Costing festivals and war: spending priorities of the Athenian democracy

Pritchard, D. M. (2012) Costing festivals and war: spending priorities of the Athenian democracy. Historia - Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte, 61 1: 18-65.

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Author Pritchard, D. M.
Title Costing festivals and war: spending priorities of the Athenian democracy
Journal name Historia - Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0018-2311
Publication date 2012
Sub-type Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
Open Access Status
Volume 61
Issue 1
Start page 18
End page 65
Total pages 48
Place of publication Stuttgart, Germany
Publisher Franz Steiner Verlag
Language eng
Abstract August Boeckh famously criticised the Athenians for wasting public income on festivals instead of building up their armed forces. As evidence this pioneer of economic history cited the claim of Demosthenes that the citizens of fourth-century Athens had spent more on the City Dionysia and Great Panathenaia than on a single naval expedition and the suggestion of Plutarch that the Athenians of the previous century had spent more on the production of tragedies than on the maintenance of their empire. However, Boeckh never attempted estimates of the total costs of the festival-program or warfare to back up his view. Interest in the relative cost of festivals has only been rekindled with the recent shift of focus towards the social context of Athenian drama. Ancient-theatre experts have carefully costed the City Dionysia and, in light of their unexpectedly high estimates, endorsed the evidence which Boeckh cited in support of heavy festival spending. In so doing they have called into question the consensus of those working on Athenian war-making. Military historians may have shied away from estimating the global cost of war but they do believe that this far exceeded spending on all other public activities. To adjudicate these different views of Athenian funding priorities this article estimates and compares systematically the costs of the festival-program and the city's armed forces. Total expenditure on religious celebrations was indeed surprisingly high and comparable to the running costs of the democracy. But it was considerably less than what was spent on the armed forces. In times of war the average level of military expenditure ranged between five and more than fifteen times what was spent on state festivals. This spending differential and the bellicosity of classical Athens confirm that it was not drama or festivals but war which was the overriding priority of the Athenian people.
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
Collection: School of Communication and Arts Publications
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