Graduate Program in Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology

ARHM019. Ancient Economies. Philip L. Watson, Bogdan Athanassov

Online course, 30 hours, 3 credits


This class is dedicated to the ways food and other goods were produced and consumed in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. We begin with Neolithic households and continue to Bronze Age urban and palatial economies. We then approach the richer archaeological and textual sources from Greek and Roman times through the lens of theoretical issues such as contact studies, connectivity, globalization and regionalism.

In the legacy of Fernand Braudel’s Mediterranean, we constantly zoom in and out, dealing with household inventories but also know-how and technology; the social and the political; small worlds and multi-regional networks such as those documented by the shipwrecks at Uluburun and Marzamemi.

Economy is also about contacts between producers and consumers, between tradesmen and merchants from across the Mediterranean and beyond, as well as the mingling of people from different social and ethnic groups. That is why this course will focus on shipwrecks, harbors, markets, agoras, fora, roads, colonies, emporia and other places of interaction. These are the spaces of hybridization and innovations such as the creation of new alphabets, dialects, metric systems, and values. But these places are also loci of isolation and segregation, clashes and conflict between people from different cultures, foreigners, metoikoi, places where slaves and women were traded as staple goods. The economy is a microcosm of social life, and its study reveals information about the ancient world far more detailed than simple facts like supply and demand.

If you are interested in Neolithic Spondylus shell bracelets, copper oxhide ingots, wines spices and perfumes, textiles, marble and other luxury goods, and many other sources for the ancient economy, you should check out this class.





Number of hours


Setting up the table: Why and how to think about ancient economies?



From Karl Marx to our days’ thinkers of production and consumption



The fundamentals: Pre-industrial agriculture and stock breeding in a Mediterranean environment



Household archaeology and the Eastern Mediterranean Neolithic



Specialized craftsmen in the Early Bronze Age. First urban sites and trading centers in the Eastern Mediterranean



Wa-na-ka-te-ro. Palatial economies of the 2nd mill BCE Eastern Mediterranean



Economies in Geometric Greece



Consumption, commodities, and value in Archaic Greece



Economies in Archaic and Clssical Greece



Emporia and colonial encounters



The Roman empire: labor



The Roman empire: trade and markets



The Roman empire: globalization and connectivity



The Roman empire: narratives of growth and collapse 2


Final discussion, summary and conclusions 2




Essential readings:



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Allison, P. (ed) 1999 “The Archaeology of Household Activities”. Routledge.


Appadurai, A. 1986. “Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value.” In A. Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, 3-63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Bang, P.F. 2009. “The ancient economy and new institutional economics.” Journal of Roman Studies 99:194–206.


Barker, G. / A. Grant 1999  “Food and Farming”. In: Barker, G. (ed.) Companion Encyclopaedia of Archaeology, Vol 1, London et. al., 1999, 546-607.


Bogaard, A. / V. Isaakidou  2010. “From megasites to farmsteads: community size, ideology and the nature of early farming landscapes in western Asia and Europe”. In: Finlayson, B. / G. Warren (eds.), Landscapes in Transition: Understanding Hunter-Gatherer and Farming Landscapes in the Early Holocene of Europe and the Levant, Oxford: CBRL and Oxbow 2010, 192-207.


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