Did political decentralization foster classical civilization? That is one of the central claims of this fascinating new work of analytical history by the Stanford political scientist and classicist Josiah Ober. (...)If we convert pre-modern wages into a common standard of liters of wheat per day, the daily wage for an Athenian laborer or infantryman in the late fifth century (around the time of the Peloponnesian War) was about nine liters per day. A century later, that figure stood at 13-16 liters per day. By contrast, wages for at least 85 percent of the Roman population of the early imperial period stood at around the subsistence level (3.5 liters per day). A laborer in 16th-to-18th-century Holland, when it was the richest country in the world, could have expected to make between 10 and 17 liters per day.
In other words, the Athens of Aristotle was likely richer on a per capita basis than the France of Molière or the England of Shakespeare. While Athens was an extraordinarily rich polis, the rest of classical Greece shared in the prosperity. Ober constructs an index of per capita consumption based on wheat wages for “core Greece” from 1300 BC to AD 1900. He finds that per capita consumption peaked between 400 and 300 BC, fell slightly with the Macedonian conquest, and only fell back to pre-modern norms after a century of Roman rule. By AD 1900, in a world of railroads, the telephone, and transatlantic steamers, per capita consumption in core Greece was still at least 30 percent below the prosperity attained when Plato taught at the Academy.What accounts for this remarkable prosperity? Athens’ institutional innovations have already been mentioned. Another important element of Ober’s account is the political decentralization of the Greek world. For the Greeks, the polis was the fundamental political unit. There were over 1,000 independent poleis during the classical period. Some smaller poleis lost their political independence from time to time, but there was a natural tendency for the polis to reconstitute itself when political conditions were favorable.The polis ecology survived in part because of the geography of the Greek world. A highly indented coastline and myriad islands reduced transportation costs and promoted trade—sea travel being much quicker than overland—while also helping to give poleis defensible frontiers. The mountainous interior also helped in the latter regard. Poleis constructed city walls as soon as they were able, which conferred a substantial defenders’ advantage. Some military powerhouses, most notably Sparta, could not undertake long-term siege operations because they had to supervise their slaves at each harvest. Athens eventually did build an empire in the fifth century, only to see a Spartan-led coalition demolish it. The Greek city-state world was multipolar, and poleis were quite willing to federate together in order to maintain their security and internal autonomy. Several of these federations were long-lasting and successful, such as the Aetolian, Achaean, and Chalkidian Leagues. (...)
In the end, however, the poleis could not withstand Macedon and Rome, both of which enthusiastically adopted Greek technologies, made their own improvements, and focused on military discipline and conquest. The Greek polis culture was inherently counter-imperial, and even as the Greeks gained in freedom and wealth from their decentralized order, they paid in coordination costs. Athens and Sparta did manage to coordinate to defeat the vast Persian Empire in the fifth century, but after Sparta’s fourth-century decline, the Athens-Thebes-Corinth alliance was insufficient to stop Philip II of Macedon’s advance.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Publicada por Miguel Madeira em 09:29