Law and Economy in Classical Athens (III)


(being continued from  14/05/14)

PART 2.1
When reading a court speech by an Attic orator, one must  always bear in mind that the speech presents only one side
of a case where there was at least one other side of the story.
For this reason a reader must always be careful to notice  which statements made by a litigant are supported by the evidence of documents or the testimony of witnesses and  which are not. Even if the statements made by one speaker
appear to be reliable, it is still possible that he may have  omitted key facts or supported relevant information. In
some places litigants report what they believe their opponents  will say, but in the absence of their actual statements,
it is impossible to know how accurately the speaker  presents the views of his opponent. With these caveats in
mind, let us turn to the speech given by Dareius, “Against  Dionysodorus.”

PART 2.2
Dareius begins his narrative by recounting the terms of the  contract he and his partner concluded with Dionysodorus
and Parmeniscus. About a year before, in the month of  Metageitnion, Dionysodorus and Parmeniscus asked
Dareius to lend them money on the security of their ship  for a voyage to Egypt with either Athens or Rhodes as the
final destination (5).They also promised to pay interest for  the duration of the voyage to either port. The date of their
request is signifi cant: the month of Metageitnion roughly  corresponds to our month of August. Hesiod in the Works
and Days (663-65) recommends sailing only during the   fifty days after the summer solstice, that is, from the end of
June to about the middle of August. Vegetius (De re militaria  4.39) writes that the best period for sailing extends
from May 27 to September 14. From September 14 to November 10 sailing is risky, and after that it is too dangerous.
This meant that Parmeniscus was starting very late in the  season and might encounter rough weather on his return
trip from Egypt. Dareius does not lay any emphasis on the  date of the contract, but it will become signifi cant when
looking at Dionysodorus’ reply to Dareius’ charges.
Dareius and Pamphilus replied that they would not lend unless the contract required a return voyage to Athens (6).
They obviously insisted on this condition because they did  not wish to break the law forbidding Athenians and metics
from lending money to merchants to ship grain to ports besides Athens. When Dionysodorus and Parmeniscus
agreed to this condition, Dareius and Pamphilus lent them  3.000 drachmas on the security of their ship, and a written
contract was drawn up (6). Dareius and his partner thus  chose to accept a pledge of real security, which was standard
in loans for large amounts. To support his account  of these facts, Dionysodorus has the contract read out to
the court. It is crucial to observe what this piece of evidence  proves and what it does not prove. All the document
confi rms is that the four men concluded an agreement on  certain terms. It does not show that Dionysodorus and
Parmeniscus initially asked to borrow money for a voyage  to Rhodes and not to Athens. Dionysodorus could easily
have invented this part of the narrative to demonstrate  that Parmeniscus at fi rst did not wish to promise that he
would return to Athens and was already thinking about  sailing back only as far as Rhodes even before he set out.

According to the terms of the contract, Dionysodorus  and Parmeniscus received the money and sent their ship
to Egypt, the latter sailing on board and the former staying  behind (7). These details are also significant for they
reveal another one of the terms of the contract and help  us to understand why the lender made their loan to two
borrowers and not to one. In the beginning of his speech,Dareius describes the enormous risks taken by those who
lend money for overseas trade: the borrower takes the  money and the ship, which serves as security for the loan,
and sails away, leaving the lender behind with only a scrap of paper containing his promise. As the narrative unfolds,
however, Dareius shows that his position was not quite so  vulnerable as he makes it out to be. Although Parmeniscus
had departed with the money and the security for the  loan (his ship), the contract required that Dionysodorus
stay in Athens. The purpose of this arrangement was to  enable Dareius and Pamphilus to bring an action against
Dionysodorus in case Parmeniscus did not return. Later  on in the speech, Dareius discloses another key aspect of
the contract: if the borrowers concealed their ship, they  would owe double, and the lenders had the right to demand
the interest and principal from either one or both  of the borrowers (45). The absence of modern notions of  legal personality made such a clause necessary. A modern  lender can make a loan to a shipping company made up  of several owners and employees. If someone in the company  absconds with money and disappears, the lender can  still recover his money from the company. As we noted  above, in Athenian law someone could not lend to a company  but only to individuals. As a result, Dareius and his
partner made their loan to two men, required that one  remain in Athens, and added the stipulation that each of
them (or both) was responsible for repayment of the loan  (in modern legal terminology this is known as “joint and
several liability”). If Parmeniscus did not return, Dareius  and his partner could then sue Dionysodorus. If the court
awarded them damages, Dionysodorus would have to pay,then attempt to recover a share of his losses from his partner
Parmeniscus. If Parmeniscus refused to pay, Dionysodorus  could sue his partner for violating their contract
of koinonia. One should therefore not be deceived by Dareius’  rhetoric in his opening words to the court: Parmeniscus
may have departed with both the money and his  ship, but he had to leave behind his partner Dionysodorus
as a hostage for his good behavior. Dareius was not quite  so vulnerable as he wanted the court to believe.

PART 2.3
In the next part of his narrative Dareius presents a scandalous  account of Parmeniscus’ activities once he reached
Egypt (7–9). He accuses his opponent’s partner of conspiring  with Cleomenes, the ruler of Egypt installed by
Alexander the Great (Arrian Anabasis 3.5.2–5; Curtius  Rufus 4.8.5) and helping him to raise the price of grain.

He describes how these men had stationed their agents in  various cities; these agents wrote to them indicating where
the price of grain was highest and then sent their cargoes  where they could reap the greatest profi ts. When Parmeniscus
left  Athens, the price of grain was high, but after  he left the arrival of a large shipment from Sicily caused
the price to fall. According to Dareius, it was this turn of  events that caused Parmeniscus to ignore the terms of the
contract and sail to Rhodes where he unloaded his cargo  of grain and sold it (10).
Needless to say, there was another side to the story. Further  on in the speech, Dareius predicts Dionysodorus will
say that the ship suff ered damage on its voyage back from  Alexandria and was forced to put in at Rhodes (21). To
prove that he was telling the truth, Dionysodorus would  state that he hired some ship in Rhodes to transport some
of his cargo to Athens. There were also other creditors who  were willing to accept payment of interest only as far as
Rhodes (22). Dareius claims that his opponents made up  this excuse and that their true reason for unloading their
cargo in Rhodes was to make a larger profi t. Since we do  not have Dionysodorus’ speech, it is hard to judge between
the two accounts. But it is crucial to recall that Pamphilus  had started his voyage to Egypt late in the sailing season so
that he might well have encountered rough weather on his  return trip to Athens.

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the failure of the challenge to settle the dispute, the tactic employed by Dareius was not a complete waste of effort:
once in court Dareius drew attention to Dionysodorus’ refusal  to accept the challenge as a way of attacking his credibility
and portraying him as difficult and unreasonable.

(to be continued)

Edward M. Harris

SOURCE HARVARD UNIVERSITY HELLENIC STUDIES

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