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.


I think Grantham missed the main reason that Europe was able to become a "power" which was due to the complete destruction of every city and nation in the "catastrophe" around 1200BC. It was only due to that economic and political vacuum left behind by the city burners that the "classical" civilization of the Greeks, Romans and Phonecians were able to move into. And that was due to the relentless war of the "Sea Peoples" and their destruction of every known European and Middle Eastern city (of which you've probably only heard of Troy) with the sole exceptions of Memphis and Thebes. Well, Grantham consigns Drews' book on the subject to two sentences on page 17 and footnote 61.

The city burners left no one alive who could read and write. And on at least one occasion, they returned to find one of the cities they destroyed being rebuilt - so they destroyed it *again*.

My review of Drews' book on the subject:

Now. That being said, I am interested in sailing ships so I'll be reading Grantham's paper again when I get home from work this evening.

Paging Gregory Clark, Gregory Clark to the comments section at Marginal Revolution.

Wow! An academic paper that feels like I'm playing Sid Meier's Civilization. Utterly cool.

Grantham missed the main reason [...] was due to the complete destruction of every city and nation in the "catastrophe" around 1200BC

Grantham does not 'miss' this at all; in his discussion on the rise of iron it is clear that he is aware of the implications, and he mentions the collapse elsewhere. However, it's also clear that he doesn't agree with your lurid interpretation of the *cause* of the collapse - he cites it as basically unexplained and merely notes a couple of theories in passing (including 'epidemiology' i.e. a plague). Given that he covers the implications in detail and merely disagrees about how it happened I don't think it makes sense to get all pissy about it.

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