Aristotle remarks in Politics (I,8,12) that war is a very profitable activity. Sacking a city, taking more land, capturing mines, or even enslaving entire cities was a common source of revenue. Regardless of whether wars broke out for political or economic reasons, they often proved profitable.
The importance of naval warfare couldn’t be underestimated. Fleets were one of the most expensive endeavors for the Greek city states, one of the most largest expenses being the costs of building and maintaining fleets. Through the centuries, ambitious cities like Samos, Chios, Rhodes, Corinth, Massalia and Syracuse, spent thousands on ships. But no city was more ambitious than Athens. In the 4th century, Athens built more than 400 ships, most of them triremes (τριηρις). The docks in Piraeus costed 6.000.000 drachmas.
Fleets weren’t always a burden, however. Entire regions like Aetolia and Crete relied on piracy as a source of income, even though Philip of Macedon, Alexander’s father, prohibited this practice. In order to build its many ships Athens turned to the citizenry. They introduced the institution of “Litourgia”- “Λειτουργία”. Rich citizens had to pay a part of the cost of the ship, and supervise the implementation of the construction.
Citizens responded positively and gladly, because building ships was considered a high honor. It is estimated that each of the rich citizens annually paid 3.000 dramas, and 6.000 in times of war. Citizens in Athens preferred to be given a “Leitourgia”, a contract work to pay and complete themselves rather than pay taxes. It should be stressed that they were not the owners of their Leitourgia.
This institution was one proportionate to taxation and the construction or the service belonged or addressed the city. That could be concluded taking on account that it was the people who decided how to collect money for the state, through direct representation. Let us stress again that, “leitourgia” was about rich people who could afford to take the cost .
A road to Acropolis, full of inscriptions showed who was given a “leitourgia”, and what it was. One can still read these inscriptions, full of pride and in most cases vanity in the Archaeological Museum of Athens.
The Greeks had a mixed economy, with the state playing an important role in an otherwise more or less free market. The state owned strategically important properties such as docks, ports, roads, and mines, while the citizenry enjoyed trade and a flourishing private economy.
The state was funded by a well-developed system of taxation. Originating in the Mycenaean era, the leaders of settlements had to pay tribute in kind, to the higher in the hierarchy, in a system similar to that of feudalism. . In the Archaic era, the citizens had to pay a tax to the city, mostly for defense and infrastructure. Broader introduction of coins made the process easier.
In Rhodes the rich aristocracy, who exclusively held political power, considered it a moral obligation to feed the poor of the city and they did so voluntarily. Nonetheless, assets and agricultural production were taxed in case the city didn’t have an other source of income.