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Economic Structures Of Antiquity - Morris Silver

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Economic History Association Economic Structures of Antiquity. by Morris Silver Review by: Martin Bailey The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 929-930 Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Economic History Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 25/06/2014 10:50 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. . Cambridge University Press and Economic History Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Economic History. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 10:50:04 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Reviews of Books ANCIENT AND EARLY MODERN EUROPE Economic StructuresofAntiquity. By Morris Silver. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. xxiv, 264. $59.95. This book is a revised and enlarged edition of Morris Silver's Economic Structuresof the Ancient Near East (London: Croom Helm, 1985). The main changes are that it adds considerably more discussion of Greece and Egypt than before and incorporates new findings for the entire area covered, from Susa in western Iran to Egypt and Italy. For example, the earlier version had three examples on the role of gods in enforcing professional standards (Economic Structures,p. 8). In the present revised work, two of those examples move to other contexts where they fit better, and the topic now has six diverse, cogent examples (p. 5). The table of contents, motivation, and tone of the book are substantiallyunchanged, although there is some reorganization of the order of topics within chapters. Few readers will be surprised to be informed that the motivation of the work is to slay the dragon of Karl Polanyi's influence on the economic perspective held by many antiquarians. Although this central theme provides a unifying framework, it does less than justice to the meticulous scholarship and rich substance of the work. In fact, it is a waste of time and effort to dwell on that theme. One need only point out that earlier work had established beyond reasonable doubt that Polanyi based his reckless claims on ludicrous bits of misread evidence. (See especially K. R. Veenhof. "Aspects of Old Assyrian Trade and its Terminology." Studia et Documenta ad Iura OrientisAntiqui Pertinentia. Vol. 10. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972; and Philip D. Curtin. Cross-CulturalTradein WorldHistory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 61-67.) Silver's early article in this JOURNAL ("KarlPolanyi and Markets in the Ancient Near East: The Challenge of the Evidence." this JOURNAL 53 [1983]:795-829) was a sufficient summary of issues and evidence from his point of view. Rather than dwell on this sad history of outrageously sloppy scholarship, it is best to state one's perspective and move on. By leaving aside the urge to buttress a point of view, Silver could have conceded much more than he did concerning ambiguities of translation and concerning unknown aspects of customary practice in diverse ancient cultures. In those cases where what happened can clearly be viewed from more than one perspective, as in the case of the royal "gift trade" (pp. 45-50), Silver's discussion would hit home with a wider audience if he first conceded the appeal of the conventional perspective and then explained how an economist's perspective provides a deeper understanding. Thus, after noting in the introduction how all this work began, a good way to introduce what follows would be to give the reader a foretaste of the fascinating and often surprising patterns of economic organization that emerge upon putting the pieces together. That said, the present overall structure is sensible and readable. Part 1 sets out some basic features of economic organization, starting with a chapter on the roles of gods, oaths, and temples in agriculture and commerce. There follow two chapters on the relationships of property and economic activity to social status and to government. The final chapter of this part deals with regional price differences, transport, storage, and diffusion of technology. Part 2 reviews the evidence on markets, meaning commercial dealings involving private parties. Part 3, the final part, discusses changes in economic policy and organization in response to new opportunities and to other changes in incentives. Pulling all this material together is a major contribution. In its presentation, besides the point about motivation, one could wish for better use of opening and closing summaries for each chapter and section. For example, this reviewer felt confused in Chapter 3, now titled 929 This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 10:50:04 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 930 Reviews of Books "Who Were the Entrepreneurs? The Problem of 'Public' Enterprise." A glance at the earlier edition clarified things: its title for this chapter was "The Redistributionist or Temple-State Hypothesis," and the chapter's opening paragraphclearly explains the canard that in Sumer (southern Mesopotamia ca. 2500 BC) the temples owned all the land. Suitably revised to reflect the chapter's present material in a positive vein, such a paragraph would have served admirably.Throughout the work, each section should also give an overview of which evidence has a comparatively unambiguous interpretation, which has doubts about its interpretation, and which is thoroughly delphic but about which Silver ventures educated guesses. These and other clarifying techniques would help the reader keep track of the relevance of the massive array of details presented in each section. That said, one cannot fault the basic integrity of the book's use of evidence and of well-considered inference. It can be a valuable source both for economic historians and for others with less knowledge of the subject. MARTIN BAILEY, Emory University On the Shoulders of Merchants: Exchange and the Mathematical Conception of Nature in Early Modem Europe. By Richard W. Hadden. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Pp. xviii, 191. The relation of the "scientific revolution" to the "industrial" one has tantalized and eluded scholars in economic history and history of science for more than half a century. The idea that the birth of modern science was in some way part of the economic transformation of Europe was widely discussed among scholars during the 1930s, then largely rejected in the move toward idealism of postwar history of science. Richard Hadden's sympathies are clearly with the interwar Marxists, especially Franz Borkenau and Henryk Grossmann, but he recognizes that their project has sometimes been executed rather crudely. He wants to avoid this by taking the intellectual history of science seriously, and by keeping clear of vulgar formulations that reduce bourgeois knowledge claims to epiphenomena of economic interests. To this end, he devotes more than one-third of this short book to a survey of the modern historiography of the scientific revolution and to a reading of Marx as an advocate of subtle rather than reductive connections between capitalism and science. On the Shouldersof Merchantsis about the mathematical conception of nature. A central obstacle to mathematization was the problem of commensurability. Actually, Hadden mentions at least three distinguishable problems of commensurability, and he does not always keep them distinct. Following the ancient model of algebraic manipulation, proportions had to be of like to like. They could be used to figure the price of seven ells of cloth when three ells cost 40 ducats, since this involved comparing ells to ells and ducats to ducats. A velocity, however, was a problematic entity since this meant dividing distance by time. In fact, number could not generally be mapped onto space, for number was discrete whereas space was continuous. Moreover, as the Greeks were discouraged to discover, it is quite easy to construct geometrically a line segment, such as the diagonal of a unit square, whose length is not a ratio. One of the most important achievements of early modern mathematicians, particularlyof Francois Viete and Rene Descartes, was the creation of an analytic geometry, the application of algebra to space. Its importance and philosophical interest was first recognized by another scholar of the 1930s whom Hadden admires, the historian of mathematics Jacob Klein. How did algebra acquire its ability to dissolve essential differences in number? Hadden does not urge that the new mathematics was somehow called into being by the needs of expanding merchant capitalism. He offers instead an answer from the realm of ideas, though with a close economic connection. The prototype for the use of number to make comparisons between deeply different objects, he urges, is buying and selling in a money economy. Cows are not very much like beds or houses, but when each has been assigned a This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 10:50:04 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions