhodes an exemplary punishment, and at the same time to promote the interests of Rome’s faithful ally, the rival of Rhodes—Athens. The sufferers were not only the Rhodians but also and no less the native Delians themselves. Whether these latter had carried on trade and banking before 167 bc or not we do not know. What our ancient sources suggest about them points rather to the fact that they lived from the revenue derived from pilgrims and merchants. For them the decree of Rome meant ruin. The administration of the temple was handed over to the Athenians, and all duties from foreigners were abolished.
It is hard to say whether the gift of the Romans was of great material value to the Athenians or not. The few Athenians who engaged in profitable business at Delos were of little concern to the State of Athens, and the free port of Delos did as much injury to what was left of the commerce of the Piraeus as it did to Rhodes. The new status of Delos merely meant a bonus for speculators and profiteers—that class of cosmopolitan merchants and bankers in whose hands was concentrated the international commerce of those days.
A sequence of further acts of political vengeance contributed to the increasing prosperity of this class. The constant watch over Rhodes and the endeavour to prevent her from building up her navy again gave an opportunity to the pirates to carry on their business on a large scale. The free port of Delos, left completely in the hands of bankers, merchants and traders, was the best possible place for them to sell their plunder, especially their prisoners, who were sold en masse to Italy as agricultural, industrial and domestic slaves. The destruction of Carthage and Corinth as cities ruined large communities of prosperous and energetic merchants and forced those of them who survived and had something of their capital left to look for another home where they could carry on their hereditary business. Finally, the conditions which prevailed in the East—the growing disintegration of the various political units and their gradual impoverishment— turned the attention of traders in Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt to Italy, which gradually became the richest market in the world.
The residents of Southern Italy and Sicily were for a long time in close connection with the Greek world first through Athens, then through Rhodes and Delos. Allies of the Romans, Romans themselves in the eyes of the Orient, protected by Roman magistrates and the Roman-Italian armies, the Greeks and hellenized Italians of Southern Italy could not miss the great opportunity which the growing importance of the Italian market, the increased production of Italy, especially in olive-oil and wine and the opening of the harbour of Delos presented them. With the money which they acquired during the great wars of Rome in the West and in the East they began gradually to settle down in Delos and to get into immediate touch with the producers of Italy, the slavetraders of Greece and the merchants of Asia Minor, Phoenicia and Egypt. The proud island of Rhodes, celebrated for her laws and honesty, was not exactly the place of residence which the Italian dealers would choose. At Delos they had a free hand and complete security.
After 167 bc Delos was nominally a cleruchy of Athens. This meant that Athenian magistrates carried out the administration of the temple and of the city, while the Athenian residents of the island had the semblance of forming a community, which in fact depended wholly on Athens. The new Athenian settlers began at once a bitter feud with the Delians, a struggle for existence. The Delians succumbed, and were evacuated to Achaea in Greece. The Athenians and the motley crowd of international merchants were left alone.
No doubt some of the Athenians had their share in the brisk business which was developing on Delos. But they were few in comparison with the masses of foreign traders—Italians and Orientals. The more numerous these last became, the less interesting Delos was for Athens. Finally by a natural and slow process the Athenians were practically absorbed by the foreigners. After about 130 bc decrees of the Athenians, even the honorary decrees, are no longer found, but are replaced by decrees of a composite body: the Athenians, both residents of Delos and visitors, the Romans, that is Italians, and the rest of the Greeks— the slightly hellenized oriental merchants; the formula varies, but in all the versions it is expressly mentioned that these men are merchants and shipowners.
This composite body kept no doubt a close grasp upon the island. The Athenian governors (the epimeletai) and the other Athenian magistrates of the island represented the ruling power, but had probably very little to say as regards the vital questions which concerned the community. The foreign bodies were not loose aggregations of individuals. They were organized into associations. In describing the activity of these associations we cannot use the word companies, in the sense of large business concerns. They were religious and social groups with a national character and with common interests—merchants, shipowners and storehouse-owners. The combination of the last two features was new in the history of the Greek associations. Of these there were many all over the Greek world, scores of them for example in Rhodes. None, however, were both national and professional. Their peculiar evolution in Delos may be regarded, perhaps, as due to the combination of a natural process with oriental traditions.
The Italians grouped themselves around the cult of Mercury and Maia, so popular in Southern Italy (e.g. at Pompeii), and around the cults of Apollo and Poseidon, again typical cults for Campania and the rest of Southern Italy. Soon—about the end of the second century bc—they built a large religious and social centre of their common life near the temple of Apollo, the meeting-hall of the Italians (Italike Pastas). Each group had its own magistrates, called according to the Italian traditions ‘magistri,’ whose duty it was to provide for the cult. In later times the three leading Italian associations sometimes took common action. In these cases they were represented by twelve presidents (magistri) who acted on behalf of their respective societies. A separate group of Kompetaliastai (worshippers of the Lares com-pitales) was formed by slaves and freedmen of the rich Italians.
Among the foreign groups of the population of Delos the Italians no doubt were the best organized. The Italike Pastas is unique, and is far more impressive than the sanctuary and clubhouse of the Berytians or the cosmopolitan sanctuaries of the Syrians and Alexandrians. On the other hand the few documents which speak of the activity of the three leading Italian associations do not justify us in assuming, with some eminent modern scholars, the existence at Delos in the late second century bc of a regular conventus civium Romanorum or of a kind of precursor of such a conventus, a permanent body of Italian residents which was recognized as such both by Athens and the Roman government. We must not forget that in the second century b.c. most of the Italians were not Roman citizens, and that the regular conventus civium Romanorum appeared in the Orient at a much later date, not earlier than the beginning of the Roman Empire.
How exclusive the Italians at Delos were it is not easy to say. They spoke both Latin and Greek, they intermarried freely with the Greeks and the Orientals and educated their children according to the Greek fashion in the Greek gymnasia. On the other hand they seem to have kept strictly to the religious traditions of Italy. The numerous frescoes which adorn some of the street altars of Delos and the adjoining house walls have been ingeniously interpreted to show that the Italians of Delos worshipped in their houses and at the street corners the Genius, the Lares and the Penates of the Italian domestic religion in exactly the same fashion as was done at Rome and in the cities of Latium and Campania at the same time or a little later. But it must be said that this interpretation cannot be regarded as established beyond doubt. Most of the ‘ Romans ’ of Delos came from South Italy, and we do not know whether the Samnites and the Oscans had the same household religion as the Latins whose representatives at Delos were but few. Moreover, very little is known of Greek domestic religion and we are therefore not able to recognize and isolate the Greek elements in the ceremonies of Delian domestic and street worship.
Alongside the Italians stood the oriental merchants—Alexandrians in great numbers, Syrians, Phoenicians, men from various parts of Asia Minor. Many of them were permanent residents of Delos. Like the Italians, some of them were organized in rich and powerful associations, such as the Herakleistai of Tyre, the Poseidoneistai of Berytus, and the representatives of a professional merchant association of Alexandria. Syrians no doubt predominated. A recently found and still unpublished list of ephebes of 119/8 bc enumerates almost exclusively boys of Syrian origin. Hundreds of other foreigners came to Delos for a shorter or longer stay, among them the picturesque figures of Gerrhaeans from the Persian Gulf, of Nabataeans from Petra, of Minaeans from Southern Arabia and of Arabs. And sovereigns of the surviving Hellenistic states, the last Ptolemies and Seleucids, the Bithynian, Cappadocian and Pontic kings, vied in securing for themselves the good services of the Delian merchant community.
The artificial prosperity of Delos did not last for very long. There were no natural reasons why Delos should be a great trading centre. It was not the two catastrophes of 88 and 69, the repeated looting of the city by Mithridates and the pirates, which undermined her prosperity. The reason for Delos’ decay lay deeper. So soon as normal and stable conditions were created in the East, the pirates exterminated and the safety of trade restored, there was no reason for commerce to concentrate at Delos. Puteoli and Ostia were better centres for the Egyptian and Syrian trade with Italy and Rhodes for the same trade with Greece. And it seems very probable that this fact was recognized by the Romans, and that at some time the Roman government did away with the free port privilege and the immunity of the Delians. Otherwise it is not possible to account for the passing of the Lex Gabinia Calpurnia of 58 bc, by which immunity was given to the island from vectigalia, which were probably paid to Rome, among them of a special tax for the custody of public corn. If immunity was given to Delos by this law, it implies that the immunity of 167/6 no longer existed.
In the hundred years of her prosperity Delos was a unique phenomenon in the history of the ancient world. A barren and arid little island, with rather poor vegetation, with very bad harbours, with the temple towering over the humble houses of the servants of the gods, developed in a very short period into a large and prosperous community. While in the early days of Delos the city was an annex to the temple, now the temple became a kind of appendix to the community, which, in form a city, was really a loose aggregation of merchants, shipowners and bankers with the corresponding amount of labour, mostly servile. It was a new phenomenon among the city-states of Greece. The motley population of Delos had not the slightest inclination to become a city. They were perfectly happy to live the peculiar life of a free merchant community with no civic duties to fulfil and no liturgies to bear.
In earlier times it was probably the temple which dominated the place. The resources of the temple, gifts and foundations which were lavished on it by rich benefactors, made it an economic and financial force in Greece. From the second half of the third century onwards the centre of gravity shifted gradually from the temple to the city. We have good information about the finances of the temple in the accounts of the Athenian Amphic- tiones for the early period, in those of the Hieropes for the period of independence and in those of the Athenian epimeletai for the times of the cleruchy. The sources of income and the expenditure remained the same in the various periods. The regular income of the temple consisted of the money in which the rent for the use of farms and gardens on Delos, Rheneia and Myconos and of houses in the city was paid, of the interest on sums lent out to private people and cities at a comparatively low rate, and of small gifts in the temple collection-boxes. The farms and houses were rented, the first for ten, the second for five years to private people. In the later Athenian period a model contract was drawn up regulating the renting of real estate. The money for the loans came mostly from gifts and foundations bestowed on the temple by many crowned and uncrowned donors for sacrifices, games and the like. A reserve capital in specie was gradually formed and kept in jars, amounting in the later period to about 120,000 drachmae. Another reserve consisted of the votive offerings in precious metals. The income of the temple and capital owned by it were never very large. The whole of the property of the temple, including the sacred buildings, which of course involved outlay and did not yield any direct income, has been estimated at about 5 J million drachma. Of all this capital the part which yielded income was not larger than 200,000 drachmae, and the part of it which was available at any given time and could be exploited directly never amounted to more than 50,000 drachmae. In the times when the richest residents lived in modest houses rented from the temple and richer and better houses were rare in the city of Delos, the capital and the income of the temple meant a good deal, but it became relatively a trifle once Delos became the centre of international commerce, banking and speculation with large capital sums invested in business.
There is little evidence to show the size of the fortunes owned by the rich residents of Delos in the later period of its existence. However, a comparison with other parts of the ancient world at the same period, conclusions drawn from large benefactions given by private citizens to their own and to foreign cities and other scattered evidence show that there was in the second century bc a large accumulation of capital in the hands of a few private persons. The importance of Delos in the business life of the period makes it probable that the merchants and bankers of the island were not poorer than their contemporaries in Asia Minor, Syria and the commercial cities of the North.
There is also scattered information
which confirms this statement. Thus an epigram dedicated to a rich Cypriote,
Simalus by name, one of the most influential men at Delos, by an Athenian
grandee, Stolus, probably himself a business man, describes the beauty of
Simalus’ palace and the lavishness of his hospitality. Like Stolus himself,
Simalus was a friend of Egyptian kings and of Roman consuls. Wealth and influence
were hereditary in his family, which was widely scattered, one branch residing
in Tarentum. The young boys of both the Cypro-Delian and the Tarentine branches
of the family received their education in the famous gymnasia of Delos and of
Athens. Another interesting instance is Philostratus of Ascalon, a rich Delian
banker who became a citizen of Naples and thus a member of the Italian colony
of Delos. His rich house at Delos near Mt Cythnus has been discovered. Simalus
and Philostratus, both of whom were Orientals, were rivalled by opulent Italian
families. Two examples will suffice—the banker Maraeus Gerillanus and the
famous family of the Orbii.
A great part of the income of these rich men was invested by them in improving and building up the steadily growing city. Delos was never a very beautiful place. The temple square early became overcrowded and the buildings round it were not planned out systematically. Some of these, of the early Hellenistic period, were handsome, some ugly, others neither one nor the other. Still lower was the artistic standard of the Athenian period. No public building of this period can claim to be called beautiful. The various smaller public monuments—chapels, exedrae, honorary monuments—are strikingly poor, and so are the statues. Not very much better were the private and the semi-private buildings— the Italike Pastas, the Berytian club-house, the private sanctuaries and the hundreds of private residential houses, some of them with fine wall-paintings or exquisite mosaics. None of them, however, can vie with the contemporary similar buildings of the larger Italian cities such as Pompeii. Moreover, the few finer private residential houses were lost in the mass of commercial buildings, some of them belonging to the temple—blocks of flats, inns and restaurants, shops, docks and warehouses. Every little space in the crowded and doubtless dirty centre of the city was taken up by a shop or a little factory. It is evident that the residents of Delos were not very much interested either in the temple or in the city. Delos was for them not their home but their business residence. What they cared for most was not the city or the temple but the harbours, the famous sacred harbour, and especially the three adjoining so-called basins with their large and spacious storehouses. It is striking that while these storehouses are open to the sea there is almost no access to them from the city. This shows that very few of the goods stored in them ever went as far as even the market-places of the city. Most of them came to the harbour, spent some time in the storehouses and moved on, leaving considerable sums in the hands of the Delian brokers. In fact in the Athenian period the city of Delos was but an appendix to the harbour. So soon as the activity of the harbour stopped, the city became a heap of ruins and it was again the temple which towered over these ruins in splendid isolation.
THE SPREAD OF HELLENISTIC COMMERCE
The two merchant cities of Rhodes and Delos, with their peculiar development and life, are true representatives of the highly complicated and peculiar Hellenistic period. Their history, when examined in connection with a general study of the economic life and especially of the commerce of the last three centuries bc, refutes easy generalizations, which some eminent scholars, both economists and historians, have recently revived, about the ancient world living in conditions of primitive house-economy. It is, therefore, not out of place to survey in brief what is known of the development of commerce in the Hellenistic period in general, for commerce was the most important factor in ancient economic life in all periods of ancient history.
It is no easy task to give such a survey. Our information is scanty and scattered. The literary sources are almost silent. Nothing comparable with the Athenian orators and other writers, especially Xenophon and Aristotle, who throw such a vivid light on the economic life of Athens in the fourth century bc, is available for Hellenistic times. In comparison the stories in the pseudo-Aristotelian Oeconomica and references in Polybius together with anecdotes of the period collected by Athenaeus, and material derived from the poets are a very meagre harvest indeed. Far more important are inscriptions and papyri. Among the former the place of honour is occupied by the Delian inscriptions, among the latter by the correspondence of Zeno. Neither of these sources has yet been published in full or completely investigated from the economic point of view. Finally, the archaeological material—the ruins of the cities and especially the so-called small finds, first and foremost the coins—have been but little used for the reconstruction of Hellenistic economic development. Thus a satisfactory description of the commercial evolution of the ancient world in this period, so long as the main sources of our information are not collected and studied, remains a plum desiderium. What is offered here is merely a sketch pointing out problems rather than suggesting solutions.
Alexander’s conquests made intercourse between the Orient and Greece much easier than it had been during the existence of the Persian Empire. In the West there was rapid development: Rome broke the power of Carthage to the advantage of the Greeks and herself secured an ascendancy which opened up important and increasing new areas in Western Europe to the economic and especially the commercial activity of the Greeks and hellenized Italians. Thus for the first time in the history of the ancient world a well-organized international commerce became possible, and towards its achievement much progress was made in the Hellenistic period.
All the forms of commerce which were inherited from the past gained ground during the three centuries after Alexander. Of this commerce there were three main branches. These are first the commercial relations of the Greek and hellenized world with the countries which had little or no share in Greek civilization and which were not governed by Greeks—the Iranian lands (from the middle of the third century), India, Central Asia and China in the East, Arabia and Central Africa in the South, and Western, Central, Northern and Eastern Europe and West Africa in the West. Second comes commercial intercourse between the various states, large and small, within the Hellenistic system. Finally there is trade inside the boundaries of the various Greek and hellenized communities. Of the trade that existed within the frontiers of the un-hellenized countries we know little. All this commerce may be subdivided into four main types. There is first, the caravan trade which connected the Greek world with Asia; second, river trade which was of great importance in Mesopotamia and Egypt, in Gaul, Germany, the Danube lands and South Russia; third, maritime trade which connected India with Arabia and Egypt, the shores of the Mediterranean with each other, the Mediterranean with the Black Sea and with the Northern Ocean and the Baltic Sea; and finally, local trade carried on with the help of all the three above-mentioned means of communications —land-routes, sea and rivers.
It is beyond doubt that commercial relations between the Greek world and Asia become more regular in the Hellenistic period than ever before, so far as the trade of the Asiatic lands with Syria and Egypt on the one hand and with the Bosporan kingdom on the other is concerned. It is important not to underestimate the commerce of the Persian Empire with India and the Far East in the pre- Hellenistic period. On this we have little direct information, but the fact that Persian art had so deep an influence both on Indian and on Chinese art shows how close these trading relations were1. In comparison the direct influence of Greek art on India, Central Asia and China in the Hellenistic period was but small. However, it is very probable that the general impulse given to art which is notable at that time both in India and in China must in part be ascribed to the Greek influence. We have, moreover, positive proofs of the existence of a lively intercourse between the Far East and Greek lands. It will be enough to adduce the deep influence of Greek art and industry on Parthia, the long existence of Greek states in Bactria and North India with their almost purely Greek coinage, the half-Greek character of the Kushan coins and of the material civilization of that empire, the finds of Greek textiles (probably of Syrian workmanship) in Mongolia and a recent discovery on the trade route between South Russia and China in Zungaria (between the Altai and Tien-shan) of a hoard of Panticapaean coins. The Seleucids made great efforts to develop commerce with the Far East and diligently protected the trade routes in Mesopotamia and Iranian lands. Their efforts were not without success, and the flourishing prosperity of Seleuceia on the Tigris testifies to the development both of the caravan trade and of the sea traffic in the Persian Gulf. In competition with the Seleucids the Ptolemies were active in building up commerce with Nubia and Central Africa and with Arabia and India. Their main endeavour was to establish direct relations between these lands and Alexandria, to the detriment of the Petraean commerce and especially of the caravan route which from Petra reached the Palestinian and Phoenician harbours through the cities of Transjordania.
Less known since less studied are the relations between the Greek and the Italian part of the Hellenistic world especially in the third century bc. It is a well-established fact that Pompeii in its early Oscan period was deeply influenced by Alexandria and to a lesser extent by the cities of Asia Minor and Syria. Whether, however, the general aspect of life in this part of Italy in the third and second centuries bc is due to direct importation of products of Hellenistic art and industry or to a natural development of Graeco-Italian art and industry on Hellenistic lines it is very difficult to say, so long as the material is not carefully investigated. Better known are the relations between Italy and the Hellenistic lands in the second and first centuries, when Italians became prominent in the commerce and business life of the Aegean in general and began to lay the foundations of their commercial expansion in the West.
Commerce with Africa, India and the Far East no doubt contributed a great deal to the prosperity of many famous commercial cities of the Hellenistic world, such as Seleuceia on the Tigris and Alexandria. To these we may add, especially in the second century, the Phoenician cities, above all Tyre, whose currency became so prominent in the Near East and whose commerce was probably more important than that of Seleuceia in Pieria and Laodicea, the harbours of Antioch. Not less prominent was Berytus. Asiatic commerce probably helped to enrich Panticapaeum, and it may likewise be responsible to a certain extent for the revival of the cities of Asia Minor, especially Miletus, Smyrna and Ephesus. It is interesting to observe how the great Hellenistic monarchs sought to maintain and stabilize their influence, for example, in Miletus. It is significant that the gifts of the Seleucids to Miletus consist of great quantities of various aromatic gums, resins and the like from Arabia, while those of the Ptolemies are scores of elephant tusks.
It is an interesting fact—a precursor of what happened to Palmyra in the time of the Roman Empire—that in the later Hellenistic period the caravan lands of Arabia, especially the Petraeans, the Minaeans, the Sabaeans and the Gerrhaeans, began to emancipate themselves from the Greek cities of the Near East and sought to establish direct relations with the great markets of the West, especially Rhodes and Delos. As we have seen, it was through the good offices of the merchants of these cities that a large part of the products which the caravans brought to Syria and the ships to Egypt reached customers in the West.
More important than foreign commerce was the trade between the members of the Hellenistic system in which gradually Italy was included. A glance at the references to the supplying of fish collected by Athenaeus from Hellenistic writers shows how difficult was the problem of providing food for the population of most of the Greek cities, both for those which were, and those which were not, great centres of trade and industry. These cities never raised grain in sufficient quantities, especially after they began to vie with each other in producing wine and olive-oil; moreover Greek lands often experienced rainless springs and summers which caused failures of crops. Nor was there abundance of fish, another staple food of the Greeks, or of olive-oil. Thus even in normal times most of the Greek cities were not able to live on the produce of their own territory. The situation became acute in times of bad harvests, of devastation by war or of plundering by pirates, more acute for the inland than for the maritime cities since land transport was slow and very expensive. Moreover the constant wars which raged all over the Mediterranean required large quantities of food for the comparatively large armies mostly of mercenaries. But it was not all supplied by requisitions and pillage. To buy food often appeared a better policy than to requisition it.
All this explains why commerce in food-stuffs and especially in corn assumed, as has been shown above, very large proportions in the Hellenistic world and required so much attention from all the states, both consumers and producers. The inscriptions which speak of measures taken by the cities for buying corn and for distributing it among their own population are excellent testimony for this. The same is true for wine, olive-oil, fish and salt. How large was the importation of food-stuffs of various kinds to the larger cities is shown by many documents in the correspondence of Zeno, which speaks of food-stuffs imported into Alexandria from Syria, Asia Minor and Greece. It must not be forgotten that life in Hellenistic times became ever more refined, and that it was not only food for the poorer part of the population which was imported in large quantities, but such luxuries as are attested by the many Hellenistic anecdotes about food for which Athenaeus had so marked a predilection.
Besides food-stuffs the Hellenistic monarchies and the Greek cities required large quantities of raw materials the production of which was mostly concentrated in few and restricted areas,— metals, timber, pitch and tar, hemp and flax, etc. Labour, too, was largely imported, sometimes from far distant places. Slaves from foreign countries are a common phenomenon both in the Greek city-states and the monarchies. How considerable was the actual import and export of manufactured goods it is difficult to say. It may be regarded as certain that special products such as papyrus and parchment, perfumes and other cosmetics, various glass articles, especially beads, some special brands of textiles, rugs, finer articles of art and artistic industry, war-machines and some special types of arms and weapons were objects of import and export. The same, however, was hardly true of most of the everyday articles of use—domestic tools, agricultural implements, kitchen-ware of metal and pottery, ordinary clothes, shoes, slippers and the like. Some of these articles, especially clothes, were made at home, but most of them were, no doubt, produced by local artisans of the Greek cities, who were at the same time dealers in their own products. A good picture of such a dealer-artisan is given in the seventh mime of Herodas, which describes Cerdon, a typical city shoemaker. He is selling various shoes of fine quality which are produced in his own shop with the help of thirteen men in his employ. It reflects exactly the same conditions as we find in Pompeii at a much later period. Some artisans in order to avoid payment of taxes worked in the houses of their customers. Such a house-artisan is another Cerdon, whose activity is also described by Herodas. The dyeing of shoes is carried out by a specialist. Another typical instance of small ‘factories’ or rather larger workshops are the shops which produced the large jars in which wine, olive-oil and the like were exported from such places as Rhodes, Thasos, Cnidus, Paros, Crete, the Pontic Heraclea, Sinope, and Chersonesus in the Crimea. The stamps of these jars show hundreds of names of potters (kerameis) and sometimes of masters of workshops (ergasteriarchai). Many of these names are those of resident aliens and even of slaves. A large number of names and the character of the factory-depot found at Villanova in Rhodes show that we have to do with small and not very rich concerns.
For supplying the hundreds and thousands of markets, the numerous city-states of the Greek and hellenized world, the country population of the Hellenistic monarchies and the tribesof Western, Central and North Europe and of the Near East with all the products which they needed an army of merchants was required, both merchants en gros (emporoi), importersand exporters, and retail traders (kapeloi). Equally large was that of the shipowners (naukleroi) and caravan leaders (synodiarchai) and of storehouse-owners (ekdocheis). All these men and a large amount of labour which they employed concentrated in the great and smaller commercial cities, many of which grew large and rich through commerce in the Hellenistic period. It is true that most of them were not creations of that period, but for many of them it was the time of their most flourishing prosperity. It is worth while to enumerate some instances. Panticapaeum, Olbia, Tyras and Chersonesus on the north shore of the Black Sea were first and foremost wholesale exporters of corn, fish, hides, hemp and slaves from Russia. Most of the cities of the west shore of the Black Sea as Tomi, Istros, and Callatia, of the Thracian Bosporus as Byzantium and Chalcedon, of the Sea of Marmara, as Perinthus and especially Cyzicus (the last as important as Rhodes in the eyes of Strabo), of the Hellespont as Lampsacus and Abydos, and of the Thracian and Macedonian coasts, especially Abdera and Thessalonica, owed their prosperity to trade in the same products including metals which came from the mines of the southern Caucasus and northern Asia Minor through the cities of the south shore of the Black Sea (Trapezus, Sinope, Amisus, Heraclea) and from those of Thrace and Paeonia. Such ancient centres of commerce in Greece and Asia Minor as Corinth, Athens, Patrae, Gytheum in Greece, Halicarnassus, Xanthus and Tarsus in Asia Minor, not to speak of Miletus, Ephesus and Smyrna, remained great trading communities. To them we may add such creations of the Hellenistic period as Elaea, the harbour of Pergamum, Attaleia in Pamphylia and Seleuceia in Cilicia. As has been seen, there were prosperous Syrian, Phoenician and Palestinian commercial cities. In the West many ancient Greek cities still enjoyed a flourishing trade, such as Tarentum, Dicaearchia, Neapolis, Syracuse, Panormus, Massilia and Emporium.
We know, chiefly from inscriptions, the names of some of those merchants who lived scattered all over the Hellenistic world and concentrated in larger groups in the most flourishing commercial cities. We have seen them at work in Alexandria, Panticapaeum, Rhodes and Delos, and have become acquainted with their associations. It is very probable that what is true of them is roughly true also of the merchants in other cities of the Hellenistic world. A notable feature of these groups was their international character. This is characteristic of Panticapaeum, Rhodes and Delos, and not less of Alexandria. A recently deciphered papyrus of the second century bc—a sea-loan granted to a group of merchants who dealt with the Somali coast—shows us a motley group of diverse origin engaged in trade probably in Alexandria: one of the merchants is a Lacedaemonian, another comes from Massilia, the banker through whom they act is an Italian, of their sureties two are citizens of Massilia, one of Carthage, one of Thessalonica and one of Elaea.
Another interesting feature of the time is the great part which rich merchants play in their respective cities, especially in the smaller ones. Their influence and activity is well attested by voluminous honorary decrees. Of such prominent merchants may be cited Aristagoras of Istros, Protogenes and Niceratus of Olbia, Posideos of the same city, Acornion of Dionysopolis, Python of Abdera, who was able to mobilize a small private army of two hundred of his own slaves and freedmen, and certain Romans, Vallius and the Apustii, of Abdera.
THE ORGANIZATION OF COMMERCE; CURRENCY; BANKING
Though we know many names of merchants and are able to realize their importance in the life of the Hellenistic period we know little of the organization of commerce. A good deal was done for commerce by the rival kings of the Hellenistic balance of power as they sought to attract trade to the cities of their own kingdoms. The Ptolemies endeavoured to get Indian trade concentrated in Egypt, whereas the Seleucids made the greatest efforts to divert it to the Persian Gulf and to Seleuceia on the astery of the Aegean Sea. Minor Hellenistic kings played their part, as may, for instance, be seen by an inscription of Ziaelas of Bithynia, in which the king promises safety to the merchants of Cos in the harbours which were under his control and fair treatment to those who suffered shipwreck near his coast. We have here a good parallel to the efforts of the Seleucids and of the Ptolemies, and later of the Parthians, to make the caravan roads which ran through their lands safe for merchants, and to the creation by the Ptolemies of a set of fortified harbours on the Red Sea coast. To the same class of acts belong the efforts of the Ptolemies and later of the Rhodians to combat piracy.
The history of the shifting of trade from one centre to another and of the competition between the various lands is well illustrated by the coinage of the Hellenistic kings. The whole of the material which bears on this question has still to be collected and collated. It would be fascinating to study the gradual decline of the Attic currency in competition first with the coinage of Philip and afterwards with that of Alexander. For a while the currency of Lysimachus conquered the Western markets and competed successfully with the coinage of the Bosporan kings and with those of Cyzicus and Lampsacus. Meanwhile the coinage of the Ptolemies gained ever more ground and was for a time dominant in the Aegean, until a little later it was supplanted by that of Rhodes, whereas the Pergamene coinage never became a world currency and remained confined to Asia Minor. In the Near East the coinages of the Seleucids reigned supreme for a while. Soon, however, it was replaced in the Far East by the Bactrian coinage and later by that of Parthia and Kushan. In the west of their huge empire the Seleucids were forced to recognize the coinage of many Phoenician cities. However that may be, the efforts of all the Hellenistic kings were directed towards adapting their coinage to the needs of their trade and towards facilitating trade by making the coins both abundant and handy. No one of them, however, succeeded in making his own currency a real world currency, comparable with the Athenian currency of the fifth century and with the Roman currency of the Empire.
This competition of kings and cities rendered a great service to business and especially commerce, inasmuch as enormous quantities of currency were thus put into circulation. We have no statistics, but it is evident that it sufficed to place almost all transactions on a money basis and to eliminate natural economy and barter almost completely, except for some departments of taxation in Egypt. The thousands of business documents of the Hellenistic period found in Egypt and the increasing numbers of them found in Mesopotamia and Iranian lands testify to a rapid spread of money economy even on the borders of the Hellenistic world. The parchments of Avroman and those of Doura bear an eloquent testimony to it. It is evident that the spread of money economy and of the habit of transacting business on a money basis was largely responsible for the creation of local currencies by the borderstates of the Hellenistic world both in the East and in the West, by Parthia, Bactria and the Greek states of North India and the Kushan Empire in the East, and by Italy and Gaul in the West. It was not until towards the end of the fourth century bc that Rome began to mint her own money and a real Roman silver currency did not exist earlier than the first half of the third century. About the same time Celtic coinage begins. It is evident that this change in the economic life of both Italy and Gaul depended not only on the political conditions of the time but also and more effectively on the rapid development of commercial relations between the Hellenistic East and the Italo-Celtic West.
Money economy and rapid development of commerce gave a strong impulse to the rapid growth of banking. Banking is a very ancient institution in world history. The first banks and bankers were the temples, and their first operation was the keeping of money on deposit. Under the protection of the gods the depositors regarded their deposits as safe. The brisk development of commerce in Mesopotamia soon transformed the money deposits in the temples into real banking concerns. Private banks were not slow to appear, and both temples and private banks began to undertake various operations, especially loans. In Persian times there is the well-attested activity of the Babylonian bank of the Murashu Brothers. We have no information of any parallel development in Egypt. It may however be regarded as certain that banking was not unknown to those states and cities in the Near East which took an active part in the development of commerce and were dependent in their cultural development on Babylonia. Phoenicia and Lydia carried on no doubt a regular banking business. It is fair to suppose that from here banking migrated to the Greek cities of the west coast of Asia Minor where the earliest pioneers were the numerous oriental temples connected with them. Indeed such temples as that of Jerusalem or those of Sardes and Ephesus acted as regular banking concerns even in Hellenistic and Roman times.
The money-changer was from early times a well known figure in the world of Greek city-states. Where each city had its own currency, no commercial operations were possible without the help of a specialist who sat near his table (prapeza) in the marketplace or in the street and practised the profession of a trapezites, accepting foreign currency and exchanging it for local money or vice versa. These money-changers in Asia Minor probably got very early into touch with the great deposit banks of the temples and soon began to transact various business familiar to the temple banks, either in the name of the temples as their agents or in imitation of them. A tremendous impulse was given to the development of private banking business by the growth of interstate and international commerce. It is therefore no wonder that the best-organized private banks in Greek history were met with in the leading commercial city of the Greek world in the fifth and fourth centuries bc—Athens. But it was not the Athenian bankers who invented the business routine of their banks; rather they inherited it from their Ionian predecessors in Asia Minor and those last from their Lydian and Phoenician business friends, who in their turn were pupils of the Babylonian bankers.
With the Hellenistic period and closely connected with its commercial development came the great age of Greek banking. Individual bankers, private and city banks and associations of bankers are now comparatively often mentioned, especially in inscriptions and papyri. Bankers and banks appeared scattered all over Hellenistic lands. Larger groups appear in the leading commercial cities. Everywhere banking appears closely connected with commerce, for money-changing was as necessary and perhaps even more necessary than ever before. Without a trapezites no merchant could transact his business in a foreign city. Still more important became deposit and loan business. Accumulations of capital in the hands of private people and corporations was one of the leading features of Hellenistic economic life. To all capitalists the question of where to keep their money and how to invest it was a vital one. On the other hand, commerce badly needed credit, without which it could not exist. To a lesser extent credit was needed also by landowners and artisans. Thus banks became not only the keepers of deposits but also loan and investment institutions. There were loans of money to cities which became ever more frequent, loans granted to landowners and farmers on mortgage, commercial and especially sea loans. Not many of this last type of loan are mentioned, but the references to them show that such transactions were familiar and common. In an inscription of Miletus (c. 160/59 bc) the city bank has large sums of money invested in ‘export loans.’ About a century later in an inscription of the time of Mithridates sea loans stand at the head of a long list of transactions of the kind.
Egypt in Ptolemaic times went over to money economy and banking assumed a peculiar form. Large commerce was concentrated in Alexandria, and retail and interstate commerce, though to a large extent stabilized by the government, flourished in the country. In spite of the thorough stabilization of economic life capital accumulated in the hands of private persons and credit was badly needed even by those who transacted business with the state and as concessionnaires of the state. In short, economic life, peculiarly organized as it was, became nevertheless more and more complicated. In such an atmosphere banks were bound to appear and to develop by leaps and bounds. Whether it was from the very beginning or after the banks arose spontaneously that the government monopolized banking business we do not know. We are equally ignorant whether all the banks in Egypt (including those in Alexandria) were state monopolies or not. It is however certain that banking, although a state monopoly, was nevertheless carried out by private business men, who paid the state for the right of doing so, and not by government officers. We know but little of the activity of these banks in Egypt, and what we know refers to the small country towns and villages, not to Alexandria or to the larger towns. This, together with the special part which the banks played in Egypt, prevents us from applying the little that we know of the banks in Egypt to the activity of the banks in the rest of the Hellenistic world. For example, the prominence of operations connected with taxation was probably peculiar to the Egyptian banks. Equally peculiar to Egypt were the limited possibilities for investment. If, however, we deduct all that may be regarded as special to Egypt there remain many operations with which we may credit banks in general. Chief among these is the business routine of payments from and to the banks, of transfers of money, of cheques, of the handling of deposits and so on.
A characteristic feature in the development of banking outside Egypt was the tendency of the cities to concentrate it into their own hands, to create state banks and to reserve for these state banks the monopoly of the various operations. In early Hellenistic times the cities had recourse for their own operations to private bankers. Later the city endeavoured to eliminate the private bankers or at least to make them her own concessionnaires. There is no need to suppose that for this development the example of Ptolemaic Egypt was responsible, for a tendency towards monopolies may be noticed in Greek city-life from its early beginnings.
ROADS, SHIPPING, EXPLORATION, LANGUAGE, LAW
Sea trade and caravan trade were the leading forms of Hellenistic commerce. It is natural therefore to expect that the development of both these types of trade would lead to a marked improvement in the technical devices which may make trade safer, speedier and cheaper. It must, however, be confessed that our knowledge of it is slight. We are ignorant first and foremost of how much was done for the improvement of roads. The later activity of the Romans obscured the achievements of Hellenistic kings and cities in this field. However, the fact that we hear of royal roads in Asia Minor as opposed probably to the private and city roads implies a certain activity of kings, cities and private landowners in this matter. It is also worthy of note that both Ptolemies and Seleucids kept and developed the state post organization which they inherited from the Persians. But the posting service was reserved for government use, and had no direct influence on the development of trade.
Little is known of the development of ship-building. What we know refers mostly to ships of war, and even here modern research has not yet succeeded in explaining the progress made in the Hellenistic period. On the advance in commercial ship-building the evidence is still more meagre. And yet we may be certain that the Hellenistic kings who vied with each other in inventing new forms of warships extended this competition to commercial ships as well. Thus Antigonus Gonatas after building his famous big ship the triarmenos built immediately a corresponding commercial ship of the same name. In the reign of Hiero II technical skill had so far advanced as to construct his enormous cargo-boat, the Syrakosia or Alexandreia, and Ptolemy Philopator astonished the civilized world by his huge pleasure-ship for trips on the Nile. Much, however, remains to be done before the scattered hints of our literary tradition can be explained with the help of all available material, especially the pictures of ships in sculpture and painting.
The advance in ship-building was matched by the gradual improvement of the harbours, of which the best examples are those of Alexandria and of Delos; in close connection went the systematic construction of lighthouses, the most famous of which, one of the seven wonders of the world, was the Pharos of Alexandria. The discovery among the objects belonging to the famous sunken ship of Anticythera of an astronomical instrument probably used by the ship’s crew for finding the position of the ship at a given moment, an instrument never mentioned in our literary tradition, reveals rather than assists our ignorance of the progress of ancient seafaring technique.
A great help to the merchants was the remarkable development of geographical knowledge in the Hellenistic period. Hand in hand with the progress made by both mathematical and descriptive geography went the adaptation of this progress to the practical needs of merchants and travellers. We still possess many periploi or stadiasmoi belonging to the Hellenistic period—descriptions of the shores of the Mediterranean or part of it, and of the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The purpose of most of these was practical—to serve as guide books to the merchants and travellers of the time. It was reserved for the Roman period to work out a corresponding set of itineraria for the roads. But the well-known itinerary of Isidorus of Charax for the Parthian empire shows that long before the Roman itineraria the caravan trade had had its own perfectly reliable handbooks based on the study of the land-routes begun by Persian officers and carried on by the bematists of Alexander the Great.
Foreign and interstate trade was greatly assisted by the gradual spread of a knowledge of the Greek language and the corresponding creation of a sort of juridical koine which was familiar to everybody in the Hellenistic world. This does not mean that there was ever anything like one code of civil laws by which everybody in all the lands in which the Greeks ruled would abide. But it remains true that in spite of local differences in laws and legal practice, there was a large stock of common principles which were familiar to everybody, and which were gradually incorporated into the local laws which regulated business. Little as we know about the law-making of the Hellenistic period, we have many business documents found in Egypt and a little group of similar documents from the Euphrates and from Iranian lands in the Hellenistic and Parthian periods.
It is natural that Macedonians on the Euphrates should use the Greek language for their business transactions and act according to Greek laws. It is not surprising that Greek speech and law gradually gained ground in the business life of Hellenistic Egypt. It is astonishing, however, how rapidly parchment and papyrus replaced clay tablets in Mesopotamia, and how, parallel to it, the Babylonian language retreated before the Greek and, to a certain extent, the Aramaic and Iranian languages. It is still more surprising that the Parthians and Arabs, Kurds and Iranians in Mesopotamia and the Iranian lands use in their transactions the Greek language and Greek legal formulae, probably also to a certain extent Greek laws and regulations. To all appearance Greek law, formulae and language took hold of the population of the Mesopotamian and Iranian lands in the short period of Macedonian domination and were never given up by the Parthians. It would not be surprising if excavation in Bactria and North India yielded business documents in Greek. The true explanation of this adoption of Greek law and language in Mesopotamia and Parthia is probably not so much the superiority of Greek law or the compulsion of the Hellenistic monarch as the fact that there was an increasing number of Greek business men in these places and that trade relations with them were vital for the natives. It must, however, not be forgotten that the State was represented in these lands by men of Greek training and education even in Parthian times and this fact contributed a good deal to the recognition of Greek as the official business language.
For the development of Greek commerce the triumph of Greek law, language and legal formulae meant a good deal. It was easy for Apollonius and Zeno to deal with the population of Trans- jordania, provided that they were sure of being understood if they used Greek. And that it was so is shown by the excellent Greek (even if it be that of his secretary) which Tobias, the emir of Transjordania, uses in his correspondence with Ptolemy Phila- delphus and with Apollonius, and by the fact that we still have documents which show that Zeno transacted his business in Palestine and beyond the Jordan in Greek and according to Greek law.
The short sketch given above shows how little justification there is for the theory that house-economy prevailed all through ancient times. However, we must not exaggerate. Commerce in Hellenistic times developed, no doubt, by leaps and bounds and assumed gradually ever more modern forms. And yet its sound development was greatly handicapped, chiefly by the uncertainties of the times. War was raging all over the Hellenistic world almost without interruption. The methods of warfare were primitive and brutal in spite of efforts to make them more civilized. The devastation of flourishing fields and gardens, the sack and pillage of rich cities, the enslavement of thousands of men, women and children were the order of the day especially in the second century bc. The efforts of some states such as Egypt and Rhodes to check piracy and to exterminate robbery on land were mostly short-lived and in vain. Rival states were only too ready to use the methods of robbery by sea and land and welcomed an alliance with organized pirates. Even in peace time rival states did not hesitate to seize corn ships and to take them to their own harbours. Thus commerce was and remained a risky operation and consequently never completely lost its speculative character.
Moreover, in many Greek cities the accumulation of capital had its dangers. As soon as the cities were freed from strict control by royal officers they indulged freely in internal revolution, in confiscations of property, in redistributions of land and abolition of debts. Social and political revolution became endemic in Greece. The atmosphere was not exactly well suited for a sound development of economic activity, of a quiet wholesale and retail commerce. It prevented equally the volume of commerce from increasing, since it never allowed industry to assume capitalistic forms and to work for mass production with the help of adequate machinery. Capital in the cities was mostly in hiding. Even the large stocks of capital found in the Hellenistic monarchies were not an exception. Instead of the city mob there was a king who was happy to confiscate the fortune of a man who became too rich to be safe. No sound development of capitalism was possible in that land of stabilization which was Egypt. Perhaps still more important was the fact that commerce of various types affected mostly the upper classes of the population and the cities, the masters and not the subjects, whose buying capacity was small and whose requirements were not satisfied by objects made by city-Greeks for Greek and hellenized dwellers of the cities. Since we have every reason to think that the prosperity of the lower classes of the population in all the Hellenistic monarchies was not increasing as rapidly as was that of the upper classes, we can understand why the production of goods in the Hellenistic workshops never assumed the character of true mass production and why commerce never permanently attracted into its orbit the millions of the country population. Thus while it is true that the Hellenistic world had advanced far beyond a strict natural economy, it is also true that it stopped far short of capitalism in the modern sense of the word.