Which City-State Was the Richest in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, several city-states emerged as prosperous hubs of trade, culture, and wealth. These city-states were known for their economic power and influence in the region. Among them, Athens and Corinth were considered the wealthiest city-states in ancient Greece.

Athens: The Intellectual and Economic Center

Athens, the capital of modern-day Greece, was not only a center of intellectual achievement but also a bustling economic hub during ancient times. The city-state’s wealth was derived from its flourishing maritime trade routes and its control over valuable silver mines in Attica.


The Athenians engaged in extensive maritime trade, establishing colonies along the coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea. This allowed them to access valuable resources such as grain from Egypt and wheat from Sicily. Athens became a major trading center for goods like pottery, olive oil, and wine.

Silver Mines:

Athens’ control over the silver mines in Laurion played a significant role in its economic prosperity. The Athenians used the wealth generated from these mines to build their powerful navy which further facilitated trade and protected their interests abroad.

  • Athens’ navy allowed it to protect its vital sea routes, ensuring safe passage for goods and merchants.
  • The revenue generated from trade allowed Athens to invest in infrastructure projects such as the construction of public buildings like the Parthenon.
  • This economic strength also enabled Athens to become a patron of arts, supporting renowned playwrights like Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Corinth: The Crossroads of Trade

Corinth was another prosperous city-state that owed its wealth to its strategic location as a major trading hub. Located on the narrow isthmus connecting mainland Greece and the Peloponnese, Corinth controlled both land and sea trade routes.

Land and Sea Trade:

Corinth’s strategic position allowed it to control trade between northern and southern Greece, as well as trade between the Aegean Sea and the Ionian Sea. This gave Corinth a significant advantage in terms of collecting tolls, tariffs, and other fees.

Entrepreneurial Spirit:

The Corinthians were known for their entrepreneurial skills. They excelled in industries such as pottery, metalwork, and shipbuilding. Their products were highly sought after throughout the Mediterranean region.

  • The city-state’s reputation for producing high-quality ceramics made them a dominant force in the pottery market.
  • The Corinthians also established colonies across the Mediterranean, including Corcyra (modern-day Corfu) and Syracuse in Sicily. These colonies served as trading outposts, further boosting Corinth’s wealth.

Athens vs. Corinth: A Comparison

While both Athens and Corinth were wealthy city-states in ancient Greece, they differed in their primary sources of wealth. Athens thrived through its maritime trade routes and control over silver mines, while Corinth prospered by controlling land and sea trade routes.

In conclusion, Athens and Corinth emerged as the richest city-states in ancient Greece due to their economic activities, strategic locations, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Their wealth not only allowed them to develop impressive infrastructure but also fostered cultural achievements that have left an indelible mark on history.