Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Part 2.2.
Edward M. Harris, edition of March 22, 2003
page 9 of 15
Dareius begins his narrative by recounting the terms of the contract he and his partner concluded with Dionysodorus and Parmeniscus. About a year before, in the month of Metageitnion, Dionysodorus and Parmeniscus asked Dareius to lend them money on the security of their ship for a voyage to Egypt with either Athens or Rhodes as the final destination (5). They also promised to pay interest for the duration of the voyage to either port. The date of their request is significant: the month of Metageitnion roughly corresponds to our month of August. Hesiod in the Works and Days (663-65) recommends sailing only during the fifty days after the summer solstice, that is, from the end of June to about the middle of August. Vegetius (De re militaria 4.39) writes that the best period for sailing extends from May 27 to September 14. From September 14 to November 10 sailing is risky, and after that it is too dangerous. This meant that Parmeniscus was starting very late in the season and might encounter rough weather on his return trip from Egypt. Dareius does not lay any emphasis on the date of the contract, but it will become significant when looking at Dionysodorus’ reply to Dareius’ charges.
Dareius and Pamphilus replied that they would not lend unless the contract required a return voyage to Athens (6). They obviously insisted on this condition because they did not wish to break the law forbidding Athenians and metics from lending money to merchants to ship grain to ports besides Athens. When Dionysodorus and Parmeniscus agreed to this condition, Dareius and Pamphilus lent them 3,000 drachmas on the security of their ship, and a written contract was drawn up (6). Dareius and his partner thus chose to accept a pledge of real security, which was standard in loans for large amounts. To support his account of these facts, Dionysodorus has the contract read out to the court. It is crucial to observe what this piece of evidence proves and what it does not prove. All the document confirms is that the four men concluded an agreement on certain terms. It does not show that Dionysodorus and Parmeniscus initially asked to borrow money for a voyage to Rhodes and not to Athens. Dionysodorus could easily have invented this part of the narrative to demonstrate that Parmeniscus at first did not wish to promise that he would return to Athens and was already thinking about sailing back only as far as Rhodes even before he set out.
According to the terms of the contract, Dionysodorus and Parmeniscus received the money and sent their ship to Egypt, the latter sailing on board and the former staying behind (7). These details are also significant for they reveal another one of the terms of the contract and help us to understand why the lender made their loan to two borrowers and not to one. In the beginning of his speech, Dareius describes the enormous risks taken by those who lend money for overseas trade: the borrower takes the money and the ship, which serves as security for the loan, and sails away, leaving the lender behind with only a scrap of paper containing his promise. As the narrative unfolds, however, Dareius shows that his position was not quite so vulnerable as he makes it out to be. Although Parmeniscus had departed with the money and the security for the loan (his ship), the contract required that Dionysodorus stay in Athens. The purpose of this arrangement was to enable Dareius and Pamphilus to bring an action against Dionysodorus in case Parmeniscus did not return. Later on in the speech, Dareius discloses another key aspect of the contract: if the borrowers concealed their ship, they would owe double, and the lenders had the right to demand the interest and principal from either one or both of the borrowers (45). The absence of modern notions of legal personality made such a clause necessary. A modern lender can make a loan to a shipping company made up of several owners and employees. If someone in the company absconds with money and disappears, the lender can still recover his money from the company. As we noted above, in Athenian law someone could not lend to a company but only to individuals. As a result, Dareius and his partner made their loan to two men, required that one remain in Athens, and added the stipulation that each of them (or both) was responsible for repayment of the loan (in modern legal terminology this is known as “joint and several liability”). If Parmeniscus did not return, Dareius and his partner could then sue Dionysodorus. If the court awarded them damages, Dionysodorus would have to pay, then attempt to recover a share of his losses from his partner Parmeniscus. If Parmeniscus refused to pay, Dionysodorus could sue his partner for violating their contract of koinonia. One should therefore not be deceived by Dareius’ rhetoric in his opening words to the court: Parmeniscus may have departed with both the money and his ship, but he had to leave behind his partner Dionysodorus as a hostage for his good behavior. Dareius was not quite so vulnerable as he wanted the court to believe.
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