THE ANCIENT ECONOMY by M. I. Finley

THE ANCIENT ECONOMY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Pub Date: Dec. 10th, 1973
ISBN: 0520219465
Publisher: Univ. of California Press