Antiquity was richer than we think

George Grantham writes:

In recent decades the conventional dating of the origins of Western Europe’s economic ascendancy to the tenth and eleventh centuries AD has been called in question by archaeological findings and reinterpretations of the early medieval texts indicating significantly higher levels of material prosperity in Antiquity than conventional accounts consider plausible. On the basis of that evidence it appears likely that at its peak the classical economy was almost as large as that of Western Europe on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

Here is sixty pages more, noting that every single page of this paper has interesting material, a remarkable achievement.  Here is one bit:

Between 1300 and 900 BC three innovations turned out to be crucial for the eventual integration of Europe’s economic space. The earliest was the improvement in ship construction and sailing technique. As will be discussed in more detail below, the decisive changes in rigging and hull construction that permitted larger and more robust ships were achieved before the Aegean collapse in response to the growing bulk trade in timber and agricultural produce. The perfection of ferrous metallurgy by Cypriot and Aegean smiths was the second decisive innovation. Unlike the changes in naval architecture, the metallurgical innovations of the Aegean Dark Age were an unexpected by-product of economic collapse. The third major development affecting the later expansion of trading networks was the transformation of Proto-Canaanite syllabaries into a true alphabet consisting of approximately two dozen phonetic signs. The triumph of the alphabet was also a consequence of the Aegean collapse, which destroyed the earlier and slightly more cumbersome cuneiform script employed to document administrative and commercial transactions outside Egypt.

The pointer is from Razib.  Here is Grantham on the agricultural revolution.


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