Despite the obvious economic benefits brought about by property and entrepreneurship, many ancients remained skeptical of private property.
They believed that property had a certain corrupting influence, because as they thought, the citizens would spend more time in managing their properties rather than the city’s affairs. Gradualy that would lead to the alienation between the citizens and the “polis”.
Depending on the size of their land, owners produced a surplus of goods which could be exported at a high price. This trend caused many democracies to turn into to oligarchies over time.
Rhodes stands as a good example. Rhodian wine was very famous, and very expensive. The owners of large parts of land managed to make great fortunes, and using this power, somehow managed to rise to power and abolish democracy.
It may be argued that the legal system in ancient Greece was imperfect and fragmentary. Yet one must bear in mind that for its time it was a fairly functional system. Even though there was room for development, those first steps were taken to the right direction.
The cities and the temples had many utilities which were public property. The main example were the ports and docks of a city. A private constructor built the docks, and the city administered the services. Other examples include the quarries and the mines, which, in the Hellenistic era became property of the king, which cannot be characterized as private or public ether. In the Roman times, all these became imperial property.
As it concerns forests, some were private, but most of them belonged to the city-states: stone and timber were the basic building materials. Marble was used mostly for public buildings. A case worth mentioning is the silver mines of Laurion in Attica.
Extracted from the 14th century BC until the 1st century BC, the mines were in use for 1.300 years. Laurion is in Attica, and was therefore used by Athens. Excavations lead to the conclusion that Laurion was a small industrial settlement. It belonged to the state, and was a major source of income which allowed Athens to create many coins for broad circulation.
In the book written by Georgios Apergis „Assessment of the Layrion Minining Lease Records”, is pointed out that the mining excavations were made by rich citizens who had the capital to invest in slaves and tools formed contracts with the city and gained the right to access the workshops and the mine. The work, needed no less than 20.000 people, both slaves and free men. And much water and timber.
We see, thus, that the state cooperated with the private sector, with many individuals who could afforded to involve. An example was Nikias and his 1.000 slaves, who got paid one drachma for every 6 slaves daily. They earned their part of the profit and the rest belonged to the city. These policies helped minimize the taxation of the general population.
Another public enterprise was war. War didn’t only exist to preserve the independence of the city state, but rather was a pillar of Greek institutions.