Food security: the Athenian grain-tax law of 374/3 BC

Andrea B. Coulson, Kevin D. O'Gorman

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This paper examines the translation of the Athenian Grain-Tax Law established in 374/3 BC, the period often referred to as early Classical antiquity. A particular focus is placed on the potential contribution of 'accounting history' as a means of exploring the use of grain tax to ensure food security. In terms of historic interpretations, the Grain-Tax is a relatively new piece of evidence discovered in the Athenian market place excavations of 1986 and, as yet, not known to have been studied within accounting research. Empirical research for this paper took the form of a hermeneutic analysis. The focus of examination was our translation of a Marble Stele inscribed in Greek with the Athenian Grain-Tax Law of 374/3 BC. This included a linguistic translation by the authors taking into account alternative translations of the Grain-Tax from other disciplines and placing the evidence in context through symbolic interpretations of other artifacts of the time based on fieldwork research. Emphasis was placed on the method of accounting for tax collection depicted by the Grain-Tax. Our interpretation of the tax highlights the challenges of researching the interchangeable nature of grain and coinage as a 'currency' for payment including aspects of measurability alongside accountability and the potential implications of this for the use of the tax system as a means of ensuring food security. Drawing new evidence for accounting research from Classical Athens and further exploring the use of hermeneutics within accounting history as a means to increase the scope of what is viewed as evidence in accounting history.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2009
Event21st International Congress on Social and Environmental Accounting Research - University of St Andrews, Scotland
Duration: 4 Sept 2009 → …


Conference21st International Congress on Social and Environmental Accounting Research
CityUniversity of St Andrews, Scotland
Period4/09/09 → …


  • accounting history
  • classical history
  • tax
  • grain
  • law
  • athens
  • social accounting


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