The Greeks had a very different view of industry than we we do. They thought that every profession that had to do with creating something was considered to be an art. The word “technician” comes to English from Ancient Greek. It derives from the word “texni,” “τέχνη” which means art. To make something be it a sword, a basket, or a table, the Greeks considered it to be a form of art.
In ancient Athens there was a great degree of economic specialization. Many of Athen’s citizens worked in manufacturing workshops, about 10.000 out of the 40.000 citizens, as Alice Burford cites in her book, “Craftsmen in Greek and Roman Society” . Slaves were used in workshops for the heavier and more dangerous work. The city rarely intervened in the business of the workshop besides imposing a small tax.
There were few economic regulations, and these had to do with urban planning, such as mandating where the workshops could be built. For example, workshops were confined to outside the city walls to prevent fires. The greatest example is the Athenian industrial district southwest of the city towards the port of Piraeus, traces of which stand to this day. The law only recognized individuals, and not corporations.
The size of the workshops varied a lot. Some consisted of a dozen of slaves, while others employed hundreds of people depending on the type of industrial art practiced. In his speech, “Against Eratosthenis”, Lysias, a famous speechwriter, mentions that a man called Kefalos had a shield factory with 120 slaves. Demosthenes, the Athenian orator and statesman, in his speech “Against Afobous” mentions he had two small factories, one that made knives and had 30 slaves and one that made beds and had 2o slaves. Its interesting, that he mentions the factories as “μικρας τεχνας”, literally “small arts”.
In the beginning of the classic era, after the end of the Persian wars, more and more aristocracies turned into democracies. Athens victorious and all powerful, used the threat of its enormous fleet to coerce cities into becoming democracies.
As democracies multiplied in the Greek world, so did the basic personal rights. Individuals, now were not afraid of war or the whims of the aristocracy. It was in Athens were for the first time that private property was considered with an entrepreneurial outlook.
The philosopher Xenophon writes his book “Oeconomicus” about rational household management. In this book, he uses the word “economics,” probably one of the first recorded uses of the word. He defined economics as the rules concerning the household. The Greek word “ecos” means “household” and “nomos” means law.
This new outlook on private property is better portrayed by Plutarch in his work “The life of Pericles,” the Athenian politician who viewed his property as a business. To quote:
“During all these years he (Pericles) kept himself untainted by corruption, although he was not altogether indifferent to money-making; indeed, the wealth which was legally his by inheritance from his father, […]he set into such orderly dispensation as he thought was easiest and most exact. This was to sell his annual products all together […], and then to buy in the market each article as it was needed, and so provide the ways and means of daily life. For this reason he was not liked by his sons when they grew up, nor did their wives find in him a liberal provider, but they murmured at his expenditure for the day merely and under the most exact restrictions, there being no surplus of supplies at all, as in a great house and under generous circumstances, but every outlay and every intake proceeding by count and measure. His agent in securing all this great exactitude was a single servant, Evangelus, who was either gifted by nature or trained by Pericles so as to surpass everybody else in domestic economy.”