Preferred Citation: Reger, Gary. Regionalism and Change in the Economy of Independent Delos. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1994 1994.

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

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

[67] Sallares, 316, explains the difference between ancient, grain-importing, and mediaeval, grain-exporting, Greece thus.

[68] Tournefort, Voyage, I.159, 185, 216, 233, 273, 285, 296, II.1, 9, 13, 32, 40, 42, and 43, gives figures for the populations of most of the Kyklades that total 65,800, assuming his families or households consist of five persons.


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" (

) 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

[69] U.S. Dept. of Commerce, World Weather Records, vol. 2, Europe, 1951–1960, 150, 1961–1970, 140, 1971–1980, 138. Arnon, Crop Production in Dry Regions, I.31 (excess rain), II.7 (rust). Garnsey, 13, on Samos. Cf. also Diod. 12.58.3–4 on a rainy Attike winter that led to crop failure and the purification of Delos in 450 B.C. Livy 37.27.1 on Khios; Theoph. Hist. pl. 8.2.9 on Khalke.

[70] Tod II.196 (= SEG 9.2+), with Tod's comm., 274–76. The absence of other islands—for example, Kythnos and Keos appear but not Seriphos, Siphnos, Melos, or Andros—may reflect the regional variability in drought that we have seen so often; even a "general" drought may skip individual localities.

[71] IG II 1672.297–98, 275, with Jardé, 41; cf. Garnsey, 99–101 and 98, table 5. Garnsey makes an airtight case for good harvests on the islands and bad harvests in Athens. If there was cheating (cf. Josiah Ober, Fortress Attica [Leiden, 1985], 23–24), these figures may underrepresent the real harvest; but see now Isager-Skydsgaard, 172, and Garnsey in Agriculture in Ancient Greece, 147–48. Cf. K. J. Beloch, Opus 4 (1985): 9–28, with Carmine Ampolo, Opus 4 (1985): 7–8.


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]

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

Preferred Citation: Reger, Gary. Regionalism and Change in the Economy of Independent Delos. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1994 1994.