On what terms should we interrogate the past? Ancient life can seem essentially unknowable, a place where everything is different, glimpsed only in the words of those who lived then and surviving traces of material culture.
The Cambridge classical scholar Sir Moses Finley argued for an interpretation of ancient life bounded by then current civic and religious beliefs. Finley’s The Ancient Economy (1973) suggested that economic life in classical Greece and Rome was not distinct and separate, with its own language, but was tied intimately to social life. We err therefore by translating current notions of economic motivation to a world of slaves and gods, closeted women, and limited technology. The ancients did not dwell on capital formation, efficiency, or economic growth.