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Leeuwen, Bas van; Földvári, Peter; Pirngruber, Reinhard (2011)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Languages: English
Types: Article
Subjects: HC
At least some ancient civilizations used various risk-management strategies to minimize price volatility. In this article, we examine one such strategy, grain storage, by means of a dataset recently made available that provides agricultural prices for Babylonia during the Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods (c.400–65 BCE). A comparative analysis of medieval England and Hellenistic Babylonia reveals a low level of inter-annual storage in both economies, and helps us to compare the costs and benefits in each society. Costs are largely equated with interest rates, and benefits with seasonal price changes. Unlike in England, Babylonia’s dual crop structure (barley and dates) reduced seasonality and thus the potential benefits of storage. There is no evidence, however, that storage costs – that is, interest rates – were likewise lower. This suggests that interest rates were primarily determined in the urban and commercial sectors, not the agricultural one. Consequently, measures of seasonal price changes in pre-modern economies may tell us relatively little about interest rates. While the McCloskey–Nash methodology may be helpful in analysing particular economies, it is perhaps of limited use for comparing them.
  • The results below are discovered through our pilot algorithms. Let us know how we are doing!

    • McCloskey and Nash, 'Corn at interest', p. 176. Their estimates of the parameters and the average waiting time between two famines are based on McCloskey, 'English open fields'.
    • Bruce M. S. Campbell (2007), 'Three centuries of English crops yields, 1211-1491', http://www.
    • cropyields.ac.uk/ (consulted 10 April 2011).
    • Cormac O´ Gra´ da´ , 'Making famine history', Journal of Economic Literature, 45, 1, 2007, p. 8. See also the distinction between food shortage and famine made by Garnsey, 'Famine'.
    • 39 Jursa, Aspects, pp. 48-53. Both values come from the northern Babylonian town of Sippar.
    • 40 Calculated from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), ResourceSTAT: land-use domain, 2010, http://faostat.fao.org/site/377/default.aspx#ancor (consulted 10 April 2011), taking into consideration only those countries where the two crops have an almost identical share in total output.
    • 41 Calculated from the FAO, ProductionSTAT: crop-use domain, 2010, http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/ default.aspx#ancor (consulted 10 April 2011), taking into consideration only those Middle Eastern countries where the two crops have almost identical shares in total output.
    • G. E. Fussel, ed., Robert Loder's farm accounts: 1610-20, London: Camden Society, 1936, pp. 158-9. e reb re y : r C b r b y r s t e r a h e s m b m m a c en ly gu te o ev ce u rbu rca lir ru u u u ep tc o e an e p o J J A S O N D J F M A S
    • 53 Overton and Campbell, 'Production'.
    • 54 P. B. Adamson, 'Problems over storing food in the ancient Near East', Welt des Orients, 16, 1985, pp. 5-15.
    • 55 Sally M. Freedman, If a city is set on a height, vol. 1 (OPSNKF 17), Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1998.
    • 56 See Michael Jursa, 'Agricultural managing, tax farming and banking: aspects of entrepreneurial activity in Babylonia in the late Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods', in P. Briant and F. Joanne`s, eds., La transition entre l'empire ache´me´nide et les royaumes helle´nistiques, Persika 9, Paris: De Boccard, 2006, pp. 137-222.
    • G. G. Aperghis, 'ABACUS historical modeling system', unpublished paper for 'Long-term Quantification in Ancient Mediterranean History' conference, Brussels, November 2009.
    • Dennis Flynn and Arturo Gı´raldez, 'Cycles of silver: global economic unity through the mid-eighteenth century', Journal of World History, 13, 2, 2002, pp. 391-427.
    • 1. The production (P) is a normally distributed random variable with an expected value of 100 and a standard deviation differing by region (13 in England, 6 in Babylon).
    • 2. The famine limit (F) is 70, 80, or 90. When the production (P) drops below this level, no grain is stored; when the consumption (C) is below this limit, stored grain is consumed until the consumption reaches the famine limit or the storage is emptied.
    • 3. The storage mechanism works as follows: when the production is less than or equal to the famine limit, people consume all the produced grain, none is stored, and, as described in point 2, the stockpile (S) may even be reduced. When the production is above the limit, a fixed percentage, denoted by a (0, 1, 5 or 10%), of the production above the hunger limit is stored.
    • 4. Although it is evident that some of the stored grain will be spoiled, we operate on the assumption that it is not, in order to keep the model as simple as possible.
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