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05-09-2017 - William Rees-Mogg - 0 comments
Angels through the Ages - Demosthenes (The elder)

Demosthenes is typically remembered as Democratic Athens’ last great orator, the man who started and lost a disastrous war with Phillip of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great). For our purposes, however, his Father is more interesting, a new man, of no particular standing, he managed to accumulate a large fortune of 10 talents (c. £12m) by investing his money in three different ways.

One particular favourite source of revenue was investment in ‘ergasteria’ (workshops). These were the earliest form of factories - although they would not become a well-established part of the Mediterranean economy for several centuries more. Typically they were staffed by a few dozen workers, mixed between slaves and free men (with a preference for the former) and were used to produce everything between ploughshares and musical instruments. Lycias, another famous lawyer had 120 slaves producing shields, while Demosthenes’ father had 32 slaves making swords. Alongside this the discerning Athenian investor could give out maritime loans, supporting the spread of Greek trade in the Western Mediterranean (topically a good solution to the recent ‘Grexit’ from Persian domination and therefore access to Eastern markets!). Finally money was invested in liturgies, grand ceremonies put on for the benefit of the Athenian populace which helped to ensure social cohesion and freedom from the debilitating civil war which plagued other Greek cities in this period. All these activities were carried out by Demosthenes and his colleagues, helping to ensure the emergence of the world’s first ‘middle class’ of economically prosperous non aristocrats.

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