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    The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World
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    • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537
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Book description

In this, the first comprehensive one-volume survey of the economies of classical antiquity, twenty-eight chapters summarise the current state of scholarship in their specialised fields and sketch new directions for research. The approach taken is both thematic, with chapters on the underlying determinants of economic performance, and chronological, with coverage of the whole of the Greek and Roman worlds extending from the Aegean Bronze Age to Late Antiquity. The contributors move beyond the substantivist-formalist debates that dominated twentieth-century scholarship and display a new interest in economic growth in antiquity. New methods for measuring economic development are explored, often combining textual and archaeological data that have previously been treated separately. Fully accessible to non-specialist, the volume represents a major advance in our understanding of the economic expansion that made the civilisation of the classical Mediterranean world possible.

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Review of the hardback:‘By presenting current scholarship and its prospective future course, the editors have produced a very important work. Prodigious bibliography … Summing up: highly recommended.'

Source: Choice

Review of the hardback:‘This is certainly an extraordinary book on the Ancient Mediterranean economies that ought to be read and quoted by all historians who work in the field of pre-industrial economics. This excellent project was brought to completion by its 3 editors and 27 contributors over the span of a decade.'

Source: Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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Page 1 of 2


  • 1 - Introduction
    pp 1-12
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.002
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This introductory chapter of the book begins by presenting the goals of the book, summarizing the state of knowledge in ancient Greek and Roman economic history, and contributing to shaping future research. Most ancient historians rely on literary sources produced by and for a leisured elite. The publication of huge numbers of inscriptions, papyri, coins, and mute archaeological data has transformed scholarship in the last two generations, and Greco-Roman economic historians are now asking new questions and using new methods to answer them. The book can help students of classical culture understand the material forces that made the Greeks' and Romans' cultural achievements possible, and can allow economic historians of other times and places to fit the Greco-Roman experience into the broader sweep of world economic history. The chapter also gives an outline of the content available in other chapters of the book.
  • 2 - Ecology
    pp 13-37
    • By Robert Sallares, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.003
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter presents Mediterranean ecology as a determinant for economic performance in the ancient Greek and Roman era. It focuses on the geography, climate, environment and agriculture in the region, and health of the people and disease occurrence in the region during the ancient Greco-Roman era. The lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea are generally hilly or mountainous. Dendrochronological evidence from the Parthenon in Athens provides evidence for a pattern of climatic variability in the fifth century BC which resembles the modern pattern. In addition to being subject to regular climatic cycles, ancient Mediterranean region was a world of sudden, unpredictable catastrophes. Mt. Vesuvius played a prominent role in the Roman period, destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79. A combination of agricultural crops had existed in the Near East since at least circa 3000 BC. There is evidence to support that ancient populations suffered from a substantial disease burden, consisting of both endemic and epidemic diseases.
  • 3 - Demography
    pp 38-86
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.004
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter presents demographic conditions as a determinant for economic performance in the ancient Greco-Roman era. It focuses on the relationship between demographic structures and macro-economic features. The chapter first outlines the fundamental demographic characteristics of the Greco-Roman world. Next, it presents a theoretical model of the interdependence of economic and demographic development. Finally, the chapter explores the model's principal variables in the context of ancient Mediterranean economies. Mean life expectancy at birth is conventionally put in the range of 20-30 years. From the middle of the second millennium BC to the early first millennium AD, all parts of the Mediterranean and its hinterlands experienced significant demographic growth. The baseline upward trend in ancient population number is modulated by two distinct layers of variation in the short and medium terms. Several features including mortality, morbidity, nutrition, housing and clothing, point to significant improvements in well-being in the Greek Aegean between the tenth and the fourth centuries BC.
  • 4 - Household and Gender
    pp 87-112
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.005
  • View abstract
    Summary
    In the Greco-Roman world the household was the basic unit of production as well as consumption. This chapter begins with a methodological discussion of the difficulties with the data sources. Next, the chapter presents an account of the demography of household formation and organization. It analyses the patterns of property ownership and management by gender and age in classical Athens and Roman Italy, and then of women's and children's labor in both societies. The stronger property rights of wealthy Roman women enhanced their social status, but it is not obvious that they much affected decisions about economic production. The participation of women and children in certain production sectors appears similar from fifth-century BC Athens to second century AD Rome. One index of economic growth per capita during this period is the improvement in productive techniques used by women. There are indications that from archaic Greece to the Roman Empire investment increased as institutionalized education and training beyond the family emerged.
  • 5 - Law and Economic Institutions
    pp 113-143
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.006
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The landscape of the Greek and Roman economies is invariably configured of individuals, and also of institutions, the organized activity of production and commerce. This chapter explores, within the ancient world, to what extent was economic growth fostered or impeded by the institutional and legal framework within which the Greek and Roman economies operated. The question may be at least formally addressed through modern scholarly methods associated especially with Law and Economics and with the New Institutional Economics. The chapter provides an overview of the methods themselves, and then suggests several ways in which these methods can be applied to come to a deeper understanding of economic organization and the possibilities for economic growth in the Greek and Roman worlds. Adverse selection is an example of how asymmetrical information can affect entry into a market. A cardinal implication of the Coase theorem is that markets cannot and do not exist in isolation from their institutional context.
  • 6 - Technology
    pp 144-172
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.007
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Recent studies of the history of technology increasingly take as their theme, besides invention, the transfer of technology, that is the adoption of technological knowledge from other societies or the transfer of one's own technology to other regions. The development of Greek civilization in archaic times was to a high degree based on the appropriation of the technological achievements of Egypt and Mesopotamia; while the historically relevant process of Romanization, especially in the western Mediterranean and in north-western Europe, also included the spread of Roman technology in the provinces. An important result of modern research in the history of technology is the insight into the interdependency of technological and economic developments. In ancient agriculture, numerous innovations are attested, for example in the threshing of grain for which rotating sledges were used. Technical advances that were of economic relevance such as grain mill, oil presses, wine presses, can be substantiated in various areas of the ancient economy.
  • 7 - The Aegean Bronze Age
    pp 173-210
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.008
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter explores economic activity in the Aegean Bronze Age (circa 3000-1000 BC), focuses on the palatial societies of Late Bronze Age Crete and mainland Greece, and provides an outline of prior developments, on which they were based. It concentrates on what might be termed as the core of the Mycenaean world (mainland Greece from southern Thessaly to the southern Peloponnese, the islands of the Aegean, including Crete, plus much of coastal southwest Anatolia). There are two ways of conceiving the relationship between the Aegean Bronze Age and later periods of Greek history. The first suggests a radical discontinuity, and the second imagines a seamless continuity. Neither of them is likely to be accurate, but it is certainly incorrect to isolate the Bronze Age with artificial barriers between the modern disciplines of history and prehistory. Life continued, however much it had changed, in most areas of the Aegean from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age.
  • 8 - Early Iron Age Greece
    pp 211-241
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.009
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter reviews the economic history of Early Iron Age (EIA) Greece. First, it summarizes the evidence, and quantifies some aspects of EIA economic performance. Next, the chapter suggests that 1200-1000 BC saw economic collapse in Aegean Greece; 1000-800 BC saw stagnation; and that recovery began in the eighth century. However, it also argues that the most important economic take-off only came later, around 550-500 BC. The chapter discusses economic structures, before offering the conclusions. Through the 1960s and 1970s Homerists and archaeologists largely ignored each other's models of the EIA. In the 1980s a new synthesis formed, seeing the archaeological Dark Age model as valid before 800, but making Homer and Hesiod crucial to the eighth century. EIA life was more wretched than at any time between the rise of the Minoan palaces and the death of Justinian. Greeks died younger, lived in more squalid surroundings, and had fewer goods.
  • 9 - The Iron Age in the Western Mediterranean
    pp 242-276
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.010
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The economic history of the Iron Age in the western Mediterranean is a complex tale in which encounters and entanglements between diverse indigenous peoples and foreign agents from several expanding states of the eastern and central Mediterranean played a recurrent and crucial role. This chapter presents a highly compressed, and inherently partial, synthesis of the current state of research on the economic history of the western Mediterranean during the Iron Age. In very general terms, the chapter deals with indigenous societies constituting three broad linguistic groupings: Iberian, Celtic, and Ligurian, as well as, three different major sources of external traders and colonists: Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan. The basic global repertoire of cereal crops and domestic animals was quite similar for both colonists and indigenous societies in the western Mediterranean, although there were significant variations in the relative importance of different elements in the diet as well as in the culinary practices used to prepare food.
  • 10 - Archaic Greece
    pp 277-301
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.011
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Under all the major indicators of economic change, that is, population, growth, urbanization, production and exchange, institutions, and stock of knowledge, there are reasons to believe that the period between 700 and 500 BC in archaic Greece saw significant developments. This chapter analyzes those developments in more detail by comparing and contrasting the archaeological evidence relating to circa 700 BC and circa 500 BC. It explores how the picture that one can create on the basis of archaeological evidence relates to the picture of the economy offered by one further resource making its dramatic appearance in this period: literary texts. Athenian Solon puts a value upon the individual citizen, whose political capacity is determined by his wealth. That there was a transition from gift to commodity during the period from the eighth to the sixth century has often been suggested. The chapter traces both the economic background to that change and its political origins.
  • 11 - The Persian Near East
    pp 302-330
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.012
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The Achaemenid Persian empire lasted for slightly over two hundred years, and incorporated several languages and cultures, as well as diverse forms of economic subsistence. This chapter focuses on one major region of the empire, the Near East. The Persian period should be viewed as a continuation of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, although new developments can be detected that would have underpinned increased economic growth. Despite population movements, Anatolians into northern Syria, Philistines on the southern Levantine coast, population across northern Syria and northern Mesopotamia may have decreased due to a prolonged period of desiccation. The population movement in the Neo- Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods led to increased urbanization in the Assyrian home provinces and, later, in Babylonia, while urban centers decreased in central and southern Syria-Palestine. The chapter also discusses the impact of imperialism on institutions and organizations, specifically regarding the control and exploitation of agricultural land.
  • 12 - Classical Greece: Production
    pp 331-361
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.013
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Many tangible objects were created and used in classical Greece ranging from installations such as houses, temples, public buildings, and infrastructure, through weaponry, ceramics, coins, textiles, and the normal furnishings and equipment of a dwelling house or a farm, to the more exotic and high-value products of the sculptor or the silversmith. For most landscapes occupied by Greeks, varying depths of soil and the imminence of uncultivable mountains generate a clear distinction between cultivable and uncultivable zones. This chapter provides a sketch of ancient Greece's various productive capacities. Scholarship attention has focused not only on crops and yields but also on wider questions of land-use but also on wider questions of land-use, notably the market-oriented specialization and the integration of differing types of terrain. All the same, agrarian production was absolutely primary. Land-ownership remained the principal determinant of status, though, there is evidence of land being bought as an investment, to improve and resell.
  • 13 - Classical Greece: Distribution
    pp 362-384
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.014
  • View abstract
    Summary
    A society's ability to adapt to changing outside parameters and to adjust its institutions determine the performance of its distribution system. In classical Greece, distribution had grown to such an extent that urban elite had no difficulties in consuming delicacies. Production of certain goods clearly exceeded local needs in some regions: Egypt, Sicily, and regions bordering the Black Sea, for instance, produced more grain than they consumed, Thasos, Chios, and the Chalcidice produced more and better wines than other parts of the Mediterranean. The Aegean connected people and the goods they needed. Transport was much easier by sea than overland. Moving goods by road required negotiations, protection money, and was impeded by deliberate obstructions, and outright violence. In classical Greece, many goods circulated through reciprocity, the mutual exchange between social equals. Friendship reduced transaction costs. On the revenue side, the interests of the citizens and the polis corresponded: both needed prosodoi, revenues or income.
  • 14 - Classical Greece: Consumption
    pp 385-406
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.015
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter describes the consumption patterns, in classical Greece, which were affected by regional productive capacities, inter-regional distribution, and several social and geographical biases, as well as ideology and taste. It gives some quantitative assessment of standards of living in comparison to earlier and later periods. Since markets and exchange supplied only a certain amount of domestic consumption, the chapter explores under what conditions consumption turned into demand that affected the economy more generally. Basic information about ancient nutrition can be gained from the remains of human bones. Average height changed little from the Bronze Age to the classical period, and possibly increased slightly for men thereafter. The discrepancy between Mycenae and Lerna may indicate a class difference. The need for imported grain varied from year to year with periods of extraordinary demand at times of food crisis. The seasonality of demand put high pressure on administration and planning, and could not be satisfied by regular markets.
  • 15 - The Hellenistic Near East
    pp 407-433
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.016
  • View abstract
    Summary
    In the Hellenistic period, Greek and Near Eastern traditions came into closer contact than before, increasing the cohabitation of Greeks and non-Greeks. This chapter focuses on the Seleucid empire, since it was the main heir of the earlier Persian empire. The empire contained high civilizations with their own ancient histories: Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Jews, and half-Hellenized states in Asia Minor. The chapter examines how the Seleucid economy performed relative to earlier and later periods. Everywhere in antiquity, agriculture was the main means of subsistence. Agricultural conditions, however, varied greatly. Industrial production was linked to agriculture, and many items including textiles, were produced at home. Some regions developed specialties: Phoenicia was famous for purple dyes, glass, and ships, and Babylonia for woolen and linen textiles, salt, and bitumen. As a result of the empire's urbanization policies, many Macedonians and Greeks emigrated to the east; new cities were founded, often on more or less vacant territories.
  • 16 - Hellenistic Egypt
    pp 434-459
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.017
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter deals with the internal economic history of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the longest lived of the Hellenistic successor states. It addresses the question of the extent to which the Ptolemaic state effected economic development, and to what extent was development driven by demographic change. The foundation and growth of urban centers, the development of roads out to the Red Sea, and the reclamation of new land in the Fayyum, are enough to suggest that the early Ptolemaic period experienced aggregate economic growth, and the increased farming of wheat (at least in some areas) resulted in greater agricultural productivity. The chapter focuses on money and prices, the taxation system, the role of social status, and state revenue. Ptolemaic institutions were a mixture of old and new. The taxation policy above all gradually shifted emphasis away from traditional Egyptian social hierarchies toward the new realities of urban, Greek life.
  • 17 - Hellenistic Greece and Western Asia Minor
    pp 460-484
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.018
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter focuses on old Greece; the southern Balkans, the Aegean islands, and western Asia Minor. Greek-speakers had settled here many centuries earlier. The act of concentration in a new urban center created a new locus of demand for food and other essentials, and new markets. Agriculture remained the chief economic activity for most people in Greece. Outside of the northern kingdoms (Macedon, Epirus), this took place on land belonging to poleis. Many Hellenistic exchanges were mediated through money. States needed coined money to pay troops, war indemnities, and numerous other expenses. The Hellenistic world inherited from classical times a wide array of institutions that served central economic functions but subsequently also saw some changes. The chapter explores the changes to pre-existing institutions, and whether they reflect new economic conditions. Military technology is one area where the Hellenistic world saw major innovations, from siege warfare, to the use of elephants, to the construction of ever-larger ships.
  • 18 - Early Rome and Italy
    pp 485-510
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.019
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter deals with Italy in the period from the beginning of the Greek colonization through 133 BC. It focuses on the Italian peninsula, touching only briefly on northern Italy and the islands, or the world of non-Roman indigenous cultures. For addressing the question of the rise of Rome to the most powerful polity in Italy and a leading Mediterranean power, the chapter examines the impact of wars, treaties, and the founding of colonies, Greek as well as Etruscan and Roman, reciprocal influences, forced or spontaneous transformations. It distinguishes three major periods: from the earliest Greek contacts with Italy to the middle of the fourth century BC; from the middle of the fourth century, which saw Rome's military and political ascent and its rise to economic power, to the Second Punic War; and finally, from the Second Punic War, which caused profound upheavals in the Roman economy, to the period of the Gracchi.
  • 19 - The Late Republic
    pp 511-540
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.020
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter answers questions about economic growth in the late Republic, with a focus on the per capita GDP growth, and the reasons behind the growth or the lack of it. It examines the features of the Roman world which assisted growth or impeded it. The most important thing the Roman government did for the Roman economy was to conquer vast territories; the next most important thing, in this period, was probably to found colonies. Proof positive that the traditional understanding of Roman money is mistaken appears in 49 when the credit system tottered under the impact of civil war: nervous creditors began to seek payment even of the principal in silver, that is, coin. The conditions of labor, at least in the central parts of the Roman world, were dominated by slavery. It is estimated that in the very late Republic there were always four to eight million slaves and serfs in the Roman empire.
  • 20 - The Early Roman Empire: Production
    pp 541-569
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.021
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Commerce and manufacturing certainly occupied a significant place in the early Roman economy. Large landowners and small farmers depended for their livelihoods on the production of surpluses for the market. In Roman agriculture, most common method for cultivating wheat was the two-field system. The Roman empire also witnessed construction of modest sized-estates which regularly included a pars urbana, an often lavishly adorned farmhouse, and a pars rustica, included farming facilities such as those for pressing grapes. Sometimes, many landowners used the institution of farm tenancy to organize the management and labor on their estates. To answer the question of what extent wealth generated from agriculture contributed to an expansion of production in the non-agricultural sectors of the Roman economy, the economic role of cities in the Roman empire and their relationship with the countryside, has to be evaluated. Archaeological evidence indicates that mining was conducted on a widespread basis in many regions of the Roman empire.
  • 21 - The Early Roman Empire: Distribution
    pp 570-591
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.022
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The mobilization and distribution of resources, human and material, was the key to Roman power. The surplus production of an individual peasant household was small; the aggregate demand of the ancient peasantry was considerable. The key question is how far distribution under the empire differed in volume and nature. Archaeology has provided striking and conclusive evidence for a dramatic increase in the volume of goods being distributed within the Roman empire. Goods were distributed through the Roman empire by a variety of means, determined to a great extent by the identity of the ultimate consumer and by the nature of the goods and by the identity of the original producer. The institutional structures that supported distribution were adequate money supply supporting all levels of transactions, and the development of gold coinage and various forms of paper transactions. For the most part, the dynamics of distribution in the early Roman empire followed patterns which had become established under the Republic.
  • 22 - The Early Roman Empire: Consumption
    pp 592-618
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.023
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Roman society of the early empire presents a confusing and ambiguous image that we cannot easily situate in unidirectional accounts of European economic history. Clearly, public monuments in marble or other precious stone, military security, the urban food supply, roads, aqueducts and gladiatorial games testify to public consumption on a grand scale. On the other hand, the signs of poverty, misery, and destitution are no less obvious. Many inhabitants of the Roman empire only eked out a meager living, their skeletons grim testimonies to malnutrition and disease. Growth occurred because the wealth of the elite may have been a sign of effective exploitation of the poor. Roman National Income was indeed larger than that of any preindustrial European state. One of the requirements for an economy is to provide enough subsistence for its population to survive. The economic and social achievements of pre-industrial societies can be measured if standard of living of the masses exceeds bare subsistence levels.
  • 23 - The Early Roman Empire: The State and the Economy
    pp 619-648
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521780537.024
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter explores whether the higher level of economic activity during the first two centuries of the Principate in comparison with the preceding and following periods, and the possible modest growth then, were, at least in part, the result of the existence of a single political entity embracing the Mediterranean, or were achieved despite it. In the first two centuries of the Principate, taxation enhanced market exchanges and promoted growth. The emperor set the rules of the game at the level of the central and provincial administration, but his actions extended in various ways to the level of the individual urban communities. The creation of a single monetary area may have contributed most to the reduction in transaction costs: a centrally produced coinage circulated almost everywhere. In order to account for massive output of the Roman mint it is necessary to assume structural imbalance between tax and public expenditure.

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