The distribution of economic and political power in ancient empires

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Date / time
10/06/2020 - 11/06/2020, All day

School of Classics, University of St Andrews
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Conference convenors: Bart Danon and Myles Lavan

Deadline for submissions: 31 January 2020.

Organiser : Name: Mr Bart Danon, Email:, Institution: University of St Andrews

While the distribution of wealth in modern societies has recently received considerable attention (notably following the recent work of Thomas Piketty), it remains a relatively poorly understood aspect of ancient empires. This is all the more unfortunate as the economic top layers played a pivotal role in governing these empires. Administrative posts were generally assigned to wealthy men, while they simultaneously allowed these men to increase their wealth.

This conference aims to explore the distribution of wealth and its mutually constituting relationship with political power for different ancient empires. Modern scholars often assume a simple correlation between political power and wealth. This is illustrated by the pervasive use of social tables (which are based on the socio-political structure of society) to estimate the distribution of wealth. Although economic and political power networks were indeed strongly integrated in many ancient empires and this strong entanglement is further endorsed by our elitist-biased literary sources, detailed studies of premodern economies and administrations reveal a more nuanced relationship between wealth and political power.

Possible topics of papers include, but are not limited to:

  • How were wealth and political power distributed?
  • How different were these distributions?
  • Did wealth and political power always coincide?  Were there power dissonances, i.e. men with economic but no political power or vice versa?
  • How and to what extent were economic and political power networks integrated? Were there institutionalised links?
  • How could wealth be converted into political power and vice versa?
  • How did the political structure influence the process of wealth concentration or vice versa? What role did the centralised government play in the concentration of economic and political power?

Papers can be comparative (comparing different empires/societies), synthetic (on developments in the longue durée) or focus on a particular case study. Papers on any preindustrial empire or society are welcome. The conference language is English. Two bursaries of £100 towards travel expenses and two nights’ accommodation are available for postgraduate speakers.

Prospective speakers are invited to send a 300-word abstract to Bart Danon by 31 January 2020.

Confirmed Speakers
Mirko Canevaro (Edinburgh), Lisa Eberle (Tübingen), Michael Jursa (Vienna), David Lewis (Edinburgh), John Weisweiler (Cambridge), Arjan Zuiderhoek (Ghent).

The conference is co-funded by the Economic History Society, the School of Classics at the University of St Andrews, the Classical Association and the Institute for Classical Studies.