The Key Topic “Economy” pursued a path of trying to match the givens of the ancient world with theoretical considerations drawn from the world of modern economics. This object builds on the concept that a theoretical methodology is essential if we are to understand the ancient economies – but that that theoretical analysis could also demand that economics be understood as a human, historical process (rather than as a timeless matter of coordinating variables in different ways). In this sense, economics would shift from being merely (a) a matter of history for past economies and social science for modern economies to (b) an historical process with socio-economic implications (going on until this day) – and in which long-term historical developments would play a central role in understanding economic history and theory.
In Topoi, the development of this programme began with some efforts to connect with various parts of Topoi, and also with the preparation of an informal “primer” text introducing the ancient world in economic terms to students in 2014. In this context, we also organised a Lecture Series entitled “Early economies and modern economic thought” held at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in 2016-2017. The aim of these projects was to establish the basis for a co-operation with modern economists in the study of the ancient economies, using written texts, lectures and discussions to build bridges.
This work went parallel with efforts in Topoi to come closer to the ancient economies. The Key Topic Economy was integrated into research group (A-6) Economic Space working on pottery as a means of access to “Economic Spaces”. This project was a very special experiment, relying on new technology to answer old archaeological problems and to develop corresponding analytical methods. Beyond that, co-operation with research group (D-6) Atlas of Innovations will result in an article on Egyptian balances.
Aside from a workshop on “Economic Growth in Antiquity”, held in November 2016, there were two others (“Interaction on the Edge of the Empires”, “Aspects of Colours in Antiquity”), and a fourth on “Egyptian economic institutions in sacral form” is in the course of organisation (in cooperation with Sebastian Richter of Area B). Another workshop on balances and weights in Antiquity is being prepared in cooperation with Jochen Büttner of research group (D-5) From technology to science. Results of these conferences and workshops will be presented in several publications.
Courses on the economics of the Prehistoric and Early Historical eras are held for students at the Freie Universität Berlin.
Together, these various efforts are designed to demonstrate the importance of understanding economics when analysing human behaviour in the past.