The single Greek word for market, agora, did not originally refer to a place for exchange; rather, it was a place for the gathering of chattel (as early as Linear B, e.g., Knossos Co 903) and of people. In Homer, the agora is strictly a place of gathering for political action, including military muster. The heroes in epic do not buy and sell; there are no regular markets for the acquisition of food and other necessary things. Heroes take what they want from neighbouring communities by raids. On the fringes of the narratives, however, Homer reveals the presence of one-time or spot markets, most clearly at Iliad 7.467ff.:
Many ships from Lemnos filled with wine lay at anchor, which Jason’s son Euneos had sent … On the side Jason’s son gave the Atreidae Agamamnon and Menelaos a thousand measures of wine to carry off. There the flowing-haired Achaeans got wine, some with skins, others with whole cows, others with spear-captives. And they threw themselves a jolly feast.
While our sources mention numerous prices of a wide range of commodities, the question remains to what extent these prices offer insight into the ancient economy. Despite the wealth of data, reliable prices of everyday goods under normal market conditions are rare. The extent to which they can be used to analyze such topics as market integration, living standards, market stability, and inflation is limited. Only regarding Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt do we possess sufficient market prices (rather than imposed prices or valuations) to conduct meaningful analyses. For most of the rest of the empire, the prices—in particular those of everyday goods—are generally too uncertain, too sparse, and too diverse to form a solid basis for economic analysis. It is a valid question, moreover, to what extent prices in the ancient world reflect the interplay of supply and demand according to modern economic theory. Nevertheless, ancient writers depict price levels as depending on the interplay of supply and demand, and market transactions, as narrated in our sources, emphasizing competition and bargaining, make clear that price formation was largely determined by economic forces. Hence, prices fluctuated over time and differed in various places. The authorities tried to keep prices of staple foods low by influencing market conditions, but direct price fixing was rare.