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Ancient Corn-Trade

corn, law, grain, athens, black, loads, sea, attica, trade and fifty

CORN-TRADE, ANCIENT. The production of corn, one of the chief neces saries of life, and its commercial exchange, have been a subject of the first importance in all ages. It is proposed here to state briefly the general nature of the trade in corn among two of the states of antiquity to whom we are mainly indebted for our knowledge of the economical condition of antient times. There are few import ant political questions at the present day to which we cannot find something similar in former times ; and the blunders of antient legislation may still be instructive to modern statesmen.

The small and comparatively barren territory of Attica did not produce suffi cient corn for the consumption of the in habitants. Corn was brought into the Piraeus, the port of Athens, from the countries bordering on the Black Sea, Syria, Egypt, and other parts of Africa, and from Sicily. Demosthenes asserted (u.c. 355) that the Athenians imported more grain than any other people. (Against Leptines, c. 9.) But the trade in corn between Greece awl the Black Sea was of some magnitude at a much earlier date. In B.c. 480, Xerxes, while at Aby dos on his way to the invasion of Greece, saw the corn-ships that were sailing from the Black Sea and through the Darda nelles and carrying corn to Peloponnesus and &gine. (Herodotus, vii. 147.) Some parts of the country on the coast of the Black Sea now export grain, and proba bly have exported grain ever since the time of Xerxes.

The importation of grain into Attica MIS a matter that was protected and regu lated by the state ; and instances are men tioned of armed ships convoying the corn vessels from the Black Sea to the Piraeus. The exportation of corn from Attica was forbidden ; and only one-third of the foreign corn that was imported into the Piraeus could be re-exported to other countries : this law as to importation was enforced by the overseers of the harbour. The law interfered with the trade in corn it other ways also, with the intention apparently of keeping prices low ; but with what success it is easy to conjecture. Engrossing or the buying-up of corn was a serious offence : a man could not pur chase more than fifty loads (called (peg:11.w°. The amount of these loads cannot be exactly ascertained, nor is it material : the principle is clearly shown by the limitation. The penalty for violating this law was death. Boeckh (Public Economy of Athens, Eng. transl.) states the law thus : " in order to prevent the accumu lation and hoarding of corn, engrossing was very much restricted ; it was not permitted to buy at one time more than fifty such loads as a man could carry." According to this a man might buy fifty loads as often as he pleased at different times. But the meaning of the passage of Lysias appears to be that a man must not buy up corn so as to have on hand more than fifty loads at a time. This interpretation is consistent with the Greek, and the other is not ; and it is not open to the same kind of objection that Boeckh's interpretation is.

The absurdity of the Athenian legisla tion on the trade in corn appears from a speech of Lysias against the corn-dealers (Kara riuv Irrotrod.41v). The

were generally aliens, and their business made them objects of popular detesta tion : it was alleged that they bought up corn and refused to sell it when it was wanted, and thus compelled the buyers to pay them their own price. Yet it is stated by Lysias that the law was, that a dealer must sell his corn only one obolus dearer (the ?) than he bought it. Thus the law attempted to fix the maxi mum profit of the dealers. But they evaded the law according to the same authority by selling it a drachma (six oboli) higher on the same day ; the mean ing of the orator here is not quite clear. The orator states that the hope of great gain made the dealers run the risk of the extreme penalty of the law. He urges the smut which was then sitting for the trial of some of the corn-dealers whom he was prosecuting, to enforce the penalty against them, and so make them mend their man ners; and he represents both the sumers and the importers of corn as suf fering from the combinations of the deal ers. A more signal instance of absurdity and commercial ignorance is not extant than this oration.

To carry the laws as to the sale of corn into effect, the Athenians had Corn Wardens (alrofdAcucss) who kept an ac count of the corn that was imported, in spected flour and bread, and saw that they were sold of the weight and at the price fixed by law.

Various enactments were made with a view of securing a supply of corn ; such as that no money should be lent on a vessel which did not bring back to Athens a return cargo of goods, among which corn was mentioned ; and that no pemon living in Attica should import corn to any place except the port of Athens. The interests of individuals, and ulti mately the real interests of the com munity, were thus set in opposition to the supposed interests of the state, and eve. sions of the laws are often spoken of. Individuals attempted what they will always do, to sell their grain at the dearest market. (Xenophon, acouom, C. 20.) There were public corn-warehouses at Athens, in which corn was lodged that had been purchased at the expense of the State, and sometimes as it appears, by private contributions. There were offi cers appointed to purchase the corn (corn•buyers, alT/Zrat) and persons to give or measure it out (c17roVarat). Corn so purchased was probably sold to the people at a low price, and sometimes also there were gratuitous distributions of it, as at Rome ; and occasionally, as at Rome also, presents of grain were received from foreign princes or rich persons, and dis tributed among the people gratis.

This subk et has been investigated by Boeckh, Public Economy of Athens, trans lated by G. C. Lewis, 2nd edition, revised, 1842; and these remarks are mainly founded on what is said there. The sub ject is curious, but unfortunately, as we must collect our information mainly from detached passages of the Athenian orators, who deal largely in falsehood and exag geration, it is not possible to arrive at certainty on some points.