Monday, July 6, 2015

Athenian Wealth and the Parthenon

I recently had the opportunity to deliver a paper at the Annual Meeting of the Classical Association of Canada as part of a team researching the Athenian Acropolis. Peter Schultz, David Scahill and I presented, “The Parthenon’s Attic: The Management and Location of Public Treasures in Athens in the Fifth century BC.”

Here is the abstract:

More is known about the public finance of Athens than any other city in the Classical period. However, despite the existence of numerous decrees on civic monies, many mysteries remain regarding the management and location of Athens’ public treasures.

Athens’ principal repository, the Treasury of Athena, is associated with a space known as the “Opisthodomos.” This designation seems to refer to two discrete locations on the Athenian Acropolis; the epigraphical evidence also makes clear that goods belonging to the treasury were spread out across multiple buildings and numerous rooms. Before 407 BC, inscriptions locate public goods in the “Opisthodomos” (perhaps the reconstructed inner rooms of the Old Temple of Athena) and in spaces often identified as rooms of the Parthenon: the “Pronaos,” the “Hekatompedon,” and a location named “the Parthenon.” After 407 BC, the treasury and its associated spaces underwent significant re-organization, perhaps in response to the burning of the Opisthodomos of the Old Temple of Athena. At this time, Pheidias’s great temple proper became the principal seat of the Athenian treasury.
Annual inventories of public and sacred property reveal that the interior of the Parthenon was filled with a wide range of objects ranging from the extremely valuable (gold crowns) to the dubious (rotten arrows) (Harris 1995). Conspicuously, missing from the inventory accounts, however, are the coins and bullion that constitute the vast majority of the city’s wealth. Ancient sources (Thuc. 2.13.3-4; Diod. Sic. 12.40.1-2, 12.54.3, and 13.21.2) describe amounts between 8,000 and 10,000 Talents held in the treasury. The Kallias decree also specifies that 3000 Talents in Athenian coinage was placed in the Treasury of Athena (IG I3 52, l. 3-4). While no inscriptions refer to the location of the city’s coined wealth, it has long been known that temples were used as banks (Bogaert 1968, Roux 1984). Again, the most logical location for the storage of these monies is within the Parthenon. A problem remains, however: The Parthenon’s interior was already literally packed with goods. In 1983, however, Manolis Korres published evidence for the existence of a staircase built into the Parthenon’s eastern cella wall. Like the famous staircases in several Sicilian temples, this staircase led to the temple’s attic. Safe, accessible, easily controlled, and sanctified by the goddess’s own power, this large, neglected space may have played a more central role in the Parthenon’s form and function than previously thought. 

The reaction at the conference was exactly what one hopes for: good questions that push the boundary of our understanding and insightful points of view that I overlooked in the delivery. One part of the response, however, was unexpected. Owen Jarus of Livescience covered the conference and featured the work on their website. The story subsequently got picked up by other outlets including Yahoo NBC Newsand even To Bema, a Greek daily newspaper. The full academic publication is in the works and will appear soon.