Historians since Herodotus and Thucydides have claimed that the year 483 BCE marked a turning point in the history of Athens. For it was then that Themistocles mobilized the revenues from the city’s highly productive silver mines to build an enormous war fleet. This income stream is thought to have become the basis of Athenian imperial power, the driving force behind its democracy and the centre of its system of public finance. But in his groundbreaking new book, Hans van Wees argues otherwise. He shows that Themistocles did not transform Athens, but merely expanded a navy-centred system of public finance that had already existed at least a generation before the general’s own time, and had important precursors at least a century earlier. The author reconstructs the scattered evidence for all aspects of public finance, in archaic Greece at large and early Athens in particular, to reveal that a complex machinery of public funding and spending was in place as early as the reforms of Solon in 594 BCE. Public finance was in fact a key factor in the rise of the early Athenian state―long before Themistocles, the empire and democracy.
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Hans van Wees is Grote Professor of Ancient History at University College London. His books include Greek Warfare: Myth and Realities, The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare: vol 1, The Hellenistic World and the Rise of Rome (edited with Philip Sabin and Michael Whitby), War and Violence in Archaic Greece and A Companion to Archaic Greece (edited with Kurt A Raaflaub).Review:
""Imperial Athens in the fifth century BC had the Greek world's strongest currency and an elaborate apparatus of public finance, but how that apparatus came into being has hitherto been seriously neglected. Hans van Wees in this groundbreaking study demonstrates that already from the time of Solon at the beginning of the sixth century Athens was indeed a state and did indeed have public finances and financial institutions. After contrasting the informal funding of the Homeric world with the formal taxes and payments of the archaic, van Wees teases out from our frustrating fragments of evidence a coherent picture of the financial development of Athens, from the varied officials and use of standard weights of silver under Solon, via the introduction of coinage under Pisistratus to facilitate his expansionist policies, the adoption of financially-demanding triremes under Hippias, and general reorganisation and payment for Athenian soldiers and sailors under Cleisthenes. Themistocles' navy and the Delian League with its tribute were not startling novelties but were built on foundations laid in the previous century. This is an impressive tour de force of scholarship and imagination which joins up the dots of our evidence to produce a coherent and credible picture of Athens' growing financial needs and responses to them. It adds an important further dimension to the accounts of Athens' development given elsewhere."" - P J Rhodes, FBA, Emeritus Professor of Ancient History, University of Durham
""With this important book Hans van Wees is the first historian systematically to approach ancient Greek economy and society along the lines of the ""new fiscal history"". The results are highly rewarding, and go far beyond the area of public finance. In addition to a fresh perspective on key aspects of the archaic Greek world, the author provides numerous insights into the elusive process of state formation in Athens and elsewhere."" - Paul Millett, Senior Lecturer in Classics, University of Cambridge, author of Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens
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