Πέμπτη, 14 Μαρτίου 2019

The Mines and Minerals of Lavrion - Ancient Mining History (III), By Branko Rieck

Fig. 8: "New Style" silver Tetradrachm
More than 20.000 slaves worked in the mines and Aristoteles reports that silver flowed like water from a rich fountain from the mines, which were called "Argyreia". From these times the names of some mine owners are reported through Xenophon. He tells of a man named Nikias, who owned 6000 slaves in his mines. Others, like Hipponikos or Philimonides owned "only" 1000 to 2000 slaves.
The dependence of Athens from the income of the Lavrion mines becomes evident when the Spartans occupied the southern Attica peninsula and effectively cut Athens off from their sources of silver. This was first the case in 430 under the orders of Archidamos, then again in 427.

Thucydides (381 BC) in his cold deliberation "The History of the Peloponnesian War" writes: "The war is less dependent on weapons than the money that makes them effective." The lack of silver for the minting of coins led so far that towards the end of the war the Athenians were forced to mint gold coins from seven of the eight Victory statues which were dedicated at Parthenon (407/406 BC, under the rule of Antigenes, the epōnymos archōn (ἐπώνυμος ἄρχων I, chief magistrate)) Each of these statues weighted about two talents of gold and by adding gold from other sources there were about 17 talents of gold available for striking coins. The dies employed for the striking of the gold coins were still kept in the Parthenon just after 385/384 BC. At that time a 12:1 exchange ratio between silver and gold was used, so effectively 207 talents of silver were minted into staters (didrachme) and fraction denominations. Again, lead isotope analysis on some of the remaining gold coins from the 407/406 BC period showed without doubt, that a part of these coins was minted from gold mined at the Lavrion mines (Mccorrick, 2003). The type of small deposits described by Solomos et al. (2004) contains sufficiently high amounts of gold that it was possible to recover the gold from these sources without the chemical processes used later on.

In 406 BC for the first time ever in Athens’ history also bronze coins were minted (Shear, 1933). When the Spartan general Lysander utterly destroyed the Athenian fleet at the Battle of Aegospotami 406 BC, he set the stage for the surrender of Athens in 404 BC, which ended the Peloponnesian war.
The resumption of the mining activities at Lavrion was a slow and painful process. The beaten Athenians obviously did not have the energy to invest in this industry. Most important was the lack of skilled labor, both slaves and free men. The Spartans had removed all slaves during the time of occupation, and as the looser of the war Athens also did not have prisoners of war that could be forced to work in the mines. Small surface workings and the re-working of old underground mines could not pay for the opening of new mines and the reconstruction of the destroyed workshops, furnaces and galleries. Xenophon (355) stressed this problem: "And, mark you, it is as possible now to open new veins as in former times. Nor can one say with any certainty whether the ore is more plentiful in the area already under work or in the unexplored tracts. Then why, it may be asked, are fewer new cuttings made nowadays than formerly? Simply because those interested in the mines are poorer. For operations have only lately been resumed, and a man who makes a new cutting incurs a serious risk. If he strikes good stuff, he makes a fortune; but if he is disappointed, he loses the money he has spent. Therefore, people nowadays are very chary of taking such a risk."

At the beginning of the 360s, the city magistrate started to reorganize its resources, especially the monetary aspects and mining. This led to a marked increase of production as investments into new mines now were attractive again. The technical difficulties of reaching new potential ores however remained und heralded the slow decline in the years to come.

Hellenistic period (323 – 146 BC)
 For the first time ever silver not from the mines of Lavrion was used in the production of the Athenian Owls during the Hellenistic period. This can be attributed to the decline of the mining industry in the wake of the wars raging in Greece after the death of Alexander the Great. The siege of Athens 295 BC brought the mining at Lavrion to a temporary halt (Plutarch, 110). Also, the influx of precious metals from the conquests of Alexander the Great had a dampening effect of the exploration and its profitability. The advent of "new style" coinage points to a brief revival of the extraction of silver from Lavrion at the end of the second and the beginning of the first century BC.

Much of the metal was won from the reworking of older slags and low-grade ores on stockpiles without real mining going on. Strabo (23 AD) describes this in the first Chapter of his ninth Book on Geography: "The silver mines in Attica were originally valuable, but now they have failed. Moreover, those who worked them, when the mining yielded only meager returns, melted again the old refuse, or dross, and were still able to extract from it pure silver, since the workmen of earlier times had been unskillful in heating the ore in furnaces."

Roman Greece (146 BC – AD 330)
The end of mining and metallurgical works at Lavrion came after the bloody ransacking of Athens by the Roman general and statesman Sulla in 86 BC in the First Mithridatic War (Migeotte, 2007). Athens had become "reduced to the role of a provincial city without external possessions, without political role. Without a commercial activity, the mint did not function very often." (Ardaillon, 1897).

Late Antiquity (AD 330 – 529)
In Late Antiquity we know from pottery fragments and oil lamps discovered in a few galleries, which were dated to be from the fourth century AD, that attempts were made to reactivate at least some mines (Domergue, 2008). The success of these operations must have been meagre, because no contemporary writer ever mentioned Attica as a source of either lead or silver.

Thus, the mines lay dormant until their rediscovery in the middle of the 19th century.

The Mines and Minerals of Lavrion - Ancient Mining History (I), By Branko Rieck
The Mines and Minerals of Lavrion - Ancient Mining History (II)

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