Were There Merchants in Ancient Greece?

Trade and commerce were vital aspects of the ancient Greek economy. However, the concept of merchants, as we know them today, did not exist in ancient Greece.

Instead, there were various entrepreneurial individuals who engaged in trade activities. Let’s explore this further.

Ancient Greek Trade

Ancient Greeks relied heavily on trade to meet their needs for goods and resources that were not available locally. Trade was conducted through a network of connections between different regions and city-states. The Greeks traded goods such as wine, olive oil, pottery, and metals in exchange for items like grain, timber, and textiles.

The most significant trade routes were by sea. Greek traders sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to trade with other regions such as Egypt, Persia, and Carthage. They also established colonies along the coasts of North Africa and Southern Italy to facilitate trade.

Entrepreneurial Traders

In ancient Greece, individuals who engaged in trade activities were known as emporoi or oikoi (householders). These entrepreneurial traders did not have a specific designation or profession but rather engaged in various business activities to make a living.

They would travel from one place to another to buy or sell goods. Some even established permanent shops or stalls where they could conduct their business regularly.

The Role of Slaves

Slaves played a significant role in facilitating trade activities in ancient Greece. They worked on farms or mines to produce goods that could be traded. They also served as porters or assistants to traders during their journeys.

The Absence of Merchant Guilds

Unlike medieval Europe, merchant guilds did not exist in ancient Greece. There was no organized group of traders who regulated trade or protected the interests of its members. Instead, traders relied on personal connections and relationships to conduct their business.


While the concept of merchants did not exist in ancient Greece, trade and commerce were still essential aspects of their economy. Entrepreneurial individuals engaged in various trade activities to make a living, and slaves played a significant role in facilitating these activities.

The absence of merchant guilds meant that trade was conducted through personal connections and relationships rather than an organized system. The legacy of ancient Greek trade can still be seen today as the foundations for modern commerce were laid during this time.