The 2 Sectors Of The Classical Athenian Economy

Further ReadingThe 4 Most Important City-States Of Classical Greece

Classical Athens had a very unique economy that was built around 2 sectors. This economy would last for nearly 300 years and at its peak be one of the strongest in the ancient world.

In classical Athens the economy was built around two sectors. The first was resource extraction from the countryside surrounding Athens, the Attica. The second was a large manufacturing and trade sector which supported the huge population of Athens.

Because of this two sector economy Athens would become the largest city-state in ancient Greece. This golden period of Athenian dominance would last for nearly 100 years from the 5th-4th century BC.

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Without further ado, here are the 2 sectors of the classical Athenian Economy.

Resource Extraction From The Attica

The first sector of the classical Athenian economy was resource extraction from the land surrounding the city or the Attica.

The Attica is a mountainous region of land with very little farmland. Because of this much of the resource extraction by the city of Athens came in the form of either timber, minerals, or livestock.

Sometime in the 8th century BC Athens would begin to assimilate the surrounding countryside into its government. While the inhabitants of the Attica were Athenians they were often treated as second class citizens.

The population of the Attica would extract the natural resources and then bring them to the city of Athens to be bought and sold. While in the city of Athens the people of the Attica could buy food or other items to bring back to the Attica.

As a result of this archaeologists have found goods made in Athens during the classical period spread out across the Attica. This demonstrates there was a thriving economic sector of resource extraction going on in the Athenian countryside.

However, the most valuable resource extracted by Athens from the Attica was Silver. One of the largest silver mines in the Athenian countryside was the Mines of Laurion. These mines provided a vast majority of the total silver for Athens which was minted into currency.

We know of how important these mines were to classical Athens because of several walls and forts erected to protect them. To this day you can find the ruins of various defensive installments across the southern tip of that Attica near modern Athens.

As such, the first sector of the economy of classical Athens was resource extraction from the Attica.

A Large Manufacturing And Trading Sector In Classical Athens

The second sector of the economy of classical Athens was a vibrant trading and manufacturing sector.

When people think of the economy of classical Athens this is what they are thinking of. If you visited this massive city during its peak in the 5th century BC then you would have seen a massive market with thousands of merchants.

The reason for this was because Athens had a large population that it was incapable of supporting without the aid of trade and colonies spread across the Greek world.

Athens did not produce enough food to supply its entire population. There simply was not enough land in Attica to turn into farmland. On top of this there was no large landholding elite which could create plantation complexes.

Much of the total land of Athens was held by the average population. Unlike other ancient civilizations such as Rome the Athenian elite preferred to live lives of luxury without holding land.

The silver that was mined from the Attica would be used to provide for liquidation across the Athenian world. This created a massive trading sector where merchants from across the Mediterranean sea would travel to make use of Athens’ large available amount of currency to offload their cargo.

We know about this because of several primary source documents which demonstrate that the port of Athens would collect a 1% duty tax on all goods shipped in and out of their port.

Because of this Athens would become the trading center of the western world for nearly a century. Athens would become so wealthy that it started to give all of its citizens a stipend and started to provide for a basic form of social security.

On top of all of this Athens would develop a massive manufacturing sector to support the trade industry. Textile production in particular became a large industry. Here factory owners would buy raw goods and have their laborers turn them into finished products. These products would then be resold at the marketplace.

This large manufacturing sector of the Athenian economy would also help to drive production and the total economy of Athens. From this Athens would be able to buy enough food to feed its massive population.

As such the second sector of the classical Athenian economy was a large trade and manufacturing sector.


There you have it; an entire article dedicated to the 2 sectors of the classical Athenian economy.

Classical Athens is a fascinating subject. Not only was it a massive city that was incredibly wealthy but it provided some of the first examples of social security by a government for its people. The Roman Empire would copy several of the Athenian policies for their own.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the web.

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