BMCR 1998.11.01

Warriors into Traders: The Power of the Market in Early Greece


Ancient economics has become a treacherous field. Some speak of banks, workshops, imports, exports, trade routes, and markets; others speak of embedding, center and periphery, status vs. wealth, and economic structures. The two groups scarcely engage each other in reasoned argument; some recent works express amazement that the other side has not yet fallen down dead. The argument, which was once between “modernists” and “primitivists”, is now between those for whom the modern science of economics is the key to understanding ancient economics and those for whom the key is anthropology. Fortunate are those whose teachers or colleagues have told them to which side they should belong. Alas for those who must try to decide on the basis of evidence that must be less conclusive than either side seems to realize.

This disagreement takes its life from Karl Polanyi, a midcentury economist whose central thesis was that modern economics, based upon a theory of supply and demand and self-regulating markets, is inadequate to describe most economies. For most of the human race over most of its history, Polanyi claimed, economic activity was “embedded” in social structures that embodied the entire spectrum of human values. The description of such economies in terms of modern economics was deceptive if not utterly impossible. The modern market economy, disembedded from social structure, was an inhuman juggernaut devoid of human values.

Many people, myself included, find such a thesis intuitively appealing, and it is not difficult to think of peoples and ages that seem at first glance to bear it out. Polanyi, indeed, developed a typology of economic structures, of which the modern system of interlocking markets is held to be the rarest. Unfortunately Polanyi himself was so careless of both terminology and documentation that serious defense of his thesis must begin by discounting his own words and explaining what it was that he should have said. The most energetic effort in this direction for the ancient world was Finley’s The Ancient Economy, which remains the most influential book in the field.

Warriors and Traders belongs squarely and unapologetically in Polanyi’s corner: its author has collaborated in the past with Polanyi’s students and devotes much space and effort to the application and advertisement of Polanyi’s ideas, which he oddly seems to think are little known (5, 86). It is well-written and well-produced. Tandy has an attractive thesis, which he argues convincingly. He may be right; his book will probably be influential for a long time, as well-written and convincingly argued books generally are.

And that is a shame, because the book suffers from serious problems that are not apparent on a superficial reading. Conclusions are drawn without evidence; evidence that is brought is misunderstood or misapplied; relevant material is ignored; logical inconsistencies are glossed over. This is all the more dismaying because Tandy has obviously taken great care to argue his case methodically, to document it meticulously, and to give fair consideration to other possibilities. But in his enthusiasm for his own hypothesis and for Polanyi’s ideas, Tandy has privileged certain sorts of evidence — particularly anthropological evidence from other societies — beyond what they can bear.

The book’s thesis can be briefly stated. At the beginning of the eighth century BCE — the end of what historians call the “Dark Age” — the Greek economy was essentially redistributive: goods produced by its members were given to the important people who stood at the center of the society, and these people then divided the goods given them among all the society’s members. Each transfer of an item carried with it an obligation: the noble’s acceptance of the herder’s produce obligated him to provide the herder with a fair portion of the society’s wealth, while the herder’s acceptance of his portion obligated him to continued recognition of the noble’s pre-eminence, and continued contribution to the noble’s stores. Wealth thus followed status: it was the noble’s position as a noble that enabled him to increase his personal wealth, though that wealth always carried with it obligations towards those who had contributed it.

In the eighth century, however, new developments disrupted this arrangement. A large expansion of trade caused a great increase of population; this in turn, by an inevitable sociological rule, caused the nobility to become a relatively narrower group, since there were proportionately fewer important positions to go around. At the same time, the new wealth acquired by trade, which reached the nobles but not the commoners, was “unobligated” wealth: paid for at time of purchase, it imposed upon its receiver no further responsibility. Wealth no longer followed status; on the contrary, status followed wealth. The nobility closed ranks through a number of “tools of exclusion” designed to reinforce their own class solidarity and the exclusion of the commoners: gift giving, feasts, councils, and warrior burials all were designed to give public recognition to the nobles’ privileged status and to hide the fact that this status derived ultimately from wealth obtained by trade. Homer and the Theogony are propagandists for this new dispensation; the Works and Days, on the other hand, is a peasant’s reaction to it, advising peasants as a class to depend upon each other and upon themselves, looking after their own interests when the nobles at the center of society would no longer look after them. This new independence of mind on the part of Hesiod is a result of the invention of writing; the new economic situation, in which redistribution has been replaced by the uneasy coexistence of a trading nobility with an excluded peasantry, is the beginning of the polis.

The outlines of this story are not new; what is new is the detail that has been added, and the causal connections that have been made. There is, for example, no doubt that bronze age Greece had an economy in which redistribution played a major role: the size and lay-out of the Mycenaean palaces made that a reasonable presumption, and the evidence of the linear B tablets made it a virtual certainty. It is also certain that international trade arose during the early archaic period, and that by the late archaic age, at least, it is organized around a system of peasant subsistence agriculture on the one hand and flourishing trade, both local and international, on the other. At some point, in some way, redistributors have certainly become traders. The growth in population that went along with it had been demonstrated by Snodgrass, in an important work to which Tandy provides a useful and intelligent critique. Again, few have ever doubted Homer’s pro-aristocratic bias or Hesiod’s opposite position in the Works and Days.

On the other hand, most of Tandy’s picture is quite new. That a redistributive system characterized Greece at the end of the Dark Ages (106-111); that the colonization movement was driven by an elite desire for mercantile wealth rather than by population pressure on the limited agrarian resources of Greece (75-83); that trade was a monopoly of the nobility (4, 75); that the various institutions of Homeric society were intentional “strategies [the nobles] undertook to obfuscate … the reversal” (5) of the relationship between status and wealth; that oral poetry was “the most powerful” tool of exclusion that the nobles wielded against the commoners (165); that writing freed poetry from noble influence (200-1); that the exclusion of the commoners marked the beginning of the polis (4-5) — these and other assertions distinguish Tandy’s depiction of the development of the polis from those which have been given in the past.

They do not stand up well. At stage after stage, copious documentation proves the uncontroversial, while no evidence is offered for new assertions. It would be unfair to choose the most egregious examples; it will be more useful to follow the thread of the argument and see how well-based are the claims made.

First of all, was dark-age society redistributive? Tandy accepts, as most scholars do, that the redistributive structure of Mycenaean Greece must have collapsed with the civilization that upheld it; his belief that eighth-century Greece is based on the application of a typology he has taken from Morton Fried, dividing societies into “egalitarian”, “rank”, and “stratified” societies. Dark age Greece, we are informed, was becoming a “stratified” society, but the evidence is next to nil. A stratified society, in fact, is “a social system anthropologically without documentation” (92), words which do not seem to give Tandy pause.

Now we move into the economy that supports these societies: five more pages (93-8) define a reciprocal economy by anthropological parallels from the Trobriand Islands, the Bible, and the Kwakiutl Indians. There is nothing illegitimate in bringing these far-fetched examples, which may be necessary to make the reader understand what is being suggested; but of course they are not evidence for dark-age Greece. For that society Tandy tells us that “examples of reciprocal activities can be found in Homer,” and he offers three: the verbal fencing with which Menelaos first claims and then yields the prize for Achilles’ chariot race that Antilochus had won dishonestly ( Il. 23.570-611), the gifts that are given to travelers as part of the host’s obligation of xenie ( Od. 1.309-18, 4.589-619 and passim), and Diomedes’ exchange of armor with Glaucus ( Il. 6.232-36.) These are pretty small pickings. Menelaos and Antilochus are not exchanging anything: they are patching up a potentially ugly situation by mutual courtesy, in a way that is possible (and highly advisable) in any society. The exchange of armor is a “closed” trade, with neither side left in debt to the other — precisely the opposite of the norm in reciprocal economies. Xenie is indeed a reciprocal relationship, but economically marginal: no significant amount of goods can have circulated by being given to foreign guests who happened by.

From Hesiod, we have his famous advice to “give to him who gives, and do not give to him who does not give,” ( Works and Days 354), hardly a piece of advice that requires a Trobriand-style economy for its validity. At any rate — and this is crucial — reciprocal, redistributive, or market activities may occur in any economy, as indeed all of them occur in our own; “examples of reciprocal activities” tell us nothing about the overall organization of the Homeric or Hesiodic economy.

Then we come to the archaeological evidence: “Elsewhere in the Greek world, the initial contacts between Euboeans and Etruscans … may have been facilitated by gift exchange. [Pure guess; Tandy has presented no evidence that that was the case.] Stops along the eighth-century trade network provide evidence of reciprocity among members of local nobilities. On Cyprus, for example, excavators found an Athenian pedestaled mixing bowl from the first half of the eighth century, as well as quite a bit of Euboeo-Cycladic ware of the same period and later. [But how it got there is anybody’s guess; the fact, duly noted in a footnote, that Desborough and Coldstream guessed it might have been part of a gift exchange does not turn it into “evidence”.] Other finds pointing to a gift-giving network throughout the course of the eighth century have been found at Knossos and across the Levant and Etruria … [Again, the finds in question merely show that goods could end up in places other than their place of production; they are silent about who transported them or why.] It is difficult to imagine an explanation for this distribution other than gift exchange. [Sale, trade, transport by a Greek who came to live or trade there, transport by a local who had once been in Greece … are we really so bereft of imagination?] … The earliest example of writing on Ithaca, on a shattered wine decanter, appears to read ξ]ενϝος τε φιλος και π[ιστο]ς εταιρος, ‘dear guest-friend and reliable companion.’ The inscription dates from about 700 and may reflect precisely the situation found throughout Odyssey 4 …” [but this is imagination; the inscription is the end of a hexameter whose beginning is lost, and whose continuation is unrecoverable. It does not seem to describe the recipient of the decanter — note that it is nominative, not vocative — nor indeed indicate that it was ever given as a gift]. (100) I have quoted this passage at length to show how a great deal of carefully researched information can be listed without a shred of evidence being presented for the point at question, what kind of economy the dark age Greeks had. In each case, the “evidence” shows an item far from its birthplace, and the reciprocal gift-exchange that supposedly moved it is Tandy’s addition.

The same marshaling of facts can be used to explain away unwanted evidence. Tandy knows that sales take place in Homer, and that ritual gift-exchange will not explain all the circulation of goods that took place. Earlier scholars took the evidence to be testimony of free markets; Polanyi, for whom the free market was an anachronism, spoke instead of “ports of trade” where neutral territories, outside of the main society, serve for inter-society exchange. Tandy dutifully finds ports of trade in Homer because Achilles sold Lycaon “to Lemnos” ( Il. 21.40), and other sons of Priam to “Samos, Imbros, and Lemnos” ( Il. 24.753). Patroclus, moreover, got in return for Lycaon ( Il. 23.744-7) a silver mixing-bowl that the Phoenicians had given to Thoas (74). Elsewhere the original gift of the same mixing-bowl is quoted not as evidence for a fixed port of trade but for a one-time market (118-9): the truth is, of course, that Homer does not say why the Phoenicians gave Thoas the mixing-bowl, or how Euneos traded it for Lycaon. As evidence for “controlled markets”, Ezekiel 27 is quoted, “cataloging for us the fine goods from faraway places that were exchanged [at Tyre] through the use of equivalencies.” (119) The catalogue is there; the reader will search Ezekiel in vain for the method by which goods were exchanged. Again, examples are multiplied (120), all of which beg the question: Draco’s law on homicide refers to a “border market”, but what and where was it? An Egyptian woman claims to have gotten money “by selling barley in the year of the hyenas, when everyone was short of food”: how does Tandy know that the market in which she claimed to have sold it was a one-time affair, or for that matter, that she was talking about a market at all? Mentes in Od. 1.184 is “carrying iron to Cyprus to acquire copper. This may be an example of participation in a controlled market there,” but neither Mentes nor Homer says so. In ancient emporia, “prices, in essence, were fixed,” (125 n. 57) a fact for which Tandy refers to an article that he co-authored, but that does not make such an assertion. Perhaps most striking is this:

“Hesiod’s claim that the greater the load one takes on a communal venture ship, the greater will one’s kerdos compound an existing kerdos suggests a guaranteed return on one’s safe delivery of goods (such a guaranteed return is possible, however, only if prices are fixed or are very, very high, or if costs are trivial … which occurs most often, if not exclusively, within controlled markets)” (121).

All Hesiod says is (in Tandy’s translation), “Praise a little ship, but put your cargo in a big one; the greater the cargo, the greater will be the kerdos on top of kerdos, if the winds hold back the heavy blasts” ( Works and Days 643-5). The guarantee is Tandy’s, not Hesiod’s; and the controlled market is inference on top of inference. Later on, with no further demonstration, it is taken for granted (224).

The reciprocal/redistributive economy was supposedly destroyed by trade. This is a possible scenario, but very murky. On page 4, “the traders were mostly aristoi“; on page 75, “[t]here does not seem to be a lot of use in trying to determine … whether aristoi actually undertook or only underwrote such expeditions… We are concerned here not with agents but with beneficiaries.” But a merchant aristocracy is a very different thing from the beneficiaries of a luxury trade: if the aristoi were not themselves the traders, the fact that luxury items were being imported would have tended not in enrich but to impoverish them to the advantage of the traders. There is, in fact, a serious inconsistency here: to say that in the new dispensation status followed wealth is to imply that wealth could be obtained without status, which is the opposite of the picture that Tandy is drawing throughout the book. If indeed only the aristoi benefited from trading, then wealth was still following status, as indeed it seems to have done in the period before the tyrannies.

Tandy’s “strategies of exclusion” fare no better. He is certainly right that the dais, for example, distinguished basilees, who participated, from commoners, who did not; nor is it difficult to follow him in believing that hero cults, in so far as they are attested, will have tended to reinforce the importance of those families that claimed descent from the hero or controlled his cult. The aristocratic bias of Homer and of the aoidoi he describes has often been noted. Once again, however, Tandy’s innovation is precisely the fact for which he has no evidence: that these were not merely customs that tended, as most customs do, to reinforce the structure of the society that bred them, but rather intentional “strategies of exclusion” by which a new class enforced its dominance: “What is critically important is that we realize that the Iliad and the Odyssey were an important part of a contrived, broad effort to establish and support a self-conscious aristocratic class.” (152) He will bring much evidence to demonstrate what we already knew; the crucial words important, contrived, effort, and self-conscious (if this last means any more than “conscious of being aristocrats”) remain unsubstantiated.

I also have trouble with the suggestion that the invention of writing frees poetry from noble control, a claim that seems to require some mechanism for making the written text available to the poor but not to the rich. Nor am I happy with the idea that Tandy’s ending point, with the people at large more thoroughly disfranchised than ever, can represent “the beginning of the polis,” whose hallmark is precisely the political involvement of its citizens. These points, however, are not supported by documentation; the problem is much more serious with those that are. Tandy himself is aware of the problem. Behind it is a desire to assimilate the situation in eighth-century Greece to the situation he reconstructs from his anthropological sources. These, though, have their own difficulties.

He quotes, for example, “the Bulu of southeast Cameroon”, about whom his information comes from a single article. The article itself is a thoughtful description of how an African society, under the veneer of a superficial westernization, has maintained its essential values and structure while translating them into terms consistent with the colonial and then independent national administration. The article includes the following paragraphs (186):

The lineage-village remains the center of the life of each Bulu. Kinship and lineage systems have remained unchanged. Political alliances with other lineages remain in force both for exchange and marriage. Since 1953 there has emerged a more distinct sense of Bulu political unity, largely through the efforts of Mvondo David who visited each lineage village of the Bulu and united them “for greater social benefits among ‘brothers'”, in a political association, which in turn is a part of a political party, the Action National. This gives each village a sense of unity with other villages which it never had before and gave birth to the expression “la race Bulu.” Such external change has not influenced the local village in its internal structure but has reinforced the concept of Bulu society, even beyond that which was possible in the traditional period.

On the basis of these paragraphs — the only paragraphs he seems to have used from the article — Tandy informs us that the Bulu’s “response was to embrace their kinship relations and the [traditional] culture, even inventing ‘la race Bulu.’ Thus the creation or emphasis of culture became a defensive posture … We will be able to compare the Greek response to economic change with these African cases generally and with the Bulu phenomenon specifically.” (122-3).

Horner’s article had not, in fact, described the persistence of traditional values as “a defensive posture”, nor, indeed, had he noted “the creation or emphasis of culture”: on the contrary, he observed that traditional attitudes simply persevered, adapting new external forms to traditional goals and values. The Bulu, moreover, belonged to an area conquered and administered by a foreign power, which imposed upon them a new religion, relocation, and urbanization — not at all the relationship of the Greeks to their neighbors in the eighth century. Even if we believe what Horner does not claim, that Bulu “culture” and “race” are new defensive inventions, the categories of “culture” and “race” seem themselves to be European, and specifically German, concepts forced upon the Bulu, not universals that will apply wherever one culture comes in contact with another.

Tandy, nevertheless, sees in the experience of the Bulu (as he extrapolates it from this passage) a cultural universal that can be generalized without problem to the dark age Greeks. Hesiod is interpreted as advocating “a return to a (recent) system in which there was not yet a separation of leadership and periphery … Of course, this is almost precisely parallel to the response of Bulu villagers to the intrusion of Western markets described in chapter 5: the changes wrought by outside forces ‘reinforced the concept of Bulu society'”(221). Again five pages later, the strongest argument — in his view — for his interpretation of Hesiod’s agricultural advice “is that the agricultural advice dovetails with much of the comparative evidence, including that of the Bulu: it is part of the broader polemic against the changes that have occurred” (226). The term “the comparative evidence, including that of the Bulu” is apparently simply a circumlocution; as meager and debatable as is his paraphrase of Horner’s article about the Bulu, it is the only evidence he has brought for this ostensibly universal phenomenon.

This broad-brushed application of the experience of the Bulu to that of the Greeks would be dubious enough even if Tandy’s knowledge of the Bulu were impeccable. This is unlikely; we need only imagine what level of accuracy could be expected of — shall we say — an intelligent Bulu tribesman whose knowledge of Americans was based on having read a single article by a Bulu who had lived in America for a while, out of which he had excerpted two paragraphs. But if we have no Bulu to test the accuracy of Tandy’s information about the Bulu, we can test the accuracy of his information about the ancient Hebrews, whose texts are easily available and widely studied. How does Tandy do here?

Compare also [writes Tandy after mentioning various functionaries in preliterate or marginally literate societies whose job was to remember laws] the role of the mazkir, ‘testifier,’ ‘recorder,’ in the Old Testament, translated by the Septuagint as anamimneiskon, ‘rememberer.’ Of one such mazkir we read: ‘Eliezer, the son of Hyrcanus, is a cemented cistern, which loses not a drop.’ Zakar, the verb related to the agent noun mazkir, is used in the meaning ‘to bear witness,’ ‘testify,’ and is translated by the Septuagint as marturein; thus we see a likely (additional?) juridical role for the mazkir. Each time a mazkir is named a scribe is also present, which suggests a situation similar to that at Arkades, where a single man holds both positions. (184)

Mazkir means neither “testifier” nor “recorder”, but “reminder” or “mentioner”; so, for that matter, does the Greek active participle ἀναμιμνείσκων. The mazkir was a functionary of the Davidic monarchy; there is nothing except the name of the office to suggest what his function may have been (in modern Hebrew the word means “secretary”, which is as likely as anything else). Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who lived in the second century CE, was not, and is never called, a mazkir (the office had been extinct for more than half a millennium); he was a tanna, a scholar whose precise definition need not concern us here. Zakar, an extremely common word in the Bible, means “remember”; it never means “to bear witness” or “testify”, for which the verb (also quite common) is ha’ed. It is regularly translated by some derivative of the root mna-, never by μαρτύρειν, so the verb itself can hardly suggest “a likely (additional?) juridical role for the mazkir” (a witness is an ‘ed, a judge a shofet). It is true that each time a mazkir is mentioned a scribe is also “present,” since the mazkir is generally mentioned only when the palace officials are being enumerated, and the scribe was another such official. This fact can hardly “suggest [that] a single man holds both positions,” since the opposite is explicitly the case in every single citation.

Now, Tandy is not a historian of modern Africa or of ancient Israel, and can not reasonably be expected to be expert in every field under the sun. Nor should his human limitations require him to ignore resolutely every other field of knowledge. But that he makes this imperfect knowledge the basis of his entire reconstruction of early archaic Greece means that he argues regularly from the uncertain and the misunderstood to the known. This is the opposite of good method, and its results are more pernicious than he seems to realize.

For Tandy does not test his anthropological typologies against the documents and artifacts of ancient Greece; rather, he takes their validity for granted and reinterprets those documents accordingly. He finds it “difficult to imagine” any way isolated bits of pottery could have traveled other than gift exchange (100, quoted above). He explains to us (123) that debt first appears in a market economy, for “in a redistributive system, thanks to the social ‘safety net,’ a person owes only so much as he has or can give; after the introduction of private ownership, in this system of limited markets, as in any disembedded system, a person can owe more than he has or can give.” (127) But in fact debt, including debt beyond a person’s ability to pay, is pervasive and pernicious in many embedded economies, and even Horner’s Bulu suffer from it.

An anthropologist could develop the argument further, but Tandy is not an anthropologist (and neither am I). He has taken from anthropology a schematic history of civilizations, and rather than using ancient Greece to test and refine the theory, he uses the theory to build a new picture of ancient Greece. Texts may suffer in the process:

Some of these base kerdea may be advantages (thefts) gained from the community by the new center that controls the movements of goods and land. Other ill-gotten kerdea might just be unnecessary external acquisitions of goods for their own sake, in which case we are reminded of the Trobriander… [I]ll-gotten kerdea attract no approval from Hesiod… “For if someone seizes great prosperity even by force of hands or carries it off with his tongue, as many times happens whenever kerdos deceives the intellect of men and Shamelessness chases away Shame…” (225)

Here Tandy has done the reader the favor of quoting Hesiod, who says exactly what he means by “ill-gotten kerdea“: they are gotten by force or by “carrying off with the tongue”, presumably deceit. No hint of appropriation by the new center, no condemnation of external acquisitions. Tandy, whose translation of Hesiod is clear, accurate and altogether commendable, has again privileged the superstructure that he has taken over from the anthropologists at the expense of what he himself sees.

Polanyi accused economists of what he called “economic solipsism”, seeing the entire world through the eyes of modern market economists, presuming the existence of free price-setting markets even where the sources do not attest to them. Tandy quotes this healthy warning (86-7), and certainly cannot be accused of “the belief that the way we do things is the natural way to do things.” He has, however, fallen into the opposite trap: having before him a typology of the economic development of society, he sees the postulated forms even where the sources do not attest to them. If King Solomon had twelve officers each of whom provided for a month’s royal maintenance, then “these twelve chiefs collected goods from their peoples and presented the goods to Solomon, who in turn guaranteed the status of the twelve.” (103) “An even better biblical example is found in the tale of Joseph in Egypt” (ibid.), although that tale makes it perfectly clear that Joseph bought grain during the years of plenty and sold it for silver, even to foreigners, during the years of famine. If Phoenicians gave a gift to Thoas, they did so to establish a one-time market (119); if many goods were traded at Tyre, they were traded “through the use of equivalencies” ( ibid.). Tandy is right to chide those who would see the Egyptian woman in the year of the hyenas as an example of a self-regulating market, but he does not produce any reason for seeing “a clear example of a one-time market” (120 n. 35).

The preference for information brought from afar sometimes goes so far that I wonder if I have not misunderstood Tandy’s intention. Did we really have to go to the Lowland Classic Maya for an example of wealth becoming a prerequisite for achieving office (92)? Did we need the examples of the Old Icelandic “law speaker,” the misunderstood Hebrew mazkir, and the Maori tohungas to reveal to us what Herodotus and Thucydides knew very well, that the communal memory of archaic Greece was the domain of the poets, that they were not very reliable, and that they were subject to political pressure?

Although his text usually reads as if Tandy thought his demonstrations to be utterly convincing, he is too perceptive to be unaware of their weakness. He begins his concluding chapter with a moment of defensiveness:

… If my attempts here prove open to charges of theoretical or evidentiary aggressiveness, let me respond by asserting that only in this way can studies such as this one have some impact on the economic and social crises of our own time…. [T]his is a matter of how human experiences of the past can help us today and tomorrow. (229)

Alas, precisely the opposite is the case. A study which takes a pre-existing theory (Polanyi’s) and a pre-existing typology (Fried’s) and simply demonstrates by “evidentiary aggressiveness” that archaic Greeks fit the theory may, if correct, affect our understanding of archaic Greece, but it has not advanced our understanding of the general principles of society one iota, and cannot have any impact beyond what a reprint of Polanyi’s and Fried’s book would have. Typologies, and indeed the entire science of anthropology, can never be used as a guide for filling in the blanks of the historical record; to do so is simply to pretend to know what we do not know, and to blind ourselves to the real import of the evidence we have. Fried acknowledged as much in his introduction: “That the theory offered here is crude, often too special, and (still) by no means documented seems less important than that it may be used as a target to attract the fire and better aim of others.”

Now, it is common enough — and Polanyi’s “economic solipsism” is merely one case of this — for scholars to fill in the blanks with “common sense”, unconscious presuppositions that treat the world of the Greeks as if it were the same as our own. Anthropology has performed an enormous service for ancient historians by demonstrating how broad the possibilities of human behavior are. Fried’s typology, and Polanyi’s theory, and for that matter the Bulu and the mazkir — even if they have been totally misunderstood — can open our minds to what sorts of things besides our own experiences might have existed in other times and places. To take them as templates is to replace one form of closed-mindedness with another. To keep them in mind as we investigate ancient Greece will show us a society certainly different from what we expected — no field-worker, as far as I know, ever finds that the society he visits fits his preconceptions perfectly — and will in turn require a revision, and a deeper understanding, of the theories with which we began. This is the way in which “studies such as this” can have an impact, for in this way ancient Greece can reveal, not just exemplify, patterns of general importance.

A major effort is never wasted. I have learned an enormous amount from Tandy. He has put me on to important articles that I had not known; he has given, in his first section, a thorough review and interpretation of very scattered archaeological evidence; he has fleshed out a bare-bones theory into “a target to attract the fire” of those who will now find it harder to write off this crucial period of transition in a few careless paragraphs. He has, perhaps, come very close to the way Polanyi himself would have described the period in question, for the weaknesses I have traced were very much Polanyi’s own weaknesses. And perhaps, like Polanyi himself, he has produced a study that will open the field for a true testing and refining of the theories he has developed.

“The so-called ‘primitivist-modernist’ controversy ought to have died a natural death long ago … What is striking … is the persistence of the modernist point of view.” Paul Millett, Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens (Cambridge, ’91), 9, 15. “Scholars have shown empirically, over and over again, that antiquity did not have the institutions, ideas, and practices which modernist claims wittingly or unwittingly attribute to it. This detailed empirical refutation ought to be enough, but it never is … In the face of such a degree of perversity, impatience is a natural enough response.” Scott Meikle, Aristotle’s Economic Thought (Oxford,’95), 148. Modernists, being the current underdogs, have tended to express themselves more circumspectly, but as Meikle notes, they have not been convinced. Argued in The Great Transformation (New York, ’44) and in many subsequent articles by himself and by his students. “Reading specific phrases literally, [his critics are] quite right in saying that Polanyi was wrong”: Anne Mayhew, Walter C. Neale, and David W. Tandy, “Markets in the Ancient Near East”, Journal of Economic History 45 (’85), 128; cf., for example, M. I. Finley, “Aristotle and Economic Analysis”, Past and Present 47 (’70), 14 n. 45. The article of Mayhew, Neale and Tandy does a good job of defining briefly and clearly what its authors, at least, take to be the essential Polanyi. M. I. Finley, The Ancient Economy (2d edition, London, ’85). Most notably in David W. Tandy and Walter C. Neale, Hesiod’s Works and Days: A Translation and Commentary for the Social Sciences (Berkeley, ’96), which is in many ways a companion-piece to the present volume, and which received in this journal (97.5.11) a very positive review with which I wholeheartedly concur. Although Tandy graciously credited Walter Neale as his co-author, the actual translation and most of the commentary is his own. Cf. also Mayhew, Neale and Tandy, n. 3 above. When he claims that “most scholars” have ignored Polanyi, he mentions no examples, though he gives no fewer than fourteen “exceptions” (86 nn. 11-14). Not warriors: Tandy nowhere claims that the dark age nobility held its position by warfare or made that its primary occupation; on the contrary, “the Dark Age is notably lacking in evidence of significant violence” (35). He does argue that the later trading nobility masqueraded as warriors, which is not the same thing. Anthony M. Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece (Edinburgh, ’71). But occasionally perverse, as when he notes that one objection to his statistics “is fatal, and for this reason I have relegated most statistical analysis to the brief appendices to this chapter.” (20) I should have thought that if an argument suffers from a fatal objection, it should not be made. This argument has been made in the past (76 n. 88), and Tandy’s discussion of it is judicious and persuasive. Morton H. Fried, The Evolution of Political Society: An Essay in Political Anthropology (New York, ’67). Tandy’s own words: “We must remember that reciprocal relations and actions are always open-ended: there is always an obligation left unmet. A reciprocal arrangement abhors closure.” (101) Paul Bohannan, Social Anthropology (New York, ’63), 232-3. Tandy could object, correctly, that the examples mentioned are consistent with a reciprocal economy, but that is a very weak form of evidence. The fact that John Doe is alive is consistent with the proposition that all men are immortal, or that all men are mortal, or that all cats are tabby; but one would hardly call it evidence for those propositions. He will find it in Polanyi, “On the comparative treatment of economic institutions in antiquity, with illustrations from Athens, Mycenae, and Alalakh,” in George Dalton, ed., Primitive, archaic, and modern economies: Essays of Karl Polanyi (Garden City, NY, ’68), 326, but without proof. Tandy knows that Ezekiel lived hundreds of years later, but is willing to rely on Martin Bernal to suggest that he “reflects a reality of the first half of the eighth century or even of the early ninth century” (120 n. 33). Mayhew, Neale and Tandy, cited above, n. 3. A principle well understood by the Kennedy family, among others. George W. Horner, “The Bulu response to European economy”, in Paul Bohannon and George Dalton, eds., Markets in Africa (Evanston, 1962), 170-89. The “African cases” consist, besides the Bulu, of the sentence “Among the Gusii in Kenya, the introduction of markets by the British produced a tension between ‘affluent’ farmers and others less fortunate,” (123) a statement which says nothing about reinforcement of societal solidarity, and the yet less informative note, “For the effect of newly arrived wealth on Ghanaian society see Hymer 1970” ( ibid. n. 51). Not everyone agrees; the more common view, as Horner (184) notes, is that Western influence causes cultural disorganization and even disintegration. Tandy cites this as Polanyi’s view, and quotes the Bulu to substantiate it (122)! The only exception is the delegation to Rabshakeh, 2 Kings 18, 2 Chron. 34:8, and Isaiah 36, which included three people, one of them the scribe and one the mazkir. Margaret Mead, “The Manus of the Admiralty Islands”, in id., Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples, rev. ed. (Boston, ’61), 233, cf. 215; Ruth Landes, “The Ojibwa of Canada”, ibid. 107; Irving Goldman, “The Ifugao of the Philippine Islands”, ibid. 159-61; Horner, op. cit. (above, n. 18), 174-5; Paul Einzig, Primitive Money, second ed. (Oxford, ’66), 49. Cited above, n. 5. Even more striking are these words from Tandy and Neale (above, n. 5): “we have no way of knowing whether Hesiod’s picture of the past was accurate, a nostalgic picture of the ‘good old days’ (perhaps not unlike Homer’s world of heroes in the epics), or some unknown and unknowable mixture of the two. In this introduction and in the notes in the text we present some hypotheses that we think are as plausible as others, or more plausible, but we want to stress that these are to be regarded as interpretations, not as explanations of the text.” (4-5) Most of Warriors into Traders is devoted to demonstrating the nature of the “unknown and unknowable” society before Hesiod. Fried (above, n. 11), p. xi.