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Article

Travis Rupp

Beer was a staple of ancient diets, extending from the ancient Near East to Egypt and from the Greek Aegean to Rome. The brewing process developed in Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Israel, while industrialized production of beer continued in Egypt. However, in Greek and Roman culture, discussions and acceptance of beer are not as prevalent in the composed texts of the elite populace. These authors avoid or degrade the topic. Though no one word for beer universally translates in ancient Greek and Latin languages, further examination has demonstrated that beer was a nutritional necessity and was produced in Greek and Roman history; yet, the resilience of beer is largely attributed to peoples living on or beyond the boundaries of Greek and Roman dominion. Their direct contact with Rome’s legions compelled beer’s development even without a full embrasure from aristocratic elites. Combining art, architecture, archaeology, and literature, a comprehensive story for the existence and permanence of beer is told from 9500 bce to 500 ce.

Article

Colin P. Elliott

Most currency systems in classical antiquity used precious metals at standardized weights and/or fineness. Debasement describes reductions in currency standards, whether such reductions were openly declared or hidden, or whether they were enacted by legitimate minting authorities or counterfeiters. Some debasements may have been unintentional, the result of imprecisions in the minting process. Often, however, debasements were carried out on purpose and for a wide range of reasons—in response to crises such as wars or famines, or as part of a larger economic or monetary reform. Contemporary responses to debasements varied. Coin-users and money specialists developed techniques to assess the quality of coins. Some polities enacted legal tender laws—sometimes to discourage the use of debased counterfeit coins, but often to require the use of legitimate coinage after it had been debased. The scholarly study of changes in coin standards continues to provide insights into both the practical workings of ancient monetary systems and the abstract notions of value, acceptability, and other embedding frameworks that governed the use of ancient coinage.

Article

Colin P. Elliott

Inflation typically refers to rising prices. In both ancient and modern societies, inflation is sometimes difficult to identify, measure, and explain with precision. Inflation can occur in the prices of individual goods, the goods and services associated with a particular industry or sector of an economy, or as a macro-phenomenon in which all or most prices in an economy rise. The magnitude of price rises and the duration during which prices stay elevated also have a bearing on how inflation is studied. The ancient world witnessed periods of both slow and steady inflation as well as punctuated surges in prices. Some regions, such as Egypt, offer hundreds of prices, which facilitate quantitative measurements of inflation. In many areas and periods, however, inflation is poorly understood because sufficient numbers of prices do not survive. Scholars, therefore, often use theoretical models and proxy evidence to better understand the nuances and complexity of inflation in classical antiquity.

Article

Kim Bowes

Roman landscapes exhibited enormous diversity, from the rolling hills of the Mediterranean heartland, to Nile marshlands, Apennine mountain pastures, and African pre-deserts. New work on this diversity has demonstrated the intensive methods with which they were managed for agriculture and artisanal output, as well as their highly periodized histories. While much debate in the study of these landscapes has revolved around ancient climate change, more apparent is robust human intervention, which often reached a peak during the Roman period. Romans thought deeply about landscapes, and their literature and religious rituals used landscape to frame moral, religious, and political values.

Unlike the landscapes of the Greek city states, those encompassed by the Roman empire at its height were diverse in the extreme. Among the empire’s territories were the pre-desert regions of Tripolitania and the Syrian frontier, the mountain pastures of the Apennines, and the marshes of the Egyptian oases, not to mention the rolling limestone landscapes of the Mediterranean heartland. Even within smaller slices of these territories (and even within tiny micro-regions), new work has revealed the remarkable diversity of vegetation, sunlight, rainfall, and topography. It is the plurality of these landscapes that gave Romans material for a rich tradition of literary and religious expression as well as a vast and intensive apparatus for economic exploitation.

Article

Giusto Traina

The most common words to designate a marsh, a swamp, or a bog are helos in ancient Greek and palus in Latin; beside these terms, less common words were also employed. Literary and epigraphic texts give evidence for marshlands in the countryside, in the coastal areas, and also close to urban agglomerations. The sources often give evidence for drainage activity, but cases of extensive drainage are rare. In fact, they were possible only at public expense, by employing free or slave labor. On the other hand, several territories were characterized by a sort of marsh economy. Although rarely portrayed in literature, and despite the risk of malaria, marshy areas presented some economic potential: fishing, hunting, salt extraction, and farming. In many respects, the negative image of wetlands is a modern invention. The contrast between the rational order of the Roman countryside and the “barbaric” medieval landscape was introduced by the Enlightenment, and must be treated with caution.

Article

Dominic W. Rathbone

The “Muziris” papyrus (PVindob. G40822) provides unique details about the trade between Roman Egypt and India. It was purchased in 1980 for the Austrian National Library, and first published in 1985, and has been much discussed since then.1 Its provenance is unknown, but was probably middle Egypt. It preserves parts of two texts, one on its front (recto) and one on its back (verso), written in two different hands which have both been assigned to the middle decades of the 2nd century ce.The first text is part of a contract, from near the contract’s end, between a merchant (“I” in the text) and a financier (“you”), who was apparently based in Alexandria; this contract accompanied a separate contract between them for a maritime loan “to Muziris.”2 Muziris was a port in the Malabar region of soutwest India (Kerala), which Periplus of the Red Sea, ch.56, from the mid-1st-century ce, says was visited by large ships from Egypt to acquire pepper and malabathrum (a cinnamon-like plant, whose leaves were pressed to make a perfume), and also pearls, ivory, silk, nard, and gemstones.

Article

Carlos Machado

The annona was the imperial service responsible for overseeing the supply of key food items to the city of Rome and the army. Primarily concerned with grain, the service became increasingly involved in the provisioning of other commodities, such as olive oil, wine, and pork. By the end of the 3rd century, the annona was a complex machinery involving private and public agents in different parts of the empire, overseen by the prefect of the annona, based in Rome. The operation of this system is documented in literary texts, administrative documents such as papyri and writing tablets, inscriptions, and a rich archaeological record, in Rome and in the provinces. However, the precise working of the system and the degree to which it was controlled by the Roman state remain open to debate. The annona was also involved in the supply of the army, especially with regards to provisions brought from distant producing centres. During the later empire, the system became more centralised, being overseen by the praetorian prefecture.

Article

prices  

Paul Erdkamp

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.

Article

Jean Andreau

An auction is a type of sale consisting of a public competition between several buyers; whoever bids the highest price obtains the object being sold. Such auctions existed in the Greek as well as in the Roman world. Some were organized by the public authorities, while others were organized by individuals selling some of their goods at auction. In Roman Italy, these private auctions served a commercial function. In addition, they facilitated the sale of guarantees for unrepaid loans; likewise, they facilitated the management of private inheritance and estates. Between the 2nd century bce and the 3rd century ce, professional bankers regularly participated in these private auctions by providing credit to the buyers.An auction is a procedure consisting of a public competition between several potential buyers. It was a common practice in Greco-Roman antiquity. The object being sold was awarded to the highest bidder, and he alone paid the object’s full price to the seller. Scholars do not know when auctions first began. They are well attested in the Classical Greek period, as well as in the Hellenistic world and in Rome. In Roman Italy, Plautus and Cato the Elder (in .

Article

Neil Coffee

Romans not only gave gifts to express emotion and build relationships; a long-standing tradition of mutual aid gave rise to more intensive exchange of gifts and services (or reciprocity), among relatives, friends, and business associates; from the wealthy to the public in the form of public benefactions; and in legally sanctioned relationships between patrons and clients. Roman gift culture, distinctive among its contemporary Mediterranean societies, became increasingly transactional from the middle Republic to early Empire.

Reciprocity, understood as the exchange of gifts and favours, was far more pervasive and consequential in Roman society than in the contemporary West. Romans lacked the social infrastructure of the modern state: insurance and social welfare systems. They were therefore more reliant on an ethic of sharing within the extended family (where everything was in spirit held in common) (communia omnia, Cic. Off. 1.54). Outside of the family, Romans also depended on reciprocity, a practice deeply rooted as essential for survival and flourishing.