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The Open Sea: The Economic Life of the Ancient Mediterranean World from the Iron Age to the Rise of Rome.

The Open Sea: The Economic Life of the Ancient Mediterranean World from the Iron Age to the Rise of Rome

J. G. Manning

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018 (444 pages)

The list of scholars who could produce a volume of this breadth and depth is surely a short one. In this book J. G. Manning, professor of history and classics at Yale University, demonstrates remarkable interdisciplinary expertise as he surveys the economy of the Mediterranean world of the first millennium BCE. The complexity of the ancient economy is a dominant theme of the book. In fact. Manning argues convincingly that there was no such thing as "the ancient economy" (xvii, 263). There were rather diverse economies across places, climates, and cultures. Historians may sometimes be criticized for getting mired in complexities and claiming that everything in the past is more complex than we usually think. This appeal to complexity is problematic if it prevents the historian from saying anything definite or insightful. Manning is not susceptible to this criticism, however. Rather, he reveals the complexity of the ancient economies and all the challenges of studying such distant realities while simultaneously making profound historical insights and giving course corrections to the field of economic history. His contributions include placing Egypt and the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire back on the Mediterranean economic map, bringing recent advances in climatology to bear on the study of ancient economies, and insisting that the natural world be taken seriously as an economic force. And yet, in a volume that covers virtually every facet of ancient economic life, religion is nearly absent.

Manning's comments on religion as an economic force are limited to a few mentions of Near Eastern temples as economic institutions. Throughout the book Manning is almost bursting with excitement about the new horizons open to scholars of ancient economies, and he thrills to note areas where research is advancing and where further work is needed. In this way The Open Sea is both a handbook of current scholarship and a challenge for scholars to push their research into new areas and to reach across the often constraining boundaries of academic disciplines.

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Publication:Journal of Markets & Morality
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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