Working Papers by Subject - Comparative Ancient History

041305 Comparing comparisons: ancient East and West
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - What is comparative history good for? Does it pose special challenges? In our time of accelerating globalization, are we ready to embrace a new inter-discipline, Comparative Classics?

041304 Comparing ancient worlds: comparative history as comparative advantage
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Chinese historians of the Greco-Roman world can and should make a significant contribution to this field by promoting the comparative analysis of ancient civilizations in eastern and western Eurasia.

041301 Slavery and forced labor in early China and the Roman world
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - The use of coerced labor in the form of chattel slavery in the private sector has long been regarded as one of the defining characteristics of some of the best-known economies of the ancient Mediterranean. It may even have been critical in producing the surplus that sustained the ruling class. In early China, by contrast, forced labor (often by convicts) appears to have been concentrated in the public sector. This paper is a first attempt to study these systems comparatively in order to investigate whether these differences were genuine and significant, and whether they can be related to observed outcomes in terms of economic and socio-political development.

041201 State revenue and expenditure in the Han and Roman empires
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Comparative analysis of the sources of income of the Han and Roman imperial states and of the ways in which these polities allocated state revenue reveals both similarities and differences. While it seems likely that the governments of both empires managed to capture a similar share of GDP, the Han state may have more heavily relied on direct taxation of agrarian output and people. By contrast, the mature Roman empire derived a large share of its income from domains and levies that concentrated on mining and trade. Collection of taxes on production probably fell far short of nominal rates. Han officialdom consistently absorbed more public spending than its Roman counterpart, whereas Roman rulers allocated a larger share of state revenue to agents drawn from the upper ruling class and to the military. This discrepancy was a function of different paths of state formation and may arguably have had long-term consequences beyond the fall of both empires.

091006 Human development and quality of life in the long run: the case of Greece
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - The Human development Index of the United Nations and other broadly based indices of wellbeing seek to identify and measure a wide range of determinants of the quality of life. Income, longevity, and education are regarded as key indicators. Auxiliary variables include nutrition, income and gender inequality, political and human rights, crime rates, human rights, and environmental degradation. Although some of the factors cannot be properly assessed with respect to the more distant past, indices such as these nevertheless provide a useful template for the historical cross-cultural and comparative study of human development and quality of life. This paper illustrates the potential of this approach by exploring the changing configuration of significant variables in the long run, using the Greek world from antiquity to the recent past as a test case. This exercise is meant to provide context for the study of the quality of life as envisioned by our panel.

091005 Roman real wages in context
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper presents and discusses evidence of real incomes in the Roman period. It shows that real wages rose in response to demographic contractions. There is no evidence that would support the assumption that Roman economic growth raised real wages for workers. However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: relevant data are scarce and highly unevenly distributed in time and space.

091004 The Xiongnu and the comparative study of empire
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper discusses state formation among the Xiongnu from a comparative perspective, arguing that it is legitimate to refer to their polity as an ‘empire.’ It also explores the applicability of a new theory that seeks to explain large-scale imperiogenesis with reference to structural tensions between steppe nomads and agriculturalists.

091002 Coin quality, coin quantity, and coin value in early China and the Roman world
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - In ancient China, early bronze ‘tool money’ came to be replaced by round bronze coins that were supplemented by uncoined gold and silver bullion, whereas in the Greco-Roman world, precious-metal coins dominated from the beginnings of coinage. Chinese currency is often interpreted in ‘nominalist’ terms, and although a ‘metallist’ perspective used be common among students of Greco-Roman coinage, putatively fiduciary elements of the Roman currency system are now receiving growing attention. I argue that both the intrinsic properties of coins and the volume of the money supply were the principal determinants of coin value and that fiduciary aspects must not be overrated. These principles apply regardless of whether precious-metal or base-metal currencies were dominant.
This paper replaces (090902) originally published in January 2010.

091001 Physical wellbeing in the Roman world
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper presents and discusses evidence of physical wellbeing in the Roman period. It covers life expectancy, mortality patterns, and skeletal evidence such as body height, cranial lesions, and dental defects. These data reveal both commonalities and significant regional variation within the Roman Empire.
This paper replaces (011002) originally published in January 2010.

021003 Age and health in Roman Egypt
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Prepared for a forthcoming handbook of Roman Egypt, this paper surveys ancient and comparative evidence and modern interpretations of life expectancy, mortality patterns, and disease in ancient Egypt.

011003 Greco-Roman sex ratios and femicide in comparative perspective
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Is it possible to demonstrate that ancient Greeks or Romans disposed of newborn daughters in ways that skewed sex ratios in favor of males? Epigraphic, papyrological, and archaeological evidence fails to provide reliable empirical support for this notion. At the same time, we cannot rule out the possibility that femicide did in fact occur. Drawing on comparative anthropological and historical evidence, this paper briefly develops two models of femicidal practice.

090904 Real wages in early economies: Evidence for living standards from 1800 BCE to 1300 CE
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Price and wage data from Roman Egypt in the first three centuries CE indicate levels of real income for unskilled workers that are comparable to those implied by price and wage data in Diocletian’s price edict of 301 CE and to those documented in different parts of Europe and Asia in the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. In all these cases, consumption was largely limited to goods that were essential for survival and living standards must have been very modest. A survey of daily wages expressed in terms of wheat in different Afroeurasian societies from 1800 BCE to 1300 CE yields similar results: with a few exceptions, real incomes of unskilled laborers tended to be very low.
This paper replaces (030801) originally published in March 2008.

090903 Roman wellbeing and the economic consequences of the ‘Antonine Plague’
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
This paper paper has been removed at the request of the author.

090902 Coin quality, coin quantity, and coin value in early China and the Roman world
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Revised September 2010. See entry 091002.

040902 A comparative perspective on the determinants of the scale and productivity of maritime trade in the Roman Mediterranean
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - The scale and productivity of maritime trade is a function of environmental conditions, political processes and economic development that determine demand, and more specifically of trading costs. Trading costs are the sum of transportation costs (comprised of the cost of carriage and the cost of risk, most notably predation), transaction costs and financing costs. Comparative evidence from the medieval and early modern periods shows that the cost of predation (caused by war, privateering, piracy, and tolls) and commercial organization (which profoundly affects transaction and financing costs as well as the cost of carriage) have long been the most important determinants of overall trading costs. This suggests that conditions in the Roman period were unusually favorable for maritime trade. Technological innovation, by contrast, was primarily an endogenous function of broader political and economic developments and should not be viewed as a major factor in the expansion of commerce in this period.

020901 State Intervention and Holy Violence Timgad / Paleostrovsk / Waco
Brent D. Shaw, Princeton University
This paper has been revised. See 060901 entry.

010903 Monogamy and polygyny
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract -This paper discusses Greco-Roman practices of monogamy and polygyny for a forthcoming handbook on the ancient family.

060807 Monogamy and polygyny in Greece, Rome, and world history
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - In what sense were the ancient Greeks and Romans monogamous, and why does it matter? This paper summarizes the physical and anthropological record of polygyny, briefly sketches the historical expansion of formal monogamy, considers complementary theories of mate choice, and situates Greco-Roman practice on a spectrum from traditional polygamy to more recent forms of normative monogyny.
This paper has now been published in History of the Family, Vol 14 (2009) pp. 280-291.

040801 Rome's Mediterranean World System and Its Transformation
Brent D. Shaw, Princeton University
Download PDF Abstract - An analysis of the recent large-scale interpretation of the great transition from the ancient world of the Roman Empire to the worlds of its successor states, economies, and societies offered by Chris Wickham in his ‘Framing the Early Middle Ages.’
This paper replaces version 1 (010801) originally posted in January 2008.
A revised version of the paper with the title "After Rome" has now been published in The New Left Review vol. 52 (May-June 008), pp. 89-114.

030801 Real wages in early economies: Evidence for living standards from 2000 BCE to 1300 CE
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Abstract - Price and wage data from Roman Egypt in the first three centuries CE indicate levels of real income for unskilled workers that are comparable to those implied by price and wage data in Diocletian’s price edict of 301 CE and to those documented in different parts of Europe and Asia in the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. In all these cases, consumption was largely limited to goods that were essential for survival and living standards were very low. A survey of daily wages expressed in terms of wheat in different Afroeurasian societies from 2000 BCE to 1300 CE yields similar results: with only few exceptions, real incomes of unskilled laborers tended to be very low.
This paper has been revised. Please see entry 090904 posted in September 2009.
020803 The monetary systems of the Han and Roman empires
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - The Chinese tradition of supplementing large quantities of bronze cash with unminted gold and silver represents a rare exception to the western model of precious-metal coinage. This paper provides a detailed discussion of monetary development in ancient China followed by a brief survey of conditions in the Roman empire. The divergent development of the monetary systems of the Han and Roman empires is analyzed with reference to key variables such as the metal supply, military incentives, and cultural preferences. This paper also explores the “metallistic” and “chartalistic” elements of the Han and Roman currency systems and estimates the degree of monetization of both economies.
This paper replaces version 1.0 (110505) originally posted in November 2005.
This paper has now been published in "Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires" W. Scheidel (ed.), Oxford University Press: New York, 2009, pp. 137-207.

020802 Real Wages in Roman Egypt: A contribution to recent work on pre-modern living standards
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
This paper has been removed.

010802 State Intervention and Holy Violence: Timgad / Paleostrovsk / Waco
Brent D. Shaw, Princeton University
A revised version of this paper is forthcoming Summer 2008.

010801 Rome's Mediterranean World System and Its Transformation
Brent D. Shaw, Princeton University
This paper has been revised. See 040801 entry.

110702 From the ‘Great Convergence’ to the ‘First Great Divergence’: Roman and Qin-Han state formation and its aftermath
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper provides a synoptic outline of convergent trends in state formation in western and eastern Eurasia from the early first millennium BCE to the mid-first millennium CE and considers the problem of subsequent divergence.
This paper replaces version 2.0 (100705) originally posted in October 2007; and version 1 (120601) originally posted in December 2006.
This paper has now been published in "Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires" W. Scheidel (ed.), Oxford University Press: New York, 2009, pp. 11-23.

100706 The ‘First Great Divergence’: Trajectories of post-ancient state formation in eastern and western Eurasia
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper identifies divergent trends in state formation after the disintegration of the Roman and Han empires and considers their causes and long-term consequences.

100705 From the ‘Great Convergence’ to the ‘First Great Divergence’: Roman and Qin-Han state formation and its aftermath
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
This paper (version 2.0) replaces version 1 (120601) originally posted in December 2006. It has since been revised. See 110702 entry.

080701 Rule and Revenue in Egypt and Rome: Political Stability and Fiscal Institutions
Andrew Monson, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper investigates what determines fiscal institutions and the burden of taxation using a case study from ancient history. It evaluates Levi’s model of taxation in the Roman Republic, according to which rulers’ high discount rates in periods of political instability encourage them to adopt a more predatory fiscal regime. The evidence for fiscal reform in the transition from the Republic to the Principate seems to support her hypothesis but remains a matter of debate among historians. Egypt’s transition from a Hellenistic kingdom to a Roman province under the Principate provides an analogous case for which there are better data. The Egyptian evidence shows a correlation between rulers’ discount rates and fiscal regimes that is consistent with Levi’s hypothesis.
This paper has now been published in "Rule and Revenue in Egypt and Rome: Political Stability and Fiscal Institutions." Special Issue: New Political Economy in History. Historical Social Research 32/4 (2007), pp. 252-74.

010704 Royal Land in Ptolemaic Egypt: A Demographic Model
Andrew Monson, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - Studies of Ptolemaic agrarian history have focused on the nature of state ownership. Recent work has emphasized the regional differences between the Fayyum, where royal land was prevalent, and Upper Egypt, where private land rights were already established. This study proposes a demographic model that regards communal rights on royal land as an adaptation to risk and links privatization with population pressure. These correlations and their reflection in Demotic and Greek land survey data raise doubts about the common view that patterns of tenure on royal land in the Fayyum can be attributed to more intensive state control over this region than the Nile Valley. Version 2.0 is substantially revised and replaces the earlier version 050602.
This paper has now been published in "Royal Land in Ptolemaic Egypt: A Demographic Model." Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50/4 (2007), pp. 363-97.

120601 Imperial state formation in Rome and China: From the Great Convergence to the First Great Divergence
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Revised October 2007. See 100706 entry.

110604 New ways of studying incomes in the Roman economy
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper very briefly considers three ways of expanding the study of Roman income levels beyond the limits of empirical data on costs and wages, by considering the determinants of real incomes, the use of proxy data for real incomes, and the potential of cross-cultural comparison.

070601 A Prehistory of Hatred
Brent D. Shaw, Princeton University
Abstract - A critical reconsideration of a recent foray into the vexatious problem of the origins of race and racism.
This is now published in "Journal of World History" vol. 16 (2005), pp. 227-32.

050603 Sex and empire: a Darwinian perspective
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper draws on evolutionary psychology to elucidate ultimate causation in imperial state formation and predatory exploitation in antiquity and beyond. Differential access to the means of reproduction is shown to have been a key feature of early imperial systems. (NB: This revised paper replaces Version 1.0 posted in November 2005.)
This paper has now been published in "The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power From Assyria to Byzantium" I. Morris and W. Scheidel (eds.), Oxford University Press: New York, 2009, pp. 255-324.

050602 Royal Land in Ptolemaic Egypt: A Demographic Model
Andrew Monson, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - The agrarian history of Ptolemaic Egypt has focused on the nature of state ownership and the evolution of private land rights. Recent work has emphasized the regional differences between the Fayyum, where royal land was prevalent, and Upper Egypt, where private land rights were already established. This paper proposes a demographic model that regards communal rights on royal land as an adaptation to risk and links privatization with population pressure. These correlations and their reflection in Demotic and Greek land survey data raise doubts about the consensus view that patterns of tenure on royal land in the Fayyum can be attributed to more intensive state control over this region than the Nile Valley.

040603 The divergent evolution of coinage in eastern and western Eurasia
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper offers a concise comparative assessment of some key features of the "Aegean" and "Chinese" models of coinage.

040601 Comparative history as comparative advantage: China’s potential contribution to the study of ancient Mediterranean history
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper argues that Chinese historians of the Greco-Roman world can and should make a significant contribution to this field by promoting the comparative analysis of ancient civilizations in eastern and western Eurasia.

020601 Republics between hegemony and empire: How ancient city-states built empires and the USA doesn’t (anymore)
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper discusses the concepts ‘empire’ and ‘hegemony’, provides a new model of the institutional structure of ancient ‘citizen-city-state empires’, and argues that the contemporary USA cannot be defined as an ‘empire’.

110507 Stratification, deprivation, and quality of life in the Roman world
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
No longer available as a working paper. The final publication is in M. Atkins and R. Osborne, eds., Poverty in the Roman World (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 40-59.

110506 Sex and empire: a Darwinian perspective
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Revised May 2006. See 050603 entry.

110505 The monetary systems of the Han and Roman empires
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Revised February 2008. See 020803 entry.

110504 The comparative economics of slavery in the Greco-Roman world
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - A comparative perspective improves our understanding of the critical determinants of the large-scale use of slave labor in different sectors of historical economies, including classical Greece and the Italian heartland of the Roman empire. This paper argues that the success of chattel slavery was a function of the specific configuration of several critical variables: the character of certain kinds of economic activity, the incentive system, the normative value system of a society, and the nature of commitments required of the free population. High real wages and low slave prices precipitated the expansion of slavery in classical Greece and Republican Rome, while later periods of Roman history may have witnessed either a high-equilibrium level of slavery or its gradual erosion in the context of lower wages and higher prices.
This paper has now been published in "Slave Systems, Ancient and Modern" E. Dal Lago and C. Katsari (eds.), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2009, pp. 105-126.

110501 Military commitments and political bargaining in ancient Greece
Walter Scheidel, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract - This paper explores the relationship between military commitments and political bargaining in Greek poleis and beyond. While it is possible to document a number of instances of concurrent political and military mobilization, comparative evidence suggests that state type may be a more important determinant of military mobilization levels than regime type.