Was There a Famine in Ancient Greece?

Ancient Greece is known for its rich culture, art, and philosophy. However, there have been debates among historians regarding whether there was a famine in Ancient Greece or not. In this article, we will explore the evidence and arguments surrounding this topic.

What is Famine?

Before we dive deeper into the discussion, let us first define what famine is. Famine is a severe shortage of food that results in malnutrition, starvation, and sometimes death. It can occur due to various reasons such as natural disasters, war, economic instability, or crop failure.

The Argument for Famine in Ancient Greece

Some historians argue that there was indeed a famine in Ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Thucydides, an ancient Greek historian who documented the war, wrote about how both Athens and Sparta suffered from food shortages. He mentioned that the Athenians had to import grain from other regions to feed their population.

Moreover, other ancient sources such as Aristophanes’ play ‘The Acharnians’ also depict hunger as a prevalent issue during that time. The play tells the story of a man who decides to make peace with Sparta because he is tired of living with hunger.

Furthermore, archaeological evidence suggests that there was a significant decline in agricultural production during the Peloponnesian War period. This could be due to several factors such as the destruction of crops during battles or farmers being conscripted into the army.


However, not all historians agree with this interpretation of events. Some argue that while there may have been occasional food shortages in certain regions or cities, it does not necessarily mean that there was a nationwide famine.

They point out that Ancient Greece had a well-developed system of trade and exchange where goods could be imported from other regions or even other countries. Therefore, even if one region faced a crop failure, it was unlikely to cause a nationwide famine.

Moreover, they claim that the evidence from ancient sources such as Thucydides is not conclusive. It is possible that the food shortages mentioned were due to the disruption of trade routes during the war rather than a complete lack of food.


In conclusion, while there is evidence to suggest that there may have been occasional food shortages in Ancient Greece, it is not entirely clear if there was a widespread famine. The interpretation of events depends on how one reads and understands the available evidence.

Regardless of whether there was a famine or not, it is essential to recognize that hunger and malnutrition have been and continue to be significant issues in many parts of the world. Understanding how societies in the past dealt with such issues can help us better address them today.