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Chapter 4— The Grain Supply of Delos and the Delian Grain Trade
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The Price of Grain and Long-Distance Trade

To the positive evidence limiting to the Kyklades Delos's role in the movement of grain can be added some negative considerations. If Delos had played an important part in the trade in grain outside the islands, then prices on Delos for grain should have been affected by conditions that set prices in supplying or purchasing regions.[117] But evidence for such impacts is very hard to find.

Egyptian traders are largely absent from Delos, which should be no surprise if, as Edouard Will and others have argued, the Ptolemies depended


on the Rhodians to move their goods around.[118] The abundance and price of Egyptian grain was determined almost entirely by the character of the flood of the Nile. When the flood was poor, prices should have been high; when the flood was normal, prices should have been normal; and when the flood was good, they should have been normal or low. We happen to know the character of the flood for many years, and in the few cases in which we can match a flood with grain prices on Delos, the prices show no relation either for wheat or for barley.[119]

Even more revealing is the shortage of ca. 174–173 B.C. along the Euripos. Four or five inscriptions from a number of cities on both Euboia and the mainland attest to troubles with the grain supply in these years just before the Third Makedonian War. (Another inscription is generally


Table 4.7. Wheat and Barley Prices on Delos, Second Century B.C. (dr)









4 (5.333)a





4 (3)a


445.4–5, 13





440A62–63, 69





461Bb51, 53



3.875 (5.167)a


a Price reconstructed by Larsen, 347–48. Prices in parentheses are alternative prices, offered by Larsen based on a different set of assumptions about the relation between wheat and barley prices.

thought to belong to the period of the Third Makedonian War itself.[120] Wheat and/or barley prices are preserved from Delos for the Posideia in 179, 178, 174, and 169 B.C. , right during the period of this shortage (table 4.7).

These prices can hardly be said to reflect the storage on the Euripos. The minor variation in prices for barley in 178 and 169 B.C. (both, be it noted, lower than typical) and for wheat in 174 B.C. are perfectly in line with typical year-to-year fluctuations. The serious shortage, which led cities near Thisbe to embargo exports of grain, makes no mark here (ISE, 1.66 = Migeotte, 41–44). If Delos had really become an important center for the grain trade by the 220s B.C. , we would expect its prices to rise during nearby shortages as supplies were diverted to areas in need and sitonai of the cities spread out looking for grain. The absence of any impact at Delos of the shortage along the Euripos reinforces the view that limits Delos's role as a distribution center for grain to the Kyklades even as late as the 170s B.C.[121]

Delos relied virtually entirely on production in the Kyklades for its grain supplies. No doubt the frequent, although irregular, movement of grain


from the other islands to the port of Delos for sale and consumption there promoted a localized trade in grain and the creation of a transit trade among the islands. Delos certainly became a convenient center for neighboring islands to sell surpluses and to make up shortfalls, and such trade must have resulted in a varying but continuous exchange on Delos among merchants who did not plan on leaving their grain on the island. This exchange in turn encouraged outsiders, like the Histiaians and the representatives of Demetrios II, to seek grain on Delos on occasion, although their activities cannot have been constant or large in scale. By the last third of the third century, however, evidence accumulates that local transit trade in grain had increased along with a rising public interest in grain provisioning for the Delian population that resulted in the creation of a permanent local sitonia fund. I attribute these changes to the generally rising prosperity of the islands during this period of independence from any outside hegemon; we shall explore this in more detail in chapter 7.


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