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Thread: What motivated evergetism ? (benefactors)

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    What motivated evergetism ? (benefactors)

    Evergetism, to sum it up, was a constant of the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire.

    It's basically giving to a city something (a building, for instance), for show your munificience and your liberalities. Some of it was done for political reasons (like offering circus games to quell the mob), but a lot of it was not done for such obvious reasons. It could be also much more down to earth, like accepting to provide the gymnasius of your backwater town with olive oil for the athletes.

    In a book I reread recently, they give the case of a tiny Aetolian city, Kryterion (sic), who had lost her walls. Kryterion send ambassadors around the Med to ask for money for new walls, and rather amazingly, she got signficiant money from the Lagides, the Antigonids, Pergame, Rhodos, and the Seleucids. I say amazingly, but it's amazing for us. It was not amazing for various polis who frequently asked-and got-subsisidies for building projects. Most of the well known Greek monuments, especially theaters, were paid by Hellenistic kings.

    So, according to you, fellow Paradoxians, what was the motivation to make such generous donations to insiginifiant targets ? Pride ? Social norms ?

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    Both. Image was important back then. You wanted to be popular not just with your own people, because most of the time those rulers were dreaming of going and expanding their empire, and popularity might open city gates.

    Then also there's the spiritual side: The Greek and Roman religions had only very hazy notions of an afterlife. They did not regard it as something better than what you had during your life. So they craved stuff that would make them immortal, in a way: Perpetuating their image, erecting stuff that bears your name, making yourself famous. Julius Caesar was a good example - everything he did, everything he achieved, was aimed at making himself unique and unforgettable. The ancient historians say that he lost his will to live once he achieved everything a Roman citizen could ever hope to achieve - he was not aiming at founding a dynasty, or reforging the Roman republic in any way, he just wanted to be immortalized in people's eyes. He seized immense riches during his campaigns, and gave tons of it away to the citizens, to gain fame and popularity.

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    that's very hannah arendt of you
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    Colonel Aryaman's Avatar

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    It is in human nature to be admired, and one way to get admiration is to build a public building and put on top of it "Me Faciendam Curavit", it is done nowdays, but too many times with public funds

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    For the exactly same reasons as today. People haven't really changed so much, have they?

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    Resident Opportunist King of Men's Avatar
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    Well, what else were they going to do with the money? There were limits to how much you could invest in those ancient economies, and the concept wasn't well understood anyway. The reason the Bible is so down on usurers is that it's not talking about bankers who lend money so you can start your business, but about moneylenders who will let you borrow at 50% interest so you can buy food to survive the winter after the harvest failed. And take your daughter as collateral.
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    Quote Originally Posted by King of Men View Post
    Well, what else were they going to do with the money? There were limits to how much you could invest in those ancient economies, and the concept wasn't well understood anyway. The reason the Bible is so down on usurers is that it's not talking about bankers who lend money so you can start your business, but about moneylenders who will let you borrow at 50% interest so you can buy food to survive the winter after the harvest failed. And take your daughter as collateral.
    And hold you in debt slavery forever after.

    The book of Moses or whatever it's called, has interesting instructions on how to deal with interest and debt. Every 30 years, all people are supposed to forgive each others' debt.

    I asked a colleague of mine last week, what exactly the "no interest" laws in the Quran are about. I always thought they were rather stupid, i.e. anti-trade and anti-banking, a relic from a moralistic time when people had no clue about economics.

    But he actually explained that
    (1) they are there to prevent debt slavery, i.e. the situation where you owe money and you can only pay the interest but not the loan itself, leaving you forever indebted - this was actually a common situation for credit business back then; and
    (2) the Quranic law does not forbid you from taking a fee for lending someone money - i.e., I lend you 1000 Euro, and one year from now you pay me those 1000 Euro back plus 200 Euro in fees. If I cannot pay back, I still owe you money, but I do not incur interest on that loan. So moneylending is a business you can make money from, but the sanctions you can impose on someone who fails to pay back are limited by law.

    The explanation made a whole lot of sense to me. Maybe they weren't so ignorant after all. However it means that in those times lending money was a fairly risky business, if you had no social leverage over the person to whom you lend money.

    I have no idea what kind of finance laws the ancients (Greeks / Romans) had though. Did they have interest?

  8. #8
    If I remember correctly, Leviathan, a publican got a statue raised in his honor by the people of the Asian Minor province he was working in, cause he was only charging his debtors 25% rates. Ouch.

    Also, debt cancellations plans were the talk of the day in the time (like green plans or job plans or healthcare plans those days), as virtually all cities had terrible problems with personnal debts. One of the most striking case was Sparta : in third century, there was 700 citizens left (denatality, war, but especially loss of the status of Equal because of poverty, and 100 of them were without debts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BaronNoir View Post
    If I remember correctly, Leviathan, a publican got a statue raised in his honor by the people of the Asian Minor province he was working in, cause he was only charging his debtors 25% rates. Ouch.

    Also, debt cancellations plans were the talk of the day in the time (like green plans or job plans or healthcare plans those days), as virtually all cities had terrible problems with personnal debts. One of the most striking case was Sparta : in third century, there was 700 citizens left (denatality, war, but especially loss of the status of Equal because of poverty, and 100 of them were without debts.
    Yeah it's quite hard to imagine how vastly different today's economies are from back then. Especially the part about finance.

    Imagine John Maynard Keynes (or any other famous 20th century economist) was teleported back to 100BC or some such date, and given a mandate (by the king/emperor/prince) to pass laws for the good of the general public. I.e. apply modern economics to pimp a premodern society. How much of his knowledge would really be useful in this sort of situation?

  10. #10
    I read a book about Marcus Aurelius recently, and the author have the opinion that most Emperors had pretty murked ideas about how economy worked.

    The best understood concept was massively exporting silver and gold to China and India to buy luxuries was unsound, but short of that....

    The author point out pearls like destroying glassmakers worshops ''because it would make gold and silver lose value'', forbidsing a device for raising columns ''for preserving jobs (slave jobs ?)'', destroying winewards to prevent overproduction...

    Of course, bringing low price wheat to Rome is, in a way, an economic policy. It's important to note that it was not exactly thought in economic terms.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BaronNoir View Post
    ... destroying winewards to prevent overproduction...
    Sounds actually very much like the EU's agrarian policies

    I am of the opinion that in every age there were enough smart people around to have a good understanding of the world around them. They can't have been that ignorant. Still though the question is, could a genius like Keynes or some other economist have taught them useful quantitative methods? Useful concepts that would still work in a 100BC environment?

  12. #12
    As the book says, you have to admit that it was pretty hard to build a sound economic policy in Roman times.

    For instance, exporting stuff to other nations was a tough proposition, since those nations were much more tempted with taking the stuff from themselves than paying for it. It's hard to develop a business when the army can come anytime and seize your workforce (read, slaves) for army duties. It's hard to develop more efficient business pratices, more efficient farming pratices, when you can get ressources basically at gunpoint.

    Also, fiscal policy is more or less revelant when one of your key technique to get money is to send centurions to a rich senator house and have them say ''Caesar want your death'',and either

    A)If the senator kindly access to the demand, confiscate half of his fortune

    B)If the senator refuse, the centurions help him to obey to Caesar, and everything is confiscated
    Last edited by BaronNoir; 22-09-2011 at 19:09.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leviathan07 View Post
    Sounds actually very much like the EU's agrarian policies

    I am of the opinion that in every age there were enough smart people around to have a good understanding of the world around them. They can't have been that ignorant. Still though the question is, could a genius like Keynes or some other economist have taught them useful quantitative methods? Useful concepts that would still work in a 100BC environment?
    They were vastly ignorant of the laws of physics, why should they not be ignorant of the much more complicated field of economics? It is not as though we ourselves know that much about it, compared to the advances in physics over the same period.
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