Looking for economic indicators for ancient economies
March 13, 2011 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Greg Clark in Farewell to Alms has a great picture of living standards over recorded human history - looks like a long hockey stick of static poverty, til 1700s, when it shoots up. I'd like to find more specific economic data at the macro level for ancient Israel through the 1st century, as well as Greece and Rome to that same period. Data, moreso than analysis.

The kinds of stuff I am looking for would be stuff like this: info on currencies mentioned in New Testament writings ("talents") and exchange rates, literacy rates, mean and median GDP per person, Gini coefficients and/or other measures of Inequality, mean real wages, female labor force participation rates, infant mortality rates, adult mortality, age at first marriage, capital markets, health and nutrition, and so on. Basically, everything we collect data on for developing countries now, but for ancient economies.
posted by scunning to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (1 answer total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As far as I know, that data is pretty hard to get and to make sense of, and you should dig into any estimates you do find to see if they make sense to you. You might be able to dig up some sort of calorie consumption data and maybe hours of unskilled or skilled labor per pound of wheat or firewood, but I dont see much more detailed statistics then that, and no time series. Obviously your first stop is going to be Clark's bibliography, his website does not seem to have much ancient data.

You can take a look at the references and datasets on the late Angus Maddison's site. There are references to ancient interest rates in Homer and Sylla's History of Interest Rates.

Cameron's Consise Economic History of the World has a chapter on the ancient economy and cites MI Finley's The Ancient Economy (Finley also wrote a wonderful book called The World of Odysseus which the NYRB reprinted a few years ago. No data, lots of learning worn very lightly. Honestly I would start with this book and see if you are still interested.)

Also, if I am not mistaken, exchange rates in the ancient world were purely based on silver content with only debasement (or perceptions of it) changing the exchange value of coins, and at 1 CE only the Romans should have been minting coins in the area you are interested in.
posted by shothotbot at 7:43 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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