Mines of Laurion

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The mines of Laurion (or Lavrion)[1] are ancient mines located in southern Attica between Thoricus and Cape Sounion, approximately 50 kilometers south of Athens, in Greece. The mines are best known for producing silver, but they were also a source of copper and lead. A number of remnants of these mines (shafts, galleries, surface workshops) are still present in the region.

The mines were exploited in prehistoric times as a source of copper and galena, a lead ore. In the classical period, mining in the area resumed. The Athenians used large numbers of slaves to mine the area, with the silver produced contributing significantly to the city's wealth. Abandoned in the 1st century BC, the mines were "rediscovered" in 1860 and mined for their lead by French and Greek companies until 1977.

Map of Southern Attica, showing the locations of the mines at Laurion.
Washing table at the mines of Laurion


Referring to the mines in his 354 BC work Ways and Means, Xenophon wrote:[2]

It is clear, I presume, to every one that these mines have for a very long time been in active operation; at any rate no one will venture to fix the date at which they first began to be worked.

In fact, the exploitation of the mines stretches from the Bronze Age: isotopic analyses of lead present in objects of this era indicate that they were made in large part from metal extracted from the Laurion mines.[3]

The earliest evidence for mining activity at Laurion comes from the Late Neolithic period, around 3,200 BC.[4] Mining became more systematic starting from the late sixth-century BC, and in the fifth century it was an important source of revenue for Athens. During this period, the city began to mine a new and particularly rich vein, which unlike the two which had previously been exploited did not appear on the surface.

This discovery meant that at the beginning of the second Persian invasion of Greece, the Athenian state had at its disposal 100 talents. Rather than distribute this wealth amongst the citizens of Athens, Themistocles proposed that this money should be used to construct 200 triremes, which were used to conduct the naval campaign against Persia which culminated in victory at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sakoulas, Thomas. "Lavrion Ancient Silver Mines". ancient-greece.org.
  2. ^ Xenophon, On Revenues, translated by H. G. Dakyns
  3. ^ "The Sources of Mycenaean Silver and Lead". JSTOR 529683.
  4. ^ "Il y a près de 5 000 ans, l'exploitation de l'argent sur les rives de la mer Égée".