On the efficiency of markets for agricultural products in pre-industrial societies: The case of Babylonia c. 400 - c. 60 BC.
05 / 2007 - 06 / 2011
The object of this programme is to examine the functioning of the Babylonian market for agrarian products in a period when Mesopotamia was ruled by three successive empires: the later Achaemenid or Persian empire (c. 400 - 331 BC), the empires of Alexander the Great and the empire of the Graeco-Macedonian dynasty of the Seleucids - the "Hellenistic" period -(331-141 BC) and the early Parthian empire (141- c. 60 BC). Basis of this research is the dataset of Babylonian prices of barley, dates, wool and a few other products as preserved in the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries and some other sources, as have been collected by the applicant of this program (cf. http://www.iisg.nl/hpw/babylon.php ). This dataset is unique for the ancient world because of its denseness of information. The diaries not only contain celestial observations and monthly prices, but also information on the activities of kings and high officials, unrest in the city, famines, plagues, war, the level of the Euphrates (important for the irrigation), quality of the harvest. This dataset has attracted the attention of professor J.L. van Zanden, because it well fits in with his comparative research into prices as conducted at the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam. It is therefore the purpose of this programme to analyse the Babylonian prices with the research tools as formulated by the researchers of Van Zanden's team. One remarkable feature of the Babylonian prices is their volatility. This volatility may be an indication of restricted or absent integration of Babylonia in the interregional food market. The aim of this project is to bring together the expertise of ancient historians, who have an intimate knowledge of the sources and their context, and economic historians who have established a set of statistical instruments and hypotheses to study the functioning of market systems in the past. Statistical analysis of the Babylonian prices has been conducted already, but some of those analyses are defective because they use inappropriate or wrong methods and especially because they disregard the historical context It is the purpose of two PhD projects to elucidate the historical background of these prices, the exogenous shocks that help to explain the fluctuations observed, and investigating the links between them, by evaluating the historical sections of the historical sections of the astronomical diaries in combination with information from other sources (cuneiform archives, archaeological surveys, classical sources). A study of the tablets in the British Museum is part of the job. This study must lead to the formulation of hypotheses and evaluate the role of the state. Secondly, on the basis of this research a postdoctoral researcher, versed in statistical research into the history of prices, will carry out the econometric testing of the hypotheses being used to interpret the functioning of markets in pre-industrial societies. The programme is matched by complementary research programmes in Vienna and London. In Vienna research projects will study the cuneiform archives from Babylon and the silver currency; in London research into prices elswhere in the Ancient world is conducted. A conference will be held in Amsterdam in which all participants of these programmes will take part. The final synthesis, written by the applicant and the postdoc, will be included in the conference volume.