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Im folgenden Crash Course World History #202 wird die von David Graeber vertretene Hypothese zur Entstehung von Geld kritisch untersucht:

ON THE EXPERIENCE OF MORAL CONFUSION (David Graeber)

If history shows anything, it is that there’s no better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt – above all, because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong. Mafiosi understand this. So do the commanders of debt_graeberconquering armies. For thousands of years violent men have been able to tell their victims that those vicitims owe them something. If nothing else, they „owe them their lives“ (a telling phrase) because they haven’t been killed.
Third World debtor nations are almost exclusively countries that have at one time been attacked and conquered by European countries – often the very countries to whom they now owe money. In 1895, France invaded Madagascar, disbanded the government of Queen Ranavalona III, and declared the country a French colony. One of the first things General Gallieni did after „pacification,“ as they liked to call it, was to impose heavy taxes on the Malagasy population, in
part so they could reimburse the costs of having been invaded, but also, since French colonies were supposed to be fiscally self-supporting, to defray the costs of building the railroads, highways, bridges, plantations, and so forth that the French regime wished to build. Malagasy taxpayers were never asked whether they wanted these railways, bridges, and plantations, or allowed much input into where and how they were built. To the contrary: over the next half century, the French army and police slaughtered quite a number of Malagasy who objected too strongly to the arrangement (upwards of half a million, by some reports, during one revolt in 1947).
It’s not as if Madagascar has ever done any comparable damage to France. Despite this, from the beginning, the Malagasy people were told they owed France money, and to this day, the Malagasy people are still held to owe France money, and the rest of the world accepts the justice of this arrangement. If the „international community“ does perceive a moral issue, it’s usually when they feel the Malagasy government is being slow to pay their debts.
But debt is not just victor’s justice; it can also be a way of punishing winners who weren’t supposed to win. The most spectacular example of this is the history of the Republic of Haiti – the first poor country to be placed in permanent debt peonage [= Schuldknechtschaft]. Haiti was a nation founded by former plantation slaves who had the temerity not only
to rise up in rebellion, amidst grand declarations of universal rights and freedoms [in the course of the French Revolution in 1789], but to defeat Napoleon’s armies sent to return them to bondage. France immediately insisted that the new republic owed it 150 million francs in damages for the expropriated plantations, as well as the expenses of outfitting the failed military expeditions, and all other nations, including the United States, agreed to impose an embargo on
the country until it was paid. The sum was intentionally impossible (equivalent to about 18 billion dollars), and the resultant embargo ensured that the name „Haiti“ has been a synonym for debt, poverty, and human misery ever since.
Sometimes, though, debt seems to mean the very opposite. Starting in the 1980s, the United States, which insisted on strict terms for the repayment of Third World debt, itself accrued debts that easily dwarfed those of the entire Third World combined – mainly fueled by military spending. The U.S. foreign debt, though, takes the form of treasury bonds held by institutional investors in countries (Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the Gulf States) that are in most cases, effectively, U.S. military protectorates, most covered in U.S. bases full of arms and equipment paid for with that very deficit spending. This has changed a little now that China has gotten in on the game, but not very much – even China finds that the fact it holds so many u.s. treasury bonds makes it to so me degree beholden to U.S. interesrs, rather than
the other way around.
So what is the status of all this money continually being funneled into the U.S. treasury? Are these loans? Or is it tribute? In the past, military powers that maintained hundreds of military bases outside their own home territory were ordinarily referred to as „empires,“ and empires regularly demanded tribute from subject peoples. The u.s. government, of course, insists that it is not an empire — but one could easily make a case that the only reason it insists on treating these payments as „loans“ and not as „tribute“ is precisely to deny the reality of what’s going on.
Now, it’s true that, throughout history, certain sorts of debt, and certain sorts of debtor, have always been treated differently than others. In the 1720s, one of the things that most scandalized the British public when conditions at debtors‘ prisons were exposed in the popular press was the fact that these prisons were regularly divided into two sections. Aristocratic inmates, who often thought of abrief stay in Fleet or Marshalsea as something of a fashion statement, were wined and dined by servants and allowed to receive regular visits from prostitutes. On the „common side,“ impoverished debtors were shackled together in tiny cells, „covered with filth and vermin,“ as one report put it, „and suffered to die, without pity, of hunger and jail fever.“
In a way you can see current world economic arrangements as a much larger version of the same thing: the U.S. in this ca se being the Cadillac debtor, Madagascar the pauper starving in the next cell – while the Cadillac debtors‘ servants lecture him on how his problems are due to his own irresponsibility.
And there’s something more fundamental going on here, a philosophical question, even, that we might do well to contemplate. What is the difference between a gangster pulling out a gun and demanding you give him a thousand dollars of „protection money,“ and that same gangster pulling out a gun and demanding you .provide him with a thousand-dollar „loan“? In most ways, obviously, nothing. But in certain ways there is a difference. As in the case of the U.S. debt to Korea or Japan, were the balance of power at any point to shift, were America to lose its military supremacy, were the gangster to lose his henchmen, that „loan“ might start being treated very differently. It might become a genuine liability. But the crucial element would still seem to be the gun.
There’s an old vaudeville gag that makes the same point even more elegantly – here, as improved on by Steve Wright:
I was walking down the street with a friend the other day and a guy with a gun jumps out of an alley and says „stick ‚em up.“ As I pull out my wallet, I figure, „shouldn’t be a total loss.“ So I pull out some money, turn to my friend and say, „Hey, Fred, here’s that fifty bucks I owe you.“ The robber was so offended he took out a thousand dollars of his own money, forced Fred to lend it to me at gunpoint, and then took it back again.
In the final analysis, the man with the gun doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. But in order to be able to run even a regime based on violence effectively, one needs to establish some kind of set of rules. The rules can be completely arbitrary. In a way it doesn’t even matter what they are. Or, at least, it doesn’t matter at first. The problem is, the moment one starts framing things in terms of debt, people will inevitably start asking who really owes what to whom.
Arguments about debt have been going on for at least five thousand years. For most of human history – at least, the history of states and empires – most human beings have been told that they are debtors.
[…] For thousands of years, the struggle between rich and poor has largely taken the form of conflicts between creditors and debtors – of arguments about the rights and wrongs of interest payments, debt peonage, amnesty, repossession, restitution, the sequestering of sheep, the seizing of vineyards, and the selling of debtors‘ children into slavery. By the same token, for the last five thousand years, with remarkable regularity, popular insurrections have begun the same way: with the ritual destruction of the debt records – tablets, papyri, ledgers, whatever form they might have taken in any particular time and place. (After that, rebels usually go after the records of landholding and tax assessments.) As the great classicist Moses Finley often liked to say, in the ancient world, all revolutionary movements had a single program: „Cancel the debts and redistribute the land.“
I. EARLY CIVILIZATIONS – MESOPOTAMIA: CRUELTY AND REDEMPTION
„We will buy the poor for silver, the needy for a pair of sandals.“ (Amos)

This chapter discusses the role of debt in the emergence of states in the early Mesopotamian cizilization. The Mesopotamian civilization is the best-documented, more so than that of Pharaonic Egypt, Shang China, or the Indus Valley civilization when it comes to the question of the emergence of the first states and what this had to do with the changes in the economic and social relations among people.

MONEY AND CREDIT
Money was not the product of commercial transactions. Money was created by bureaucrats (= temple officials and priests) who developed a system of accountancy in order to keep track of resources and to calculate debts (rents, fees, loans…) in silver. Merchants were among the few people who did actually use silver in transactions; but even they did much of their dealings on credit.
The Sumerian economy (in Mesopotamia) was dominated by vast temple and palace complexes. These were often staffed by thousands: priests and officials, craftspeople who worked in their industrial workshops, farmers and shepherds who worked their considerable estates. Even though ancient Sumer was usually divided into a large number of independent city-states, by the time the curtain goes up on Mesopotamian civilization around 3500 B.C., temple administrators already appear to have developed a single, uniform system of accountancy – one that is in some ways still with us, actually, because it’s to the Sumerians that we owe such things as the dozen or the 24-hour day. The basic monetary unit was the silver shekel. One shekel’s weight in silver was established as the equivalent of one bushel of barley. A shekel was subdivided into 60 minas, corresponding to one portion of barley – on the principle that there were 30 days in a month, and Temple workers received two rations of barley every day. It’s easy to see that money in this sense is in no way the product of commercial transactions (as has been claimed by some Historians and Economists). It was actually created by bureaucrats in order to keep track of resources and move things back and forth between departments. Temple bureaucrats used the system to calculate debts (rents, fees, loans…) in silver. Silver was, effectively, money. And it did indeed circulate in the form of unworked chunks, „rude bars“ as the Economist Adam Smith had put it. But opposed to popular ideas about money circulating on markets, in this case the silver did not circulate very much. Most of it just sat around in Temple and Palace treasuries, some of which remained, carefully guarded, in the same place for literally thousands of years. It would have been easy enough to standardize the ingots (= Silberbarren), stamp them and create some authoritative system to guarantee their purity. The technology existed.
Yet no one saw any particular need to do so. One reason was that while debts were calculated in silver, they did not have to be paid in silver – in fact, they could be paid in more or less anything one had around. Peasants who had to pay tribute or tax to the Temple or Palace, or who owed money to some Temple or Palace official, seem to have settled their debts mostly in barley, which is why fixing the ratio of silver to barley was so important. But it was perfectly acceptable to show up with goats, or furniture, or lapis lazuli. Temples and Palaces were huge industrial operations – they could find a use for almost anything. In the marketplaces that cropped up in Mesopotamian cities, prices were also calculated in silver, and the prices of commodities that weren’t entirely controlled by the Temples and Palaces would tend to fluctuate according to supply and demand.
But even here, evidence suggests that most transactions were based on credit. Merchants – who sometimes worked for the Temples, sometimes operated independently – were among the few people who did, often, actually use silver in transactions; but even they mostly did much of their dealings on credit, and ordinary people buying beer from „ale women“, or local innkeepers, once again, did so by running up a tab, to be settled at harvest time in barley or anything they might have had at hand.
DEBT CRISES, CLEAN PLATE EDICTS & THE LAW OF JUBILEE
Especially in years of bad harvests some kind of debt crises developed and became common in Mesopotamian societies and later in the Persian Empire as well as in the early Hebrew kingdoms and in ancient Greek city states. Some farmers became indebted to rich neighbors or to the temple or to wealthy moneylenders in the towns, they would begin to lose title to their fields and to become tenants on what had been their own land, and their sons and daughters would be removed to serve as servants in their creditors‘ households, or even sold abroad as slaves. In the case of complete insolvency, the debtor himself might lose his own freedom as well.
In the book of Nehemia, one of the books of the Old Testament, some evidence is found about how debt crises were dealt with in ancient civilizations. Nehemia was a Jew born in Babylon in the 5th centura B.C. who was appointed by the Persian King as governor of his native Judaea. He also received permission to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar more than two centuries earlier. In the course of rebuilding, sacred texts were recovered and restored. In a sense, this was the moment of the creation of what we now consider Judaism. When appointed as governer of Judaea, Nehemiah quickly found himself confronted with a social crisis. All around him, impoverished peasants were unable to pay their taxes; creditors were carrying off the children of the poor. His first response was to issue a classic Babylonian-style clean plate edict – having himself been born in Babylon, he was clearly familiar with the general principle. All non-commercial debts were to be forgiven. Maximum interest rates were set. At the same time, though, Nehemiah managed to locate, revise, and reissue much older Jewish laws, now preserved in Leviticus, which in certain ways went even further, by institutionalizing the principle. The most famous of these is the Law of Jubilee: a law that stipulated that all debts would be automatically cancelled in the Sabbath year (that is, after seven years had passed), and that all who languished in bondage owing to such debts would be released.
Freedom, in the Bible, as in Mesopotamia, came to refer above all to release from the effects of debt. Over time, the history of the Jewish people itself came to be interpreted in this light: the liberation from bondage in Egypt was God’s first, paradigmatic act of redemption. The historical tribulations of the Jews (defeat, conquest, exile) were seen as misfortunes that would eventually lead to a final redemption with the coming of the Messiah – though this could only be accomplished, prophets such as Jeremiah warned them, after the Jewish people truly repented of their sins like carrying each other off into bondage or worshipping of false Gods. In this light, the adoption of the term by Christians is hardly surprising. Redemption was a release from one’s burden of sin and guilt, and the end of history would be that moment when all slates are wiped clean and all debts finally lifted when a great blast from angelic trumpets will announce the final Jubilee. If so, redemption is a matter of destroying the entire system of accounting. In many Middle Eastern cities, this was literally true: one of the common acts during debt cancelation was the ceremonial destruction of the tablets on which financial records had been kept. This act was to be repeated, much less officially, in just about every major peasant revolt in history.
In his Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus Christ dealt with the problem of redemption from debt. The parable is quite an extraordinary text and has long been a challenge to theologians. Certainly, the unforgiving servant is a genuinely odious character. Still, what is maybe more striking is the tacit suggestion that forgiveness, in this world, is ultimately impossible. Christians practically say as much every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer, and ask God to „forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.“ It repeats the story of the parable almost exactly, and the implications are similarly dire. After all, most Christians reciting the prayer are probably aware that they do not generally forgive their debtors. Why then should God forgive them their sins? Jewish and Chrisitan religion as well as other World religions, are full of this kind of ambivalence. On the one hand they are outcries against the market; on the other, they tend to frame their objections in commercial terms – as if to argue that turning human life and social relations into a series of transactions is not a very good deal. What these few examples reveal, though, is how much is being papered over in the conventional accounts of the origins and history of money and the state.
When people in ancient civilizations thought about money, some might have thought about their tab at the local ale-house, or, if they were a merchant or administrator, of storehouses or account books. For many, though, what was likely to come to mind was the selling of slaves and ransoming of prisoners, corrupt tax-farmers and the depredations of conquering armies, mortgages and interest, theft and extortion, revenge and punishment, and, above all, the tension between the need for money to create families, to acquire a bride so as to have children, and use of that same money to destroy families – to create debts that lead to the same wife and children being taken away. „Some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them.“ One can only imagine what those words meant, emotionally, to a father in a patriarchal society in which a man’s ability to protect the honor of his family was everything. Yet this is what money meant to the majority of people for most of human history: the terrifying prospect of one’s sons and daughters being carried off to the homes of repulsive strangers to clean their pots and provide the occasional sexual services, to be subject to every conceivable form of violence and abuse, possibly for years, conceivably forever, as their parents waited, helpless. Technically, daughters taken in debt bondage were not, if virgins, expected to be sexually available to creditors who did not wish to marry them or marry them to their sons. But even as laws protected them, fathers must often have had little means to protect them or cause those laws to be enforced. Clearly this was the worst thing that could happen to anyone – which is why, in the parable, it could be treated as interchangeable with being „turned over to the jailors to be tortured“ for life. And that’s just from the perspective of the father. One can only imagine how it might have felt to be the daughter. Yet, over the course of human history, untold millions of sons and daughters have known (and in fact many still know) exactly what it’s like.
What’s striking about the historical record is that in the case of debt crises, debt was considered a moral issue, a matter of right and wrong. It’s particularly striking because so many other things do seem to have been accepted as simply in the nature of things. One does not see a similar outcry against caste systems, for example. Why was it that the debtors‘ protests seemed to carry such greater moral weight? Why were debtors so much more effective in winning the ear of priests, prophets, officials, and social reformers? Why was it that officials like Nehemiah were willing to give such sympathetic consideration to their complaints? Some have suggested practical reasons: debt crises destroyed the free peasantry, and it was free peasants who were drafted into ancient armies to fight in wars. No doubt this was a factor; clearly it wasn’t the only one. There is no reason to believe that Nehemiah, for instance, in his anger at the usurers, was primarily concerned with his ability to levy troops for the Persian king.
It is something more fundamental. What makes debt different is that it is premised on an assumption of equality. In the case of debt, we are dealing with two individuals who begin as equal parties to a contract. Legally, at least as far as the contract is concerned, they are the same. We can add that, in the ancient world, when people who actually were more or less social equals loaned money to one another, the terms appear to have normally been quite generous. Often no interest was charged, or if it was, it was very low. Between close kin, many „loans“ were probably, then as now, just gifts that no one seriously expected to recover. Loans between rich and poor were something else again.
The problem was that, unlike status distinctions like caste or slavery, the line between rich and poor was never precisely drawn. One can imagine the reaction of a farmer who went up to the house of a wealthy cousin, on the assumption that „humans help each other,“ and ended up, a year or two later, watching his vineyard seized and his sons and daughters led away. Such behavior could be justified, in legal terms, by insisting that the loan was not a form of mutual aid but a commercial relationship – a contract is a contract. It also required a certain reliable access to superior force. But it could only have felt like a terrible betrayal. What’s more, framing it as a breach of contract meant stating that this was, in fact, a moral issue: these two parties ought to be equals, but one had failed to honor the bargain. Psychologically, this can only have made the indignity of the debtor’s condition all the more painful, since it made it possible to say that it was his own turpitude that sealed his daughter’s fate. But that just made the motive all the more compelling to throw back the moral aspersions: „Our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children.“ We are all the same people. We have a responsibility to take account of one another’s needs and interests. How then could my brother do this to me?
In the Old Testament case, debtors were able to marshall a particularly powerful moral argument – as the authors of Deuteronomy constantly reminded their readers, were not the Jews all slaves in Egypt, and had they not all been redeemed by God? Was it right, when they had all been given this promised land to share, for some to take that land away from others? Was it right for a population of liberated slaves to go about enslaving one another’s children? Contemporary language of social justice, our way of speaking of human bondage and emancipation, continues to echo ancient arguments about debt.
Analogous arguments were being made in similar situations almost everywhere in the ancient world: in Athens, in Rome, and for that matter, in China – where legend had it that coinage itself was first invented by an ancient emperor to redeem the children of families who had been forced to sell them after a series of devastating floods. Through most of history, when overt political conflict between classes of poor and rich did appear, it took the form of pleas for debt cancellation – the freeing of those in bondage, and usually, a more just reallocation of the land. What we see, in the Bible and other religious traditions, are traces of the moral arguments by which such claims were justified, usually subject to all sorts of imaginative twists and turns, but inevitably, to some degree, incorporating the language of the marketplace itself.

ANCIENT GREECE

Die antike griechische Gesellschaft und Kultur hat sich im Kontakt mit den Hochkulturen des Nahen Ostens (Mesopotamien und Ägypten) im Laufe des ersten Jahrtausends vor Christus entwickelt. Es gab also einen Wissens- und Kulturtransfer von Osten nach Westen. Auch innerhalb des griechischen Kulturkreises lag das Zentrum zu Beginn in den östlichen Gebieten in Kleinasien. In griechischen Städten in Kleinasien (z.B. Milet) wurde sowohl das Münzwesen (coinage) als auch die Philosophie, die Astronomie und die Mathematik zuerst entwickelt (z.B. Thales von Milet -> Satz von Thales) diese Neuerungen breiteten sich dann in das Zentrum Griechenlands und die griechischen Kolonien rings um das Mittelmeer aus. Antike_Karte_Griechenland_5_Jhd

1.    Athens Aufstieg im 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr.

Im antiken Griechenland gab es mehrere hundert Stadtstaaten (city states), das waren Gemeinden oder Städte und ihr Umland mit oft nur wenigen hundert km2 Fläche. Der rund 2500 km2 umfassende Stadtstaat Athen mit geschätzt 200.000 Bewohner_innen wurde erst im Laufe des 5. Jhd. vor Chr. zur bedeutendsten griechischen Polis (Stadtstaat). Dafür gab es u.a. folgende Gründe:

  • Das Silber: Die reichen Vorkommen von Kupfer, Blei, Zink und Silber, die in den Bergwerken von Laureion abgebaut
  • Die Perserkriege: Die Siege des Athenischen Heeres und der mit den Einkünften aus dem Silberbergbau finanzierten Athenischen Kriegsflotte gegen das persische Heer zwischen 490 (Marathon) und 480 v. Chr. Die Athener befreiten die griechischen Kolonien an der Küste Kleinasiens (heutige Türkei) von der Oberhoheit der persischen Könige.

Die Kriegsführung und die politische Macht waren lange Zeit in den meisten griechischen poleis (Stadtstaaten) Sache des Adels (= Aristokraten). 2.    Die Besitzlosen, der Krieg und die Demokratie Insbesondere in der Frage des Krieges gab es aber in vielen Stadtstaaten demokratische Mitbestimmungsrechte der Bevölkerung. Es wird hier von sogenannten Hoplitenpoliteia gesprochen. So stimmten in Sparta alle Teilnehmer der Wehrversammlung, also der Versammlung aller wehrpflichtigen Bürger (= Hopliten) über Krieg oder Frieden ab. Schließlich waren sie es, die ihre Bauernhöfe und damit ihre wirtschaftliche Lebensgrundlage verlassen und in den Krieg ziehen mussten. Wie war die Situation in Athen vor den Perserkriegen? Sklaven und Frauen waren ohne politische Mitbestimmungsrechte. Das aktive Wahlrecht (= Stimme in der Volksversammlung) und das passive Wahlrecht (= Wählbarkeit für alle Staatsämter) in Athen war den vermögenden männlichen Staatsbürgern vorbehalten, über Krieg oder Frieden stimmten alle Wehrpflichtigen ab. Die Wehrpflichtigen mussten je nach Vermögen als schwerbewaffnete Reiter (als Teil der Kavallerie) oder als Hopliten (Fußsoldaten der Infanterie) in den Krieg ziehen, wobei sie für die Kosten der Ausrüstung, der Waffen (und des Pferdes) selbst aufkommen mussten. Besitzlose und Lohnarbeiter (Theten) waren bis zu den Perserkriegen zwar die Teilnahme an der Volksversammlung erlaubt, sie waren aber de facto von politischer Mitbestimmung ausgeschlossen. Nachdem Theten als Ruderer auf den Kriegsschiffen eine wichtige Rolle bei der Besiegung der Persischen Flotte gespielt hatten, wurde ihnen mit der Bezahlung von Taggeldern unter Perikles die Teilnahme am politischen Leben ermöglicht. Athen erkämpfte sich im attischen Seebund, einem Militärbündnis mehrerer griechischer Städte, im Laufe des 5. Jahrhunderts die führende Stellung und kassierte Geld von den Bündnispartnern im Gegenzug für die Garantie, sie im Kriegsfall zu verteidigen.  Mit den Einnahmen wurde u.a. der Bau des bekannten Stadttempels auf der Akropolis finanziert.

3.    die Ökonomie und die Metöken

  Das Wort Ökonomie (economy) stammt vom griechischen oikos, dem Wort für Haus. Die Wirtschaft in griechischen Stadtstaaten war zunächst in wesentlich geringerem Ausmaß als heute auf die Produktion für den Austausch oder für den Verkauf der Produkte als Waren (commodities) auf dem Markt ausgerichtet. Ursprünglich gab es überwiegend sogenannte geschlossene (= autarke) Hauswirtschaften. Dort wurde auch mithilfe von Sklavenarbeit auf Äckern und Weiden sowie in der Werkstatt der Eigenbedarf an Nahrungsmitteln, Kleidung und Geräten hergestellt. Der Anbau von Oliven und Wein und die Produktion von Olivenöl und Wein waren nur den größeren Betrieben möglich und erst mit der Entwicklung des Handels rentabel. Der Überschuss, der nicht von der eigenen Hauswirtschaft konsumiert wurde, wurde auf dem Markt verkauft. Im Falle von Athen waren dies v.a. Wein und Oliven. Mit den immer zahlreicher werdenden Kriegen erhielten auch der Handel und die Geldwirtschaft immer größere Bedeutung. Händler und auch Handwerker in Athen waren mehrheitlich sogenannte Metöken (metics), das heißt „Mitbewohner“, die aus anderen Teilen Griechenlands nach Athen eingewandert waren. Sie waren zwar verpflichtet, Abgaben und Steuern zu bezahlen, nahmen aber nicht als Hopliten an Kriegen teil und waren auch ohne politische Mitspracherechte. Insbesondere für die Aristokraten galten die Tätigkeiten von Händlern und Handwerkern („Banausen“) als wenig ehrenhaft, für sie kam nur die Leitung landwirtschaftlicher Betriebe und natürlich die Kriegsführung als standesgemäße Tätigkeiten in Frage. Honor and debt in Ancient Greece

Homer (Ὅμηρος, Hómēros) is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, he lived in the 8th century BC. His epics have had an enormous influence on the history of literature. The Iliad relates the story of the Trojan War that supposedly took place in the 12th century BC.

The world of the Homeric epics is one dominated by heroic warriors like Ulysses who are disdainful of trade. Aristocrats lived their lives in pursuit of honor, which took material form in followers (or retainers) and treasure. Treasures were given as gifts, awarded as prizes for retainers or carried off as loot as was the case in the legendary Trojan war. In heroic societies, the role of violence is not hidden – it is glorified. In the Iliad, Achilles sees nothing shamefull in his relation with his slave-girl, Briseis, whose husband and brothers he killed. He refers to her as his „prize of honor“ and says, „so I from my heart loved this one, even though I won her with my spear.“ This is no doubt how „time“first came to mean both „honor“ and „price“ – in such a world, no one sensed any sort of contradiction between the two. All this was to change during the period labeled the “Axial Age”: As commercial markets developed, Greek cities quickly developed all the social problems that had been plaguing Middle Eastern cities for millennia: debt crises, debt resistance, political unrest. TheGreek word crisis (κρίσις)literally refers to a crossroads: it is the point where things could go either two different ways, a point where a decision has to be taken. What we see above all in the debt crises that struck so many Greek cities around 600 BC, right around the time that commercial markets were first taking shape, istheerosion both of older forms of hierarchy – the Homeric world of great aristocratic men with their retainers – and, at the same time, of older forms of mutual aid, with communistic relations (= non-commercial human relations) increasingly being confined to the interior of the household. It’s the former – the erosion of hierarchy – that really seems to have been at stake. Even in Homeric society, it was assumed as a matter of course that rich men would live surrounded by dependents and retainers, drawn from the ranks of the dependent poor. The critical thing, though, about such relations of patronage is that they involved responsibilities on both sides. Anoble warrior and his humble client were assumed to be fundamentally different sorts of people, but both were also expected to take account of each other’s (fundamentally different) needs. Transforming patronage into debt relations – treating, say, an advance of seed corn as a loan, let alone an interest-bearing loan – changed all this. What’s more, it did so in two completely contradictory respects. On the one hand, a loan implies no ongoing responsibilities on the part of the creditor. On the other, a loan does assume a certain formal, legal equality between contractor and contractee, between creditor and debtor. It assumes that they are, at least in some ways on some level, fundamentally the same kind of person. The same tensions can be observed between neighbors, who in farming communities tend to give, lend, and borrow things amongst themselves – anything from sieves and sickles, to charcoal and cooking oil, to seed corn or oxen for plowing. On the one hand, such giving and lending were considered essential parts of the basic fabric of human sociability in farm communities. But with the appearance of money in the form of coinage, it could become unclear what was a gift, and what a loan. On the one hand, even with gifts, it was always considered best to return something slightly better than one had received. On the other hand, friends do not charge one another interest, and any suggestion that they might was sure to rankle.So what’s the difference between a generous return gift and an interest payment? Whileeveryday market transactions, at shops or stalls in the agora (market place), were here as elsewheretypically conducted on credit, the mass production of coinage permitted a degree of anonymity for transactionsthat, in a pure credit regime, simply could not exist. In a heroic system, it isonly debts of honor – theneed to repay gifts, to exact, revenge, to rescue or redeem friends or kinsmen fallen prisoner – that operate completely under a logic of tit-for-tat exchange. Honor is the same as credit; it’s one’s ability to keep one’s promises, but also, in the case of a wrong, to „get even.“As the last phrase implies, it was a monetary logic, but money, or anyway money-like relations, were confined to this.  The Axial Age The term “the Axial Age” was  coined by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969). In the course of writing a history of philosophy, Jaspers became fascinated by the fact that figures like Pythagoras (570-495 B.C.), the Buddha (563-483 B.C.), and Confucius (551-479 B.C.), were all alive at exactly the same time, and that Greece, India, and China, in that period, all saw a sudden efflorescence of debate between contending intellectual schools, each group apparently, unaware of the others‘ existence. Like the simultaneous invention of coinage, why this happened had always been a puzzle. Whatever the reasons, the result, was the first period in history in which human beings applied principles of reasoned inquiry to the great questions of human existence. Jaspers observed that all these great regions of the world, China, India, and the Mediterranean, saw the emergence of remarkably parallel philosophical trends, from skepticism and materialism to idealism – in fact, almost the entire range of positions about the nature of the cosmos, mind, action, and the ends of human existence that have remained the stuff of philosophy to this day. Let us define the Axial Age, as running from 800 BC to 600 AD. This makes the Axial Age the period that saw the birth not only of all the world’s major philosophical tendencies, but also, all of today’s major world religions: Prophetic Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam. The core period of Jasper’s Axial age – the lifetimes of Pythagoras, Confucius, and the Buddha – corresponds almost exactly to the period in which coinage was invented. What’s more, the three parts of the world where coins were first invented were also the very parts of the world where those sages lived; in fact, they became the epicenters of Axial Age religious and philosophical creativity: the kingdoms and city-states around the Yellow Riverin China, theGanges valleyin northern India, and the shores of the Aegean Sea (=Ancient Greece). Wars, debt-crises and the invention of coinage  

A coin from Athens dated around 500 BC – showing the image of a Athene and an owl.

In the history of money, one event stands out above all others: the inventionof coinage. Coinage appears to have arisen independently in three different places, almost simultaneously: Innorthern China, in the Ganges river valley of northeast India, and in the lands surrounding the Aegean Sea (=Ancient Greece), in each case, between roughly 600 and 500 BC. Why it happened in this way is a historical mystery. But this much we know: For some reason, in Lydia, India and China, local rulers decided that whatever longstanding credit systems had existed in their kingdoms were no longer adequate, and they began to issue tiny pieces of precious metals – metals that had previously been used largely in international commerce, in ingot form – and to encourage their subjects to use them in day-to-day transactions. The world’s first coins appear to have been created within the kingdom of Lydia, in western Anatolia (now Turkey), sometime around 600 BC. These first Lydian coins were basically just round lumps of a gold-silver alloy that occurred naturally in a nearby river that had been heated, then hammered with some kind of insignia. The very first, stamped with only a few letters appear to have been manufactured by ordinary jewelers, but these disappeared almost instantly, replaced

A coin from Miletus dated around 600 BC – showing the image of a lion.

by coins manufactured in a newly established royal mint. Greek cities on the Anatolian coast soon began to strike their own coins. From there, the innovation spread and states everywhere started issuing their own coinage. In both India and China, we can observe the same pattern: invented by private citizens, coinage was quickly monopolized by the state. However, since in each of the three areas there was a plethora of tiny states, this meant that each ended up with a wide variety of different currency systems. Gold, silver, and bronze – the materials from which coins were made – had long been the media of international trade; but until that time, only the rich had actually had much in their possession. Most precious metals were simply stockpiled in temples, in ingot form. Somehow, during the Axial Age, all this began to change. Large amounts of silver, gold, and copper were dethesaurized, as the economic historians like to say: It was removed from the temples and houses of the rich and placed in the hands of ordinary people and began to be used in everyday transactions. Why and how did this happen? The single most important factorappears to be war. Bullion predominates, above all, in periods of generalized violence and warfare. There’s a very simple reason for that. Gold and silver coins are distinguished from credit arrangements by one spectacular feature: they can be stolen. A debt is, by definition, a record, as well as a relation of trust. Someone accepting gold or silver in exchange for merchandise, in the other hand, need trust nothing more than the accuracy of the scales, the quality of the metal, and the likelihood that someone else will be willing to accept it. In a world where war and the threat of violence are everywhere – and this appears to have been an equally accurate description of Warring States China and Iron Age Greece – there  are obvious advantages to making one’s transactions simple. This is all the more true when dealing with soldiers. It is in the nature of war that precious things are plundered. As the Axial Age was a period of generalized war-fare, soldiers tended to have access to a great deal of loot, much of which consisted of gold and silver, and they would always seek a way to trade it for the better things in life. For much of human history, then, an ingot of gold or silver, stamped or not, has served the same role as the contemporary drug dealer’s suitcase full of unmarked bills: an object without a history, valuable because one knows it will be accepted in exchange for other goods just about anywhere, no questions asked. As a result, while credit systems tend to dominate in periods of relative social peace, or across networks of trust – whether created by states or, in most periods, transnational institutions like merchant guilds or communities of faith – in periods characterized by widespread war and plunder, they tend to be replaced by precious metal. It may well have been the protracted wars among the states of these areas that first produced a large population of people with precious metal in their possession and a need for everyday necessities. Where there are people who want to buy there will be people willing to sell, as innumerable tracts on black markets, drug dealing, and prostitution point out. The constant warfare was a powerful impetus for the development of market trade, and in particular for market trade based on the exchange of precious metal, usually in small amounts. If plunder brought precious metal into the hands of the soldiers, the market will have spread it through the population. Surely, war and plunder were nothing new. The Homeric epics, for instance, show an obsessive interest in the division of the spoils. True, but what the Axial Age also saw – again, equally in China, India, and in Greece – was the rise of a new kind of army, made up not of aristocratic warriors and their retainers, but of common people trained as soldiers (hoplites). The period when the Greeks began to use coinage was also the period when they developed their famous phalanx tactics, which required constant drill and training of a considerable number of hoplite soldiers. The results were so extraordinarily effective that Greek soldiers were soon being sought after as mercenaries. But an army of trained mercenaries needs to be rewarded in some meaningful way. Allowing each a tiny share of the plunder does seem an obvious solution. These new armies were, directly or indirectly, under the control of governments, and it took governments to turn these chunks of metal into genuine currency. The main reason for this is simply scale: to create enough coins that the people could begin to use them in everyday transactions required mass production on a scale far beyond the abilities of local merchants or smiths. Of course we have already seen why governments might have incentive to do so: the existence of markets was highly convenient for governments, and not just because it made it so much easier for them to provision large standing armies. By insisting that only their own coins were acceptable as fees, fines, or taxes, governments were able to establish something like uniform national markets. Around 500 BC, just about every Greek city-state was producing its own coins as a mark of civic independence and it did not take long, before coins were in common use in everyday transactions as they were used to pay soldiers, as well as to pay fines and fees and payments made to and by the government. Debt crises in Ancient Greece and the advent of currency… and democracy

According to Aristotle, Solon (Σόλων) legislated for all Athenian citizens to be admitted into the Ekklesia, the popular assembbly, and for a court to be formed from all the citizens. By giving common people, even the poorest ones known as the Thetes, the power not only to elect officials but also to call them to account, Solon appears to have established the foundations of a democratic politeia in Athens. The Thetes were manual workers who served in the army as auxiliaries or as rowers in the Navy that was to be built during the Persian Wars.

When studying European classical history we can immediately detect striking similarities between Athens – with its far-flung naval empire built during the Persian wars in the early 5th century BC – and  Rome. In each city, history begins with a series of debt crises, the first crisis in Athens culminating in Solon’s reforms of 594 BC.  By the sixth century, in Greek cities, the agora, the place of public debate and communal assembly(= Ekklesia), also doubled as a marketplace. One of the first effects of the arrival of a commercial economy was a series of debt crises, of the sort long familiar from Mesopotamia and Israel. „The poor,“ as Aristotle put it in his Constitution of the Athenians, „together with their wives and children, were enslaved to the rich.“ When Aristotle spoke of the Athenian poor as falling slave to the rich, what he appears to have meant was that in harsh years, many poor farmers fell into debt; as a result they ended up as sharecroppers on their own property or as bonded serfs. Some were even sold abroad as slaves. This led to unrest and agitation, and also to demands for clean slates, for the freeing of those held in bondage, and for the redistribution of agricultural land. Revolutionary factions emerged, demanding amnesties and in a few cases it led to outright revolution. In Megara, a city near Athens, a radical faction that seized power not only made interest-bearing loans illegal, but did so retroactively, forcing creditors to make restitution of all interest they had collected in the past. In other cities, populist „tyrants“ promised to abrogate agricultural debts. And many Greek cities were, like Athens, at least for a while taken over by populist strongmen, „wise refomers“ like Solon or tyrants like Peisistratos, who swept into power partly by the demand for radical debt relief. The solution most Greek cities ultimately found, however, was quite different than it had been in the Near East. Rather than institutionalize periodic amnesties (like the „Law of Jubilee“), Greek cities tended to adopt legislation limiting the amount of agricultural land, one person could own and abolishing debt bondage altogether, and then, to forestall future crises, they would turn to a policy of expansion, shipping off the children of the poor to found military colonies overseas. Before long, the entire coast from Crimea (the peninsula in the Black Sea) to Marseille was dotted with Greek cities connected to their „metropolis“ (= „mother city“) by trade. In brief, we might say that these conflicts over debt had two possible outcomes. The first was that the aristocrats could win, and the poor remain in bonded servitude, become „slaves of the rich“ – which in practice meant that most people would end up clients of some wealthy patron. Such states were generally militarily ineffective. The second was that popular factions could prevail, institute the popular program of distribution of lands and safeguards against debt bondage, thus creating the basis for a class of free farmers whose children would, in turn, be free to spend much of their time training for war and actually going to war. According to Aristotle, Solon (Σόλων) legislated for all Athenian citizens to be admitted into the Ekklesia, the popular assembbly, and for a court to be formed from all the citizens. By giving common people, even the poorest ones known as the Thetes, the power not only to elect officials but also to call them to account, Solon appears to have established the foundations of a democratic politeia in Athens. The Thetes were manual workers who served in the army as auxiliaries or  as rowers in the Navy that was to be built during the Persian Wars. Pericles (Περικλῆς) was elected strategist (military commander) by the popular assembly ten times leading the Athenian Navy during the

Pericles (Περικλῆς) was elected strategist (military commander) by the popular assembly ten times leading the Athenian Navy during the Peloponnesian War. Athens succeeded in building a naval empire that had control over vast parts of Ancient Greece. Pericles promoted a social policy that is judged by some contemporary historians as „radical“. Civil servants, as well as all citizens who served as jurymen in court, chosen by lot, were paid fees – two oboles a day. All citizens were allowed to watch theatrical plays without paying. His most controversial measure, however, was a law of limiting Athenian citizenship to those of Athenian parentage on both sides, so that metics (migrants living in Athens with non-Athenian parents) remained without political rights.

Peloponnesian War. Athens succeeded in building a naval empire that had control over vast parts of Ancient Greece. Pericles promoted a social policy that is judged by some contemporary historians as „radical“. Civil servants, as well as all citizens who served as jurymen in court, chosen by lot, were paid fees – two oboles a day. All citizens were allowed to watch theatrical plays without paying. His most controversial measure, however, was a law of limiting Athenian citizenship to those of Athenian parentage on both sides, so that metics (migrants living in Athens with non-Athenian parents) remained without political rights.  Coinage played a critical role in maintainingthis kind of free peasantry – secure in their landholding, not tied to any great lord by bonds of debt. In fact, the fiscal policies of many Greek cities amounted to little more than elaborate systems for the distribution of loot. Only few ancient cities (like Megara) went so far as to outlaw predatory lending entirely. Instead, they threw money at the problem. Gold, and especially silver, were acquired in war, like in the Persian Wars of the 5th century BC. Or it was mined, like in the Athenian mines of Laureion, by slaves captured in war. City-states developed endless ways to distribute coins, not only to soldiers, sailors, and those producing arms or outfitting ships, but to the populace generally. Governments paid jury fees or fees for attending public assemblies. In Athens – after the rule of Perikles – every citizen without income was paid two oboles a day. At the same time, insisting that the same coins served as legal tender for all payments due to the state guaranteed that they would be in sufficient demand that markets would develop even further. With all the progress of democratic constitutions, we should bear in mind that it were the Greek colonies that served as conduits for a lively trade inslaves. And it was not the least because of a sudden abundance of chattel slaves[1], in turn, that made the transformation of the nature of Greek society possible. First and most famously, it allowed even citizens of modest means to take part in the political and cultural life of the city and have a genuine sense of citizenship. The military-coinage-slavery complex Already during the period of democratic rule in Athens, it was slavery, that made all the economical, political and philosophical progress possible. Enormous numbers of people were being enslaved in many of the wars, and, of course, many slaves ended up working in the mines, producing even more gold, silver, and copper. The mines in Laurium near Athens reportedly employed ten to twenty thousand slaves. The historian Geoffrey Ingham called the resulting system a “military-coinage complex” – though it would probably be more accurate to call it a military-coinage-slavery complex. Anyway, that describes rather nicely how it worked in practice. In the fourth century BC it was the Macedonian king Philipp II. who had conquered most of the Greek city states. Ironically, the rise of the Macedonians to the greatest military power of their time – making them able to control all of Ancient Greece – was made possible by the fact that they had adopted the Greek way of arming eventhe poorest peasants and giving them the title „pezhetairoi“ meaning companions or comrades on foot. In 333 BC the Macedonian king Alexander – being acclaimed by the hoplites assembly as leader of the army – set out to conquer the Persian empire. He had borrowed much of the money with which to pay and provision his troops, and he minted his first coins, used to pay his creditors and continue to support the money, by melting down gold and silver plundered after his initial victories over the Persian king. However, an expeditionary force needed to be paid, and paid well: Alexander’s army, which numbered some 120,000 men, required half a ton of silver a day just for wages. For this reason, conquest meant that the existing Persian system of mines and mints had to be reorganized around providing for the invading army; and ancient mines, of course, were worked by slaves. In turn, most slaves in mines were war captives. Alexander the Great – as well as later the Romans – basically continued the work begun by the Persian kings, destroying the power of the „great trading nation“ of the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were considered the greatest navigators, merchants and bankers of antiquity. They were also great inventors, having been the first to develop both the alphabet – later taken over by the Greeks – and the abacus. The Phoenician trading fleet is said to have travelled on the Atlantic Ocean as far as to the Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Yet for centuries after

A picture showing slaves working in a mine – around 600 BC – in the city state of Corinth.

the invention of coinage, they preferred to continue conducting business as they always had, with unwrought ingots and promissory notes. Phoenician cities struck no coins until 365 BC. Carthage, the great Phoenician colony in North Africa that came to dominate commerce in the Western Mediterranean until it was defeated by the Romans, did so when forced to pay Sicilian mercenaries; and its issues were marked in Punic, „for the people of the camp.“ In the extraordinary violence of the Axial Age, being a „great trading nation“ like the Phoenicians rather than, say, an aggressive military power like Alexander’s Macedonia or later Rome was not, ultimately, a winning proposition. The fate of the Phoenician cities is instructive. Sidon, the wealthiest, was destroyed by the Persian emperor Artaxerxes III after a revolt in 351 BC. In 332 B.C. the Phoenician city of Tyre was destroyed after a prolonged siegeby Alexander the Great: ten thousand died in battle, and the thirty thousand survivors were sold into slavery and presumably most of them ended up working in mines. One can see how this process might feed upon itself. Alexander dethesaurized the gold and silver reserves of Babylonian and Persian temples, the security on which their old credit systems were based, and insisted that all taxes to his new government be paid in his own money. The result was to „release the accumulated specie of century onto the market in a matter of months,“ something like 180,000 talents, or in contemporary terms, an estimated $ 285 billion. After Alexander’s death his empire didn’t last, Hellenistic successor kingdoms were established by Alexander’s generals, from Greece to India, employing mercenaries. The Hellenistic civilization  –  representing a fusion of the Ancient Greek world with that of the Near East and the Middle East was sparked by the conquests of Alexander the Great.  The term „Hellenistic“ itself is derived from Ἕλλην (Héllēn), the Greeks‚ traditional name for themselves. The Greek language became the lingua franca through the Hellenistic world and Greek culture, religion, art and literature still permeated Rome’s rule, whose elite spoke and read Greek as well as Latin. Coinage and materialist philosophy After the first coins were minted around 600 BC in the kingdom of Lydia, the practice quickly spread to Ionia, the Greek cities of the coast of the Aegean. The greatest of these was the great walled metropolis of Miletus, which appears to have been the first Greek city to strike its own coins. It was Ionia, too, that provided the bulk of the Greek mercenaries active in the Mediterranean at the time, with Miletus their effective headquarters. Miletus was also the commercial center of the region, and, perhaps, the first city in the world where everyday market transactions came to be carried out primarily in coins instead of credit. Greek philosophy, in turn, begins with three men: Thales, of Miletus (624 BC – 546 BC), Anaximander, of Miletus (610 BC – 565 BC), and Anaximenes, of Miletus (c. 585 BC – 525 BC) – in other words, men who were living in that city at exactly the time that coinage was first introduced. Is there a relation between the invention of coinage, military and commercial power, and this unprecedented outpouring of ideas? Let us take a look at what the thoughts of the three pioneers in philosophy from Milet – who are also known as materialist or as pre-Socratic philosophers – were. They are remembered chiefly for their speculations on the nature of the physical substance from which the world ultimately sprang. Thales proposed water, Anaximenes, air. Anaximander made up a new term, apeiron, „the unlimited,“ a kind of pure abstract substance that could not itself be perceived but was the material basis of everything that could be. In each case, the assumption was that this primal substance, by being heated, cooled, combined, divided, or set in motion, gave rise to the endless particular substances that humans actually encounter in the world, from which physical objects are composed. It was something that could turn into everything, and so was money. Gold, shaped into coins, is both a lump of metal and something more than a lump of metal – it’s a drachma or an obol, a unit of currency. The images stamped on Greek coins (Miletus‘ lion, Athens‘ owl) were typically the emblems of the city’s god, but they were also a kind of collective promise, by which citizens assured one another that not only would the coin be acceptable in payment of public debts, but in a larger sense, that everyone would accept them, for any debts, and thus, that they could be used to acquire anything anyone wanted. Money – at least if collected in sufficient quantity, taken to the marketplace at the right time, turned over to the right person – could be exchanged for any other object whatsoever. At least within the communities that created them, ancient coins were always worth more than the gold, silver, or copper of which they were composed. Historians have referred to this extra value by the inelegant term fiduciarity, which comes from the term for public trust, the confidence a community places in its currency. Within a city, that city’s currency had a special status, since it was always acceptable at face value when used to pay taxes, public fees, or legal penalties. This is, incidentally, why ancient governments were so often able to introduce base metal into their coins without leading to immediate inflation; a debased coin might have lost value when traded abroad or overseas, but at home, it was still worth just as much when purchasing a license, a loaf of bread or entering the public theater. This is also why, during public emergencies, Greek city-states would occasionally strike coins made entirely of bronze or tin, which everyone would agree, while the emergency lasted, to treat as if they were really made of silver. The problem is that this collective power is not unlimited. It only really applies within the city. The farther you go outside, into places dominated by violence, slavery, and war, the more it turns into a mere lump of precious metal. Axial Age philosophy was of course not simply a meditation on the nature of coinage, but it is right to argue that this was a critical starting place. Money & morals, debts & ethics… In Athens, the growth of commercial markets and the erosion of archaic thought resulted in extreme moral confusion. The language of money, debt, and finance provided powerful – and ultimately irresistible – ways to think about moral problems. Much as in Vedic India, people started talking about life as a debt to the gods, of obligations as debts, of debt as sin and of vengeance as debt collection. Yet if debt was morality – and certainly at the very least it was in the interest of creditors, who often had little legal recourse to compel debtors to pay up, to insist that it was – what was one to make of the fact that money also seemed to encourage the very worst sorts of human behavior? It is from such dilemmas that modern ethics and moral philosophy, as well as modern political thought, begin. I think this is true quite literally. Plato’s famous work „Republic“, (in Greek Πολιτεία, Politeia) is a product of fourth-century Athens and probably the first piece of literature in the field of political science. In his book, Plato tries to inquire the concept of justice by narrating the life and the thoughts of Socrates, probably the founder of a philosophy of ethics. The book begins when Socrates visits an old friend, a wealthy arms manufacturer, at the port of Piraeus. They get into a discussion of justice, which begins when the old man proposes that money cannot be a bad thing, since it allows those who have it to be just, and that justice consists in two things: telling the truth, and always paying one’s debts. The proposal is easily demolished. What, Socrates asks, if someone lent you his sword, went violently insane, and then asked for it back (presumably, so he could kill someone)? Clearly it can never be right to arm a lunatic whatever the circumstances. The old man cheerfully shrugs the problem off and heads off to attend to some ritual, leaving his son to carry on the argument. The son, Polemarchus, switches gears: clearly his father hadn’t meant „debt“ in the literal sense of returning what one has borrowed. He meant it more in the sense of giving people what is owed to them; repaying good with good and evil with evil; helping one’s friends and hurting one’s enemies. Demolishing this one takes a little more work: Are we saying justice plays no part in determining who one’s friends and enemies are? If so, wouldn’t someone who decided he had no friends, and therefore tried to hurt everyone, be a just man? And even if you did have some way to say for certain that one’s enemy really is an intrinsically bad person and deserves harm, by harming him, do you not thus make him worse? Can turning bad people into even worse people really be an example of justice? At this point a Sophist, Thrasymachos, enters and denounces all of the debaters as milky-eyed idealists. In reality, he says, all talk of „justice“ is mere political

Plato (Πλάτων 424 – 348 BC) argues that ideas are the ultimate reality. Plato insists that ideas exist in some divine domain beyond material existence. In his famous work „Republic“ (in Greek Πολιτεία, Politeia – in German it is translated as „Der Staat“) he features his teacher Socrates (469-399 BC) and inquires the idea of justice. It’s not surprising that this issue weighed on Plato`s mind. He had taken an ill-fated sea cruise and wound up being captured and offered for sale on the auction block at the slave market in Aegina. However, Plato had luck. A Libyan philosopher of the Epicurean school, one Annikeris, happened to be in the market at the time. He recognized Plato and ransomed him. Plato felt honor-bound to try to repay him, and his Athenian friends assembled twenty minas in silver with which to do so, but Annikeris refused to accept the money, insisting that it was his honor to be able to benefit a fellow lover of wisdom. Plato went on to use the twenty minas to buy land for a school, the famous Academy.
Aristotle (Ἀριστοτέλης, Aristotélēs 384 – 322 BC) was a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, biology, poetry, theater, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, economics and politics.

pretext, designed to justify the interests of the powerful. And so it should be, because insofar as justice exists, it is simply that: the interest of the powerful. Rulers are like shepherds. We like to think of them as benevolently tending their flocks, but what do shepherds ultimately do with sheep? They kill and eat them, or sell the meat for money. Socrates responds by pointing out that Thrasymachos is confusing the art of tending sheep with the art of profiting from them. The art of medicine aims to improve health, whether or not doctors get paid for practicing it. The art of shepherding aims to ensure the well-being of sheep, whether or not the shepherd (or his employer) is also a businessman who knows how to extract a profit from them. Just so with the art of governance. If such an art exists, it must have its own intrinsic aim apart from any profit one might also get from it, and what can this be other than the establishment of social justice? It’s only the existence of money, Socrates suggests, that allows us to imagine that words like „power“ and „interest“ refer to universal realities that can be pursued in their own right, let alone that allpursuits are really ultimately the pursuitof power, advantage, or self-interest. The question, he said, is how to ensure that those who hold political office will do so not for gain, but rather for honor. Socrates eventually gets around to offering some political proposals of his own, involving philosopher kings; the abolition of marriage, the family, and private property; selective human breeding boards. What does it mean to pay our debts? What we consider our core tradition of moral and political theory today, springs to a great deal from this question. Plato presents us first with the simple, literal businessman’s view. When this proves inadequate, he allows it to be reframed in heroic terms. Perhaps all debts are really debts of honor after all. But heroic honor no longer works in a world where commerce, class, and profit have so confused everything that peoples‘ true motives are never clear. How do we even know who our enemies are? Finally, we are left with a certainty that existing standards are incoherent and self-contradictory, and that some sort of radical break would be required in order to create a world that makes any logical sense. But most of those who seriously consider a radical break along the lines that Plato suggested have come to the conclusion that there might be far worse things than moral incoherence.  

Patriarchy  

The famous Greek obsession with male honor that still informs so much of the texture of daily life in rural communities in Greece hearkens back to an aristocratic rebellion against the values of the marketplace, which everyone, eventually, began to make their own. The effects on women, though, were even more severe than they had been in the Middle East. When the curtain truly goes up on Greece, in the fifth century BC, we find everybody arguing about money. For the aristocrats, who wrote most of the surviving texts, money was the embodiment of corruption. Aristocrats disdained the market. Ideally, a man of honor should be able to raise everything he needed on his own estates, and never have to handle cash at all. In practice, they knew this was impossible. Yet at every point they tried to set themselves apart from the values of the ordinary denizens of the marketplace: to contrast the dignity of the athletic contests for which they endlessly trained with commoners‘ vulgar gambling; the sophisticated and literate courtesans who attended to them at their drinking clubs, and common prostitutes, the porne housed in brothels near the agora, brothels often sponsored by the democratic polis itself as a service to the sexual needs of its male citizenry. On the other hand, we see an almost schizophrenic reaction on the part of the ordinary citizens themselves, who simultaneously tried to limit or even ban aspects of aristocratic culture and to imitate aristocratic sensibilities. Pederasty is an excellent case in point here. The democratic polis saw it as politically subversive and made sexual relations between male citizens illegal. At the same time, almost everyone began to practice it. Already by the age of Socrates, while a man’s honor was increasingly tied to disdain for commerce and assertiveness in public life, a woman’s honor had come to be defined in almost exclusively sexual terms: as a matter of virginity and chastity, to the extent that respectable women were expected to be shut up inside the household and any woman who played a part in public life was considered for that reason a prostitute, or tantamount to one. The Assyrian habit of veiling was not widely adopted in the Middle East, but it was adopted in Greece. As much as it flies in the face of our stereotypes about the origins of “Western freedoms”, women in democratic Athens, unlike those of Persia or Syria, were expected to wear veils when they ventured out in public. Money, then, had passed from a measure of honor to a measure of everything that honor was not. To suggest that a man’s honor could be bought with money became a terrible insult. On the other hand, everyone wanted money, everyone, high and low, needed it. This was a profound change. In the Homeric world, as in most human economies, we hear almost no discussion of those things considered necessary to human life (food, shelter, clothing) because it is simply assumed that everybody has them. A man with no possessions could, at the very least, become a retainer in some rich man’s household. Here too, the prostitute was a potent symbol for what had changed, since while some of them were slaves, others were simply poor; the fact that their basic needs could no longer be taken for granted was precisely what made them submit to others‘ desires. This extreme fear of dependency on others‘ whims lies at the basis of the Greek obsession with the self-sufficient household. And it lies behind the unusually assiduous efforts of the male citizens of Greek city-states – like the later Romans – to insulate their wives and daughters from both the dangers and the freedoms of the marketplace. As a result, respectable women became invisible, largely removed from the high dramas of economic and political life.

Taks

1. Homeric society: Explain the relations of patronage in the Homeric society. What role did honor („time“) play?

2. Axial Age – Explain the meaning of the term Axial Age.

3. Coinage: Explain the role warfare played in the development of coinage and why war (and coinage) were an impetus for the development of market trade.

4. Debt crises in Ancient Greece: What does the term crisis literally mean? Account for the two possible outcomes a debt crisis could have.

5. Explain the solutions Ancient Greek city states found to deal with the debt crises. What was changed in Athens during the rule of Solon? What role did coinage play in maintaining the freedom of Greek citizens? Account for the social policy promoted by Pericles.

6. Military-coinage-slavery-complex: Explain the meaning of this concept and give reasons, why Alexander the Greats empire can be seen as an example for a military-coinage-slavery-complex.

7. Explain the meaining of the term „Hellenistic civilization“?

8. Who were the Phoenicians? Explain, why it was not a winning proposition to be a great trading nation during the Axial Age.

9. Patriarchy in Ancient Greece: Account for how a man’s honor was defined as opposed to how a woman’s honor was defined in Ancient Greece.

MACHTSTRUKTUREN UND HERRSCHAFTSFORMEN ZWISCHEN VERGANGENHEIT UND GEGENWART

AUFGABEN
• Account for the art of governance according to Plato’s „Republic“ (= as it is presented in the chapter „Money and Morals, Debts and Ethics“)
• Sum up the different viewpoints on democracy Herodot presents in his “Verfassungsdebatte” (= GO! Page 142)

Discussion:
• Explain what the terms “justice” and “democracy” mean according to your opinion.
• Do you think the present society, the economic and social relations in the whole world are just? Explain your viewpoints on this issue!
• Does the political system in today’s Austria fulfill all requirements on democracy according to your opinion? Explain your viewpoint on this issue!
• What are your proposals for a just and democratic society?

 

TRUE FALSE THE AXIAL AGE -HONOR AND DEBT IN ANCIENT GREECE (P. 9-17)

1. Die Einkommen aus dem Silberbergbau spielten keine Rolle für die Finanzierung der Athenischen Kriegsschiffe im 5. Jhd v. Chr. Richtig
O Falsch
O
2. Nach den Siegen der Athenischen Kriegsflotte gegen die persischen Streitkräfte (480 v. Chr) verlor der persische König die Oberhoheit über die griechischen Kolonien an der Küste Kleinasiens (heutige Türkei). Richtig
O Falsch
O
3. Die Theten (= besitzlose Staatsbürger Athens) spielten als Ruderer auf den Kriegsschiffen keine wichtige Rolle im Krieg gegen die Persische Flotte. Richtig
O Falsch
O
4. Den Theten war vor dem 5. Jahrhundert die Teilnahme an der Volksversammlung in Athen nicht erlaubt. Richtig
O Falsch
O
5. Unter Perikles (5. Jhd v. Chr.) wurde den besitzlosen Staatsbürgern durch die Bezahlung von Taggeldern (= 2 Obolen für den Besuch der Volksversammlung) die Teilnahme am politischen Leben ermöglicht. Richtig
O Falsch
O
6. Für 2 Obolen konnte man auf dem Markt in Athen einen Tintenfisch oder zwei Stück Ziegenkäse kaufen. Richtig
O Falsch
O
7. Für 2 Obolen konnte man eine Eintrittskarte für das Theater oder 9 Äpfel oder zwei Stück Salzfisch kaufen. Richtig
O Falsch
O
8. Das Wort Ökonomie kommt vom altgriechischen Wort oikos (= Haus). Richtig
O Falsch
O
9. Ursprünglich war jede Hauswirtschaft weitestgehend autark, d.h. es wurde der Eigenbedarf an Nahurungsmitteln, Kleidung und (Arbeits-)Geräten hergestellt. Richtig
O Falsch
O
10. Händler und Handwerker in Athen waren mehrheitlich sogenannte Metöken (metics), das heißt „Mitbewohner“, die aus anderen Teilen Griechenlands nach Athen eingewandert waren. Richtig
O Falsch
O
11. Die Metöken mussten keine Steuern bezahlen, hatten aber im Unterschied zu den männlichen Staatsbürgern auch keine Mitsprache bei der Volksversammlung. Richtig
O Falsch
O
12. Relations of patronage in Homeric society involved responsibilities on both sides of the „relationship“, the noble warrior (= patron) and his clients (followers = retainers). Richtig
O Falsch
O
13. Noblemen lived their lives in pursuit of honor that could be gained by looting treasures or capturing people. Richtig
O Falsch
O
14. A „debt of honor“ could be the need to rescue or redeem friends or followers who had been captured. Richtig
O Falsch
O
15. Parts of the treasures carried off as loot were awarded as prizes for retainers (= followers). Richtig
O Falsch
O
16. Coinage was first introduced in the 6th century BC independently in three different places: China, India, and in the lands surrounding the Aegean Sea (=Ancient Greece).
Richtig
O Falsch
O
17. Precious metals had been stockpiled in ingot form (= Barren) in temples. RichtigO FalschO
18. These treasures were „dethesaurized“ – that means they were removed from the temples and used to produce coins. Richtig
O Falsch
O
19. Gold and silver are also called „bullion“. Richtig
O Falsch
O
20. A new kind of army using the phalanx tactics was made up of a large number of common people trained as soldiers (= hoplites). Richtig
O Falsch
O
21. The „phalanx-armies“ developed in the same period when the Greeks began to use coinage. Richtig
O Falsch
O
22. Credit systems (for instance Mesopotamian debt records) tend to dominate in periods of relative peace, or across „networks of trust.“ Richtig
O Falsch
O
23. Bullion (and coinage) predominate in periods of generalized violence and warfare. Richtig
O Falsch
O
24. Constant warfare was a powerful impetus for the development of market trade, and in particular for market trade based on the exchange of precious metal. Richtig
O Falsch
O
25. Markets made it much easier for governments to provision large armies, as soldiers could buy everyday necessities with the money they received as payment. Richtig
O Falsch
O
26. Governments were able to produce enough coins so that the people could begin to use them in everyday transactions. Richtig
O Falsch
O
27. Most governments accepted different currencies to pay fees, fines, or taxes. Richtig
O Falsch
O
28. Around 500 BC, two Greek city-states had their own currency, issuing their own coins as a mark of civic (= städtisch) independence. Richtig
O Falsch
O
29. The Greek word „crisis“ (κρίσις) literally refers to a crossroads: it is the point where things could go either two different ways, it is a point where a decision has to be taken. Richtig
O Falsch
O
30. Bondage (= bonded servitude) is the condition of being under the total control of someone else working for them as their their serf. Richtig
O Falsch
O
31. One possible outcome of a debt-crisis: The poor citizens remain in bonded servitude, becoming „slaves of the rich“. Richtig
O Falsch
O
32. Another possible outcome of a debt-crisis: Popular factions prevail and institute a program of distribution of lands and safeguards against debt bondage. Richtig
O Falsch
O
33. Only free farmers were drafted into ancient armies to fight in wars. Richtig
O Falsch
O
34. Very few Greek cities adopted legislation limiting the amount of agricultural land, one person could own and abolishing debt bondage altogether. Richtig
O Falsch
O
35. Solon freed all Athenians who were in debt bondage as well as Athenians who had been sold abroad as slaves. Richtig
O Falsch
O
36. According to Solon’s constitution, all Athenian citizens were admitted into the „Ekklesia“, the popular assembbly and to serve as jurymen in courts.
Richtig
O Falsch
O

a chattel slave                                      a conduit tit-for-tat exchange                            to dethesaurize a retainer                                             an impetus a mercenary                                        a sharecropper a royal mint                                        

 

 


[1] Chattel slavery, so named because people are treated as the personal property, chattels, of an owner and are bought and sold as commodities, is the original form of slavery. When taking these chattels across national borders it is referred to as human trafficking.
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