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The Ancient Economy (Sather Classical Lectures) Updated Edition

2.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520219465
ISBN-10: 0520219465
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Editorial Reviews


"A splendid contribution to the economic history of classical antiquity. It compels the reader to recognize the depth of the transformation from the ancient consumer economy based on slave and serf labor to the modern capitalist, investment, production, profit economy."--Floyd Sewer Lear, "Business History Review

From the Inside Flap

"The Ancient Economy holds pride of place among the handful of genuinely influential works of ancient history. This is Finley at the height of his remarkable powers and in his finest role as historical iconoclast and intellectual provocateur. It should be required reading for every student of pre-modern modes of production, exchange, and consumption."—Josiah Ober, author of Political Dissent in Democratic Athens

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Product Details

  • Series: Sather Classical Lectures (Book 48)
  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Updated edition (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520219465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520219465
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #231,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on March 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The author of this book, M.I. Finley, is a giant in the field of ancient history. The introduction paints a pretty impressive picture of the man. He graduated from college with an M.A. at the age of 17, an amazing feat for us wannabe intellectuals. His M.A. was in public law, not exactly the usual prerequisite for an amazing career in history. Finley's positions on the ancient world were based on the works of Max Weber; the sociologist who posited that status played a big role in society. In this book, Finley tries to prove that the ancient economy was largely a byproduct of status. In other words, economic systems were not interdependent; they were embedded in status positions.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Finley in "The Ancient Economy," presents an informed argument against the notion that ancient civilizations exhibited "modern" market behavior in the style described by Erich Roll as "an enormous conglomeration of interdependent markets." M. Rostovtzeff's notion that trade of manufactured goods was active and important in classical economies is successfully challenged, and the reader is given an interesting peek into the process by which free, landed peoples gradually replaced slave labor in the hinterlands laying the foundation for medieval serfdom. This is an excellent (and concise!!!) introduction to the economic structure of the classical world both describing the various class structures and how each class in general viewed the economic notions of land, capital, trade, and accumulation. I definitely recommend this book to any student of economic history.
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Format: Paperback
In their work, "A Concise Economic History of the World," Rondo Cameron and Larry Neal devote 400 pages to the economic history "From Paleolithic Times to the Present." That said, the Paleolithic to Fall of Rome garner a grand total of 23 pages. We are left to question, why have they dedicated so little to such a huge time period? Why do we know so little about the economics of the classical period?

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.
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Format: Paperback
This is one strange book. I read it carefully, without jumping from page to page, although I was really tempted to do so at times. My feeling is that the author, very famous in this field, is truly knowledgeable about his subject, yet the way he describes it to the reader is very poor. The feeling I had reading this short book was akin to opening a dictionary about ancient Rome and reading randomly. No clear ideas, just information (but ironically, good information), in endless circles, you are left, as a humble reader, with the idea "what on Earth does he want to say, after all"? I think this is a pity, since the author is famous and he knows his stuff. Yet, when in comes to explaining all this interesting material to keen readers, the job is very poorly done. Reading the book I got the feeling it was written by the author FOR the author, without any care about the reader.
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.
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