Travel, Trade & Law

Despite the Greeks' trade networks, travel is always slow and uncertain in the Hellenic world. There is little infrastructure and navigation techniques are crude.


In the important areas of cities and the richer districts the roads are cobbled or of paved stone. Everywhere else roads are no more than persistently-used dirt tracks cut with deep wheel ruts. These tracks are dusty during the summer and turn to mud during the winter months making them near-unusable. The road network is poor since routes are focused on the moving of goods from farms and ports into the nearest city. There is little traffic between poleis meaning inter-city paths are rarely used.

The pack animals of choice for the poor are oxen and mules which are used to pull carts. Their harder hooves and tougher constitutions make them ideal for use in the mountainous and difficult terrain of Greece. As horses are faster-moving but more fragile they are used by the rich. The wealthiest can afford a team of horses to pull a chariot.


With overland travel being slow and tiring, the Greeks prefer to travel by sea. Not only is it faster but a boat can carry far more cargo than an ox cart. Sea travel has its dangers and is only attempted between June and September as the seas are too unpredictable the rest of the year. With no charts, buoys, lighthouses or compasses, ships follow the coast for fear of getting lost. At night the lack of visibility makes it very dangerous to attempt sailing close to shore, though good sailors can use the stars to maintain a steady heading between islands. Instead, it is good practice to beach the ships and sleep on land. Most Greek ships are designed to be beached and only the largest cities have stone harbours or wooden docks.

Most overseas trade is conducted using very simple ships. They have a rounded bottom and a single mast with a square-rigged sail. A pair of large rudder oars at the stern are used for steering. The largest have a few rowers to supplement the sail. Greek boats are slow, unsafe and small - at most 20m in length by 6m across the beam. With a favourable wind their top speed is five knots and they offer no protection from the elements.


Travellers will seek to stay with family, even quite distant relatives they have never met. Those on business expect their clients to provide them with a small room to stay in. There are a few options for strangers new in a city. Larger private houses sometimes have small rooms to rent, perhaps in the roof space. There are inns, though these rooms are small, dark and not well maintained. Free public shelters called leschai can be found at the centre of most cities though they are mostly no more than covered courtyards. Strangers are expected to provide their own food and a slave to cook for them. Those without servants can find food in a tavern, the quality of which depends on price. Greek custom expects guests to share breakfast with their host before they leave.

Pirates and Bandits

With large amounts of goods and people moving along predictable routes close to land, piracy is common. Pirate ships lurk in coves or on beaches, waiting for a slow-moving merchant ship to come into range. The faster pirates row out and attempt to board and capture the vessel. As crews are worth more alive as slaves than dead, pirates often fight with nets and frequently offer the chance to surrender. Highwayman on land are less common as there are fewer travellers, so bandits tend to focus on raiding farms or villages.


The most accepted form of Greek currency is silver coin, and cities mint their own. Those with the highest silver content are most valued, particularly coins from Aigina (an Aegean island), Kyzikos (a city in Anatolia) and Athens. The most famous is the owl from the silver mine at Laurium in Attica which had Athena's symbol stamped on it. With all the different currencies, money traders are prevalent and they charge such high interest rates that some retail merchants have formed guilds to survive. Sparta, as always, does things differently and uses heavy iron ingots for barter.

The majority of trade is overseas, with Greek cities importing grain, timber, metals, slaves and luxuries such as perfumes and ointments, while Greece exports olive oil, wine, silver and pottery. Grain imports are vital since the Greek soil is of such poor quality it can't produce enough food to feed the larger cities. The wheat mostly comes from the Black Sea and Egypt though some is shipped from Gaul, the barbarian land far to the north and west of Greece. Trade is taxed by the city authority, at a rate not higher than 5%.


The application and enforcement of the law varies between poleis but aspects are common across Greece.

The poleis employ guards - sometimes slaves but often mercenaries - as sentries. Other duties include crowd control or moving on idle people but not the pursuit of criminals or investigating crime. Pursuing criminals is done by private citizens and investigations are carried out by a citizen appointed by the civic government. During times of major unrest, the poleis' guards are supplemented by an army of citizens for the task.

Organised crime is in the control of companies. A step up from street gangs, companies are often made up of respectable citizens looking to make lives easier from themselves by bribery and coercion. They've even been know to lend money to tyrants in exchange for support and access.

A captured criminal can expect a trial. In tyrannies and oligarchies, the court has an appointed official or officials who hear evidence and pass down a sentence. In democracies it is far more complicated. A court in Athens relies on a jury, selected at random that morning from a pool of citizens and rarely fewer than five hundred people. Presiding over the trial is an appointed official whose role is to maintain order. The accuser and the defendant speak in turn for an equal and measured amount of time, presenting what evidence and witnesses they have. No advocates are allowed, as both must speak for themselves. Once the evidence is heard, the jury then votes on the verdict. If a guilty verdict is reached, the accuser and the defendant both suggest a suitable punishment, which the jury then votes on. Typically, the trial takes less than a day.

Greek cities do not have prisons so punishments include death (by hemlock poisoning in Athens), a fine, forced labour for a time, slavery, mutilation and the stripping of assets, though many other inventive punishments have been used.

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open/settings/6d6hellenic/travel_and_trade.txt · Last modified: 2016/03/02 11:36 by tregenza
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