The Distribution of Economic and Political Power in Ancient Empires, University of St Andrews, June 10–11, 2020
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 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.