Pots, Trade and the Archaic Greek Economy

By Osborne, Robin | Antiquity, March 1996 | Go to article overview

Pots, Trade and the Archaic Greek Economy


Osborne, Robin, Antiquity


Fine painted pottery is the archaeological trade-mark of the Greek presence overseas. Since other materials of exchange in the Classical world - soft things like grain, oil and slaves - are less archaeologically visible, a fresh look at issues in the archaic Greek economy revolves once more around patterns in the ceramics.

Central to Moses Finley's characterization of the ancient economy was his claim that Greek and Roman society 'was not organized for the satisfaction of its material wants by "an enormous conglomeration of interdependent markets"' (1985: 22). A lot is at stake in the claim that markets were not interdependent. In the world of independent markets, exchange is marginal to a fundamentally subsistence economy: local supply and demand fixes prices. In the world of the interdependent market, global demand for a particular commodity has an effect not simply on the price of that commodity but upon other commodity prices also: production and marketing decisions are affected by events far away from the place of production. In this world not all goods are produced for a market, nor is there a free market for all goods, but goods are regularly exchanged and those engaged in exchange are aware of varying demand for particular commodities in different places. Crucially the structure of exchange is not determined by the highly variably demand for staple foodstuffs.

In this paper I argue that the archaic Greek world was a world of interdependent markets. In concentrating on the archaeological evidence I inevitably concentrate on pottery, and I attempt to reveal the significance of the non-random distribution of archaic Athenian pots for the character and structure of the archaic Greek economy (cf. Webster 1972: chapter 20; Boardman 1979: 37-9; Hannestad 1989: 112-14; Robinson 1990). I am not concerned with the value of pottery, with why people bought Athenian pottery rather than local or Corinthian pottery, with the social origins and political impact of those engaged in trade (on which cf. Cartledge 1983 on Mele 1979 and Bravo 1977; also Ste Croix 1981), or with the importance of the Phoenicians as carriers of early Greek pottery into the western Mediterranean (Shefton 1982), although my claims for the volume and economic significance of trade in non-agricultural goods have implications for these issues also. The evidence I deal with is unusually subject to vagaries of excavation, identification, and publication, but the features currently apparent seem to me to justify the attempt at interpretation.

Sizing up the market

The clearest indication that the mechanisms of exchange enabled goods to be precisely targeted comes from the distribution of the products of the 'Nikosthenic' workshop at Athens, which operated during the second half of the 6th century BC. Some 96% of this workshop's pots of known archaeological provenance (find-spot) come from the Etruscan area, and it produced pots whose shapes copied the shapes of Etruscan bucchero pottery. What is more, different shapes catered for different Etruscan markets: most of the around 100 Nikosthenic amphorae known have been found at Cerveteri [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED], most of the around 400 Nikosthenic small kyathoi from Vulci and Orvieto (Rasmussen 1985: 38). But the most recent discussion of these pots (Arafat & Morgan 1994: 115-16) follows a long line of ancient historians in claiming that 'the activities of the Nikosthenic workshop are by no means typical' (cf. Austin & Vidal Naquet 1977: 114).

The adoption of Etruscan shapes shows that the Nikosthenic workshop produced explicitly for a foreign market. The substantial scale of its operations - it seems to have been a particularly large concern associated with a very large number of painters, employing up to 30 persons (Eisman 1974) makes it impossible to dismiss it as an isolated experiment within a system not otherwise geared to precise marketing. A model of exchange for the 6th century must accommodate the possibility of systematic targeting of precise foreign markets by particular exporters.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Pots, Trade and the Archaic Greek Economy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.