School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    Manufacturing in classical Athens
    Acton, Peter Hampden ( 2010)
    This thesis aims to show that applying contemporary economic frameworks and analyses to manufacturing in classical Athens can reveal important insights into Athenian society. This approach defies recent orthodoxy which argues that the economy was so “embedded” in ancient society that current economic concepts and, in particular, the assumption of profit-maximising behaviour cannot be applied. The thesis includes an assessment of the logic and relevance of this view. The principal module of analysis concerns industry structure; the theory of competitive advantage is found to explain the known size of enterprises across a range of industries and to identify four Types of manufacturing business that differed in the demands they made on participants and in the rewards they offered. Demographic analysis shows how different social groups participated in different industry Types to meet their specific objectives. The widespread availability of semi-casual income-earning opportunities for citizens of modest means revealed by this analysis must have been an important enabler of the Athenian lifestyle and participatory democracy. Three other analyses support the general proposition that there is value in applying economic analyses. They address the following questions: • How and why did industries emerge from the oikos? (Supply and Demand Theory). • How did Athenians think about industry as an investment opportunity? (Risk-Return Analysis). • Why did Athens not have an Industrial Revolution? (Combining previous findings). In each case, the thesis identifies new perspectives on ancient society and behaviour that are revealed by the microeconomic analysis. The conclusions also cast into serious doubt arguments by recent scholars that ancient behaviour in the economic sphere was not economically rational or geared to profit-maximisation. They show that Athenians largely acted in a commercially rational way but with important exceptions revealed by the analysis. The thesis concludes by suggesting other applications of this approach to historiography.