ZiF Workshop

200 years after August Boeckh's The Public Economy of Athens – Perspectives of Economic History for the 21st Century

Date: 6 - 8 September 2017
Convenors: Sven Günther (Changchun, CHN), Dorothea Rohde (Bielefeld, GER)

200 years after the publication of the epoch-making work Die Staatshaushaltung der Athener (The Public Economy of the Athenians) by August Boeckh, a group of international experts of Greek economy and finances met at ZiF to review and update the still un-replaced systematic reference work by applying new interdisciplinary theories, models and methods to the extant source material on the public economy of Athens, the biggest player in the Greek world of the 5th and 4th century BC.

Starting from a public evening lecture by Helmuth Schneider, who placed August Boeckh and his approach to ancient sources in the enthusiasm for Greek antiquities and the political context of the 18th and 19th century, the in the long run innovative combination of literary, epigraphic and numismatic sources together with methods from subjects like Metrology or Finances was continued by the convened scholars on three paths.

Following the still reasonable structure of Boeckh`s work, (1) price setting systems, (2) expenditures and their administration, and (3) ordinary and extra-ordinary revenues were in the focus of the nine talks, each followed by an extensive discussion.

In the first panel on the formation of prices, Alain Bresson, Armin Eich and Christophe Flament put their different methodological approaches to price setting systems up for discussion. The panel brought together quantitative and qualitative methods to mark the monetary framework for a study of the Athenian public expenditures and revenues, particularly with respect to the interaction between monetary supply and the emergence of the state, the interplay between market actors and state intervention and the integration of the private citizens for minting coinage through the extraction of the silver mines in Laurion.

The second panel emphasised the administrative layout of Athens in the 5th and 4th century BC with special interest in spending structures and practices. Sven Günther, David Pritchard and Christian Koch therefore explored the administrative aspects and focused on political, personal and practical factors. Hereby, the question of how and to what extent the democratic public, in form of the peoples assembly and other institutions, really gained control over the finances and their allocation was controversially discussed, particularly in terms of decision-making procedures and public emotions, the extent and freedom of setting key topics for spending, the public discourse of democratic checks and balances, and the actual planning and controlling functions of elites with their expertise and networks.

The third panel was dedicated to the public revenues, both to the ordinary and extraordinary incomes of Athens. Dorothea Rohde, Wolfgang Franzen and Josiah Ober analysed the relationship between democratic constitution of Athens, private wealth and a characteristic form of taxation, the liturgies. Of special interest was the remarkable willingness of the wealthy to contribute to state expenditures via liturgies, the positive public discourse that evolved around these contributions in forms of honours and reputation, and the smaller degree of inequality, compared to other pre-industrial societies, that fostered sense of unity and economic growth, based particularly on both, reliable institutional structures and psychological factors like stimulating stability in combination with competitiveness.

In sum, the papers and the intensive discussions clearly outlined the dimensions and focal points of a new public economy of Athens that has still to be written, not only to overcome dated views on the primitive or modern form of economy in ancient times but to integrate political, institutional, discursive, communicative and psychological models into 'classical' methods of analysing extant source materials. The conference proceedings will be published after an extensive review procedure, and further steps for a new handbook on the topic will be taken by the conference participants.


Alain Bresson (Chicago, USA), Armin Eich (Wuppertal, GER), Christophe Flament (Louvain-la-Neuve, BEL), Wolfgang Franzen (Köln, GER), Ivan Jordovic (Belgrad, SRB), Christian Koch (Speyer, GER), Shumeng Liu (Changchun, CHN), Christoph Michels (Aachen, GER), Astrid Möller (Freiburg i.Br., GER), Josiah Ober (Stanford, USA), David Pritchard (ST Lucia, AUS), Helmuth Schneider (Kassel, GER), Raimund Schulz (Bielefeld, GER), Claudia Tiersch (Berlin, GER), Beate Wagner-Hasel (Hannover, GER), Uwe Walter (Bielefeld, GER), Tong Wu (Changchun, CHN), Hongxia Zhang (Changchun, CHN)

Conference Programme

Please direct questions concerning the organisation of the workshop to Marina Hoffmann at the Conference Office. Questions regarding scientific content and contributions should be directed to the organizers.

Tel: +49 521 106-2768
Fax: +49 521 106-152768
E-Mail: marina.hoffmann@uni-bielefeld.de