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Peter Fibiger Bang
Antiquity between "Primitivism" and "Modernism"
The Revival of "Modernism"
In 1973 the late Cambridge ancient historian Moses Finley published his pathbreaking book The Ancient Economy. During the 1960s a number of studies gradually came to show the need for a new overall conception of the economy of Greco-Roman antiquity. This was what Finley set out to provide in his book. Thus he revived a debate on the nature of the Greco-Roman economy which originally took place during the 1890s and the first decades of this century. At that time the German economist Karl Bücher had tried to argue that the economy of Antiquity was fundamentally different from and much less developed than a modern, capitalist market economy. This caused strong resentment in the field of classics. The German ancient historian Eduard Meyer conducted the first wave of attack scornfully dismissing the views of Bücher as "primitivism". Instead he insisted on a modernizing picture of the economy of Antiquity stressing its basically modern, capitalist nature. When the exiled Russian historian Michael Rostovtzeff published his monumental The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire in 1926 this "modernist" line of thought received a strong empirical underpinning. Therefore it managed to achieve a position of almost complete dominance until some time in the 1960s. Inspired by the old "primitivist" position Finley now tried to provide an analysis that showed the Greco-Roman economy to be adverse to the inner principles of capitalism by emphasizing the conceptual universe of the Ancients themselves rather than expecting our own way of thinking to be natural to all men as the "modernists" did.
Finley's book caused something amounting to a revolution within the field of classical scholarship and stimulated a considerable amount of new research, especially among scholars with connections to his own University, Cambridge. In 1983 Keith Hopkins, Finley's successor as professor in Cambridge, introducing a collection of papers called Trade in the Ancient Economy and dedicated to Moses Finley, termed the views of Finley the new orthodoxy. Today, however, this judgement seems a bit premature. From the very beginning the book received strong criticism. Martin Frederiksen concluded his Journal of Roman Studies review by calling Finley's insistence on the use of theoretical models and idealtypes into question with his carming remark: One may respectfully suggest that the old laborious methods, of collecting evidence and interrogating it with an open mind, will remain with us for a longish time yet. But in recent years the strong criticism seems to have developed into outright dismissal among large sections of the academe. We are now beyond the consumer city of Finley a rccently published book edited by Helen Parkins informs us. Instead of a model, we are offered (recalling Frederiksen's critique) a jargon free insight ...[and] diverse approaches ... bringing the Roman city into the nineties. Consequently terms such as capitalism, modern and industry so vehemently attacked by Finley have received renewed prominence.
Indeed, this tendency seems to have come to an extreme point as I shall try to demonstrate by a recent analysis of the Arretine potteries undertaken by the archaeologist Philip Kenrick. The potteries of Arretium played a key role in the analysis that M. I. Rostovtzeff presented in his much influential The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire. As mentioned above Rostovtzeff was probably the most important scholar in the construction of the modernist paradigm that Finley 40 to 50 years later was to discard. However, the tendency of the Arretine pottery production to be set up in relatively small production units and later to move to Gaul, conveniently termed decentralization, led Rostovtzeff to conclude that real industry did not come into existence in Antiquity. The division of labour simply never developed enough to render small workshops unprofitable. For Rostovtzeff the break down of the Arretine terra sigillata production became an important element in his analysis of the Italian economy of the Early Empire and came to signify a decline in the Italian economy. Just at the brink of a breakthrough to a truly modern, industrial economy, the Italian economy came to a halt and instead began to contract. Thus the economic base of the Greco-Roman Civilisation was gradually undermined when the same started to happen in the provinces as they were gradually being integrated in the imperial economy. Therefore it seems a bit of a paradox, that Philip Kenrick now argues that exactly this tendency of decentralisation in the form of setting up of branch workshops in other cities justifies us in regarding this as an industry in an entirely modern sense. In other words part of the same characteristic that led one of the founding fathers of the "modernist" paradigm in ancient economic history to see a limit in development of a modern economy is now being evoked in defence of the same "modernist" paradigm. If this appears to be a bit of a puzzle to some, I shall certainly not protest, for so it does to me.
This, however, is far from being the only example of puzzling "modernist" attacks on the Weber inspired models of Finley. The ancient historian Robin Osborne in Pride and prejudice, sense and subsistence: exchange and society in the Greek City sets out to prove apparently against Finley that the Athenian landowning elite certainly depended on selling the agricultural produce of their estates on the market in Athens and consequently were interested in profits. This would hardly have come as a surprise to a man who wrote: Landowners were of course concerned with the sale of their produce ... Anyone who confuses the gentlemanliness of agriculture with a disinterest in profits and wealth closes the door to an understanding of much of the past. For Osborne, Finley's problem lies in his understanding of Greco-Roman economic rationality. This has now been further developed by Dominic Rathbone in Economic Rationalism and Rural Society in third century Egypt. Following the Finnish historian Gunnar Mickwitz's studies in the accounting techniques of Antiquity, Finley stressed that we never encounter an economic rationality in the modern capitalist sense as Rostovtzeff had held. Contrary to this Rathbone points out that we do find traces of quite sophisticated accounting systems in the papyri of the Egyptian desert. It may not have followed all the principles of capitalist accounting practice but that was because the market system was too unstable to allow the kind of predictions and comparisons that modern capitalist accounting demands. Instead their concern...seems to have been far more with the one crucial element of profitability which the estate was most able to influence, namely costs of production...[and] to provide a check against carelessness or dishonesty on the part of the phrontistai [the managers], a perfectly rational aim in itself. Allow me to recapitulate their argument albeit polemically, but only for the sake of clarity. According to these two scholars Finley seems to have been utterly wrong, nonetheless both in reality conclude that a modern capitalist approach to investment was not possible. Therefore the ancients used a different approach focusing on cost control. But this very same approach was summed up by Finley in Cato's saying: The pater familias should be a seller not a buyer, exactly in order to control spending and thus ensure a profit. I must say, the fundamental conflict eludes me. The difference seems to be a question of details rather than a matter of principles. Both parties in reality end up in noting a fundamental difference between a modern capitalist economy and the ancient one at question.
In a recent paper on mainly Athenian economy this turn away from "primitivism" is described as a perversity by the the philospher Scott Meikle. Therefore he proceeds to locate weaknesses in the "modernist" conception of economy and finds them especially in a too heavy reliance on neo-classical economic theory. However, this way of discarting the present failure of "primitivism" as the work of some perversely unperceptive "modernists" seems to me to be heading in the wrong direction. It will hardly help to provoke debate with other than the people all ready adhering to the "primitivist" analysis of the Ancient Economy. Rather, we need to ask what is it in "primitivism" that fails to persuade its opponents?
The "Primitivization" of Antiquity
At this stage I would like to point to the fact that "primitivism" is not just a phenomenon restricted to the debate on the nature of the economy of Greco-Roman antiquity. Most fields of study within classics have had their "primitivist" turn. From around 1900 we have seen analyses of the political life of antiquity stressing the huge differences to modern liberal democracy with its phocus on alienated rights rather than personal connections to achieve influence upon the decision making processes. I am thinking on the huge attention given to clientela in the field of Roman politics by historians such as Ronald Syme and Mathias Gelzer. The study of ancient religion too experiences such a turn constantly reminding us that we cannot grasp phenomena such as the imperial cult with a modern notion of religion. One of the fields where this tendency presently seems most outspoken is the field of literary criticism or classical philology if you wish. One hundred years ago classical literature was viewed as a means of securing a virtuous education of young people. Consequently writers such as Petronius was not very widely read, indeed in the Loeb translation from this period the sexually most daring parts were not even translated but left in the decent obscurity of latin - as the translator noted. To deal with such phenomena one had to visit indigenous people around the world as the French painter Gaugain did or as the British anthropologist Malinowski, who later wrote on the liberated sexual life of savages. But today classical philology abound with studies on sexual matters in Petronius and in many other writers.
Thus the gap which was perceived between primitive, indigenous people and Antiquity around 1900 has been gradualy narrowed down in the course of this century. Indeed, we have even seen attempts at reinterpreting the estetic heritage of Antiquity as expressed in neoclassical art and architecture. During the 1920s and 1930s Picasso incorporated ancient Greek elements in his avantgarde, anti-neoclassicist pictural language. This was heavily influenced by primitive art from around the world, perhaps most famous is his Les Demoisselles D'Avignon painted in 1907 and inspired by African masks. Accordingly it appears that Picasso's estetic conception of ancient Greek women as in Femmes à la fontaine from 1921 is closer to the heavy women painted by Gaugain in Melanesia than the gracious women we find in the art of for instance the Danish 19th-century sculptor Thorvaldsen. To sum up. Antiquity has seen numerous attempts at "primitivization". Parallel we also find examples of the opposite process, that is an "antiquitization" of primitive peoples. Most instructive, perhaps, is the Corpus Inscriptionum Agriculturae Quiriviniensis incorporated by Bronislaw Malinowski in his study of agriculture on the Trobriand Islands Coral Gardens and their Magic from 1935. The purpose of this was to supply linguistic material for ethnographical analysis similar to the corpora preserved from Antiquity. But the contents were not inscriptions found on these Islands but sayings and native statements recorded by Malinowski. Therefore the name can better be understood as part of his program for a New Humanism centered on living man, living language, and living full-blooded facts contrary to the old Humanism based on the dead languages of Greek and Latin.
It was precisely such connections between the culture of Greco-Roman Antiquity and primitive peoples which originaly caused the resistance of the two founders of the "modernist" position in economic history, Eduard Meyer and Michael Rostovtzeff. In their mind Antiquity was exactly the opposite of primitive culture, which to them at best appeared as naive, simple and childlike. From their point of view the Greeks and Romans were the great civilizers of history bringing their superior culture to the various indigenous peoples living within their empires. Indeed, both Meyer and Rostovtzeff explained the cause of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire by the ultimate failure of Rome to raise the cultural level of all her subject peoples to her own high level of civilization. On the contrary during the third century AD they saw the Roman state being gradually overtaken by the least civilized people within the Empire and thus the refined culture of Antiquity was quickly rushed to its end in a process of barbarization. In other words a comparison with primitive peoples were not felt to do justice to Antiquity. Brought up in the bourgeois neoclassicism of the 19th century, they saw that period as the very model of civilization which therefore could not be connected with its opposite, the savage peoples of the European colonies around the world. Thus, rather than being about economic theory I will suggest that the ongoing debate on Greco-Roman economy might fruitfully be understood as part of a broader ideological conflict about cultural ideals and European civilization.
The "defence" of Antiquity
This also seems to be brought out by the way Finley's analysis in The Ancient Economy was received by his critics. It was often understood as an attack on Greco-Roman antiquity laying bare deficiencies in the mental capacities of its inhabitants. This in turn produced remarks such as Martin Frederiksen's in Journal of Roman Studies: Although our author is hard on the ancient agronomists and will not believe that their appeals to local informants are to be taken seriously, it was perhaps worth reflecting on their later reputations, and why they were read and imitated for the next fifteen centuries. In other words the critics view themselves as defending the reputation of antiquity and perhaps even the myth of the Rennaissance claiming that Antiquity gave birth to a new flowering European civilization after the "Dark Ages". At least this seems to be what a new book Inventing Ancient Culture analyzing Greco-Roman civilization more or less claims to be doing. Harshly criticizing the "primitivist" point of view in the fields of sexuality, mentality and the history of feelings, it claims to restore the much neglected place of Antiquity within modern civilization, seriously downplaying the importance of the Enligthtenment in the construction of modernity.
"Primitivism" an "Inverse" Modernism
The Reason to this failure of "primitivism" to cease the day is probably connected with the European experience of Imperialism. Afterall, European people mainly encountered the various indigenous populations in the process of Empire building. There is a certain parallel between the idea of the Roman Empire civilizing the barbarians and the ideology of White Man's burden connected with European imperialism. However, I would suggest that the connection is less straight forward than that - or perhaps rather has become less straight forward in the course of the century since Meyer and Rostovtzeff originaly rejected the "primitivist" position. Today only few people would dare to see the various primitive cultures brought to our attention by anthropologists as an expression of barbarism. On the contrary, Europe has lost its empires. Instead it has adopted many indigenous elements in its culture. As hinted at above, the whole development of modern art and architecture is completely unthinkable without the primitive inspiration. In other words primitive culture has received widespread acceptance and admiration and can, in fact, at times be seen together with Greek vases in advertisements from art dealers.
Thus in the light of this apparent success it seems worthwhile to pursue the question Why has anthropology nevertheless failed to produce a convincing picture of primitive society or perhaps rather otherness - to the extent that Antiquity is felt to require defenders? To answer this question we have to take a closer look on the way anthropology has presented primitive society. In his pathbreaking The Argonauts of the Western Pacific from 1922, a study of economic relations on the Trobriand Islands, one of the founding fathers of modern anthropology, B. Malinowski revealed an economic system completely foreign to a capitalist economy based as it was on gift giving rather than disinterested exchange. However, taking a closer look on his book reveals that gift giving was far from the only kind of exchange. Indeed, trade proper did in fact play an important role, but was only superficially included in his analysis of the economic system. Thus Malinowski himself seems to have been a victim of the temptation of "curio-hunting" that he claimed to have substituted with an anlysis of the complete cultural system of societies.
The consequence of this can be glanced from Marcell Mauss's famous essay on The Gift first published in the middle of the 1920s. Using the results of Malinowski he put forward a general theory of the gift. Insisting that the modern conception of gifts as disinterested objects given free of attachments was but an ideology, he claimed that all gift giving builds upon an expectation of reciprocity or, in short, the principle do ut des. Nonetheless he concluded his essay with a long chapter that might polemically be termed an eulogy of the disinterested gift. Thus he ends up by emphasizing the potential of giftgiving to create a stronger sense of community in Western society otherwise dominated by the alienation of capitalism - that is to move from gesellschaft to gemeinschaft. This somewhat romanticizing program using primitive societies to criticise modern Western society can be found in almost every prominent anthropologist of this century. In the works of Karl Polanyi, who was a major source of inspiration to Finley, we find the same quest for an alternative to capitalism. It is also what seems to be lying at the core of Levi-Strauss's famous split between warm, dynamic, constantly changing modern societies and cold, primitive, static, traditional societies. Of course, the latter type was to be preferred as it provided a more human environment. Another quite famous example is the Chicago based anthropologist Marshall Sahlins's provoking book Stone Age Economics which appeared in 1972. In that book he proposed to view the hunter/gatherer type of society as the original affluent society and the Zen road to affluence in strong opposition to modern, Western comsumer capitalism. Especially during the decolonization of the 1960s and 70s this program of anti-Western gemeinschaft was radicalised under the term Tiersmondism, perhaps best known from the writings of Jean Paul Satre completely rejecting the Western cultural tradition. However, today it is clear that this program was as much part of Western culture as the tradition which it criticised. As I have tried to show it was not just an investigation of other, foreign cultures. It was as much, and perhaps even more, an attempt at establishing a completely opposite alternative to modern capitalism. In other words an "inverse" modernism, rather than an analysis of otherness.
From "Primitivism" to Otherness
Some valuing those of their own side or mind,
Still make themselves the measure of mankind:
Fondly we think we honour merit then,
When we but praise ourselves in other men.
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism: 452-55
Today where the West seems to have recuperated from the shock of decolonization we start again to find people arguing confidently for the values of modern, Western, liberal democracy. It has increasingly become clear, that the salvation of the world will not come from the third world. Indeed, the Tiersmondist dream seems completely shattered as it has become connected with regimes such as that of the murderous Pol Pot, killing millions under the disguise of the blessings of traditional society and gemeinschaft.
However, it is not just people traditionally adherring to Western values who have rejected "primitivism". Surprisingly even among analysists claiming to represent the 3rd World "primitivism" is under heavy attack. From the late 70s onwards we have seen a number of analyses arguing that the "inverse" modernism of "primitivism" was just as ethnocentrist as the "modernism" it claimed to replace. In his notorious analysis Orientalism the English-Palestinian literary critic Eduard Said has tried to show that the European phocus on the radical otherness of foreign cultures resulted not in a respect for the particular features of each individual culture, but rather in an ahistoric category of traditional societies grouping large, extremely complex civilizations such as the Chinese alongside the more simple and small societies traditionally the object of anthropology such as Melanesia. In Europe and the People without History published in 1982 the anthropologist Eric Wolf has convincinly argued that there is no such thing as traditional, static society - this idea is but a projection of European dreams of the noble savage, or gemeinschaft as we have just termed it. Instead, he argues, cultures are bound to change and develop, constantly under the influence of mutual interaction.
Bringing our discussion back to Finley's The Ancient Economy we are know able to locate the weaknesses of "primitivism" in his analysis. Delineating his program of analysis in the first chapter he made it quite clear that The Ancient Economy first and foremost was an attempt to understand Antiquity on its own terms. Thus when Finley noted that Antiquity did not produce economic analysis in our sense of the word it was not meant to lay bare an intellectual failing, rather he wanted to highlight that the ancient people had other goals and interests hence the famous emphasis on status and economic mentalities. To judge them on modern standards rested on a fundamental misconception of what these writings were about. Nonetheless his book is full of many remarks on the primitiveness of the Greco-Roman world compared to a modern, capitalist economy. The reason to this, I would suggest, must be found in the unfortunate bi-polar split between primitive, traditional societies and modern societies, which we have seen dominate Western discourse on the other.
The big question now is, what consequences should we draw from this? The critics of "primitivism" seems to wish to go back to a basically "modernist" frame of analysis. However, this just seems to turn the discussion up-side-down once more and cannot really be said to do justice to the cultures in question as the small citation from Pope at the beginning of this chapter should remind us. Moreover, it fails to appreciate a basic experience of the European colonizers. They went out expecting their own prejudices and conceptions of how the world functioned to be universally valid. But it quickly appeared that this was far from being the case. On the contrary doing it the European way often turned out to be impossible as the numerous complaints about lazy native workers suggest. In fact, they were not lazy. They just saw no point in working in a system dominated by European values which meant nothing to them. In the field of Antiquity such a return to "modernism" would equally ignore the "primitivist" scholars' observation of many phenomena, which seem incomprehensible within a modern, European frame of thinking.
Today these discoveries of the far from universal scope of European culture and economy receive strong support from the research on the rise of modern capitalism. Increasingly it becomes clear, that capitalism far from being a natural occurrence of humanity seems to have come about by a bit of a coincidence. In other words capitalism seems the exception rather than the rule. This should make us open to recognise impressive achievements in other historical societies without having to resort to capitalism as the explanation. Indeed, the experience of our century has given us a prime example of that other systems might be able to produce impressive material achievements. The communist economy of the Soviet Union managed to industrialise the agrarian Russian empire and make it one of the two atomic super powers just about 30 years after its complete collapse in World War I. Thus the huge agrarian civilizations/empires with material cultures equally impressing as that of Greco-Roman Antiquity may perhaps form a better area of comparative analysis than early modern capitalism. None of them managed to produce an industrial breakthrough, just as Antiquity failed to do. Nonetheless they were able to put up a breathtaking performance. Using these cultures as our point of reference may in the end help us to achieve a better understanding of The Ancient Economy and allow us to move beyond the debate between "primitivism" and "modernism". In fact, Antiquity was neither, it was just different. We might call this a move from "primitivsim" to historical otherness.
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 This is a slightly modified version of a paper presented first at the conference Reception of Antiquity in a Post-industrial Age, at Sandbjerg Manor-house 18-20 September 1997 under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of Antiquity, University of Aarhus and later on thursday 25 September at The Centre for Cultural Research, University of Aarhus as part of a lecturing series on Europe and the Other Civilizations.
 Bücher 1911 & 1922.
 Meyer 1924.
 Hopkins 1983: ix-xv summarises Finley's.
 Frederiksen 1975:171.
 The book in question is: Helen Parkins (ed.): Roman Urbanism. Beyond The Consumer City, Routledge 1997. The citation is taken from the cover which reflects the expectations of the publisher about what may interest the scholarly audience right now.
 Rostovtzeff 1957, especially pp. 70-105.
 Kenrick 1993:46.
 Osborne 1991
 Finley 1985:58 and restated in the extra chapter of the 1985 edition called `Further thoughts' on page 188-189.
 Rathbone 1991: Chapter 8, p. 334: quite sophisticated, & pp. 370-71 for cost cutting
 Mickwitz 1937 and especially Finley 1965, but also 1985:110-111, 116-117 & 180-181.
 Rathbone 1991:370-71. In the interest of truth it should be mentioned that besides this primary objective of the accounting system, Rathbone 1991:369 does hold that profitability analysis probably was undertaken on the basis of the accounts, although direct evidence is lacking [SIC!]. Furthermore, even the possibility of such accounting can only be maintained in a restricted sense as far from all costs are included (381-84). Although Rathbone desperately discards this problem by introducing a distinction between significant and unimportant costs (373) he ends up concluding that the weak market conditions rendered a capitalist accounting system impossible. Then what was the purpose of his long analytical ecxercise?
 Some may hold that utterly is too strong a word. Nonetheless Rathbone 1991: 331 does present his analysis as running counter to Finley and Osborne 1991: 136-140 writes: The claim being made here...contrasts markedly with the picture painted by Finley.
 Finley 1985:109.
 Meikle 1995: 41.
 Syme 1939 and Gelzer 1912 remain "classics" in this field of research.
 Prominent in this field is the Oxford professor Simon Price with his Rituals and Power. The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor, Cambridge 1984. The Danish archaeologist Itai Gradell, whose Ph.d. dissertation is soon to appear on Oxford University Press, also deserves mentioning.
 Petronius with an English translation by Michael Hesseltine, The Loeb Classical Library, New York 1913 p. xvi in the translator's introduction.
 The catalogue, published in connection with the large excebition Picasso and the Mediterra nean at the Danish museum of modern art, Louisiana in the autum of 1996, clearly documents the connection between a primitive estetics and Antiquity in the art of Picasso. See Picasso og Middelhavet, Louisiana Revy, 37. årgang, nr. 1, september 1996.
 Stocking Jr 1995: 267. Malinowski already presented his ideas in Argonauts of the Western Pacific from 1922 on pp. 22-24.
 e.g. Meyer p. 146 & 158-160.
 Frederiksen 1975:169, the accentuation is mine.
 The comment in Harris 1993 p. 25 "But Columella has in turn been defended" is symptomatic.
 Golden & Toohey 1997: 13-15 and most outspoken in the contributions of Amy Richlin and Peter Toohey.
 Only recently have we seen a growing awareness of the influence of 19th century European imperialism on the field of classical studies thus østergård 1991 on the Hellenist empires, Mattingly 1997 on the Roman Empire. Bernal's Black Athena too is an example of this new approach.
 E.g. in the advertisement for Antiquities and Tribal Art at Phillips, in Apollo. The International Magazine of the Arts, July 1996 p. 15.
 Nippel pp. 124-151 and Haskel & Teichgraeber pp. 4-8 clearly show the importance of Polanyi's hostility towards capitalism to his analytical project. Finley: The World of Odysseus from 1954 is the book most clearly influenced by Polanyi's concepts.
 Lévi-Strauss 1962, especially chapters 8 and 9, illustrates my point neatly with numerous comments displaying a certain nostalgia for the inalienated world of la pensée sauvage.
 Sahlins 1972: The title of chapter one and page 2.
 E.g in his preface to Franz Fanon: Les damnés de la terre, Paris 1961. østergård 1991 pp 39-49 & østerud 1987 pp. 203-215 for an analysis of tiersmondism.
 Thus for instance Hans Magnus Enzensberger in Germany, Alain Finkielkraut in France, Francis Fukuyama in USA and in Denmark Søren Mørch.
 In addition to the works discussed in the text the Sri Lankan anthropologist Gananath Obeysekere deserves mentioning. In The Apotheosis of Captain Cook he vehemently attacks the understanding of Capt. Cook's encounter with Hawaiian culture proposed by Marshall Sahlins, the above mentioned analysist of the original affluent society. He views Sahlins' insistence that the Hawaiians perceived Cook as one of their gods as a result of a Western ethnocentrism falsely believing that non-Western peoples perceive of things in a way different from Western culture. Sahlins 1995 is a reply.
 Finley 1985:21. More specifically on Aristotle's lacking economic analyses Finley 1970.
 This observation was at the core of the Danish economist Ester Boserup's pathbreaking study The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, Chicago 1965. See further Malinowski 1922: 58 & 156- 157.
 Conveniently summarised by Gellner 1988 and McNeill 1980