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Agricultural Exploitation and Temple Banking in the Athenian Empire: A New Perspective from the Island of Lemnos

Date and Time: 
Thursday, January 16, 2020. 04:15 PM - 06:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Humanities Center Boardroom
Workshop: 
Ethics and Politics, Ancient and Modern
Meeting Description: 

All EPAM sessions are pre-read. We will begin with a brief summary of the paper and comments by Josiah Ober, followed by a response from Timothy Sorg. Afterward, the floor will be open for questions.

Abstract: For nearly a century, the Athenians regularly confiscated land from communities around the eastern Mediterranean. Afterwards, they often reserved a portion of the land as sacred property to subsidize a temple. In the generation after the conquest of Lemnos ca. 499, the Athenian settlers at Myrina built a temple to the goddess Artemis, who offered a kind of imperial justification for the Athenian conquest: the Athenians claimed they were seeking revenge for a group of Athenian women kidnapped while celebrating the Artemisia festival at Brauron and taken back to Lemnos. In this article, I offer a new perspective on the Athenians’ imperial temples by exploring the imperial history of sacred property, agricultural rents, and temple banking. Using archaeological evidence to rethink our historical and epigraphic sources, I argue that the Temple of Artemis helped individual Athenian settlers exploit and invest in the land they confiscated on the island by granting microloans and other banking services. With the help of temple banking, the lotholders who went to start a new life on the island were better suited to profit from their land allotments and, over time, reorient the island’s network of exchange to import manufactured goods produced in Athens.

Timothy Sorg is a lecturer in the Thinking Matters Program. He received his PhD in history from Cornell University in 2018. His research focuses on how participatory city-states created empires in the ancient Mediterranean world.

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