The Ancient Economy

The Ancient Economy

Paperback Sather Classical Lectures (Paperback)

By (author) M. I. Finley, Foreword by Ian Morris

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  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Format: Paperback | 298 pages
  • Dimensions: 150mm x 224mm x 20mm | 340g
  • Publication date: 1 March 1999
  • Publication City/Country: Berkerley
  • ISBN 10: 0520219465
  • ISBN 13: 9780520219465
  • Edition statement: Updated ed.
  • Illustrations note: 1 map
  • Sales rank: 271,959

Product description

"Technical progress, economic growth, productivity, even efficiency have not been significant goals since the beginning of time," declares M. I. Finley in his classic work. The states of the ancient Mediterranean world had no recognizable real-property market, never fought a commercially inspired war, witnessed no drive to capital formation, and assigned the management of many substantial enterprises to slaves and ex-slaves. In short, to study the economies of the ancient world, one must begin by discarding many premises that seemed self-evident before Finley showed that they were useless or misleading. Available again, with a new foreword by Ian Morris, these sagacious, fertile, and occasionally combative essays are just as electrifying today as when Finley first wrote them.

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Author information

M. I. Finley, who died in 1986, was Professor of Ancient History and Master of Darwin College at Cambridge University. Ian Morris is the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor in Classics and Chair of the Classics Department at Stanford University.

Review quote

"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

Editorial reviews

In these expanded lectures originally given at Berkeley, Finley (his The Ancient Greeks and The World of Odysseus are on college reading lists) has a helpful hint for historians - they should interpret institutions according to the functions they served within their own societies and language in the context of its culture. (For instance, in ancient Greece oikonomikos referred to "the rights and duties of a family," or the management of all persons and property on an estate). True to his own methodology, in speaking of the "economy" of the Mediterranean Axis between 1000 BC and 500 AD, this accomplished scholar - he can quote from classic tragedies and obscure German scholarly theses in a single breath - focuses on the traditions, habits and rules of thumb by which a stratified, land-owning, largely agrarian society maintained its favored life-style of leisured public service. In the ancient world Finley declares - and such interpretations are his stock in trade - "the prevailing mentality was acquisitive, but not productive": slaves, foreigners and others of low status supplied the labor while trade, taxes, war-booty and patrician largess filled the public coffers. But when what was essentially a collection of city-states became the Roman Empire this static social order could not ultimately accommodate the costs of an expanding army or bureaucracy and the Empire fell. Despite the enormous erudition Professor Finley brings to the podium, he has said it all before, more sharply, in his other books. (Kirkus Reviews)

Back cover copy

""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