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Chapter 4— The Grain Supply of Delos and the Delian Grain Trade
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Chapter 4—
The Grain Supply of Delos and the Delian Grain Trade

As for every other Hellenistic polis that could not grow enough grain to satisfy local demand,[1] it was essential for Delos to supply its own requirements through a healthy and secure import trade. Interest in the import trade is well known for the cities of the Hellenistic period, and has recently received considerable attention.[2] For Delos, however, this aspect of Hellenistic statecraft has been almost entirely neglected.[3] An appreciation of the role of imports in the local economy presupposes estimates of local Delian demand, which is the subject of the following discussion.

The Population of Delos

An estimate of the aggregate annual demand for grain on Delos requires estimates of the total Delian population and of the average annual consumption of an individual (or family). The first question poses formidable difficulties. Robert Sallares has recently argued forcefully against the tendency of ancient historians to assume that ancient populations were stable. In his view, Greece as a whole saw important changes in population size between the tenth and third centuries, with a peak in the fourth century that may have extended into the late third but was definitely followed by a


significant decline in the second and first centuries.[4] Such a profile, if applied everywhere, would suggest that Delos's population was either at its highest, or declining, during the years of independence. But such large-scale trends, even if accepted, cannot simply be applied in toto to individual places and over much shorter time periods. Certainly, for the second century, the trend on Delos was in the opposite direction, toward strong growth. This increase resulted, of course, from factors that operated only locally, and it was followed by a disastrous depopulation in the latter part of the first century.[5] For simplicity's sake, I shall assume that the Delian population was essentially stable in the years of independence—that is, that rates of growth, mortality, immigration, and emigration remained roughly the same. This is not to say there was no change at all in the size of the population—there may well have been—but I do suggest that such changes were not so great as to affect substantially the arguments presented below.[6]

Recent estimates have put the adult male population at 1,800–2,100 (Philippe Bruneau) and 1,200–1,500 (Claude Vial). If adult males were about 30 percent of the population, these figures imply total free populations of about 6,000–7,000 or 4,000–5,000. Even the lower figures may be too high; something like 2,000–3,000 may be more likely. Whichever figure is preferred, we must add in estimates for metics, slaves, and the average number of transient visitors (likely to have varied greatly with the rhythms of the seasons and of festivals on Delos: there would have been more visitors during the summer sailing season than in the winter; more during months with festivals, like Artemision and Posideon, than during those without, like Panemos, Bouphonion, and Apatourion; and more for the athletic games, which in 269 B.C. attracted competitors from Byblos, Sidon, Alexandria, and neighboring Tenos). Surely, even together these three groups would not have added more than 30 percent to the population, giving a total ranging from 2,600–3,900 (my figures), through 5,200–6,500 (Vial's), to 7,800–9,100 (Bruneau's).

These figures are not very exact, but our purposes call only for a general idea of the order of magnitude of the population. Even 2,600–3,900 people


would be a sizeable population for Hellenistic Delos. The four cities of Keos probably supported no more than about 5,000 citizens, or say 7,500 persons in all.[7] Figures for guests at the festival Itonia at Arkesine on Amorgos imply no more than about 700 citizens of both sexes, or (say) 950 people in all; the entire island with its three poleis would thus probably have had no more than about 3,000 inhabitants.[8] Eberhard Ruschenbusch's recent comprehensive survey of the Greek world (the mainland, Aegean islands, the littoral of Asia Minor, and Krete) suggests that 85 percent of all known Greek poleis are unlikely to have had more than about 1,300 free inhabitants apiece.[9] Compared to its neighbors, Delos must have seemed over-populated even in the early Hellenistic period. Even with only 2,600 inhabitants, its population density would have been roughly 720 persons/km2 , a figure almost five times the upper range of Ruschenbusch's estimates. Population density at that level, on an island poor in resources, would have posed serious problems of supply unknown to more traditional poleis with substantial agricultural territories and lower population densities.

Levels of Individual Grain Consumption

Broadly speaking, two kinds of data are required to estimate individual grain consumption in antiquity: figures for minimum daily caloric intake needs and a sense of the social factors that governed diet in the ancient world.[10] For the first category, recent studies have calculated basic needs from modern recommendations for caloric intake and from the behavior of modern peasant populations. The results of these studies, begun by Lin Foxhall and H. A. Forbes, have been remarkably consistent. Starting with figures for caloric need and the energy values of modern wheat and barley published by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and making adjustments to account for the slighter build of ancient Greeks, Foxhall and Forbes calculated that a Greek adult male probably required about 3,350 cal/day and an adult female about 2,450 cal/day. An


analogous calculation for children (which Foxhall and Forbes did not make) yields about 2,560 cal/day.[11] Thomas Gallant recently went over the same ground and arrived at figures of 3,000 cal/day for an adult male, 2,200 cal/day for an adult female (2,500 if pregnant), 2,857 cal/day for an adolescent male, 2,383 cal/day for an adolescent female, and 2,010 cal/day (on average) for pre-adolescent children of either sex.[12] Studies of modern peasant populations give figures of the same general magnitude. Thus Leland Allbaugh's work on Krete just after World War II reckoned an average intake of about 2,550 cal/day, and a study of Near Eastern peasants yielded a figure of 876,000 cal/year, or 2,400 cal/day, for mature adults.[13] The differences among these figures are hardly worth arguing over, especially given the uncertainties that taint the rest of our data. For convenience, I shall accept Gallant's results, with the caveat that the calculations that follow have no pretense of precision, but are intended only as a guide to help us estimate total demand for Delos.

The remaining issues, related to the social factors governing consumption, are much more problematic. First is the structure of the Delian population. On this crucial question, which determines the distribution of demand over age and sex, we can only make some educated guesses. Gallant has recently exercised a great deal of ingenuity in trying to trace the life cycle of a typical ancient peasant family. His calculations imply that a population made up of such families would consist, on average, of 29.7 percent adult males, 29.8 percent adult females, 8.1 percent adolescent females, 8.1 percent adolescent males, and 24.3 percent pre-adolescent children, distributed equally between both sexes. Such a population distribution can be paralleled from calculations in model life tables.[14] I shall assume that urban and rural families had about the same structure, and that the population of Delos was stable over the period of independence—that is to say, that none of its important parameters, such as gross reproductive rate, was chang-


ing[15] —in order to use Gallant's implied typical population structure as a model for Delos. But about 30 percent of the Delian population consisted of slaves, metics, and transient visitors. On the assumption that they were virtually all adults, and that men predominated over women by 70 percent to 30 percent (at least among slaves and visitors), we can make an adjustment to the population structure. The final result, calculating need for calories according to Gallant's figures, suggests that the average per person caloric intake per day was about 2,460 calories. I shall use this figure in all the estimates that follow, but the reader should always bear in mind that it is only a gross estimate, probably on the high side. Given the uncertainties, however, it would seem to me to be false precision to try to refine it further.

The next question is what percentage of the total caloric intake is likely to have been satisfied by grain. Recent work seems to have settled virtually unanimously on 65–70 percent.[16] Because several new studies have cast doubt on the supposed monotony of the ancient diet, emphasizing the availability of other food sources than grain,[17] I have followed Gallant again and reckoned that 65 percent of caloric needs were satisfied by grain. That means that the average Delian would have consumed about 1,800 cal/day in wheat or barley.

At this point we can almost calculate very roughly the minimum annual grain demand on Delos; the only missing quantity is the relative weight to be given wheat and barley. There can be no doubt that barley remained the preponderant grain in the Hellenistic period, even though a growing taste for wheat seems detectable as the period wore on. Simple necessity must have encouraged the Kyklades, which as we shall see were far more suitable for barley culture than for wheat, to remain largely dependent on barley.[18] Nevertheless, for purposes of illustration, it is worthwhile to present calculations based on demand entirely for wheat, entirely for barley, and for a mixture of 30 percent wheat and 70 percent barley (table 4.1). The barley figures are for barley meal ( image).[19]


Table 4.1. Annual Grain Consumption on Delos


Per Person


In medimnoi for a
Population of:





























Note: Mixed consumption = .70 barley + .30 wheat.

These results are all internally consistent and agree as well as can be expected with the various recent studies devoted to the question of the ancient Greek diet. There is however one problem: they do not agree at all with such data on consumption as survive from antiquity. Although not perfectly consistent, many ancient sources from all periods point toward a "standard ration" of one  image of grain per day, or 7.6 med/ yr (304 kg).[20] A khoinix of wheat provides 2,800 cal, far more than an adult male requires from grain (1,950 cal/day). Various explanations have been offered for this discrepancy. Foxhall and Forbes, for example, suggest that, as the Greeks tended to round figures up, the figure is prescriptive, not normative.[21] This solution explains neither why the figure is so consistent—shouldn't some authors have rounded up to another unit?—nor why no ancient authority remarks on the gross discrepancy between how much grain one actually needed to eat and how much the ration was. We are talking, after all, about almost half again as much grain as necessary. A better solution might take into account the context of these figures. Virtually all of them occur in military contexts: they are allotments to soldiers. Troops in antiquity


rarely traveled or fought alone. In the classical period, a hoplite usually had a batman or servant; in the Hellenistic period, mercenaries frequently had spouses, girlfriends, or other dependents. A standard ration of a khoinix per day may then have been intended partly to cover the needs of another unnamed party, whether free or slave, male or female, or might have been tradable for clothing, lodging, or other provisions.

The Delian documents themselves provide another instance of this problem. In 282 B.C. , Apollo bought first wheat, then barley (as alphita), for three (later two)  image (craftsmen) whom the god employed. They received in wheat 1.5 khoinikes/ day (0.9375 med/ month = 11.25 med/ yr), and later in barley 3 khoinikes/ day (1.875 med/ month = 22.5 med/ yr). These amounts represent daily rations of 4,175 and 6,950 calories, respectively 114 percent and 256 percent more than the 1,950 calories calculated as the typical daily requirement of an adult male.[22] In the case of these figures, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the rations go far beyond anything a person could consume in a day.[23] The solution, it seems to me, is to postulate an assistant for each worker, whether slave or apprentice, whose needs were also satisfied out of the allowances. Slave assistants are mentioned on Delos, including an instance in the very same year. The hieropoioi paid "Deinokrates and his slave [ image]" for work in the sanctuary (IG XI 2.158A71–72). Naturally, the full amount of the wage was paid to Deinokrates, who would have decided whether to turn any part over to the slave. Likewise the tekhnitai received the full grain allotment, which they divided as they saw fit.[24]

The contradiction between modern derived consumption figures and ancient data is therefore more apparent than real. It does, however, emphasize a very important point. The actual amount of grain demanded by a person was conditioned by factors beyond the simple biological need to stay alive. Soldiers and skilled workers evidently expected their employers to support


their slaves or other hangers-on. For our purposes this is not important, since estimates for slaves, wives, other females, and children have already been reckoned into our figure for the population of Delos. But it should alert us to the possibility that undiscovered social factors may have affected the demand for grain. In fact, there is one such factor that deserves some attention: the need to store grain against bad years.

Bad years were inevitable in ancient as in modern Greece. Greece is a semi-arid country, although wetter in the west than in the east, and rainfall during the growing season frequently falls below the minimum of 300 mm necessary for wheat and even below the 240–200 mm minimum for barley. In Attike, for example, the wheat crop fails on average more than one year in four, the barley crop in one year in ten; and on Samos, wheat and barley crops fail almost every other year. Thessalia too shows a tendency toward failure every third or second year, and rainfall on Melos fell below the minimum needed for wheat in twenty-two out of forty years in this century, or oftener than every other year. During the years 1952 to 1980, rain at Herakleion on Krete during the growing season (roughly December-May) failed to meet wheat requirements in one year out of three. The failure rate at Limnos reached 51.7 percent. The climate does not appear to have been any different in antiquity, and indeed ancient evidence speaks eloquently about the frequency and impact of crop failures.[25]

In the second half of the second century B.C. in Boiotia, we hear of shortages "frequently" ( image); during the reign of Augustus, an inscription from Lykosoura in the territory of Megalopolis speaks of times "whenever the city suffers a shortfall of harvests"; and the citizens of Kios


in Asia Minor, begging toward the end of the third century B.C. to be released from religious obligations toward their mother city, Miletos, write of a crisis resulting from "a shortage [ image] in the countryside that has persisted for many years."[26] Closer to home, literary sources speak of droughts and attendant crop failures at Naxos, Syme, Keos, and Khalkis on Euboia. Failure of fruit trees was said to be the cause of the Theran colonization of Kyrene. Epigraphical evidence from Nesos attests to a  image soon after 320 B.C. (and therefore not part of the great shortage known from Tod II.196 and other sources). A shortage has been restored very plausibly in an Ietan inscription of the mid third century. A Greek city, almost certainly Kykladic, had occasion to thank its proxenos on Delos for releasing ships seized for debt; the cargo was grain, carried during a  image. A Tenian inscription of the imperial period reports a shortage and gives reason to suspect hoarding. Under these conditions it is hardly surprising that even cities with productive agricultural hinterlands might show both a "superabundant harvest" and a failure of the grain crop propter hiemis asperitatem in different years.[27]

Warfare also took a heavy toll. Practically constant in the ancient world, fighting disrupted both local production and imports and devoured local resources even in years of good harvests. An honorary decree found at Brousse in Asia Minor and dated to 189–150 B.C. reports that "when the citizens were undergoing a famine because of the war, [the honorand] provided grain for seed and consumption" ( image [the honorand]  image). In Athens ca. 229/8 B.C. , the countryside was left unseeded because of war. The war against Aristonikos in Asia (133–130 B.C. ) brought disaster to Methymna on Lesbos and to Sestos, which had also suffered earlier under attacks by the Thrakians. Delos and its neighbors saw frequent military activity throughout the Hellenistic period, and it is a safe assumption that at least sometimes movements of troops


and war interrupted supplies or disrupted the agricultural calendar. (In chapter 5 we shall see some direct evidence for economic disruption on Delos owing to military operations.)[28]

In some parts of Greece and until recently, storage continued to be a constant factor in the calculations of modern Greek peasants, for whom "arguably the most effective household-level mechanism for coping with crop failure was to store surplus from good harvests for use in bad years." This strategy called for consistent overproduction: households aimed to plant and harvest at levels that assured returns adequate for subsistence in poor years, beyond need in typical years, and abundant in good years. At Methana, for example, peasants typically produced surpluses of 63 percent over household needs. In general, modern Greek rural families aim to keep in storage at least two years' supply of grain, and four years' supply of olive oil in areas like Methana where olives, which produce only every other year, are also synchronized.[29]

These surpluses were "surplus" only in a relative sense, since they insured peasant farmers against frequent poor years and rarer, but inevitable, disasters. Overproduction was therefore really part of normal production. If the same considerations operated in antiquity, ancient consumers should also have sought to acquire grain in amounts that included a buffer against bad years. If this view is right, then modern estimates of caloric requirements, while valuable as theoretical models of minimal subsistence needs, must nevertheless be modified to take into account a social factor—the need to "overproduce"—that was built into the fabric of ancient attitudes toward grain consumption. Population estimates based on minimum need and the supportive capacity of polis territory, for example, will tend to be exaggerated because of underestimation of individual demand.[30]


Investigation of modern Greek peasants' storage behavior reflects recent practice in the countryside. Since the ancient Greeks faced the same environmental constraints, it is reasonable to suppose they responded in the same way and there is indeed some evidence to suggest that they did.[31] Urban families may have responded somewhat differently. Delians without farms may generally have bought their bread already baked, like the Parians who honored an agoranomos for keeping the price down (IG XII 5.129). Alternately, they may have bought raw grain and entrusted it to local bakers to turn into bread; such was evidently Apollo's habit at his festivals. Failure of town-dwellers to store grain in quantities comparable to their rural cousins could account for the heightened vulnerability of the urban poor to shortages.[32]

How much was enough? Once again we are virtually without guides. An inscription of the late second century from Thessalia suggests that just before the new spring harvest, 30–50 percent of the previous year's crop was still in the hands of the original producers; this amount might have fed the local population for roughly a year.[33] A law at Selymbria permitted landowners to store no more than one year's supply ([Arist.] Oik. 2.2.15a–17 [1348b1–1349a3]). Presumably, they would have held on to more if they could have; part of the intention here must have been to prevent hoarding, a common practice, which accounts in part for the desire to store, since the opportunity to make money arises during shortages, at least for wealthier landowners. In addition, the city of Delos itself must have stored grain, at least in the later third and second centuries, when a sitonia fund was in operation.

Modern rainfall data help a bit. In general, the Kyklades receive too little rain to support a barley crop about every three years out of ten. Wheat is far more problematic, as we shall see. Roughly speaking, then, a society that aimed to overproduce by about 50 percent per year would be prepared for most shortages. That suggests in turn that we should raise our estimate


Table 4.2. Annual Grain Consumption on Delos Allowing for a Surplus of 50 Percent


Per Person


In medimnoi for a
Population of:





























Note: Mixed consumption = .70 barley + .30 wheat.

for annual aggregate demand per person by roughly the same amount, or to about 290 kg/yr. The resulting demand for Delos appears in table 4.2. It is these figures we shall reckon on in trying to determine where Delos could have found the grain it needed.

On this basis the annual aggregate demand for grain on Delos would have approximated 19,000–66,000 medimnoi of wheat, 23,000–80,000 medimnoi of barley as alphita, or in combination 22,000–75,000 medimnoi. These very rough estimates are intended only as a guide to the scale of demand on Delos, and even if they are too low by half, they still evoke the small scale of grain demand on Delos compared to a really large market like fourth-century Athens, which probably had an aggregate annual demand on the order of 1,000,000 medimnoi.[34]

These figures must obviously be taken with a grain of salt. The assumptions on which the calculations rest are open to obvious objections: ancient grains were not genetically identical to modern grains and probably had a different caloric content; modern nutritional standards are normative, whereas much of the ancient population may have been chronically malnourished by modern standards; the exact weight of a given volume of ancient grain is unknown; a given medimnos might contain more or less than standard capacity; rations must have varied considerably with social class, level of activity, time of year, and cost of grains; dietary supplements


that might have reduced demand for grain, including vegetables and locally available vetches and legumes, are largely ignored.[35]

The point, however, is not to establish some definite figure for Delian grain consumption, but to estimate the order of magnitude of the annual aggregate Delian demand for grain. On this matter, the figures are reasonable and invite some confidence. If we suppose that Delos needed something between 19,000 medimnoi of wheat and 88,000 medimnoi of alphita per year to feed its population, we shall probably not be far wrong; I am inclined to seek the true figure somewhere between those extremes, perhaps at about 30,000–50,000 med /yr inclusive of barley and wheat.

Now that we have some sense, however rough, of the aggregate annual Delian demand for grain, we can try to estimate the extent of its dependence on imported food and determine the sources from which that food might have come.

Production at Home

To begin, it is necessary to jettison the long-held assumption that Delos is "almost devoid of fertile land."[36] The appearance of Delos today is the result of recent neglect, partly owing to its use in the nineteenth century as communal pasture for Mykonite sheep and more to its current artificial status as an archaeological park. But even in the nineteenth century, Mykonites kept gardens on the island,[37] and there is no reason to suppose that Delos was not exploited to its fullest potential when it was heavily inhabited in the Hellenistic period. Apollo owned ten agricultural estates on Delos. In the third century B.C. , there is documentary evidence for seven privately owned estates and three gardens; other gardens known only from later inscriptions certainly existed earlier. Of Delos's total area of about 360 ha, Michèle Brunet has recently reckoned that 250 ha were cultivated in antiquity, and that this Delian khora supported about fifty farms. Traces of terracing, which Brunet has dated tentatively to the fifth and fourth centuries, still lace the island, and her excavation of a putative farmhouse


has revealed evidence of ancient agricultural activity, including ancient threshing floors.[38]

There is some inscriptional evidence for Delian grain culture. To cover back rent for two estates whose renters were dispossessed in 307 B.C. , the hieropoioi seized raw barley ( image) from one estate valued at 140 drachmas and 300 drachmas' worth from the other, together with a pair of oxen worth 150 drachmas (IG XI 2.142.7, 11). There are no further records of seizures for back rent, but other evidence implies continued cultivation of cereal crops. Barley was bought regularly to feed holy geese or for animals reserved for sacrifice,[39] and it is a reasonable guess that the small amounts needed were found locally. The so-called hiera syngraphe, which regulated the rental of the estates after 300 B.C. , stipulated the seizure and sale of "harvests" ( image) for failure to pay rent (ID 503.33–34). The word  image would have covered all crops, including not only grain but also grapes and olives, which were grown on some estates.[40]

As part of their duties, the hieropoioi inventoried the estates every ten years. The inventory for 250 B.C. survives essentially complete. Ten of the estates listed had an  image, or storage facility for chaff. Four had a  image, or mill, and one a  image, or granary. All but two estates had a  image, or stable for keeping a pair of plowing oxen.[41] These facilities quite clearly suggest grain cultivation probably on every estate. It is interesting that the two estates known to have produced barley at the end of the fourth century (Hippodromos and Soloe) lacked the capital equipment needed to process it by 250: this might mean that barley growing had ceased—we know that viticulture was drastically curtailed on some estates in the late third century—but more probably that milling and storage simply took place elsewhere. From the accounts and estate inventories, J. H. Kent has reckoned that at least eight of the estates produced some grain.[42]


Given the ancient preference for polyculture, the practice of sowing grain between rows of vines, and the facilities for plow teams, probably every estate grew grain.

We can try to estimate Delian yield. Barley prices ranged from 2 to 5 dr/med on Delos in the third century. At the higher end of the scale, prices of 4 and 5 drachmas are recorded for alphita in 282 B.C. , which implies that unmilled barley ( image) cost 2.6 or 3.75 drachmas.[43] At this rate, the barley confiscated in 307 B.C. amounted to 117–170 medimnoi of krithai. Processing into alphita would have yielded about 75–110 medimnoi. If the seven remaining sacred estates on Delos (excluding Kerameion) and the estimated fifty private farms all produced comparable crops, Delos might have grown 2,200–3,245 med /yr, enough grain to feed roughly 250–375 people per year (including amounts immobilized in storage).

Local production can also be estimated in a very theoretical fashion by applying estimates for typical yields to estimates of Delian arable. Naturally, there is virtually no ancient evidence to help with this problem, so we are forced to rely on recent data. The difficulties of this approach are numerous, including the usually unstated assumption that yields of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries must have been similar to those of antiquity because both were achieved with premodern technology. But it is not only technological changes, like the introduction of modern fertilizers, that affect yields, but also social and demographic factors. Declining population, greater integration of once isolated regions into a market economy, the creation of new employment opportunities, and changes in taste are only some of the nontechnological factors that can change cropping patterns, level of agricultural activity, and hence yields.[44] The great variability in rainfall both interannually and from region to region further makes it desirable to use only data covering a long span and only from the same region as is being investigated. Recently Eberhard Ruschenbusch compiled data on yields for the Kyklades for the years 1921–32, the only


period for which reliable data exist for the archipelago.[45] They illustrate the extreme interannual variability of grain yields in Greece; between 1921 and 1932, for instance, the Kyklades yielded in wheat a maximum of 980 kg/ha and a minimum of 200 kg/ha, a variation of almost 400 percent. Barley ranged from 1,080 to 450 kg/ha, or 240 percent. As Ruschenbusch argues, such variability renders useless any figure for a single year, since the "normal" or "typical" yield can vary over such a wide range. Ruschenbusch's figures do provide some corrective to broad conclusions taken from too-limited data, and they at least offer average yields—450 kg/ha for wheat and 680 kg/ha for barley—that have the virtue of being based on a fairly long run of data. But they themselves are not without problems as models of ancient productivity. In particular, they come from a period (1921–32) of general population decline in the archipelago, although, as always, the details vary from island to island and even between different communities on the same island.[46] It is therefore possible that Ruschenbusch's figures, although accurate, reflect a lower rate of exploitation of the countryside than would have been achieved in antiquity. I have included in table 4.3 calculations based on data from Greece as a whole and from Krete for 1911 to 1950, with the caveat that these data clearly include yields improved by the application of artificial fertilizer. It should also be noted that these yields presume a two-field fallow system.

The production for Delos estimated from modern yield/ha figures corresponds extremely well with the figures worked up from estimates based on the putative production of two Delian estates in the late fourth century. The latter figures, roughly 2,200–3,245 medimnoi of alphita, lie comfortably within the range of 2,450–3,500 calculated from modern data. While this agreement cannot be claimed to prove or confirm either set of figures, the independence of the two calculations (they share no assumptions) cer-


Table 4.3. Delian Productivity Estimated from Modern Yield Data from the Kyklades (1), Krete (2), and All Greece (3)






% Population Fed b






















































SOURCES : Kykladic yields, 1921–32: E. Ruschenbusch, ZPE 72 (1988): 141–53; Krete and Greece, 1911–50: Gallant, 77, table 4.7.

a In each case, net yield is gross yield (cultivated surface X yield/ha) minus 43,750 kg reserved for seed at a rate of 175 kg/ha.

b For wheat: 7.2 med/ per/yr; barley: 8.7 med/ per/yr.

c Yield/ha and seed figures are of course for raw barley, not alphita. To obtain the net yield (kg) I have reduced the result of 250 X yield/ha less seed by 35 percent to account for milling loss to produce alphita; thus net yield (kg) and (med) both reflect alphita.

tainly does lend confidence that the results are not likely to be radically wrong. I think it would be reasonable to postulate on the conservative side that ancient Delos probably produced in the long run something like 2,000–3,000 medimnoi of consumable grain each year. Depending on the exact mix of barley and wheat—although I do not doubt for a moment that barley predominated—the island could have fed 230–350 people per year. These figures might represent as few as 2.6 percent or as many as 13 percent of the population. On the whole, I think we shall not be far wrong to suppose that, on average, Delos could, very roughly, feed 10 percent of its total average population.

Production on Rheneia and Mykonos

The Delians were clearly left with a sizable deficit of grain, and I think it is a fair assumption that like the population of any other ancient city, they preferred to seek the balance locally.[47] The nearest source was, of course, the sacred estates on Rheneia. To judge from the numbers of vines kept,


the Rheneian estates were considerably bigger than their Delian counterparts. If the estates really covered all of Rheneia south of the isthmus and the territory north up to the acropolis, as Kent believed, they would have accounted for perhaps three-fifths of the island, or about 840 hectares.[48] If virtually all of this land was sown in barley, then the ten Rheneian estates might have added 9,000 medimnoi of alphita to Delos's budget, enough to feed over 1,000 people. Of course, even with intensive intercropping of grain between vines, some of these 840 hectares would have been unavailable for cultivation; as a guess, we may reduce the figure by 30 percent to 6,300 medimnoi, or food enough for about 725 persons. Rheneia as a whole might have produced 8,430 to 9,030 medimnoi. Some of this food would clearly have gone to the local Rheneian population (whose size remains unknown; the island would repay careful exploration north of the isthmus), but Rheneia might nevertheless have had surplus enough to send (let us say) food for perhaps 500–700 persons to Delos. Combined with Delos's own budget, as reckoned above, these two islands alone could have fed 730–1,050 people, or 8 to 40 percent of the total average Delian population. It does not seem unlikely to me that in an average year the Delians could have counted on Delos and Rheneia for enough grain to accommodate about 25 percent of the inhabitants.

The other potential supplier nearby was Mykonos, where Apollo owned three estates probably located on the isthmus on the western side of the island, which included the only olive trees inventoried for any of the god's possessions. Mykonites were prominent on Delos, where they served as contractors and were honored with proxeny decrees. Their home island, which covers 87.3 km2 , is flat and easily cultivated.[49] Assuming that 20–40 percent of its surface was devoted to cereals, it could have produced a usable barley crop (measured as alphita) on the order of 573,124 to 826,207 kg (at 20 percent) or 1,146,249 to 1,652,414 kg (at 40 percent). These amounts could feed between 1,960 and 5,660 persons. Once again, we have virtually no idea of the population of Mykonos. A recent estimate has suggested 1,047 persons. Even if, on reasonable assumptions, we raise this figure by half again, to 1,625,[50] the island should have had a surplus the Delians could appropriate. As a very rough estimate, let us suppose Mykonos regu-


larly produced a surplus sufficient to feed 750–1,000 persons. Delos's two nearest large neighbors, separated by only a brief sail, might have fed 1,250–1,700 of Delos's population. Adding Delos's own production, the three islands could have fed from 16 percent (assuming 1,480 fed out of 9,100) to 79 percent (2,050 fed out of 2,600) of the Delian population. The conclusion seems inescapable that roughly half of the regular annual aggregate Delian demand for grain could have come out of the surpluses of Apollo's immediate neighborhood.

Production in the Rest of the Kyklades

For the rest, Delos must have looked first to its other Kykladic neighbors. We know that these islands produced grain, sometimes in quantity. Modern data certainly suggest their potential productivity. For example, in three consecutive years, between 1936 and 1938, the Kyklades produced 9,608,800, 17,639,100, and 16,575,500 kg of grain, equivalent (assuming the crop was virtually all barley) to roughly 186,000, 341,750, and 321,100 medimnoi.[51] Early modern data collected by B. J. Slot point in the same direction. In 1670, Naxos produced the equivalent of about 8,200 medimnoi of grain, Paros about 19,000, Thera about 14,350, Melos about 10,680, Andros about 10,000, Syros about 4,900, or a total for just these islands of 67,130 medimnoi. From 1700 to 1718, an average of 42,813 pounds of wheat arrived from "the Archipelago" in Marseille; "the Archipelago" embraced more than just the Kyklades, but the figure gives a general sense of the availability of surpluses in the islands. This figure is the equivalent of about 480 medimnoi. Visiting the Kyklades at about the same time, J. Pitton de Tournefort reported exports in grain from los, Sikinos, and Naxos. Between the 1830s and 1911, Keos produced an average of 1,250,780 kg of barley, of which 110,000 kg were exported in 1906, equivalent to 24,230 medimnoi produced and 2,130 exported.[52] These figures have no statistical value, but they suggest a small, but genuine, exportable surplus. Recent travelers and researchers continue to report the production of barley and wheat on the islands.[53]


For an estimate of the potential productivity of the Kyklades, however, it is necessary to consider the factors that governed productivity over the long term. One of these, yield per hectare, has already been discussed, and I shall continue to use the figures in table 4.3. The other two are rainfall and area cropped. Although already discussed, the effect of insufficient rainfall on crops must be considered in more detail here because (1) rainfall is sufficient for barley production most of the time in the Kyklades, and (2) we can trace variability not only among years but also among islands, which implies that shortages on one island because of insufficient rain need not have meant shortages elsewhere. Area cropped is crucial, because the Kyklades today are apparently grossly underexploited compared to antiquity; the potential for grain production is certainly considerably greater than the rather neglected present appearance of many of the islands would suggest.

Rainfall. Rainfall is important not only because the amount of rainfall determines the success or failure of a crop, but also because it gauges the relation of social expectations of consumption (discussed above) to actual production. If a region produces more grain than social constraints demand, there will be a genuine surplus: that is to say, a surplus that can be regularly absorbed by a local nonfarming urban population or exported.

For 1951–70, Naxos received a mean rainfall during the growing season (December–May) of only 208.5 mm, enough rain to support a wheat crop only 44 percent of the time (seven years out of the sixteen for which data are available). Barley fared much better: in only two years of sixteen (12.5 percent) did rainfall fall outright below 200 mm, and in two (or possibly three) others (12.5 percent [18.75 percent]) was rainfall marginal for barley culture (200–240 mm). A culture dependent primarily on barley would therefore typically have experienced stress every third year (table 4.4).

Thera probably experiences similar conditions, although lack of data makes inference dangerous: for five years for which we have seasonal data (1933–37), there was always too little rain for wheat, and too little for barley in three years; but this could be the same kind of pattern that prevailed on Naxos in 1972–77.[54] Some data for eleven earlier years (1896–1907) illustrate extreme small-scale variability of precipitation. Rainfall at the town of Phira (= Thera) fell short of the minimum for wheat in eight years out of eleven, while it sufficed for barley in all but three years (27 percent). The pattern is thus virtually identical to that on Naxos. At Gonia on Thera, in contrast, rain was more than sufficient for both crops in all five years for which data were recorded (1901–5), while on the slopes of


Table 4.4. Rainfall on Naxos, December–May, 1967–1982



Wheat Barley



Wheat Barley


























































Source: S EE, 1968–84.

Key: F = failed crop, M = marginal crop (barley only, for rainfall = 200–240 mm).

NB: No rainfall recorded for December 1967.


Table 4.5. Rainfall on Thera, December–May, 1901–1905 (mm)



















Profitis Elias






Profitis Elias in the same period, the wheat crop would have failed three times (60 percent) and the barley crop once (20 percent).[55] Phira sits on the western ridge of the island, Gonia lies about 4.5 km inland to the east, and Profitis Elias rises to 564 m about 1.75 km SSE of Gonia. Within a range of barely six kilometers, therefore, rainfall varied enormously (table 4.5). Years that saw crop failures at Phira brought quite enough rain to support farmers near Gonia. This local variability is crucial for understanding the extremely localized stresses that ancient farmers underwent and the frequent reports in our sources of apparently quite localized shortages or failures. Disaster at Phira (as in 1901) did not necessarily spell disaster a few kilometers away.


These results are important. They suggest that the Kyklades could have supported a reliable barley culture, although wheat would typically have been more problematic. Considerable variability from island to island, and even from place to place on a single island, is also to be expected. This confirms the picture early travelers paint. Tournefort's detailed discussion of the condition of individual islands shows great variability among them in their productivity, but with a few exceptions—los and Sikinos—they had far more success with barley than wheat. Some, including los, Sikinos, and Naxos, are specifically said to have exported grain.[56] These results are also very much in harmony with the recent emphasis among scholars of ancient Greek agriculture on the importance for ancient farmers of exploiting micro variations in weather, soil conditions, and other variables by holding small plots in different locations. Theran farmers who held land only at Phira would certainly have had cause to rue it early in this century; there is no reason to suppose conditions were any different elsewhere in the islands, or indeed in antiquity.

Another important implication of the rainfall data relates to the extensiveness of crop failures because of lack of precipitation. Given not only the great interannual variability, but also the potential for extremely localized variability, great general failures are likely to have been rare. Each year some communities on some islands must have faced shortages, but typically they could expect to make them up from the surplus of luckier neighbors. Long experience would have built this factor into the calculus of production. Storage and the short-range movement of grain were the mechanisms that helped the islanders cope; no doubt, too, they provided a large part of the status and wealth that the island elite enjoyed.[57]

Area Cultivated. In the 1930s, typically only about 6–8 percent of the total surface area of the Kyklades was under cultivation in cereals.[58] If comparable areas were cropped in antiquity, the islands' production could have satisfied only a very small population, approaching a high percentage of


Delos's estimated population (see table 4.6). Three considerations, however, suggest that considerably more of the islands' land was under cultivation in antiquity.

Recent study of the Melian countryside has found at least 17 percent, and up to 58 percent, of land suitable for cultivation on the criterion of surface slope, although only 13.95 percent of the island was cropped in 1971.[59] Anything from 18 to 75 percent of potentially arable land was therefore idle. It is reasonable to suppose that much of this land would have been brought under cultivation in antiquity. Furthermore, this area was land arable as it was, without improvement. As any visitor to the Kyklades knows, even the steepest slopes have been rendered suitable for crops by terracing. Unfortunately, terrace walls are notoriously difficult to date, and study of the landscape archaeology of the islands remains in its infancy.[60] However, M. Brunet's careful examination of terracing on Delos suggests that the system there was in place by the fifth or fourth century B.C. The Delian system brings the arable surface of Delos up to about 250 ha, nearly 70 percent of the total area.[61] If the Delian system was created in response to the same needs as the terraces of its neighbors, then it would be safe to assume that the Kykladic system as a whole was in place by the early Hellenistic age at the latest. Many terraces are idle today, largely because of emigration in the face of declining opportunities for local employment and inability of local farmers to compete with imported foods, but if brought into use, they would considerably raise the total potential arable surface in the islands. The existence of the terraces thus provides a strong argument for much higher ancient rates of cropping than attested today.

In 329/8 B.C. , Skyros, which covers 20,900 ha, produced 9,600 medimnoi of wheat and 28,800 of barley; Lemnos, with a total area of 47,600 ha, produced 56,750 medimnoi of wheat and 248,525 of barley. If only 8 percent of the surface of these islands were under cultivation, Skyros would have enjoyed yields of roughly 1,122 kg/ha and Lemnos of 3,960 kg/ha!


Table 4.6. Estimated Yields for the Kyklades, with 10–60
Percent of Surface Cropped
Kyklades (1), Krete (2), All Greece (3)

A. 10% cropped = 22,510 ha; seed = 3.94 mil kg (175 kg/ha)



Net Yield (mil kg)

Net Yield (mil med)

Population Fed b



































B. 20% cropped = 45,020 ha; seed = 7.88 mil kg (175 kg/ha)



Net Yield (mil kg)

Net Yield (mil med)

Population Fed b



































C. 40% cropped = 90,040 ha; seed = 15.76 mil kg



Net Yield (mil kg)

Net Yield (mil med)

Population Fed b




































D. 60% cropped = 135,060 ha; seed = 23.64 mil kg



Net Yield (mil kg)

Net Yield (mil med)

Population Fed b



































SOURCES : Kykladic yields, 1921–32: E. Ruschenbusch, ZPE 72 (1988): 141–53; Krete and Greece, 1911–50: Gallant, 77, table 4.7.

a (1) = Average yield/ha for the Kyklades; (2) = average yield/ha for Krete; (3) = average yield/ha for all Greece.

b For wheat: 7.2 med /per/yr; barley: 8.7 med /per/yr.

Clearly such figures are impossible. Yields per ha become reasonable only by assuming 20–50 percent of the total surface was cropped in grains. This result also strongly reinforces the view that considerably more of the islands' land was planted with grain in antiquity than modern figures suggest.[62]

Table 4.6 presents estimates for the productivity of the Kyklades, Krete, and Greece as a whole, based on these considerations. For total area of the islands, I use the figure for the modern nomos of about 2,251 km2 , or 225,100 ha.[63]

At a conservative cropping of 20–40 percent of total surface, Kykladic production could have supported very roughly 50,500 to 100,000 persons. It must be born in mind that these figures represent, not maxima, but a population that the mean production of the archipelago could support over the long haul. Consumption estimates have already taken into account social storage of surplus food, so that in good years there would be an excess


available for appropriation—whether by the elite, the government, the military, or outside powers—and in poor years imports would be necessary. Local shortages would be made up from local sources whenever possible, as at Phira and Gonia on Thera.

For a population of 2,600–9,100 persons, Delian demand represents 18.2 percent of the total typical supply on pessimistic assumptions, only 2.5 percent on optimistic, 7–8 percent on the mean. Could the Kyklades have provided this much grain?

The population of the Kyklades in the Hellenistic age can be estimated roughly. Ruschenbusch calculates a total population of 22,092 for fifteen Kykladic islands.[64] This figure may be low. It reckons the ratio of adult males to the full population at 1:4, which is probably too pessimistic; if we figure instead 1:5, we get 27,615 persons. Ruschenbusch regards slaves as an unimportant component of island populations, but even if only the upper 7 percent or so of the population could afford them,[65] that still implies 1,933 slaveholders in the islands; if each held on average just two slaves, they would have added almost 3,870 persons to the population. There must also have been some permanent metic population. During the great siege, the Rhodians counted 1,000 able-bodied adult male metics in contrast to a citizen population of 6,000 (Diod. 20.84.2). The Kyklades, less prosperous, must have attracted proportionally fewer resident foreigners: let us say no more than 10 percent of the citizen population, including wives and children; this would add another 2,750 persons. Finally, there would have been a steady population of transients: merchants, travelers, theoroi, ambassadors, soldiers, dramatic artists—perhaps another 10 percent. These adjustments yield a total population of about 37,000.

It should be emphasized that there are many uncertainties in these estimates. Beside the technical objections, corrections, and adjustments that may be applied to Ruschenbusch's figures and methodology, the larger structural issues Sallares has raised, to which I have already alluded, come into play. The two important Kykladic surveys that have been published (for Melos and part of Keos) agree that population reached its height in the fourth century and had suffered a retreat by the late second and first. On Keos this shrinkage can be traced also in the polis center of Koresia, which may have first begun to suffer during the Khremonidean War.[66] Unfortu-


nately, the third century remains generally obscure. In general, there are two possibilities: either population stayed high throughout the years of this study, so that whatever figures are accepted should be regarded as rough maxima; or population began to decline during our period, which would imply either a rising surplus[67] (and so relief for Delos, dependent as it was on appropriating such surpluses) or, assuming that production declined in tandem with the population, a roughly unchanging situation.

Given these caveats, two inferences are clear. First, the Kyklades must normally have been more or less self-sufficient in grain. This should come as no surprise. Most Greek poleis were self-sufficient; it is the rare cities chronically dependent on imports, like Athens, that are the exception. Even if we have underestimated the Kykladic population by half, a doubled total of 74,000 still falls within the high end of the range of estimated carrying capacity.[68] In general, ordinary Delian demand could be satisfied out of the marginal surpluses of its Kykladic neighbors. Second, even at the lowest levels estimated, Delos's population made it unique in the Kyklades. Its role in the islands as a religious center and an economic focus lent it special status, which in turn probably helped to attract the goods its inhabitants needed from its Kykladic neighbors. The most important implication of these calculations, however, is that Delos normally depended only on its nearest neighbors for its supplies of grain. The island had no need regularly to seek supplies from distant producers like the states of the Black Sea, or even Egypt; we shall see below that there is in fact virtually no evidence to suggest any dependence on the country of its Ptolemaic overlords for grain.

The Potential of Farther Neighbors

Despite the general independence of the islands in grain, there were certainly occasional, if rare, general shortages that afflicted the archipelago as a whole, or even a larger geographical region, like the famous shortages of the 330s that required many Greek states to seek help from distant Kyrene (Tod II.196). When such problems arose, where were the Delians (and their neighbors) likely to have turned?

We need look no farther than the islands off the coast of Asia Minor. From Lemnos in the north through Lesbos, Samos, Khios, and Kos to Rhodos in the south, these islands, lying but a short sail east of Delos on the customary route, were remarkably productive. Modern rainfall statistics


for Samos show a mean accumulation during the growing season in 1952–80 of 646.5 mm, already double the amount necessary for wheat. Indeed, excessive rainfall brings problems of its own; too much rain can waterlog the soil, leaching out nutrients and retarding growth, and heavy rain just before harvest can promote rusts. Modern Samian wheat crop failure rates of nearly 50 percent may be attributable to these factors. Diodoros reports a period when too much rain "for many years" ( image) ruined crops and brought about a plague (Diod. 5.82.1)[69] Nevertheless, in years when rainfall was generally low, these islands had enough to produce bumper crops. Only once in 1952–80 did a drought on Samos correlate with a shortage on an island to the north (Lemnos). A similar pattern emerges during the great shortages of 330–326 B.C. The great donation of grain to the Greek states by Kyrene included most of the Kyklades (Keos, Kythnos, Paros, Thera, and perhaps Tenos), but only Rhodos and Kos certainly appear of the islands off the coast of Asia. Samos and Khios are notably missing, and Lesbos is in my view very doubtful.[70] Indeed, the northerly islands seem not just to have been spared but to have enjoyed a normal or even good harvest. In 329/8 B.C. , Imbros, Skyros, and two communities on Lemnos, all of them subject to Athens, produced at least 26,000, 28,800, and 248,525 medimnoi of barley, and 44,200, 9,600, and 56,750 medimnoi of wheat.[71] The combined wheat crop of these three islands could have fed roughly 15,350 persons, and the combined barley crop 22,650, or a total of 38,000 people. They clearly enjoyed a substantial surplus; no doubt all of it went to Athens. But these islands, not terribly far from the Kyklades, would have been a reasonable target for Kykladic islanders seeking crops when general shortages struck at home. Their large size, abundant rainfall, and convenient location made them perfect suppliers. We can estimate


their productivity using the same figures for yield and area cropped as for the Kyklades and a total surface area of 5,421 km2 (= 542,100 ha).[72] At cropping levels of 40 percent, the islands would produce roughly 97,578,000 to 162,196,320 kilograms of wheat, or 2,422,492 to 4,026,720 medimnoi, enough to feed 336,450 to 559,260 people; in barley, production would be roughly 95,843,280 to 127,724,230 kilograms of alphita, or 2,856,814 to 3,793,681 medimnoi, enough to support 328,370 to 436,000 people. Cropped at a rate of 60 percent, the same islands could have fed half again as many people.

Perhaps Diodoros deserves the last word:

The islands, exposed to breezes, supplying their inhabitants with wholesome air, and lucky in their crops, were filled with greater and greater abundance and quickly made the inhabitants happy. Therefore they have been named the islands of the blessed, the abundance they enjoy of good things being the reason for the name. . . . (3) In general, the islands just mentioned enjoyed a happiness far beyond their neighbors not only in antiquity but also in our age; for being the finest of all in richness of soil, excellence of location, and mildness of climate, they are reasonably called beautiful and truthfully happy.[73]

Long-Distance Imports

The considerations advanced above show how limited Delian demand for grain originating outside the Kyklades really was. It should now come as no surprise that the entire body of documentation from Delos reveals only a single decree specifically honoring a dealer in grain, for Dionysios of Byzantion, who in the first half of the third century sold 500 medimnoi of wheat to the city at a price the city requested (IG XI 4.627 = Choix, 46). We have already seen that it is a mistake to construct on this single decree and on Dionysios's ethnic a superstructure of regular grain imports from the Black Sea.[74]

There are, however, two other pieces of evidence that deserve brief discussion. Throughout the years of Delian independence, the island bought grain from time to time to distribute to the local inhabitants. In the later third century, and certainly by 209 B.C. , this practice had become institutionalized as a  image fund. The Delian government borrowed funds from a revolving account to pay for the grain, which was then resold at a


moderate price and the funds replenished. Several analogous funds are attested from other cities. The significance of this practice is not easy to gauge. The rising wealth of Delos in the later third century, combined with a modest growth in population, may have spurred the Delians to assure themselves of cheap grain out of public funds. The timing of the purchases and sales, however, adds another dimension: it seems evident that the Delians were working to guarantee the availability of affordable grain in the spring, just before the harvest and the opening of the sailing season. Rising wealth may have provided the opportunity to regularize a function that the city had undertaken occasionally in the decades before. The creation of the sitonia fund certainly attests to an interest in the grain supply—itself hardly unusual among the Greek cities. Unfortunately—with one exception, dealt with just below—we know absolutely nothing about the origin of this grain. Everything said so far leads me to suspect that the vast majority of it came from very nearby sources, not excluding Delian farmers themselves. The mere existence of the fund proves nothing about longdistance imports.[75]

In one case, however, we do happen to know the origin of grain sold cheaply to the Delians, and in this case the grain did come from a distant source. In 180 B.C. , Massinissa of Numidia donated almost 2,900 medimnoi of grain ( image, almost surely wheat),[76] which were sold in one lot for 3 drachmas and three other lots for 4 drachmas 1 obol per medimnos,[77] considerably below the market price for wheat. There is no indication whatsoever that Delos was in need of grain at the time, or that Delos had ever imported grain from Numidia before. The accounts mention the involvement of a Delian ambassador,  image (ID 442A101).[78] The Delians had also voted Massinissa a crown; the accounts record the


repayment of the loan for this honor in Poseidon 179 B.C.[79] Philippe Gauthier thinks a Numidian ambassador may have passed through Delos early in 180 B.C. and assured the Delians of Massinissa's good will, and that the Delians might have dispatched Rhodon soon thereafter with the crown, who returned accompanied by the gift of grain.[80] It seems more likely to me, however, that Massinissa's gift was spontaneous. The proceeds of the sale of the grain were deposited in four lots, the first of which fell in Lenaion of 179 B.C. (ID 442A100). Given the exigencies of the sailing season, the grain must have arrived in 180 B.C. , probably by October, as Gauthier suggests.[81] The first deposit is entered in the name of the three regular sitonai of 179 B.C. and the ambassador Rhodon. The remaining three deposits occurred in Artemision, perhaps under the aegis of a special committee appointed to dispose of the rest of the king's gift (see ID 442A102–6). What was Rhodon's role in the first deposit? Despite the absence of direct evidence, he had probably served on the board of sitonai of 180 B.C. who received the grain; if the first lot was sold in Poseidon, he may have handed over the proceeds to his successors for deposit early in 179 B.C. His role in dealing with the gift in 180 B.C. would then explain his designation, after his term of office as sitones had ended on the last day of Poseidon 180 B.C. , as ambassador to Massinissa to convey the Delian demos's thanks and the crown to the king as soon as possible in 179 B.C. (ID 442A41–43, 65–67). Massinissa's gift thus probably belongs among the innumerable gifts of grain by potentates to Greek cities, reflections of political circumstances or simple piety whose details are lost to us.[82] It says nothing about local Delian demand or typical sources of supply. Indeed, the fact that the grain was a gift, not bought, forbids any inferences about the normal origin of grain on Delos.y

The evidence from Delos's neighbors does not change the picture. Arkesine on Amorgos awarded citizenship to a Theran, Epianaktides, who


 image (IG XII 7.11.6). The same city also honored an Agathokles, who has been identified with a Rhodian honored at Ephesos for selling grain at a reduced price; his benefactions to Arkesine may have been along the same lines. Three Rhodians honored in IG XII 7.8 have also been regarded as traders in grain.[83] Money apparently left over from the purchase of public grain on los went to buy a crown for Antisthenes of Rhodos; it is a reasonable assumption that he had imported grain at a cut rate.[84] None of these inscriptions gives the slightest indication of the origin of the grain; just because Egyptian trade was largely in Rhodian hands does not mean that all Rhodians traded in Egyptian goods.[85] The Rhodians might just have been local traders, moving around the Kyklades and the coast of Asia Minor; perhaps the Theran honored by Arkesine was the same kind of small fry.

Nor do the islands' sitonia funds help. Their existence is hardly surprising, given the wide distribution of such institutions in the Hellenistic world—they certainly do not imply that the Kyklades were usually susceptible to shortages—and the documents that attest to them say nothing about the sources of the grain they bought.[86]

The evidence supports a picture of trade in grain around Delos not much different from that which Tournefort drew for the seventeenth century:

There is however some difficulty to lade Corn in the Levant; being often forced to run from one Island to another, before you can get a full Cargo, and then it must sometimes be half Wheat, half Rye. In 1700, the Turks of Volo and Thessalonica being under apprehensions


of a famine, would not suffer the People of this place [i.e., Sikinos] to sell Corn to Strangers, any more than in Candia: but as the Mussulmans will do any thing for Money, they let the Provensals ship it off by night.[87]

Delos was no insatiable consumer of grain brought in from long distances, whether from the Black Sea or even Egypt. Delian production clearly played a role in feeding the local population, even if the figures reckoned above give only the roughest approximation of Delian production. When the surpluses of her Kykladic neighbors are figured in, Delos probably subsisted in normal years entirely or largely on grain shipped in from very nearby. As "the greater part of the grain that flowed into the sitoboletia [storage facilities of the Greek cities] must have been of local origin, produced by the farmers of the khora, "[88] it would be surprising if Delos were an exception. It is much more likely, as Garnsey, Gallant, and Rathbone have remarked in another context, that the attested "trade" in grain in the Hellenistic world reflects not ongoing operations of commercial exchange, but spontaneous, temporary responses to transient local shortages and surpluses.[89]

These results are also important for the view that Delos was a transit port for grain. Great local demand normally led to heightened local concern with the trade, which sometimes issued in regulations and improvements meant to attract the traders. The process is familiar from Athens, whose expanding demand—especially in the fourth century—promoted great growth in the city as a harbor and transit town.[90] No similar process can be assumed at Delos sporadic and unpredictably varying annual demand for long-distance imports would not have encouraged the development of a transit trade business. That came later and was owing to other factors.


Transit Trade in Grain

I have often noted the view that Delos was a great center of the grain trade. It is time now to consider some of the evidence on which this view is based.[91]

The Third Century to ca. 240 B.C.

We must begin with an instance of "history from square brackets."[92] An inscription of 281 B.C. includes the entry  image 4 dr ("to Artimas and Deinias [or Deinion], 4 dr, for making and installing the keys where the Ptolemaic grain used to lie").[93] In combination with the new Kallias decree, which mentions that "Kallias himself sailing at his own expense to Cyprus and there conversing earnestly with the king in behalf of the city brought back fifty talents of silver for the Demos [of Athens] and a gift of twenty thousand medimnoi of wheat, which were measured out from Delos to the agents sent by the Demos,"[94] this evidence appears to support the views that "the island became one of the great centers of the Aegean grain trade during the third century B.C. " and that "the royal monopolies of Egypt had begun to develop Delos as a clearing-house for their grain trade from the earliest years of Ptolemaic control."[95]

Despite apparently universal acceptance,[96] the restoration  image rests on no evidence whatsoever. It is the only attestation for Ptolemaic grain on Delos; the Kallias decree cannot be used to "confirm" it, since the decree itself says only that the grain was measured out on Delos, not that it was stored there. There are numerous other possible restorations for the passage. For example: image, "the demos's grain," perhaps rather unlikely in view of  image attested for los and Amorgos (IG XII 5.1010.6, IG XII 7.40.9);  image, "the city's grain," an adjective commonly used for polis


property, as with  image, or even  image; or  image, "the imported grain."[97] Best however in my view are either  image, which is attested in an Andrian inscription of the mid third century and probably refers to grain bought for a foreign garrison (IG XII 5.714.3, with IG XII suppl., p. 119), or, better still,  image or  image, "grain for sale,"[98] which fits the space better than  image. Since Delos was buying grain at public expense as early as 301 B.C. (IG XI 2.146A20–21), the city must have needed storage space, which it could have rented from private owners or provided in one of its own buildings, including a building in the temple. The entry at IG XI 2.159A53–54 probably has nothing whatever to do with "Ptolemaic" grain.

Even without the traditional restoration, however, one might argue from the passage in the Kallias decree quoted above that the Ptolemies did indeed use Delos as a grain storage and transfer point. This evidence has in my view been grossly misinterpreted. In the first place, the passage does not say that the grain was stored on Delos, only that it was there transferred to the Athenians (1.54). The grain may in fact have come from Kypros, where Kallias had spoken with the king. OGIS 56.17–18 attests to imports of grain ( image) into Egypt from Syria, Phoinike, and Kypros (the demotic version of the text specifies Salamis, see Dittenberger's n. 34 there) by Ptolemaios III at a time of high prices ( image). There is abundant evidence as well for movement of grain in the other direction, from Egypt to Kypros and Asia Minor, both in Hellenistic and Roman imperial times.[99] We have already seen that the interest the Ptolemies had in the Kyklades was strategic, not economic. They lay on the route to mainland Greece. Projection of power onto the mainland required (among other things) reliable provisioning. The Ptolemaic intervention into Greece of 308 B.C. foundered for lack of supplies (Diod. 19.37.1). Troops in the Kyklades always stressed local supplies, as we shall see in chapter 5; any sensible government that had experienced the headaches of provisioning in the


islands would surely have taken steps to assure supplies. Delos, centrally located and protected from raiding by its sacred status, offered a perfect location for a storage depot. Grain was probably stockpiled for use of the troops that liberated Athens in 287 B.C.

The second piece of evidence cited to show Delos's role in the transit trade is an inscription erected on Delos in the first quarter of the third century honoring the Delian Mnesalkos son of Telesarkhides: "during the dearth of grain [ image] he got released grain that had been twice seized by Delians to whom the city owed money."[100] Unfortunately, the identity of the city honoring Mnesalkos is lost. Maurice Holleaux suggested perhaps a city on the Black Sea, which Jardé rejected because "these great cereal-producing countries" would not have needed to import grain.[101] If we assume that the debt was public—that is, that the "Delians" of the inscription were the corporate body of Delos, not private persons[102] —then it is impossible that the indebted city be located anywhere but in the Kyklades or close by. In the fourth and third centuries, Apollo lent money to Kykladic states, and in the third to Hermione in the Argolid and Peparethos. That was the geographical extent of his generosity; it is out of the question that the debtor here should have been farther away.[103] Most probably the grain seized was being moved from one Kykladic island to another and happened to pass through Delos; it is less likely, in my view, that the grain was bought on Delos. In either case, this was certainly a local operation, quite in line with the movement of grain at Delos depicted above.

In general, the very skimpy evidence for the first seventy-five years of Delian independence does not support the idea that the island served as a central transfer or transit point for the long-distance trade in grain. Delian


trade must have focused virtually exclusively on making up the deficit that Delian, Rheneian, and Mykonian production left; that deficit was sought in the regular, although small, surpluses of Delos's neighbors, and more rarely from farther away. Dionysios, honored for selling his grain at a discount—perhaps as part of a public purchase for resale—may stand in for the type of small-scale local merchant moving around the islands on whom Delos depended; his peers were men like the Theran Epianaktides and the Rhodian Agathokles honored on Amorgos.

After ca. 240 B.C.

In contrast to the earlier period, there is more positive evidence for trade in grain on Delos after about 240 B.C. Sometime in the 230s or 220s, Histiaia on Euboia dispatched sitonai to Delos, where a Rhodian named Athenodoros son of Peisagoras lent them money at no interest (IG XI 4.1055 = Choix, 50). The Histiaians enjoyed a continuing relationship with Athenodoros, but we should not suppose that they sent buyers to Delos simply to deal with him.[104] They did not buy grain from Athenodoros, who is being honored for help with the financing. Rather, the Histiaian sitonai went to Delos because they expected to find grain there for sale. This does not take us out of the Kykladic orbit: the cities of Euboia had long-standing tight relations with Delos.[105]

Another important document dated 239–229 B.C. is often cited as proof of the role of Delos in the general transit trade in grain, where, it is claimed, grain from Egypt and Sicily would have been readily available.[106] An honorary decree was passed by the Delians in favor of Aristoboulos son of Athenaios of Thessalonike (IG XI 4.666 = Choix, 48). Aristoboulos, who spent a good deal of time on the island, "was sent by king Demetrios as grain buyer ( image)" (1.6). Despite the closeness in date of this text to the Histiaian decree just discussed, it is important to avoid the temptation to treat them together as complementary or corroborating testimony on the importance (whether new or continuing) of Delos as an international market for grain in transit. Their contexts are in fact quite distinct, and they provide evidence for two very different functions that Delos played in this period.

Interpretations of Aristoboulos's activities on Delos have generally assumed that Demetrios II sent him there because grain was hard to find in Makedonia. Most recently, Gabriele Marasco has argued that the depreda-


tions of the war of Demetrios II against the Aitolians and Akhaians occasioned severe shortages throughout central Greece; Demetrios therefore stationed his own sitones on Delos semi-permanently to divert to Makedon grain available on the market there from sources like Egypt and Sicily. Others have posited a cross-trade in grain from Delos and pitch and wood from Makedon that Demetrios was eager to foster so as to guarantee reliable grain supplies.[107] But this inscription needs to be placed in a wider context. Athenodoros was not Demetrios's only representative on Delos. The Delians honored Autokles son of Ainesidemos of Khalkis,  image, as proxenos and euergetes of the Delians and Apollo (IG XI 4.680.3–5, cf. 679 [= Choix, 47]); he was also awarded a proxeny by Oropos (V. I. Leonardos, AE [1892]: 49–50, no. 79). His son Autokles received similar honors from the Delians (IG XI 4.681–82). Admetos son of Bokros of Thessalonike, whose father may have been buried on Rheneia, is not explicitly associated in the texts with Demetrios, but the lavishness of his honors both on Delos and in his hometown make a connection with the royal house likely.[108] Demetrios II also advertised his victory over the Spartan king Kleomenes III on Delos (IG XI 4.1097 = Choix, 51). His interests in Delos clearly extended well beyond the purchase of grain or the promotion of trade between Makedon and Apollo's homeland.

The key to understanding these interests, I suspect, lies in the larger political context. At the start of his reign, Demetrios broke with his father's policy in northwestern Greece by contracting a marriage alliance with the ruling house of Epeiros. Hostilities—the so-called "War of Demetrios"—followed with the Aitolians and Akhaians, which led to troubles throughout central Greece. Because after 237/6 B.C. Demetrios held Boiotia and the Megarid, however, Athens was spared land raids by the Akhaians or Aitolians; the latter were able only to raid Attike by sea. As we have already seen in chapter 2, the Aitolians had taken advantage of the absence of a hegemonic power in the Aegean to establish relations with many island


and littoral states in the 240s. Delos itself had enjoyed an asylia agreement with the Aitolians since 250 B.C. The benefits of these arrangements became apparent now. The Aitolian Boukris, who took captives in Attike, disposed of them at Kydonia on Krete and was honored by the Delians as proxenos.[109]

Demetrios clearly needed to counter the Aitolians at sea. He struck an agreement with Gortyn on Krete,[110] which provided him with a base of support on the island where Boukris sold his Athenian captives, and with a ready source of allied troops (some served at Sellesia a few years later; cf. Polyb. 2.66.6, 4.71.11, 5.23.2). Despite its "neutrality," Delos often played a crucial role in the naval struggles between opposing powers in the Aegean; the best example comes from the war with Perseus, when Delos saw Makedonian and Roman forces stationed on the island and even mingling in the sanctuary (Livy 44.29.3–4, cf. 45.10.1). I have already remarked on the importance of stockpiling supplies for military operations in the archipelago, which, although capable of supporting its own population, inevitably had difficulty feeding large influxes of troops.[111] Demetrios's grain purchases through his agent Aristoboulos do not, therefore, reflect the promotion of trade, or even attempts to recoup shortages created in Makedon by the war, but the military need to support the naval side of Demetrios's struggle against the Aitolians.

With Aristoboulos's activities set in their proper context, the mission of the Histiaian sitonai on Delos becomes easier to understand: they were undoubtedly sent by their home state to try to buy grain during a shortage. The little we know about the situation has all the earmarks of one of the transient, local shortages so common among the Hellenistic states. There is no evidence for grain shortages in neighboring states at this time,[112] and the fact that the Histiaians expected to find grain on Delos makes it very unlikely that the problem extended much beyond Histiaia itself; there is certainly no reason to suppose that Makedon was suffering a famine.[113] It


seems to have remained unremarked that the Histiaians came to Delos without any money to buy grain, for they praised their Rhodian benefactor because he "conducted everything with the sitonai sent to Delos by the city [of Histiaia] enthusiastically and advanced money without interest and became the reason the sitonai completed their business expeditiously, putting the gratitude of the city [ image] ahead of his own profit" (IG XI 4.1055.9–14 [= Choix, 50]). This is absolutely typical of the public impoverishment of the Greek cities of the Hellenistic period, when they were frequently incapable of financing their needs.[114] This document, then, simply attests to the attempt by a state on the Kykladic margin to find grain on Delos during a local shortage. It does not demonstrate the existence of an international market, but rather reinforces the picture of Delos as a developing transshipment point for grain being moved around the Kyklades.

In the 190s B.C. , probably before 192, the reconstituted Island League sent grain purchasers to Delos. They arrived with Tenian money unacceptable to the sellers, and Timon of Syracuse, a banker, came to their rescue by exchanging their funds without charging a markup. The two Siphnian representatives of the league were also honored on Delos.[115] The involvement of the Island League suggests a military purpose behind this transaction. As part of its responsibilities, the league provided ships to a fleet under Rhodian command headquartered on Tenos, where the Rhodians also maintained a garrison. Treaties governing the requisitioning of soldiers from one city by another often required the home city to provide maintenance for the first part of the campaign (e.g., for the first thirty days). The league may therefore have been buying grain for its sailors or for the garrison.[116]

These documents build a coherent picture of the grain business on Delos. Delos's strategic situation in the Kyklades, and the Kyklades' role as


stepping-stones between mainland Greece on the one side and western Asia Minor and Egypt on the other, drew the interests of powers that had more than regional ambitions. The actions of the Ptolemies illustrate this admirably; Demetrios II's grain purchases—if indeed military in inspiration—seem to belong to the same category.

The character of the island played its role in determining the nature of its economy, which in turn had an impact on the trade in grain. Delos imported grain from its Kykladic neighbors, and sometimes from farther away. It also drew in merchants and contractors who did business with its temple, which was an important local economic engine. Grain importers could never have known precisely how much grain Delos needed, and since its demand for imported grain must proportionally have been the highest among the group—every other Kykladic island had a much larger  image in relation to its population—Delos must have become a natural place for regional exchange: for unloading surpluses and making up shortfalls. Public and private banking supplied the crucial loans for the risky enterprises of "those who sail the sea" (IG XI 4.691.5–6 = Choix, 43). This role may help to explain why Dionysios of Byzantion was the only grain importer honored by the Delians: Delos's role as a local distribution center radically reduced the locals' need to encourage or compel imports, at least until the changes of the late third century.

Although we can trace this kind of activity from the first quarter of the third century, when Mnesalkos helped a neighboring city during a shortage of grain (IG XI 4. 1049), the amount of evidence rises considerably after ca. 230 B.C. It is in the last quarter of the third and first quarter of the second centuries that the activities of the Histiaians, Demetrios II, Eutykhos, and the Island League belong. The range of Delos's economic reach had not extended—it was still confined to the Kyklades, including Euboia—but its intensity had grown.

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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Chapter 4— The Grain Supply of Delos and the Delian Grain Trade
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