Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens

Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens

DAVID M. PRITCHARD
Copyright Date: 2015
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/772038
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  • Book Info
    Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens
    Book Description:

    In his On the Glory of Athens, Plutarch complained that the Athenian people spent more on the production of dramatic festivals and "the misfortunes of Medeas and Electras than they did on maintaining their empire and fighting for their liberty against the Persians." This view of the Athenians' misplaced priorities became orthodoxy with the publication of August Böckh's 1817 book Die Staatshaushaltung der Athener [The Public Economy of Athens], which criticized the classical Athenian dēmos for spending more on festivals than on wars and for levying unjust taxes to pay for their bloated government. But were the Athenians' priorities really as misplaced as ancient and modern historians believed?Drawing on lines of evidence not available in Böckh's time, Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens calculates the real costs of religion, politics, and war to settle the long-standing debate about what the ancient Athenians valued most highly. David M. Pritchard explains that, in Athenian democracy, voters had full control over public spending. When they voted for a bill, they always knew its cost and how much they normally spent on such bills. Therefore, the sums they chose to spend on festivals, politics, and the armed forces reflected the order of the priorities that they had set for their state. By calculating these sums, Pritchard convincingly demonstrates that it was not religion or politics but war that was the overriding priority of the Athenian people.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-77204-5
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  6. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. ONE PUBLIC-SPENDING DEBATES
    (pp. 1-26)

    This book calculates the public spending of classical Athens. In so doing it confirms the priorities that its citizens had for their state. The major public activities of the Atheniandēmos(“people”) were the staging of religious festivals, the conducting of politics, and the waging of wars. There is hot debate about what was spent on these three public activities. Ancient historians cannot agree whether thedēmosspent more on festivals or wars. They debate how the classical Athenians paid for their democracy. These debates go back to the first modern book on Athenian public finance. In this book, August...

  8. TWO THE COST OF FESTIVALS
    (pp. 27-51)

    With justification the classical Athenians believed that they staged more festivals than any other Greekpolis(“city-state”). The City Dionysia and the Great Panathenaea were by far the largest of theirheortai(“festivals”) and so accounted for a significant proportion of what they spent on their program ofpolis-sponsored religious celebrations. Therefore estimating the cost of these two major festivals provides a solid base for working out their festival program. As Peter Wilson costs the City Dionysia so thoroughly, this chapter focuses on determining the cost of the Great Panathenaea. Attic farmers and wealthy sponsors paid for a lot of...

  9. THREE THE COST OF DEMOCRACY
    (pp. 52-90)

    Ancient historians fiercely debate how the classical Athenians paid for their system of government. Certainly thedēmos(“people”) spent a lot of public funds on it. This was largely the result of their decision to pay themselves to run the democracy. In the 450s they voted to introducemisthos(“pay”) for jurors. In the 440s or the 430s they began to pay councilors and magistrates. By the 390s thedēmoswere drawing pay to attend assembly meetings. They also found other ways to subsidize their political participation. Athenianarkhontes(“magistrates”) were required to keep accounts. Many poor Athenians were not...

  10. FOUR THE COST OF WAR
    (pp. 91-113)

    In classical Athens military spending varied greatly from 430 to 350. In the Peloponnesian War’s course the Athenians lost no less than 50 percent of their population. Their final defeat in 405/4 brought to an end their income-bearingarkhē(“empire”). After this war thedēmos(“people”) were simply not capable of waging wars on the same scale. This makes it necessary to calculate military spending before and after 405/4. In the 420s thedēmosused imperial income for wars and internal income for festivals and politics. For both income types, reliable totals survive. The same applies to the loans that...

  11. FIVE CONCLUSION: Public-Spending Priorities
    (pp. 114-120)

    This book refutes Böckh’s negative view of what classical Athens spent on festivals. It shows the literary evidence that Böckh cited in defense of his view to be unreliable. The major activities of thispolis(“city-state”) were religious celebrations, democratic politics, and military campaigns. There is no doubt which of them thedēmos(“people”) saw as their highest priority. In this book I certainly confirm that Athenianheortai(“festivals”) were generously funded. At 100 t. per year, festivals cost the same as Athenian democracy in the 370s. Even in the 420s, when the government was larger, spending on festivals still...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 121-150)
  13. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 151-168)
  14. INDEX OF SOURCES
    (pp. 169-184)
  15. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 185-191)