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The conquest of Egypt and Asia, leading to new urban and fiscal infrastructures and new forms and levels of elite consumption, increased the scale of trade and exchange in the Hellenistic economy. Complex institutional changes that were spurred by both fiscal-military demand and local responses to this demand changed agrarian and commercial patterns, with likely positive effects on local markets. This chapter argues that the Hellenistic period was one of moderate economic growth both in the Greek poleis of the Aegean and in the core regions of Hellenistic Asia and Egypt. The greater presence of Roman traders in the Hellenistic East from the second century onwards is also likely to have had positive effects on market exchange and monetary circulation. Yet there is reason to assume that in the final decades of the Hellenistic period, all Hellenistic regions to some extent, but particularly the Aegean and Asia Minor, suffered from the destructive forces of the Roman military presence and subsequent tributary exploitation. Only after the Roman civil wars came to an end and fiscal practices were better regulated did the economies of the East begin to recover and to expand along the pathways that had developed in the Hellenistic period.
The introduction sets out the chronological and geographical frame as well as the main issues in the study of the ancient Greek economy. It is targeted at a readership with no prior knowledge of the ancient economy and emphasises the importance of understanding economic structures, economic change, and the causes for change. As research on the ancient economy is dependent on theoretical assumptions about the nature and causation of economic change, a special section of the Companion is devoted to the discussion of the most important theoretical approaches to the ancient Greek economy. Other sections treat key themes of the ancient Greek economy, such as taxation, money, markets and labour regimes, as well as network approaches that are currently at the centre of research on ancient economies. A chronologically narrow but geographically wide perspective is taken on the Greek economy, including the Hellenistic economies in Egypt and the Near East but excluding Greek economies in the western Mediterranean and those in the eastern Mediterranean that continued to be dominated by Greek language and culture and therefore still might be termed Greek under the Roman Empire.
Over the last twenty years, New Institutional Economics (NIE) has been a highly influential model in the study of the Greek and Roman economy. Although both its assumptions and methods are controversial, NIE approaches have changed the agenda of ancient economic history. The overall goal of neo-institutional economic history is to explain economic development, and notably growth, in line with a much-quoted phrase by the Nobel-prize winning economist Douglass North, that it is the task of economic history to explain the structure and performance of economies through time. NIE approaches and methods have therefore stimulated quite specific research directions in ancient economic history. This chapter suggests that NIE offers a fruitful conceptual matrix for asking new questions – with or without the answers necessarily staying within the NIE model. By contrast, the aim of the NIE method to predict and quantify outcomes, and the broader implications of the approach, are far more difficult to accept and defend. Particularly problematic is its commitment to certain kinds of growth as the desirable outcome of economic development, together with the assumption of the universal benefits of that growth, with its end point and golden standard explicitly or implicitly based on successful economies of the modern West.
This is the most comprehensive introduction to the ancient Greek economy available in English. A team of specialists provides in non-technical language cutting edge accounts of a wide range of key themes in economic history, explaining how ancient Greek economies functioned and changed, and why they were stable and successful over long periods of time. Through its wide geographical perspective, reaching from the Aegean and the Black Sea to the Near East and Egypt under Greek rule, it reflects on how economic behaviour and institutions were formed and transformed under different political, ecological and social circumstances, and how they interacted and communicated over large distances. With chapters on climate and the environment, market development, inequality and growth, it encourages comparison with other periods of time and cultures, thus being of interest not just to ancient historians but also to readers concerned with economic cultures and global economic issues.