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The Ancient Economy

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"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 "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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"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 "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.

30 review for The Ancient Economy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I don't mean to be a giant nerd, but this was probably one of the most interesting books I read while studying classics.

  2. 5 out of 5

    M.J.

    Finley's "The Ancient Economy" is a fascinating look into how very different the concept of an economy is in the ancient world from our modern assumptions and understanding. Without a strong narrative or central thesis, the book can feel a bit too broad, but it does an excellent job of pushing back against an ahistorical view of the classical economy (or, perhaps more accurately, economies). Finley's book does an excellent job of placing the Roman and Greek slave societies within their context Finley's "The Ancient Economy" is a fascinating look into how very different the concept of an economy is in the ancient world from our modern assumptions and understanding. Without a strong narrative or central thesis, the book can feel a bit too broad, but it does an excellent job of pushing back against an ahistorical view of the classical economy (or, perhaps more accurately, economies). Finley's book does an excellent job of placing the Roman and Greek slave societies within their context and discussing them dispassionately from an analytical point of view, rather than getting lost in our understandable revulsion at economic models that are heavily based on the enslavement of other human beings. In fact, a large portion of his work focuses on the importance of relationships (master and slave, patron and client) and land-ownership in the socio-economic system. It is well-written and successfully reaches out to the non-academic reader. I'm not sure I share his view that economics can teach us little about the ancient economy (as, he reasons, economics is such a new field), but I take his point that imposing modern assumptions about economic activity and incentives is foolish at best. A lack of a strong narrative connecting the various chapters gives them a bit of a disjointed feeling, perhaps a reflection of the book's origin as a lecture series, and leads to a rather abrupt ending (despite the further considerations chapter of the second edition that I read). But the reader comes away better informed about the period and the perspectives of their main economic actors. Recommended as supplemental reading for those interested in the period.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Dambro

    Seminal work by a Marxist historian who put aside his political beliefs and wrote the best work on Greek and Roman history of his generation. Anyone who seeks to understand the real workings of the Classical world must begin here.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Interesting chapter on slavery, this is a really useful work for people studying ancient history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    B

    This read more like a collection of essays than a coherent book (which may have been the intent?). However, there was still a lot of great information here, and I was able to learn a good amount about the economy of the ancients. In some ways, the economy of the time was much more sophisticated than I would have imagined but in other ways not nearly as much. Overall, very interesting book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Blessy Abraham

    This was the first book by Moses Finley that I have read till now. Despite not being very familiar with classical Roman and Greek history, I found the essays to be extremely articulate and cogent. One also appreciates Finley's point that the ancient economy has to be understood in its own historical and political context, instead of forcibly trying to analyze it from our present understanding of economy and capital. Certainly a must read for any amateur historian, particularly for Finley's style This was the first book by Moses Finley that I have read till now. Despite not being very familiar with classical Roman and Greek history, I found the essays to be extremely articulate and cogent. One also appreciates Finley's point that the ancient economy has to be understood in its own historical and political context, instead of forcibly trying to analyze it from our present understanding of economy and capital. Certainly a must read for any amateur historian, particularly for Finley's style of reading and interpretation of primary sources.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David Robertus

    An excellent diagnosis of a problem that far too many assumptions have been made about in the past. This study looks at the ancient mindset of what an economy was (and was not). It provides a very important foundation for understanding the medieval economy and mindset. Kudos to a brilliantly researched and original hypothesis.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Mrizek

    Not a light read and requires extensive background knowledge but a great way for modern readers to understand how the "economy" worked in ancient times.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ezgi

  10. 4 out of 5

    E

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Cairns

  12. 4 out of 5

    H.Z

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mert

  15. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Bautista

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anas

  17. 5 out of 5

    Louis Bouchard

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sander Boek

  19. 4 out of 5

    Geoffery

  20. 4 out of 5

    John

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andrej

  22. 5 out of 5

    Serge

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sas

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chad Tronetti

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Coker

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tdr85

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  28. 5 out of 5

    Numan Deniz

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  30. 5 out of 5

    Serge

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