Bryn Mawr Classical Review 01.01.11

Donald W. Engels, Roman Corinth: an Alternative Model for the Classical City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Pp. 264; 16 pls. ISBN 0-226-20870-2.

Reviewed by Daniel P. Tompkins, Temple University.

Some years ago, Shirley Chisholm of New York City was elected to Congress. Falling afoul of a senior colleague, she was assigned -- demoted, it was thought -- to the Agriculture Committee (the "alfalfa committee," in the words of some congresspeople), where she could presumably do little to aid her urban district. It is salutary, in considering Donald Engels' important and controversial new book, to note the role of agriculture in this episode: it was not only derided, but was assumed to have little to do with New York (as if food supply and hunger were irrelevant to urban life). Engels forcefully reminds us how closely town and country are linked. This book is useful, first, as a detailed description of a major ancient city, built on decades of archaeological investigation by the American School of Classical Studies. Second, it offers a striking thesis about the ancient city in general, replacing the standard notion of a "consumer city" with the "service city," which was made possible in part by the wealth produced by peasants and provided an impressively wide range of services. The methodology of the work is fascinating even when not congenial: most classicists will come away from it with a number of new ideas about how to do ancient history and a new respect for the importance of "alfalfa." This review, aimed at these general readers by another general reader, will have two sections: first, a summary of the book with some brief comments; second, a discussion of the book's major theses and problems that arise from them.

Engels' "Introduction" announces that the book will challenge the traditional but seldom argued notion of the "consumer city," its ancillary notion of the "agro-town," and the "primitivist" bias of many historians who deal with the ancient world. The general challenge here is to M.I. Finley, who promoted the consumer city and economic "primivitivism" and asserted that the study of single towns is a cul de sac. Engels views Finley as seeking, until now without success, to open a debate on the nature of the ancient city.

Among the first questions Engels asks is "How did classical political values influence the political economy of the city?" Classical values, summarized in the Stoic notions that all men share reason and that justice exists in nature, are fundamental to the version of the city presented in this work. The first full chapter, "The City-State of Corinth," succinctly and efficiently describes the geography, history, and, most engagingly, the geology of Roman Corinth, with soil ideal for shallow ploughing and plentiful underground water that emerged -- at the rate of 18 cubic meters per hour, sufficient by itself to supply a large city -- as the spring Peirene.

The following chapter, "Agriculture and Manufacturies," is the key to the book. Discussing manufactures (lamps, bronze, and marble sculptures), Engels argues that the Corinthian economy grew through import replacement, creating local jobs and adding money to the economy as imports changed from finished products to raw materials. He concludes by agreeing with Keith Hopkins that the Greek and Roman economies were generally more reliant on manufacturing than is usually assumed. Cloth, for instance, was produced in volume at large factories -- but not, significantly, for export. This section is in itself quite interesting, but the real explosion in the book comes in the discussion of agriculture, on which the author seems to have expended the most energy (literally: he timed farmers' journeys to Corinth by walking them himself, p. 204, n. 35). Engels gradually builds a picture of a market economy. The most valuable land nearest the city was occupied by villas and gardens; no outlying village was less than a day's journey (round-trip) from the "market center" (a term used in central place theory, which Engels employs productively in this section and in an informative appendix). After pausing to remark on the rationality of this scheme and to chastize those who dub Greco-Roman agriculture "pre-rational" because it lacked double-entry bookkeeping, Engels describes the Corinthia: its 207 square kilometers could support, he claims, at most only 17,600 people. Land area, population, rent, the number of landlords, and the "minimum allotment needed to sustain a human life" are all interrelated. Engels describes the relationships with formulas that are initially alien and bewildering but ultimately quite productive. Calculating the farmer's journey to work and allowing for some fragmentation of holdings, Engels concludes that at most 10,000 inhabitants of Corinth itself could have been supported by farming, with perhaps 20,000 more living in the numerous villages in the Corinthia. More calculations show that the arable land and likely peasant population would support at the very maximum 3000 landords, more likely 1400. These figures hardly describe the Corinth we know, a major city of about 80,000 inhabitants. Could the countryside have fed this many?

Certainly not. So Corinth is neither an "agro-town," i.e. a town whose economy is based on urban farmers commuting to their fields, nor a "consumer-city," supported mainly by rents paid to landlords. And if the Corinthia, one of the largest and most fertile areas in ancient Greece, would not permit either of these popular models, what place would? None. "This seems to require that almost all classical cities be removed from Weber's category of 'consumer city'" (p. 33).

Engels argues that ancient tax rates and rents of about 20%, far lower than Hopkins and others have estimated, left a correspondingly greater surplus for manufacturing and service. The 20% figure is justified not by the two bits of evidence provided (a remark in Aristotle and reports of huge tax increases under Justinian) but by details curiously relegated to an appendix. The tenant had "between 30 percent and 50 percent of his surplus left over, and not 2 percent," or, in the following paragraph, "50 percent of his gross surplus left over." Thus he "was not a subsistence farmer." Comparison with agriculture and taxes in contemporary nonindustrial societies, in which "starvation, deprivation, and death are rampant" also distorts our understanding of the surplus available to the Greek peasantry and its "per-capita minimum daily caloric consumption."1 Larger surpluses were also promoted, Engels asserts, by the small size of Graeco-Roman families. This "European pattern," found in western Europe since the late middle ages, is reflected in marriage patterns, fertility and family structure.

Chapter Three goes on to describe the good and services enjoyed by farmers and by visitors. Local attractions were religious (cults, processions, festivals), administrative (law courts, tax collection), educational (the library), cultural (social life, theaters, Isthmian games, gladiators), and medical or recreational (baths, physicians, prostitutes). Merchants, travelers and tourists ("probably the most important basis of Corinth's economy") were attracted to the diolkos or roadway across the isthmus, which made Corinth far preferable to Cape Malea, where winds exceeded 22 knots nearly half the days of the year: "Round Cape Malea and forget about home" was a proverb that neither Menelaus nor St. Paul (blown by a storm from there to Malta!) needed to hear twice. These visitors also came for the Isthmian Games (an ideal site for St. Paul's proselytizing). Engels inventories, with his characteristic disarming succinctness, the "secondary services," ranging from taverns to perfume reprocessing, tent-making (Paul again), and ship repair. Coinage reveals that east-west trade was paramount, and that eastern mints gradually replaced western; the city's huge stoa reflects its important economic services; building activity became "frenetic" and lavish after the earthquake of 77 A.D., then tailed off, virtually ceasing after 200.

If Corinthian prosperity resulted from the service economy and secondarily from manufacture, "what were the causes for the decline...?" Corinth participated in the overall decline of the Empire, to be sure, but was particularly hard hit by the collapse of long-distance trade under the pressures of increased taxation, reduced population and excessive import-replacement. Like many others, Engels also blames the "deep-seated social values of the elite, which were inimical to the creative use of capital."

Chapter 4, "Society," explains "why classical cities were not consumer types, but service cities" by reference to the "civic values of classical civilization." Engels inventories "the people" at Corinth's re-foundation in 44 B.C.: freedmen, urban poor, and veterans, largely Roman to judge by preserved cognomens. By 100 A.D. epigraphy reveals an assimilated or genuinely Greek majority. The following section, a gem, discusses "public health and demography." Engels mentions the sorts of disease that endangered "all cities up to the 1870's," noting that these were spread by water, air, animal or insect carriers, and direct contact. Corinthian public health policy was particularly successful against the first of these, reducing mortality by assuring clean water and sanitary waste disposal. The plentiful spring Peirene and a large aqueduct ensured that water flowed, by regularly cleaned channels, first to fountains built so as to prevent stagnation, then to swimming pools, baths, latrines and factories, and finally to irrigation. Polluters were severely fined. In arguing, often persuasively, for Greek public-spiritedness, Engels may be accused of painting with too broad a brush, of neglecting more discordant and less benign features of urban life (see II, below).

What was the population of Corinth? In the absence of censuses for all but two ancient cities, this question will be hotly debated. Still, one cannot ignore the huge scale of this largest city in Roman Greece, which boasted one of the largest man-made ports in the Mediterranean (Lechaion), the largest Greek basilica, an amphitheatre larger than the Roman colosseum. 72,500-116,000 people seem to have inhabited Corinth and Lechaion.

Public-spiritedness, which entailed "respect [for] even the most humble citizen," public art, individualism, distrust of authority, and competition for honor in service to the community, underlay the social and religious values of this Edenic city. Stoic reason and natural law provided the ideological basis. The Corinthian elite showed a "paternalistic concern for the people," keeping the water clean, building latrines and aqueducts, supporting the poor, hiring public physicians, guaranteeing the grain price, and treating slaves fairly. After 200 AD, autocracy gained and a decline began. Christianity brought diminished attention to civic welfare: ". . . there was less of a concern for the future of the human community and more for the afterlife and the end of the world": hence maintenance of public buildings was unnecessary. In the end, reason and natural law, "the church's greatest opponents," were denounced as "heresy." "After it obtained police power under Constantine, the 'heretics' were severely punished." Argument and documentation lag behind assertion in this causal chain.

The denunciation of Christianity is followed by a chapter on religion at Corinth that marshals an impressive array of literary, archaeological and epigraphic sources to depict the varieties of Corinthian religious experience: Greek deities revived after the refounding of Corinth; Roman cults recorded by the "Latin-speaking aristocracy" in expensive marble inscriptions; Isis and Cybele. Cheap votive offerings and remoteness from the forum demonstrate the lower status of Demeter and Isis, but their cults helped create a "fertile milieu for the development of Christianity, since beliefs in a dying and reviving savior, faith healing, and a blessed afterlife for the initiate were shared by all."

St. Paul visited Corinth, made tents, and when rejected by the Jewish community turned to the gentiles. Engels comments on Jewish nervousness about the new faith, the class structure of the Christian community (they were, vs. Meeks, largely poor), and on the diversity and democratic spirit of the local church that made it such a trial to Paul. The Corinthians' pluralism and rejection of outside authority appear "evil," even to some modern Christian scholars, a few of whom continue to insist that Corinth (or, astoundingly, the Temple of Aphrodite) housed a thousand prostitutes in Paul's day. Engels accepts Pagels' recent argument that Christianity triumphed as the imperial state religion because of its authoritarian structure: controlled from the top down, it was ideally suited to the imperial goals. Constantine became patron, the Christians his clients.

Two concluding chapters assert the centrality of the service city and attack the "myth" of the consumer city. The "service city" model is favored because: 1) The limited arable land in the Corinthia could support only 10,000 farmers; indeed, the journey to work was so long that 3000 seems more likely. So Corinth was not an "agro-town." 2) Nor was it a "consumer city" dependent on rent and taxes from the farms, since a) rents would support only 10-20% of the urban population; b) rent rates were low; c) high rent rates became possible only in the oppressive Empire of the fourth century A.D.; d) land ownership was likely widespread, putting a ceiling on the number of landlords; and e) "Greek and Roman political institutions, social values and law prevented the peasant and tenant from being exploited...." How, then, were the remaining Corinthians fed? Low taxes left farmers a surplus of up to 50% for purchasing goods and services and participating in urban markets. Invoking central place theory and Adam Smith ("The gains of [town and country] are reciprocal,..."), Engels underlines the importance of rural- urban connections and the income gained from trade. The differences between classical cities and pre- or nonindustrial societies on the other "were responsible for the surprisingly high degree of urbanization in the classical world."

The "Conclusion" is entitled "The Myth of the Consumer City." Weber developed the "consumer city" model because he erroneously used the Junkers of the East Elbe, truly predatory urban landlords, as models for the urban elite of antiquity, ignoring the crucial difference that ancient peasants paid lower taxes and rents than Junker tenants, and retained a significant surplus for themselves.

Engels discusses the influence of economic historians like Karl Polanyi not only on M.I. Finley but on Marxist development theorists, who promoted "precolonial, native economic traditions," rejecting economic modernism as they did so. Deeply hostile to cities, these theorists promoted compulsory villagization and mass suffering in both Cambodia and Tanzania. Engels' discussion here is cursory. It is interesting to see that modern thinking about ancient and non-western cities may have a common thread, but the picture presented here is painted with a fairly broad brush. At the simplest level, for instance, it is true that Cambodians were forced into villages from the city, but Tanzanians were gathered into villages from the countryside -- a big difference. In general, it should be noted that Engels relies heavily on the work of P.T. Bauer, a free- market economist whose disdain for non-western cultures has been documented.2

In conclusion, Engels states that Polanyi influenced classicists to exaggerate the dependence of ancient cities on subsistence agriculture and to ignore not only commerce, manufacture, and services but the "classical values" -- reason, capacity, justice -- that built them.

The book includes illustrations, maps, and tables (on wind velocities in the Mediterranean, coinage, building activity, and inscriptions), and a series of informative appendices on central place theory, population and water supply, rents and taxes, among other topics. These are all extremely helpful. Occasional typographical errors, comma splices, and repetitions could have been eliminated during proofreading.

This book is useful, important, and controversial. On one level, it summarizes available scholarship and adds succinct and up-to-date and original commentaries. These will be ideal starting points for those wishing to learn more about rent-bid curves, coinage, or the limits on agricultural productivity, or about Corinth itself. Beyond this, Engels uses Corinthian data to build a far-reaching and interesting general picture, a "model" of the sort Finley and others have frequently called for. That the model competes with Finley's, and makes general claims about public behavior in the ancient world, makes close attention all the more requisite.

The Service City. Corinth prospered, Engels says, because it offered services at a profit. The rich archaeological remains he discusses testify not to production for export but to services and trade, as Engels argues with verve and skill. He casts his net wide, covering almost four and a half centuries and discussing a wide variety of sources.

The Attack on the Consumer City. Could ancient Corinth, or any large Greek city, have been an "agro-town" of urban farmers commuting to their fields? Assuming that this definition -- nowhere documented in the book -- is correct, the answer must be no. The "ceilings" at which Engels arrives (207 sq. km. of arable land, 1.17 hectares required for subsistence, 6 km. as the maximum distance a peasant will journey to his farm) and the fascinating equations he provides show that the land could not feed more than 10,000, and probably just 3-5000. Since the city's population was about 80,000, "Corinth could not have been an agro-town." (p. 29)

A "consumer city," in turn, requires substantial tenant rents and taxes. The number of landlords varies inversely with the number of tenants, probably no more than 1,400, receiving rent at the rate of 12%. "Thus, Corinth could not have been a consumer city either," since only a minuscule portion of the inhabitants would be receiving rents. (p. 32) Indeed, most classical cities were agriculturally unable to support their population: all must "be removed from Weber's category of 'consumer city.'"3

This conclusion, though new to many, is not unprecedented. In a work that Engels should have cited, Thomas J. Figueira found a decade ago that agriculture on Aegina could have fed only 4000 while the population was more likely 40,000.4Figueira suggested that the huge shortfall in foodstuffs was met by "peddler trade" of items from around the Aegean. Clearly, these two works taken together will force reconsideration of the methods by which ancient populations have been estimated, particularly Beloch's circular procedure of deducing population from the amount of arable land.

The "givens" of Corinthian agriculture function (mutatis mutandis) for Engels like the speed of light for Einstein, or like the measurable orbits of planets for Kepler, and he handles them well. His footnotes reveal considerable reading in anthropological and demographic scholarship, and his conclusion that Corinth required some source of income other than local agriculture seems compelling. Less compelling is his overall attack on Finley and Weber.

Service, Consumer, Producer, and Merchant Cities. First of all, Weber, though mentioned in the text, is cited nowhere in the footnotes or the bibliography. Curious readers turning to Weber's massive Economy and Society or the smaller volume The City, will be surprised to find a key term Engels never mentions: the modern producer city, dependent not on land but on factories or other industries.5 It was against this "ideal-type" that Weber placed the consumer city, distinguishing it not only by the rents and taxes Engels so acutely rejects, but also, and crucially, by the lack of local production for export.

Like Weber and Finley, Engels admits that Corinthian export production amounted to little (pp. 33-39), but he never acknowledges how central this category is, or how significant his agreement is. A series of passages from Finley's Ancient Economy make the centrality of exports unmistakably clear:6

The ancient-medieval contrast is closely linked with the difference in the quantity and significance of production for export in the two worlds. (p. 138)
[The ancient city was] a centre of consumption, not of 'production.' (p. 139)
[T]he prevailing mentality was acquisitive but not productive. (p. 144)
[T]he question is whether or not urban manufacture and trade generated wealth in the ancient world to any significant extent or whether they merely took a share of the consumption fund created by the agrarian and mining sectors. (p. 195)

Trade, in this book, means simply imports, rural-urban exchange, and east-west trade: never, in any quantity, exports. In this important respect, Roman Corinth never tests the model of ancient economics that it sets out to dispute.

This is not a matter of mere pedantry. Because he ignores his predecessors' emphasis on production versus consumption, Engels misinterprets a famous passage in Finley:

It has been claimed, rather exuberantly, that such excavated districts as the potters' quarter of Corinth evoke, in their physical appearance, "the artisan quarters of medieval cities." But it seems commonly to be overlooked that the exacavators of Tarsus have found no Cloth Hall, that the ancient cities lacked the Guildhalls and Bourses which, next to the cathedrals, are to this day the architectural glories of the great medieval cities of Italy, France, Flanders, the Hansa towns, or England.
Engels' response, a salutary and interesting listing of the impressive Corinthian public structures devoted to "economic services," hardly refutes Finley, who ungrudgingly acknowledged the gross concept "economic services." (p. 130) Finley's target, rather, was manufacture in quantity for export.7 This misinterpretation makes Engels' concluding remark about Finley ("myth can blind the strongest minds," p. 61) sound, at the very least, ironic.

The "service city" model has some new features, and Engels' catalog of the services provided is admirable. But the service city has important precursors. Finley himself alluded to agriculturally weak cities that functioned as "clearing-houses and transfer-points, deriving substantial income from tolls, harbour-dues and dock charges, as well as from the services required by transient merchants and ships' crews," and mentioned cities that had "a genuinely 'mixed' economy, agrarian, manufacturing and commercial together."8 Moreover, Weber himself in Economy and Society distinguished a third "ideal type" not mentioned in Roman Corinth, the merchant city: which the purchasing power of the large consumers rests on the profits derived either from the retailing of foreign products on the local market...or from the sale abroad of domestic products or at least of products obtained by domestic producers... or finally from the purchase of foreign products and their resale...('entrepot cities')... Thus the purchasing power and tax yield of the merchant city, like that of the producer city, and in contrast to that of the consumer city, rest on the local economic enterprises. The economic opportunities of the shipping and transport trades and of numerous small and large secondary activities are tied up with those of the merchants...

The "merchant city," in particular the entrepot, comparable in Weber's eyes to modern financial capitals like London or Paris, shares a good deal with the "service city" dependent on merchants, travelers, and tourists. It would not take detract from Engels' significant contribution to acknowledge this precedence.9

Trade. Trade is central to this book. We learn a great deal, all of it useful, about Corinthian facilities and the likely direction of trade (east-west) as inferred from coinage. It would be very helpful to have this information contextualized: was trade in two directions? To what extent was Corinth a funnel toward the great consumer city, Rome, with its million inhabitants?

Rents, taxes and surplus. Engels argues vigorously that rents and taxes in Roman Greece were low, probably totalling about 20% of agricultural production compared to the 50%+ levied on French peasants before 1788. Readers may find insubstantial the two pieces of "evidence" he offers (a passage in Aristotle and the tax changes in the late Empire). They are separated by six hundred years. For some reason the truly persuasive evidence has been relegated to Appendix Five, which shows convincingly that classical rents, in general if not at Corinth, averaged 10-20% and taxes another 10%.

What about surplus? In Mediterranean agriculture, surplus depends largely on population.10 Engels argues for a maximum tenant population of 10,000, more likely 3-5000. More, and the daily "journey to work" (measured in some cases by Engels himself) would have been impossibly long. Using Engels' formulas (pp. 31-32), we can compute the relationship between population and agricultural surplus over basic subsistence level. 14,000 tenants will retain an average surplus of 12% of their produce; 12,000 will have 24%; 10,000, 37%; and 5000, 68%.11 (These figures make no allowance for land used as pasturage, or for annual variations.) The sheer size of Corinth, which would always need more grain than the hinterland could supply (p. 24), also argues for surplus production to meet market demand. Market forces probably also led to the efficient open settlement system near the city, with gardens producing high-priced goods (here Engels' study of rent-bid patterns deserves mention).

If the Corinthian tenant population was kept low, a surplus would be conceivable. As it went up, productivity plummeted and the peasants lost any advantages that might accrue from rent and tax rates that were, compared to other preindustrial societies, quite low. Since Engels' formulas permit us to estimate but never verify the population of Roman Corinth, we cannot be sure about the surplus.

Agriculture and society. Engels' picture of Corinthian agriculture can be pushed a bit further. First, note his case that efficient placement of market gardens and the surviving empirical rules for farming show that Corinthian (and more generally ancient) agriculture was "rational."12 As Engels intimates (pp. 26-27), this forces us to qualify Finley's "primitivist" dismissal of planning in ancient agriculture (Ancient Economies, pp. 107-110). But it hardly upsets Finley's claim that ancient economies must be studied in the social context in which they are embedded.

That social context requires considerably more study than Engels has given it. This much is clear from the fourth chapter, on "Society." After the moving discussion of public health practices, we find six and a half pages on "social and religious values." From Odysseus' rebuke to Thersites (oddly construed to reveal "the basic respect given to even the most humble citizen") and an appraisal of Protagorean humanism, Engels deduces that Greeks believed in "individualism, freedom, equality, distrust of authority, and most important, competition for honor," and democracy was a "logical outgrowth" of these values. (p. 86) Roman culture, we are told, was similar, except that it rejected equality and democracy (no nugatory difference, many will say). Religious values, especially stoicism, emphasized the laws of nature. One consequence of this ideology was that:

Corinth's elite men and women showed a paternalistic concern for the city and its people, as can be seen in the many benefactions they made, for which they received public recognition in the forms of inscriptions...They funded the construction of... buildings, [and] insured adequate food supplies for the city at reasonable prices (which often required that they make purchases from their personal funds)...
It is hard to sum up social values in less than seven pages, and Engels does well to remind modern cynics that ancient Greek cities did indeed provide a host of services -- like the water system -- lacking in other urban settings. At the same time, a discussion of "society" that omits class tension, impoverishment, and urban discord will seem strange to most moderns: was it really so idyllic?

Consider first economic stratification. This book does not determine who owned the land. Certainly the villas near the city belonged to large landowners. Beyond this, Engels suggests (but nowhere demonstrates) considerable fragmentation of holdings. (pp. 28-29) Such fragmentation may, as Jongman posits, indicate a "peasant model" of agriculture: as population rises, holdings become smaller, the labor required to farm the land increases and productivity and surpluses decline. Finally, farmers may become net buyers of produce. "This economic process has substantial social consequences."13 Most importantly, the rich, who hold substantial land or buy it from poor peasants, profit disproportionately from rising grain prices. Halstead and Jones describe how just this process has, on modern Amorgos, "paved the way for increasingly sharp inequalities of wealth."14

Jongman considers another possibility, the specialization model: peasants produce not for subsistence but for the market, trading for what they don't grow. Cereals, with a "steeply declining marginal labour productivity," may be replaced by wine, for instance (or dairy products, in the Netherlands). Rather than inherit ever smaller holdings, excess population migrates to the city.

The normal model for ancient Greece seems to be the first of these. Engels' suggestion of fragmentation in holdings would fit the peasant model, although ancient small plots may well still be part of a single latifundium.15 With fragmentation went the opportunity for the wealthy landowner to make "a killing...from exceptionally high prices in times of famine."16 The interannual variability of rainfall and of crop yield certainly gave the advantage to those who could hoard for future use or sale, and they seem to have taken it.17

If, as parallels suggest, "Corinth's elite men and women" simply supplied the needy with grain they had hoarded, what Engels describes as their "paternalistic concern" comes to seem more like naked profiteering. In the third century B.C. on Amorgos:

...[A] man was honored for the prompt actions he took during the shortage. In fact, what he had done was to lend money at an interest rate of 20 percent per annum to individuals who were buying his grain, which he was selling at ten times the pre- crisis level. Given the low surplus margin of peasant agriculture and the frequent irregularity of crop yields, it seems likely that his borrowers were going to be indebted to him for a long time.18
This behavior has parallels in all periods of classical antiquity.19 Garnsey, in fact, uses the term "euergetism" to denote "an institution devised by the rich in their own interests": hoarding benefited them monetarily and socially, providing the honor for which (as Engels says, p. 86) they competed. At the same time, these irregular benefactions enabled them to avoid high regular taxes.20 Reversing the modern stockholders' adage, ancient hoarders sold when the streets were running with blood.

Engels' pacific world built on surplus and natural law represents, then, only one interpretation of the data. His analysis would have gained in power if he had taken into account the forces leading to stratification of wealth, the extremes this stratification reached in the Roman period, and the abundant examples of how this wealth was used against the poor. Engels may disagree with this picture, but he should at least acknowledge it and state why he disagrees.

To speak of "average" figures like "the peasant" (p.41) in such a world again requires argument. What does it mean to say that this average figure retained "50 percent of his gross surplus" when we aren't sure of the population or the size of holding, or even whether holdings were rented or owned, and do know that crop production might be halved in any given year?21 With this added information about ancient scarcity, we can see why many scholars continue to insist that ancient agriculture was practiced primarily on the subsistence level.

For all its virtues and fresh arguments, then, this book does not provide a rounded view of life in the Greco-Roman world. Since the evidence is drawn primarily from Corinth, if the Corinthia is free of recorded subsistence crises, riots, or of inscriptions honoring profiteers, these important signs of violence and despair in ancient life don't get into Engels' data- bank. Engels takes Finley to task for his famous remark that "the history of individual ancient towns is a cul de sac, given the limits of the available (and potential) documentation, [and]the unalterable condition of the study of ancient history," (p.2) but at some moments (only some) this book exemplifies the very problems Finley described.

This review has concentrated on some areas where the outlook of Roman Corinth could be revised or expanded. The criticisms, if correct, are serious but hardly disabling, and we have many reasons to be grateful for this book. It sheds light on areas many classicists have not studied, such as geology and its importance, water supply, and ancient rents. It introduces the general reader to "regional science" methodologies useful in ancient history. Finally, it presents a vision of the ancient city as an irreplaceable center of activity, providing services hardly obtainable outside its limits. For this reader, writing in a city often thought to be marching toward collapse, the vision is an important one despite the need for some qualification.

Works Referred to in this Essay

Finley, M.I., "The Ancient City: From Fustel de Coulanges to Max Weber and beyond," in M.I. Finley, Economy and Society in Ancient Greece, edd. Brent D. Shaw and Richard P. Saller (Harmondsworth, 1983), pp. 3-23.

Finley, M.I., Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology. (Harmondsworth, 1983).

Finley, M.I., The Ancient Economy, 2nd. ed. (Berkeley, 1985).

Gallant, Thomas W., "Crisis and Response: Risk-Buffering Behavior in Hellenistic Greek Communities," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 19 (1989), pp. 393-413.

Garnsey, Peter, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World: Responses to Risk and Crisis. (Cambridge, 1988).

Garnsey, Peter and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy,Society and Culture. (London, 1987).

Garnsey, Peter, Tom Gallant, and Dominic Rathbone, "Thessaly and the Grain Supply of Rome During the Second Century B.C.," JRS 74 (1984), pp. 30-44.

Halstead, Paul, "Traditional and Ancient Rural Economies in Mediterranean Europe: Plus ça change?" JHS 107 (1987) 77-87.

Halstead, Paul, and Glynis Jones, "Agrarian Ecology in the Greek Islands: Time Stress, Scale and Risk," JHS 109 (1989) 41-55.

Jameson, Michael, "Agriculture and Slavery in Classical Athens," CJ 73 (1977) 122-141.

Jongman, Willem, The Economy and Society of Pompeii. (Amsterdam, 1988).

Meier, Gerald M. and Dudley Sears (edd.), Pioneers in Development. (Oxford, 1984).

Weber, Max, Economy and Society, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (Berkeley, 1968).

Weber, Max, The City, trans. and ed. Don Martindate and Gertrud Neuwirth (New York, 1958).


1. Note Figueira, p. 26: "That the Greeks considered wine and olive oil to be necessities merely demonstrates that for the greater part they had left mere biological subsistence somewhat behind them."

2. See the comments by T. N. Srinivasan in Meier and Sears, pp. 52-54.

3. Engels p. 33. By Engels' definition, Rome too must be removed from the category. When contemporary historians like Garnsey and Saller (e.g. in their index, or p. 58) speak of it as a "consumer city" they clearly have another definition in mind. A consideration of the economic relations between the capital and Roman Corinth would have been useful in this book.

4. Figueira, p. 22.

5. Economy and Society, pp. 1215-1217; The City, pp. 68-70.

6. For a sympathetic, sophisticated, but critical recent discussion of Finley, see Jongman, pp. 28-36.

7. See also p. 134: "I have left the export of manufactured goods to the end," i.e. pp. 134-139.

8. Ancient Economy, p. 130. Cf. p. 132 on market centers, services and retail establishments.

9. Nor would it have detracted to acknowledge that the learned citation from Darwin on p. 4 was presented to classicists years ago by Finley, using just the same page of the same edition as Engels, though the wording is slightly different. See Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, p. 65.

10. See Jongman's informative "Comparison with early modern Campania," pp. 147-154 for details on how population increases raise production but harm productivity: a "chilling tale," as he remarks, p. 152.

11. With 5000 farmers the average estate size is 3.7 hectares. Allison Burford Cooper, cited in Jameson, p. 125, note 13, says that in "the Greek world" the average plot size was likely 5.5 hectares.

12. Cf. now Jongman pp. 137-146 on the location of viticulture and cereal culture around Pompeii.

13. Jongman, p. 93.

14. Halstead and Jones, p. 55.

15. See Garnsey and Saller, pp. 66-71.

16. Halstead, p. 86.

17. See, inter alia, Garnsey, pp. 205-206 and Jongman, p. 136.

18. Gallant, p. 405.

19. Cf. for instance Garnsey, pp. 76-78.

20. Garnsey, p. 272.

21. In modern Thessaly, wheat yield "fluctuated between 1,155 kg/ha during a good-average year and 585 kg/ha during a bad year." Garnsey, Gallant and Rathbone, p. 41.