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The Ancient Economy (Sather Classical Lectures) Updated Edition
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Finley first examines status and statistics. What constituted status in the ancient world? For one thing, class and status were independent. A person could be of low class, but very high status. Pallas and Narcissus, the freedmen that served the emperor Claudius, come to mind here. Both were extremely high placed in society. They were rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but their class was lower than that of a senator. Finley's examination of statistics in ancient Rome is telling. In our world, it is inconceivable that the economy could be discussed without using stats. In Rome, this was not the case. Certainly, there were receipts of expenditures and interest rates on loans, but numbers just didn't hold the allure in Rome that they do today. The absence of guilds and interdependent markets, according to Finley, certainly has something to do with this. Most merchandise was locally made and consumed locally, or shipped directly to Rome. There was no need for corporations or massive transportation of goods (except grain shipments to Rome) between regions.
Finley's discussions on slavery are certainly enlightening.Read more ›
Sixteen years before Cameron & Neal's work M.I. Finley offered some insight into that. The very notion of modern economics did not exist to the Romans and the Greeks. According to Finley, the structure of the ancient society was one with rich landowners at the top who controlled the one generally accepted wealth creating production input - land. The land was used for extraction of minerals (silver, gold, iron, etc.), extraction of clay and the raising of crops.
The ancients lived in a zero-sum world, where only by taking land and labor from other states could you create growth. While the idea of "profit" was important the ancients, the idea of "growth" was non-existent. Like growth any other modern economic ideas are absent. The ancient world was one where the status of the wealthy citizens was that of comfort. From their land the wealthy were able to live in comfort from poverty by directing the labor of the lower classes (whether slave, serf, free or some mixture).
Some amateur economists have challenged Finley because he doesn't take into account very simple mechanisms such as money supply and velocity of money in the ancient economy. Yet, he does answer these critics. In an economy based solely on silver coin such an analysis would be an anachronism. The money supply could only be the amount of silver available.Read more ›
Here is a simple example. He refers to a famous coin maker named Euainetos, who lived in Syracuse. To tell the truth, I checked his coins, they are a true piece of art! But in this book, the author just says something like "coins were not that special, and just because Euainetos made them it did not make them any more valuable". OK, but as a reader, I had no idea about that coin let alone Euainetos. It would have been nice to say something like "Syracuse, the most powerful Greek colony in the west, saw the best coins made by a certain artist named Euianetos." etc etc. The author just doesn't care about the reader, which makes me think, to whom was he addressing this book, after all?
I learned a few good things from this book, but I had to work for it. It was not an easy read. And that's a shame, because you can tell the author knows his stuff. Maybe he did not care about the reader.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a boring book about the Roman economy. Not at all interesting. Might be useful for research,otherwise avoid it.Published on November 3, 2012 by Fred Hetzel
To say that I was disappointed in this book is an understatement. I read it carefully and yet can barely remember anything in it worth learning. Read morePublished on January 11, 2010 by Robert J. Crawford
In regard to the view that Finley needs to pay more attentio to money supply and velocity i would suggest that the economies of ancient times were not as susceptible to changes in... Read morePublished on May 30, 2007 by David Ewings
Finley may be a great classical scholar, but his application of economic theory is flawed. Somebody should have taught him about money supply and velocity. Read morePublished on February 7, 2006 by Mercury