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Property and Power in the Greek World: Approaching Data Scarcity for Key Questions

Date and Time: 
Friday, February 3, 2017. 12:30 PM - 02:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Building 110, Room 112
Workshop: 
Approaches to Data Scarcity in Ancient History
Meeting Description: 

Property is a pervasive social phenomenon: humans make claims to control over goods and resources that are often exclusive. Societies and states make choices about how they will respond to such claims, and in the process they create the normative and institutional framework within which people will construct the role played by material goods in their social and political relations with one another. Most historians of ancient Greece, in touching on the rules and practices surrounding property, have imported a rather narrower perspective on its nature and significance, adopting what may be called an ownership paradigm of property. Inspired by utilitarian and contractarian traditions of modern liberal thought, this paradigm places the atomistic individual at the center of an analysis focused on his exclusive rights with regard to the objects of his ownership.

This asocial, individualistic notion of property is starkly at odds both with the way Greeks thought about property and with the norms and institutions they constructed around property ownership. This paper will present an overview of these ideas and practices, before turning to a discussion of two particular problems for which our data are troublingly scarce: the scale and frequency of property confiscations; and the number of states governed by oligarchies, in which property qualifications restricted office-holding, and sometimes even citizenship, to the wealthy, usually constructed as owners of landed property. I will propose strategies for filling the gaps left by our evidence, and consider both their promise and their peril.

About the speaker:
Emily Mackil is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and a faculty member of the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology at UC Berkeley. Her first book, Creating a Common Polity (Berkeley, 2013), explores the origin, development, and nature of the so-called Greek federal state, the koinon, through in-depth analysis of evidence from Boiotia, Achaia, and Aitolia. She continues to be interested in the federal states of the Greek world, as well as other varieties of social and political cooperation, interdependence, and dependence. Her current book project focuses on the theme of property in the ancient Greek world, both private and public. This project explores Greek ideas about the nature and proper social functions of private property, which recognize private property as an instrument for material self-sufficiency that enmeshed the owner in a web of social obligations and endowed him with significant forms of social power.

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