Long-Term Quantification in Ancient Mediterranean History

This conference, generously supported by the Francqui Foundation, comes as a happy consequence of the Francqui Prize awarded in 2007 to François de Callataÿ for his research on quantification in Greco-Roman numismatics.
A first conference has already been devoted to this specific theme: ‘Quantifying monetary supplies in Greco-Roman times’ (Rome, Academia Belgica, September 29th and 30th, 2008).
The Brussels conference will enlarge the scope both chronologically (from Babylonian times to Middle Ages) and thematically (beyond numismatics). Seventeen leading experts will present original papers including case-studies as well as methodological thought about quantification itself (see the abstracts).

Thursday 15th and Friday 16th October 2009

Auditorium Lippens
Royal Library of Belgium
Boulevard de l’Empereur, 2
1000 Brussels

Mandatory –




A)François de Callataÿ (Royal Library of Belgium/Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Long-term quantification in ancient history: a historical perspective

The aim of this paper is to put into perspective past scholarship on quantification
in ancient history, and to sketch some possible trends for the future. It tentatively
summarises the main trends and ‘turns’ in such scholarship since the Second
World War, making connections between history, archaeology and economics.
It explores the reasons why long-term studies are expected to grow in number, and
then focuses on quantification. Quantification has every chance of being more and
more widely used in ancient history, for four main reasons: 1) it is comparatively
new; it is supported by 2) a massive production of new data from the archaeology
as well as 3) a spectacular development of scientific tools; 4) in addition,
quantification is no longer seen simply as a modern technique for investigating
problems (or to enable one to ‘lie with statistics’); it has become recognised as a
topic of investigation itself.
Considering long-term quantification in ancient economics, it is worth quoting the
final sentences of the introduction to the recent Cambridge Economic History of
the Greco-Roman World: ‘This emerging account of the Greco-Roman economy,
we believe, is an advance over twentieth-century interpretations. It improves on
substantivist approaches by providing crude statistics on economic performance,
but it also goes beyond both sides in the old primitivist-modernist debate by
developing general theoretical models of ancient economic behavior and putting
them in a global, comparative context. It recognizes that classical antiquity saw one
of the strongest economic efflorescences in premodern history, but keeps this in
perspective, refusing to confuse the ancient economy with the modern. In short, it
takes seriously Douglas North’s injunction to explain the structure and
performance of economies through time’ (Morris, Saller & Scheidel 2007: 11-12).
In this light, I offer some comments about 1) primitivists and the use of numbers,
2) New Institutionalism (its roots and its present success), and 3) long-term
comparative studies.

B)Claude Diebolt (CNRS – Université de Strasbourg)
The stakes of cliometrics in ancient history

According to Finley, markets and economic motivations played little, if any, role in
ancient economies. Status and civic ideology governed the allocation of scarce
resources. Hence, the application of economic theory to the ancient economy was
at best a futile exercise and at worst a source of grave misunderstandings. Temin’s
seminal and continued contributions to the field lead to the opposite conclusion
and, as in the myth of Sisyphus, the boulder seems again to be at the bottom of the
hill! My feeling is that the Gordian knot remains the same now as over the past
decades: should cliometrics be used in the social sciences/humanities in general,
and ancient history especially?

C)Neville S. Morley (Bristol University)
Orders of Magnitude, Margins of error

The aim of this paper is to consider theoretical and methodological issues in the
use of quantification, and arguments based on statistical analysis, under conditions
of inadequate data – conditions which apply to virtually all aspects and periods of
classical antiquity. It will explore the different ways in which historians seek to
compensate for and rectify the inadequacies of their data, and the consequences of
different approaches for the plausibility of their interpretations. Taking as its key
example the development of urbanization under the Roman Empire, it will also
discuss the rhetorical functions of quantification, and its role in debates about the
disciplinary identity of the history of pre-modern societies.

D)Gerassimos George Aperghis (University College London)
Creating a long-term computer model for an ancient economy

There is generally very little quantitative data for ancient economies in the sources,
particularly for the long term. What little there is, however, can be usefully treated
by a computer model to generate considerably more useful information. A general
model has been developed which consists of parameters and relationships
expressed in simple modules of different types and a network of linkages between
the modules. For example, a parameter may be externally input into a module and
a second parameter then calculated, which in turn becomes the input of other
modules, e.g. population calculation to food consumption and tax calculations. A
module may have ‘depth’ by being repeated for different occurrences, e.g.
provinces of an empire, with different data and the ability to .automatically
compute a total. External module input will also usually have a ‘time’ element that
expresses how it is to change within a generally designated time period. The
modules, linkages and time elements making up the model are specified by the
historian interactively. Data is entered and desired results obtained in a computeraided
dialogue, which can be indefinitely repeated as the data is modified. As an
example, a model has been created for the economy of the Seleukid empire (312-
64 BC), which can now be extended to the earlier Achaemenid and later Parthian

E)Robert J. van der Spek (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
On the efficiency of markets for agricultural products in pre-industrial societies: The case of Babylonia c. 400 – c. 60 BC.

Under this title a research project is being carried out at the Vrije Universiteit in
Amsterdam by two PhD students (ancient historians/assyriologists) and a
postdoctoral researcher (economic historian) under the direction of professor J.L.
van Zanden (economic historian, Utrecht) and myself. For this research we utilize
a unique dataset of several thousand prices in the huge corpus of Babylonian
cuneiform documents known as “the Astronomical Diaries”. These diaries contain
meticulous daily reports of astral phenomena, the weather, the level of the
Euphrates river, local history concerning political events, famines, plagues, good
and bad harvests, and, last but not least, a detailed record of the monthly, and
sometimes daily, prices of raw foodstuffs: barley, dates, cuscuta, cress, sesame, and
wool. A preliminary publication of the dataset (still a work in progress) can be
found here: http://www.iisg.nl/hpw/babylon.php. Thanks to the extent of the
data, it is possible to subject it to various kinds of statistical analysis. It is our
purpose to test theories concerning the measure of volatility of prices relative to
the functioning of the market, as suggested by the study of K.G. Persson. For the
first time it is possible to compare a dataset of prices from antiquity with prices
from early modern history, to compare deviation from the mean and average prices
in different societies (taking into account exogenous shocks like warfare, plagues,
and the river level) and to study the interdependence and relative importance of
the main constituents of the diet (in Babylonia, these were barley and dates, with
harvests in Spring and Autumn, respectively).

ST)Josiah Ober (Stanford University)
Explaining performance in the polis system

Thanks to some recent quantitative projects (e.g. Morris 2005, Kron 2005, Hansen
2006), it is now tolerably clear that in the half-millennium ca. 800-300 B.C., the
world of the Greek poleis experienced not only demographic growth, but also
sustained growth in per capita consumption. The Greek world was also unusual in
being a long-lived and influential civilization organized not as an empire, but as a
city-state culture in which competition among many culturally-similar states was
constant, and political authority remained highly dispersed. Finally, the Greek
world was historically remarkable for its capacity to develop new institutions of
great interest to modernity, including egalitarian social relations and
republican/democratic forms of state government. At Stanford (in collaboration
with other centers), we are assembling several data-bases intended to allow us to
better understand how the polis system worked by looking at the distribution and
circulation of people, goods, and institutions within the polis system.
-Polis database: derived from Hansen and Nielsen IACP (2004). Codes 1035 poleis
according to variables derived from IACP indices, including geographic
coordinates, size (area), and institutions. Future work on this data base should
focus on a subset of relatively well documented poleis, in order to code
institutional features by date.
-Coin hoard database: derived from Thompson, Mørkholm and Kraay IGCH
(1973). Codes coins of 80 leading poleis found in ca. 850 archaic/classical hoards,
by date of hoard. This is only a proto-type of what we hope will be a much more
complete and accurate coin hoard database centered at the ANS.
-Culture-leader database: derived from OCD3 (1999). Codes ca 2600 relatively well
known individuals, according to birthplace, workplaces, occupations, and date (all
Greco-Roman antiquity). This is a proto-type of what we hope will one day be a
more comprehensive data-base, derived from the New Pauly and other sources for
ancient biography.

Z)Didier Viviers (Université libre de Bruxelles)
Demography and ancient towns : questions and difficulties

Among the subjects in Ancient History for which quantification represents a real
difficulty, is demography, especially urban demography. Estimating the size of
urban populations in antiquity is dependent on a number of general historical
concepts. M. Hansen (2006) recently posed the question of whether the majority
of ancient Greeks lived in urban or rural areas. But the answer to this question
depends, of course, on the definition of urban. After a brief summary of the
principal methods of estimating the urban populations in antiquity, this paper will
discuss a well-documented case study; that of the Syrian city of Apamea-on-the-
Orontes. This example shows the necessity of a "convergence of evidence", as
well as the risks of methods which do not adequately account for differences
among human settlements in estimating their populations. Thus, because of the
difficulties in quantification, the exploration of population density in ancient
settlements leads to questions regarding the nature of urban communities.
La démographie des villes antiques : enjeux et problèmes
Parmi les domaines où les difficultés de la quantification en histoire ancienne se font le plus
sentir, il y a bien évidemment la démographie, et sans doute plus particulièrement encore la
démographie urbaine. De l’estimation des populations urbaines dans l’Antiquité dépendent bon
nombre de conceptions historiques générales. Ainsi, M. Hansen (2006) s’est-il récemment
interrogé, après d’autres, sur l’endroit où résidait en majorité la population des cités grecques : en
ville ou à la campagne ? Mais la réponse que l’on apporte à cette question n’est pas sans lien avec
la définition même de la ville, et cela tant pour le monde grec que pour le monde romain. Après
avoir fait un bref tour d’horizon des principales méthodes qui permettent d’évaluer les
populations urbaines dans l’Antiquité, cette communication s’appuiera sur le cas,
particulièrement bien documenté, d’Apamée-sur-l’Oronte pour mettre en évidence la nécessité
d’une « convergence d’indices », mais aussi les risques qui résulteraient d’un recours excessif à des
paramètres constants qui ne tiendraient pas compte de la nature des établissements humains dans
l’estimation de leur population. C’est ainsi, en dépit des difficultés de la quantification, la
question de la densité du peuplement des villes antiques qui s’en trouve à nouveau posée et,
partant, celle de la nature des communautés urbaines.


H)Michael Crawford (University College, London)
Price relativities in the Greco-Roman world

In a context of quantification and comparison of ancient economies with modern,
it is important to remember that economic change in recent times has involved
major shifts in price relativities, e.g., of manufactured goods versus agricultural
products, of electronic equipment versus other manufactures. In this paper, I shall
investigate price relativities in the Greco-Roman world, principally from the
evidence of the Attic stelae and the Prices Edict; and I shall try, on that basis and
on the basis of some quantification of metal and coin production, to formulate
some useful distinctions between the economy and the finances of the state.

TH)Peter Temin (MIT Boston)
Price Behavior in the Roman Empire

Prices were stable for approximately three centuries in the late Republic and Early
Roman Empire, to the extent that we know what prices were. This stability was
followed by several centuries of inflation after 200 CE, in the Late Roman
Empire. I explore this price behavior in three ways. I propose new indices of
inflation and political instability. I discuss possible factors that can explain the
change from one price regime to the other, including the Antonine Plague. And I
present evidence and a possible explanation for the apparent stop-and-go process
of ancient inflation.



Elio Lo Cascio (Università degli studi di Roma la Sapienza) and Paolo Malanima (Università degli Studi Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria)
Per capita GDP in the Roman economy: a revision of the estimates

Several attempts have been made recently to estimate the GDP (and more
specifically per capita GDP) of the Roman Empire, after the pioneering work of
Keith Hopkins (1981 and 1995/96) and Raymond Goldsmith (1984 and 1987),
notwithstanding the unavoidably conjectural nature of most of the data on which
the estimates are built. We will discuss in more detail these new attempts by Peter
Temin (2006) and Angus Maddison (2007), looking at their internal logic, the
methods they adopted in their choice and assessment of the data and in the
techniques of calculation, and the final results they achieved. We will also analyze
other recent attempts made by Milanovich, Lindert and Williamson (2007) and by
Scheidel and Friesen (2009) to measure distribution of income and inequality in the
Roman Empire. By this revision we intend to achieve what seems to us a betterfounded
and more realistic appraisal of the performance of the Roman economy,
in comparison with other pre-modern advanced agrarian economies.

IA)Willem Jongman (Universiteit van Groningen)
The new economic history of the Roman Empire

Sir Moses Finley’s ‘cultural turn’ on the ancient economy has been the dominant paradigm of the
last few decades: for social and cultural reasons the ancient elite failed to develop an economic
mentality and was unwilling to engage in trade and manufacturing. As a result, these sectors of
the economy remained small and marginal. No system of interconnected markets developed and
thus the economy did not grow. That the ancient economy did not in fact perform very well was
taken for granted, and subsequent discussion remained largely limited to explanations for this
elite mentality or investigations of the limits to that mentality. Equally, there was broad
consensus that the ancient economy was one where modern economic theory did not apply
(even Finley’s critics never opened a textbook of economic theory). Finally, there was widespread
distaste for quantification, based on the one hand on Finley’s insistence that collecting accurate
statistics was not part of the ancient economic mentality, and on the other hand on, I assume, a
philologist’s romantic dislike for numbers.
I have argued elsewhere that ancient historians have been wrong to turn their back on economic
theory. I also think they were wrong not to investigate empirically the actual performance of the
ancient economy before they developed their explanations for its economic failure. Are we really
so sure that nothing much changed between archaic Greece, Augustan Rome, and late antiquity,
or even the early Middle Ages? In recent years some (mostly economists) have indeed tried to
reconstruct Roman GDP and per capita incomes, and though I admire their intellectual
ingenuity, I am also concerned since the underlying data really are not very good for such
estimates of absolute levels of performance. Moreover, these reconstructions tend to lump data
from different periods into one composite and thus necessarily static picture. However,
economic growth (if there was any) is precisely a process of change over time.
As an alternative tactic, and in the footsteps of the new economic history of modern times, I
have in recent years begun to construct time series of aggregate archaeological datasets. These
only rarely give us absolute performance levels, but often they graphically demonstrate that there
were large changes over time. Antiquity was not a world of the longue durée, where nothing ever
changed, and where the mass of the population never escaped from a precarious life near


IB)Geoffrey Kron (University of Victoria [Canada])
Comparative evidence and the reconstruction of the ancient economy: Greco-Roman housing and the level and distribution of wealth and income

In many pre- and early industrial economies, housing has generally ranked just behind food as
one of the most significant charges on the income of all but the wealthiest classes in society.
Moreover, even today, housing, along with real estate, constitutes the bulk of most families’
personal wealth, and the construction industry not only represents a significant segment of the
economy, but also provides a valuable indicator of the pace of economic growth.
Although modern social scientists have used the evidence of housing as a useful proxy for the
distribution and level of income in poorly documented societies, and archaeological evidence
permits us to reconstruct housing standards for Greeks and Romans from a wide range of social
classes in considerable detail, ancient economic historians have only begun to exploit this critical
evidence. Ian Morris has argued for a dramatic improvement in Greek living standards between
the 9th and the 4th centuries B.C. based upon the increase in the size and cost of housing.
Moreover, Wolfram Hoepfner and Ernst-Ludwig Schwander have argued for the social and
political significance of the striking egalitarianism in Greek housing. For Rome, Andrew
Wallace-Hadrill and Paul Zanker have analyzed housing at Pompeii and Herculaneum, pointing
out the existence of a large and relatively prosperous middle-income group. For the most part,
however, such studies have failed to move from impressions to a full quantification of their
results. Even Wallace-Hadrill’s superb study, which was based upon a carefully compiled survey
in which he analyzed his sample to yield fascinating and valuable statistical evidence, left a
number of possible avenues of analysis unexplored and eschewed quantitative, as opposed to
impressionistic, comparisons with other cultures or historical periods.
In this paper I will examine a number of archaeological samples of Greco-Roman housing as an
indicator of the housing, wealth and income distribution in a number of pre- and early industrial
cultures. This housing evidence is consistent with the evidence which I have already collected
for Greco-Roman mean heights and agricultural productivity, and suggests that the distribution
of income in both Greek and Roman society was likely to have been significantly more
egalitarian than in most pre-industrial cultures. To cite just one implication of this research, I
will argue that the estimates of per capita GDP for the Roman empire proposed by Goldthwaite,
Temin, Maddison, Scheidel & Friesen, and by Milanovic, Lindert, & Williamson will need to be
adjusted significantly upwards.


IC)Andrew Wilson (All Souls College – Oxford)
Quantifying Roman economic perfomance by means of proxies : pitfalls and potential

With an emerging consensus among ancient economic historians that the Roman
period saw some (limited) economic growth, the focus of debate has now moved
to whether that growth was simply population growth, or whether there was per
capita growth as well; when such growth might have occurred, and what drove it
and ended it. Answers to these questions would affect to the answers we would
give to the question recently posed by Peter Temin and Walter Scheidel of whether
such growth was a one-off, unrepeatable effect of the integration of the
Mediterranean under Rome, or a process sustained over perhaps two centuries
until terminated by exogenous shocks such as the Antonine Plague.
Increasingly, historians and archaeologists are attempting to grapple with these
questions by using proxy data that may be thought to have some relation to certain
sectors of the economy, or to overall performance. Richard Duncan-Jones,
François de Callataÿ (JRA 2005), Wim Jongman (CEHGRW), Walter Scheidel
(JRA 2009), and my colleagues and I myself in the Oxford Roman Economy
Project have all tried this approach in various ways. Most of the proxies used have
turned out to be problematic in one or another aspect, but this does not invalidate
the exercise; probing the reasons for data bias leads to a better understanding of
what the evidence actually does show. This paper examines criteria for proxy
construction (and presentation, to reduce the misleading effects of graphing often
imprecise data). It examines a number of commonly used proxies (shipwrecks,
stature, lead and copper pollution, animal bone consumption), looking at their
strengths and weaknesses. It also presents some early attempts at constructing new
proxies, some of which might hold greater promise but which currently either
suffer from small sample sizes (fish-salting capacity, water-mills) or regionally
uneven collection policies (building inscriptions), neither of which is an insuperable
problem. The different pictures presented by archaeological, literary and
documentary data for the same phenomena are compared, and the importance of
regional disaggregation stressed. Finally, the paper tackles attempts to compare the
trends suggested by several proxies.

ID)Roger S. Bagnall (New York University)
Late Roman Data Collection

Modern attempts to quantify aspects of life in the ancient world tend toward
pessimism about the extent to which the ancients themselves engaged in such
quantification or were interested in and maintained statistics. Taxation is the main
exception: Governments were obviously interested in knowing how much revenue
they could hope to collect and had in fact collected. There is plenty of evidence for
processes by which administrations collected data connected with taxation. There
are also signs, however, that at least the later Roman empire did collect statistics
not transparently connected with taxation. I will look at the price declarations by
guilds and related official documents from the fourth- and fifth-century papyri to
try to determine the chain of data collection, its origins, its purposes, and the
degree to which we can generalize from this process.


IE)Jean-Pierre Devroey (Université libre de Bruxelles)
Mesurer et compter dans les écrits de gestion carolingiens de part et d’autre des Alpes

The Carolingian period saw a flowering of medieval administrative writings, before
the development of rationality and economic calculation which characterizes the
‘practical turn’ taken during the 13th c. This paper will examine both the methods
and quantitative data available from normative documents concerning the
domestic economy of the great landowners, and also from two important 9th c.
documents: the polyptic of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and the polyptic of San
Colombano di Bobbio. Measure and accountancy indeed offer two markers of the
practical rationality at work during the Carolingian period.
La période carolingienne correspond à une efflorescence des écrits de gestion au Moyen Âge,
avant le développement de la rationalité et du calcul économique qui caractérise le ‘tournant
pratique’ du XIIIe siècle. La communication examinera en parallèle les méthodes et les savoirs
disponibles pour apprendre à mesurer et à compter, les documents normatifs destinés à organiser
l’économie domestique des grands propriétaires fonciers et les documents de la pratique, à partir
de deux exemples principaux du IXe siècle, les polyptyques de Saint-Germain-des-Prés et de San
Colombano di Bobbio. Mesure et comptabilité constituent des marqueurs de la rationalité
pratique à l’oeuvre à l’époque carolingienne.

IST)Walter Scheidel (Stanford University)
4,000 years of wages and well-being

Real incomes are a critical measure of human well-being. In recent years, historians
have made considerable progress in the comparative study of real wages around
the world. As a result, for the period from the thirteenth century CE onward, we
are now in a position to compare real wages in a number of European countries as
well as in Turkey, India, China, and Japan. Only small and frequently deficient
samples of usable evidence have survived from earlier periods, mostly in the Near
East. However, despite their various shortcomings, these sources are often
sufficient to support rough estimates of real wages. In my paper, I draw on my
ongoing collection and analysis of pertinent data from antiquity and the early and
high Middle Ages in an attempt order to extend the chronological scope of the
historical study of real incomes back to the late third millennium BCE. In some
cases, this approach enables us to trace contours of change in the very long run.
With only very few apparent exceptions, the available data are consistent with a
Malthusian interpretation of pre-modern economic development.

source  http://www.kbr.be/


About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
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