Citizen Consumers: The Athenian Democracy and The Origins of Western Consumption

James Davidson

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199561216
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

 Citizen Consumers: The Athenian Democracy and The Origins of Western Consumption

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  • Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)


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This article examines consumerism, with some evidence for the character of consumption in a very particular time and place: Athens in the two centuries between about 500 and 300 BC. In Athens, the marketplace was centred on the agora proper, a flat area to the north of the acropolis clearly demarcated by boundary stones, but the market spread out from there. Alongside the remarkably precocious linkages between democracy, freedom, individualism, and shopping opportunities which seem to be part of some kind of universalizing or at least very familiar discourse, it is also easy to argue that the peculiarities of the Athenian consumer scape were the consequence of locally contingent conditions: recent history, politics, taxes, laws, and wars. Finally, although the metaphor of consuming was frequently extended to the consumption of sexual services on the one hand and to the ‘gobbling up’ of property on the other, there is little evidence that it was ever extended to ‘the purchase and use’ of semidurables such as household furnishings and clothes.

Keywords: Athens; democracy; consumption; consumerism; agora; shopping; consumerscape; sexual services; semidurables; taxes

Article.  12451 words. 

Subjects: History ; Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)

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