Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens

[ Classics and Ancient World ]

Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens

By David M. Pritchard

Settling a debate that has been ongoing since classical times, this book calculates the real costs of religion, politics, and war to demonstrate what the Athenian citizenry valued most highly.

July 2015


33% website discount price


5.5 x 8.5 | 209 pp. | 10 b&w photos, 8 tables

ISBN: 978-0-292-77203-8


33% website discount price

This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.


5.5 x 8.5 | 209 pp. | 10 b&w photos, 8 tables

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1134-9

In his On the Glory of Athens, Plutarch complained that the Athenian people spent more on the production of dramatic festivals and “the misfortunes of Medeas and Electras than they did on maintaining their empire and fighting for their liberty against the Persians.” This view of the Athenians’ misplaced priorities became orthodoxy with the publication of August Böckh’s 1817 book Die Staatshaushaltung der Athener [The Public Economy of Athens], which criticized the classical Athenian dēmos for spending more on festivals than on wars and for levying unjust taxes to pay for their bloated government. But were the Athenians’ priorities really as misplaced as ancient and modern historians believed?

Drawing on lines of evidence not available in Böckh’s time, Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens calculates the real costs of religion, politics, and war to settle the long-standing debate about what the ancient Athenians valued most highly. David M. Pritchard explains that, in Athenian democracy, voters had full control over public spending. When they voted for a bill, they always knew its cost and how much they normally spent on such bills. Therefore, the sums they chose to spend on festivals, politics, and the armed forces reflected the order of the priorities that they had set for their state. By calculating these sums, Pritchard convincingly demonstrates that it was not religion or politics but war that was the overriding priority of the Athenian people.

List of Illustrations

List of Tables

List of Abbreviations


1. Public-Spending Debates

Festivals and Wars


The Period of Eighty Years for Comparing Costs

The Democratic Control of Public Spending

The Synopsis of the Book

2. The Cost of Festivals

The Cost of the Great Panathenaea

The Relative Scale of the Rest of the Festival Program

The Full Cost of Festivals

3. The Cost of Democracy






Public Slaves

Gold Crowns

Settling the Böckh-Jones Debate

4. The Cost of War

Public Spending on the Armed Forces in the 420s

Military Spending in the Rest of the Peloponnesian War

The Full Cost of the Armed Forces in the 370s

Military Spending in the 360s

5. Conclusion: Public-Spending Priorities


Works Cited

Index of Sources

General Index

David M. Pritchard is Senior Lecturer in the School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics at the University of Queensland. He has authored Sport, Democracy, and War in Classical Athens, edited War, Democracy, and Culture in Classical Athens, and coedited Sport and Festival in the Ancient Greek World.

“All scholars studying Athenian democracy should read this well-researched and well-argued book.”

“Pritchard has written an important book on Athenian public finances. More interesting than the debates he claims to have settled, however, are the new debates that it can be expected to open, not only about how much the Athenians actually spent, but also about the principles and processes which shaped their financial decision-making.”

“Which cost the more, or the most, which did Athenian democracy of classical times usually prioritize: religious festivals, warmaking, or everyday politics? In this characteristically high-octane and provocative book, David Pritchard aims to settle these fundamental and now almost two-centuries-old scholarly questions.”
—Paul Cartledge, A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge

"This is the first book-length study in almost two hundred years of the hugely important topic of public spending in democratic Athens. David Pritchard has combed the voluminous evidence with care, makes well-reasoned assumptions, and comes to conclusions that are at once striking and quite certainly correct. I predict that this book will be widely cited and very influential.”
—Josiah Ober, Constantine Mitsotakis Chair in the Departments of Classics and Political Science, Stanford University

“This is undoubtedly an important and most useful book. Using careful calculations, applying clearly formulated methods, and exploiting all available ancient evidence and a vast range of modern scholarship, Pritchard corrects old and firmly established misconceptions in clarifying the spending priorities of the classical Athenian democracy. His demonstration that the Athenians spent many time more money on war than they did for political and religious issues is entirely compelling. His book fills a long-standing gap, and it does so quite brilliantly.”
—Kurt A. Raaflaub, Professor of Classics and History Emeritus, Brown University

“To discover the real motives and values behind the representations of Classical Athenians, one must ‘follow the money.’ For the first time in two hundred years, David Pritchard throws open the ancient democracy’s ledgers to reveal where Athens’ real priorities lay. This wide-ranging investigation will bring profit to anyone who aspires to understand Athenian politics, mentality, or culture.”
—Eric Csapo, Professor of Classics, University of Sydney

Produced by Classics Confidential.