The distribution of economic and political power in ancient empires

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.

 

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