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Article

Ben Akrigg

The demography of Greece is a very difficult subject to investigate because of the shortage of relevant statistical data. Ancient authors did not write any books about demography and give hardly any figures for population sizes, and none at all for vital rates. Owing to the emphasis on war in ancient historiography, most ancient demographic estimates relate to the size of military forces or to the manpower available for military purposes—i.e., to adult males only. Total population sizes must be extrapolated from such information because women, children, and slaves were usually not enumerated at all. Moreover, literary authors were prone to exaggeration—with respect to the size of Persian armies, for example—although Thucydides (2) was a notable exception to this rule. Even in Classical Athens, for which the sources are relatively abundant, it seems unlikely that there was a central register of hoplites in addition to the deme registers. In general, Greek states did not have taxes payable by all inhabitants that would have required the maintenance of detailed records for financial purposes, and censuses of citizens were rare in the ancient Greek world. It is certain, however, that both mortality and fertility in ancient Greece were high by the standards of modern developed countries. Human mobility, whether voluntary or involuntary, was also an important factor in the population history of individual cities.

Article

Saskia Hin

People’s life courses are shaped by the complex interactions of contextual factors, of individual behavior, and of opportunities and constraints operating at the macro level. Demography studies these processes with a focus on particular transitions in the life course: birth, leaving home, marriage, and other transitions in civil status (divorce, remarriage, and transitions into widowhood), the birth and survival of offspring, migration, and finally the end of the life cycle—death.

Initial work on the ancient world focussed primarily on macro-level data, trying to establish overall trends in population development on the basis of census figures and other population estimates. This approach has received further impetus with the advent of survey demography (see Population Trends). More recently, attention has turned to single events in the life course. Core demographic studies have attempted to establish patterns and rates of marriage, fertility, migration, and mortality. Others have taken a complementary approach with a stronger focus on qualitative data. These support investigation of sociological, cultural, and economic aspects of demographic phenomena. The remainder of this article focusses on a concise evaluation of current understanding of marriage, fertility, migration, mortality, and population trends in the ancient Greco-Roman world.

Article

Saskia Hin

Roman population size and population trends have been debated for long by proponents of low and high counts; these have recently been joined by proponents of a middle count. Each is based on a different interpretation of the enigmatic Roman census figures. Different understandings of patterns of death and disease, of marriage, of childbearing, and of infanticide follow on from these interpretations. Recent studies have added new perspectives, drawing on archaeological finds, and have started to pay more attention to migration flows.

There are two different kinds of questions historians might wish to ask about the population of the Roman world: How large was it or any of its constituent parts? And what were the patterns and tendencies of birth rates, death rates, and migration rates, with their implications for overall growth or decline?

Five sources of information offer imperfect answers to the first kind of question: census figures, mostly but not exclusively, for the Roman Republic and early Empire, where they served for taxation, military recruitment, and political purposes; figures relating to the feeding of (part of) the population of the city of Rome; occasional references to the population of particular cities or areas, usually without any possibility of knowing on what they were based; figures for the carrying capacity of different areas of the Roman world in the earliest post-Roman periods for which reasonably reliable figures exist; and, finally, archaeological survey evidence that provides indications of change in land use, and implicitly of population change over time.