Rome As Semi-Foragers

It seems that an “almost” industrial revolution happened around 500BC. For example, this graph of estimated world population shows a population jump then similar to the start of the ~1800 jump. Also, consider this brief history of the Roman Empire:

~5 century BC: Roman civilization is a strong patriarchy, fathers … have absolute authority over the family.
~1 century BC: … Material wealth is astounding, … Romans enjoy the arts … democracy, commerce, science, human rights, animal rights, children rights and women become emancipated. No-fault divorce is enacted, and quickly becomes popular by the end of the century.
~1-2 century AD: … Men refuse to marry and the government tries to revive marriage with a “bachelor tax”, to no avail. … Roman women show little interest in raising their own children and frequently use nannies. The wealth and power of women grows very fast, while men become increasingly demotivated and engage in prostitution and vice. Prostitution and homosexuality become widespread.
~3-4 century AD: … Roman population declines due to below-replacement birth-rate. Vice and massive corruption are rampant. (more; HT Roissy)

Yes this exaggerates, but the key point remains: a sudden burst in productivity and wealth lead to big cultural changes that made the Greek-Roman world and its cultural descendants more forager-like than the rest of the farmer world. These changes helped clear the way for big cultural changes of the industrial revolution.

These cultural changes included not more political egalitarianism, but also more forager like attitudes toward alchohol and mating:

Historically, we find a correlation between the shift from polygyny to monogamy and the growth of alcohol consumption. Cross-culturally we also find that monogamous societies consume more alcohol than polygynous societies in the preindustrial world. … Studies find a positive relationship between alcohol use on the one hand and a more promiscuous and high-risk sexual behavior on the other hand. … The Greek and Roman empires … were the only (and first) to introduce formal monogamy. … Hunting tribes drink more than agricultural and settled tribes. … Hunting tribes … have more monogamous marriage arrangements than agricultural tribes. …

The emergence of socially imposed formal monogamy in Greece coincides with (a) the growth of “chattel slavery” (where men can have sex with female slaves) and (b) the extension of political rights. … The industrial revolution played a key role in the shift from formal to effective monogamy and in the sharp increase of alcohol consumption (more; HT Tyler)

This roughly fits my simple story: forager to farmer and back to forager with industry. The key is to see monogomous marraige as an intermediate form between low-commitment feeling-based forager mating, and wives-as-property-for-live farmer polygamy. Let me explain.

Forager work and mating is more intuitive, less institutional. Mates stay together mainly because they feel like it; there is more an open compeition to seduce mates, and there’s a lot of sneaking around. Foragers drink alchohol when they can, and spontaneous feelings count for more relative to formal commitments. The attitude is more that if you can’t hold her interest, you don’t deserve to keep her. Men show off abilities to obtain resources mainly to signal attractive qualities; most resources acquired must be shared with the rest of the band.

Farmers, in contrast, don’t share much, and are far more unequal in the resources they control, by which they can more directly “buy” wives. Farmer wives so bought are supposed to be committed to their husbands even when they don’t feel like it. Marriage was less about mutal attraction and more about building households and clans. Husbands worry about cheating wives, and so try to limit access and temptations, which includes alchohol. Musicians and artists are also suspect if they excite wives’ passions, which might lead to cheating.

When empires like Greece and Rome achieved sustained periods of prosperity, their elites reverted to more forager-like ways. They had more drinking and art, more egalitarian politics, fertility fell, and [non-slave] mating became more egalitarian and about feelings. If a bit of alchohol was enough to get your wife cheat to on you, well maybe you didn’t deserve her. The Greek-Roman move from polygamy to monogamy was a move in the direction of more forager-like feeling-based mating, though it retained farmer-like lifelong commitment.

The Greeks and Romans became models for Europe when industry made it rich again. In our era, fertility has fallen far, divorce and out-of-wedlock births are common, and alchohol, drugs, and sneaking about are more tolerated. Women need men less for their resources, and choose them more on other grounds. Dropping the lifelong commitment element of marriage, and often the expectation of any sort of marriage commitment, we have moved even further away from farmer wives-as-lifelong-property and toward forager “promiscuity.”

Added: Razib Khan and Jason elaborate.

Added 1Feb: A new study says that in places where marriages are more arranged by parents, there is more mate-guarding. Discouraging alcohol seems a reasonable mate-guarding strategy.

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  • Ray


    How accurate do you feel these Type A, and Type B descriptions are that you have given over the last few weeks?

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Has alcohol consumption increased since the industrial revolution (~1750) in the West? I’ve seen some stats that drinking was pretty heavy in earlier times, but I don’t know if that was merely in certain classes. Also, we have more drugs they didn’t have then, so I guess the key metric–eg, proportion of the time ‘high’–is not easy to nail down even if alcohol consumption were measured completely.

  • For some reason, the song “The farmer and the cowman should be friends” is going through my head.

    The farmer is a good and thrifty citizen, no matter what the cowman says or thinks. You seldom see him drinking in a bar room … Unless somebody else is buying drinks.


    The farmer should be sociable with the cowboy if he rides by and asks for food and water. Don’t treat him like a louse; make him welcome in your house. … But be sure that you lock up your wife and daughters!

  • Bryan Caplan

    It’s odd that you describe 1st-century B.C. Rome as “democratic” when this is precisely the era when the Roman Republic fell into permanent dictatorship.

  • Peter Patton

    Except your “brief history” is not of Rome, or Greece, or anywhere on earth. I wouldn’t be HTing the source, but rather discreetly email a reading list. 😉

  • Peter Patton

    And at 500 BC the Romans were still swinging from the trees.

  • Evan

    I followed the links for the first thread quoted and as a result have great difficulty taking it seriously. tomek77 and Roissy are just mean-spirited misogynistic social conservatives whining about feminism and trying to justify their anhedonic values by claiming that civilization will be destroyed if everyone doesn’t return to family values right now (although Roissy fails to realize you aren’t allowed to be both a social conservative and a PUA). It’s no different from radical environmentalists who claim if we ignore them the planet will die, its just fear mongering. This is combined with some bizarre delusion that Game is some sort of socially important and revolutionary discovery, instead of a way of picking up women that might offer a few minor psychological insights (I guess it’s true that the better you get at something, the more likely you are to overestimate its importance).

    In spite of the questionable nature of Robin’s illustrative quote, I do accept his theory that our great wealth has been important in changing our values to what they are today. That being said, I wonder how the “forager” label fits with a notion I have always had about foragers namely that they are very superstitious and afraid of witches. I have read that some tribes considered nearly half the population of humans in the world to secretly be witches. This does not seem to go well with our values of openness, tolerance, and acceptance, but those aren’t farmer values either, so where did they come from? Are they just totally new?

  • Foragers drink alchohol when they can

    Except that it seems that alcohol = agriculture, and that modern foragers only have access to it because they can trade with farmers. I think this reflects a confusion between actual, pre-agricultural foragers that might be interesting for evo-psych reasons, and the Dyonisian “foragers” that you imagine. So consider the following:

    They had more drinking and art, more egalitarian politics, fertility fell, and mating became more egalitarian and about feelings.

    Drinking, as stated, is a farmer behaviour. Art is an archetypal farmer behaviour – foragers may have simple paintings and similar, but large-scale stationary art, such as statuary and architecture, only develops after agriculture. As has already been pointed out, as Rome and Greece became rich, their politics became less egalitarian, not more: Athenian and Roman democracy is the truly ancient thing, older than historical record: but in the period when they became rich, it turned into oligarchy and then dictatorship. Fertility fell, but I’d argue that limiting your number of children to what you can support is a farmer behaviour, whereas unconstrained procreation is a forager behaviour. And finally, “mating” did not become more egalitarian. Marriage became more egalitarian, but mating increasingly took place outside marriage with concubines and slaves (and in the Greek case, with children). That is less egalitarian.

    In short, as the mos majorum broke down and the ancients fell into a “Dyonisian” dystopia, they seem to have become less like foragers, not more – instead, they appear to have taken the pleasurable aspects of farmer behaviour to the extreme, while neglecting the responsible aspects.

  • michael vassar

    At this point I just read ‘Forager’ as ‘Neolithic horticulturalist’ when Robin says it. For varied reasons, but mostly just due to the passage of time, glaciers, and sea-level changes, I’m not convinced that our picture of the paleolithic is even roughly correct, so that’s fine by me. OTOH, I see nomads as a third major type, very different from either neolithic or bronze age people.

    Regarding Roissy, mean spirited, yes, deluded, maybe not. To me, the interesting things about Game are that a) people bother to learn it when they could do perfectly well much more cheaply just by learning to dance and b) that it seems to work so well, to have been discovered/invented so easily, and not to have been discovered/invented in anything like modern form until so recently. That indicates that there may be LOTS of low-hanging fruit in applied psychology.

    • Peter St. Onge

      Game has an astounding ROI for a single man. Dancing doesn’t hold a candle.

      Good point on low hanging fruit. Wonder if there are sociological reasons why Game appears to have lain fallow, or if it’s just the random nature of invention.

      Keep in mind the basic tech for D&D existed for thousands of years before Gary Gygax did his thing.

      • It seems to me like Game/PUA social tech more rapid evolution and dissemination evolved naturally from internet social media, like a bunch of other social innovations around that time.

        D&D isn’t that different in kind from predecessors that existed for thousands of years.

        However, the “why now?” mystery does apply to a bunch of things, IMO , where I don’t see an easy answer like “it grew up with the internet”.

  • Peter St. Onge

    Abstracting, as wealth increases, men’s property rights in their wives and children are abridged, making both less valuable to them. When times are tough, women and children must tempt men into supporting them. When times are easy, women and children disdain fathers, so fathers disdain wives and children.

  • Eric

    I’m an archaeologist and I’m not so sure about this. We’ve got very little evidence to constrain interpretations about Rome’s rise to dominance and its decline and fall.

    Suggesting that it relates to foraging / farming psycho-dynamics having to do with wealth sounds lots like theorists who talk about Roman “decadence”. Maybe. But, other researchers give many other convincing theories about Roman power dynamics. Some of my favorites are:

    Joseph Tainter: Roman power declines after it runs out of new resources (slaves / accumulated wealth) in easy reach of conquest. Roman wealth in the 1st century BCE came mainly from theft of wealth from other regions, plus some bonus from freer / safer trade offered by political hegemony. After that, standards of living stagnated and Rome’s internal politics became a self-destructive zero-sum game.

    Peter Heather: Roman power declines less because of internal issues but more because of increasing organizational and military sophistication of Rome’s rivals (Persians and Goths). These enemies got their military acts together and became much more costly for the Romans to deal with. Rome’s troubles in the 5th century came from more formidable foes, which weakened the legitimacy of the Roman state as that state could no longer provide protection.

    Etc. Etc.

    All this goes to show that there are lots of pretty compelling ideas about Rome’s rise and fall, it’s just that it’s really hard to judge which of these theories is more true. A forager / farmer dynamic sounds interesting, but I can’t for the life of me say it fits the evidence better than other theories historians have advanced.

    In fact, I’m a bit worried that the forager / farmer dynamic may be a bit too vague or the evidence too scant to make this model stand out as more compelling than other theories.

    • I don’t know much about forager/farmer -or for that matter near/far mode or inside/outside view- but all three of those frameworks set off my distrust of social models that have categories that fit human biases for certain types of numbers. I think those numbers are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10.
      1 bias: our bias that there’s only one truth.
      2 bias: Maybe rooted in our two hands, or the presence or absence of light, or both.
      3 bias: Rooted in our seeing things as having a beginning, a middle, and an end.
      4 bias: Rooted in our tendency to divide a middle spectrum as closer to one end or another?
      5 bias: Rooted in our 5 fingers/thumb on one hand.
      10 bias: rooted in our 10 fingers/thumbs.
      I think extra skepticism is warranted in categorization theories that have these specific numerical options.

      • mjgeddes

        How do you explain 27-bias?


        “At Less Wrong, various users are announcing the level of their contributions. The user “Rain”, who donated $2700, made a comment at the site about why he donates to SIAI.”

        “Tron:Legacy” Storyline

        “Sam Flynn, the tech-savvy 27-year-old son of Kevin Flynn, looks into his father’s disappearance…”

        “The Law Of Nines” (by fantasy author Terry Goodkind)

        “On his 27th birthday, Ben gives Alex a packet of papers and explains that it is an inheritance that passes to the oldest member of Alex’s bloodline. It would have passed to his mother, but she was committed soon after her 27th birthday and so the inheritance passes to Alex.”

      • I recall this is a hobbyhorse of yours, mgeddes.
        I initially thought it was parody, but your consistency seems too perfect.
        My personal evaluation is that you’re crazy, at least regards to the notion of a 27-bias. It’s the cube of 3, no neuroanatomical predisposition towards that comes to mind, and your examples seem picked through a crazy filter to me. But a quick test would be to compare results for google searching 8, 27, and 64. I predict in advance no huge advantage for the number 27.
        Aren’t you the same guy that said intelligence/genius is rooted in ability to categorize? I think you were more on to something useful there.

      • Update:

        8>27>64 with regard to google hits

        26=27=28 with regard to google hits.

        Conclusion: no one is aesthetically biased much towards n^n numbers. The bias is more in the direction of smaller numbers, and there’s no special bias towards the number 27.

      • mjgeddes

        The examples I picked were transhumanist/sci-fi related – restrict the investigation to sci-fi literature (books and movies), and there is a clear bias towards 27, dating right back to the 1930s.

        For example, in the movie ‘Tron: Legacy’ that number is embedded in the movie at a number of points, and even explicitly referred to in the script, even though there is no reason for doing this (and in fact it is strikingly incongruent when the main character speaks the number out loud: “27”), you can verify this for yourself by attending the movie.

        Indeed, I did claim that imagination/creativity/intelligence is rooted in the ability to categorize. The point here is that several years ago, I conducted a detailed investigation of ontology and tried to strip out all the categories – I found it couldn’t be done… there appeared to be exactly 27 irreducible categories.

      • “5 bias: Rooted in our 5 fingers/thumb on one hand.
        10 bias: rooted in our 10 fingers/thumbs.”

        I should have used “digits” instead of the clunkier “fingers/thumbs”.

  • Ray

    Reading Adrian Goldsworthy’s book on the fall of Rome right now, and so I’ve been thinking about these things of course.

    Even though I find a lot to criticize in your detailed definitions of foragers and farmers, the larger point isn’t so flawed.

    The socially liberal do not want to accept that a loss of traditional values comes at a cost of losing the accountability necessary to sustain a stable, healthy society. And the socially conservative don’t want to accept that their values never achieve any real balance and so are always tainted with social inequality – sometimes extreme, sometimes not – but a real balance is never found. (Or at least it’s never sustained.)

  • Evan

    Game has an astounding ROI for a single man.

    I’m not denying that game is useful and effective as a way to attract women. What I’m talking about is that there are some PUAs who seem to think game is the key to save civilization from feminism or something like that. They’ve basically inflated a useful dating/hookup tool into something of cosmic important that is a delusion, although game’s effectiveness at getting certain types of women into bed isn’t.

    It sort of reminds me of the General Semantics trend of the 50s. General semantics is a useful way to train yourself to avoid bad habits of thinking, but its advocates built it up into this amazing Big Idea that would singlehandedly save us all from irrationality.

    I think that Robin’s “In the Country of the Blind” post is relevant to this too, people who develop a new insight tend to overuse it and disdain people who use old insights, even though those are useful too.

    When times are easy, women and children disdain fathers, so fathers disdain wives and children.

    No. They. Don’t. Some women disdain fathers, but most women and children love and respect them. Don’t make blanket generalizations about 51% of the human race.

    The socially liberal do not want to accept that a loss of traditional values comes at a cost of losing the accountability necessary to sustain a stable, healthy society. And the socially conservative don’t want to accept that their values never achieve any real balance and so are always tainted with social inequality – sometimes extreme, sometimes not – but a real balance is never found

    I think the rule of thumb “support traditional values, but don’t use the power of the state to enforce them” is probably the best balance we’ll ever get.

    What do you mean by traditional values though? How long does a value have to persist in society before it counts as a “traditional value? “I have grown up in a society saturated with feminism, so I consider it a traditional value and see myself as defending traditional from people like Roissy who would destroy them. Similarly, I consider anti-racism to be a traditional value of our society to be defended from the Jared Taylors and Steve Sailers of the world.

  • Eric, my understanding is that drinking was limited by wealth, and that with increased wealth drinking is way up.

    Bryan, I’m happy to defer to others on the exact timing. My point is that democracy appeared soon after a great increase in wealth.

    Peter, “around” means “within a few centuries of”. Surely you exaggerate about tree swinging.

    Evan, foragers are often superstitious, but less often religious, with powerful moralizing gods. I can’t see the conflict between openness and belief in witches – around me it is the most open folk who believe in them.

    Salem, yes farming makes alchohol more available. Which is why I said “when they can.” Foragers are open to drugs of many sorts, while farmers are more wary of them. By “art” I include music and dancing, of which foragers had plenty. Forager procreation is not at all unconstrained. Yes of course mating with slaves wasn’t egalitarian – I meant non-slave mating, and will amend the post to be clear on that.

    Peter, the question is why property rights should become abridged with wealth.

    Eric, I’m less interested in the details of the fall of Rome than of its rise and the cultural consequences of that rise. There was a huge change in culture within a historically short time.

    Ray, I don’t think I’ve talked about accountability.

    • Vladimir

      My point is that democracy [in Rome] appeared soon after a great increase in wealth.

      There isn’t really any historical basis for this conclusion. The traditional constitution of the Roman Republic provided for some democratic elements, which were somewhat expanded on several occasions of political conflict during the fourth and early third century BC.

      These came to greater prominence during the last third of the 2nd century BC with the rise of powerful populist politicians, starting with the Gracchi brothers. This led to a whole century of political instability and civil wars, which was ended with the establishment of imperial autocracy by Augustus in 27BC (which theoretically preserved all the republican institutions, but led to their gradual obsolescence and disappearance). After that, mob politics still played a significant role from time to time, but nothing like during its heyday in the late Republic. The trend was almost uniformly towards stronger autocracy (and occasional coups by army commanders and civil wars over contested successions, making the army an increasingly important political factor).

      The heyday of democratic politics during the late Republic was by no means due to some supposed “increase in wealth.” It happened because lots of impoverished farmers lost their land and moved to the city, gradually turning a rural republic of yeoman farmers into one increasingly dominated by the mob politics of the urban proletariat, with populist politicians riding on promises of handouts and land redistribution. What were the principal causes of this mass impoverishment of farmers is a complex question, but in any case, the actual historical events don’t support the above conclusion.

      • I’ve tried to make it clear I’m looking at large timescales here, larger than decades. In economic terms if the urban fraction of the population rose a lot, that was likely due to an increase in regional wealth.

      • anon

        Here’s a good paper on the political economy of the Roman Republic. As this paper argues, the Roman Republic was never intended to be “democratic” in a modern sense; rather, it was tailored to its constituency–Roman patricians, and later also influential plebeians (e.g. equites). The transition to the Roman empire was the work of populist politicians and leaders (see C. Julius Caesar) whose constituency was much broader, including soldiers and poor citizens in Rome proper.

        Thus, I’m not sure what your point is. The late Republic and empire could well be argued to be more “democratic”, not less.

    • Bryan Caplan

      And my point, Robin, is that the wealth/democracy movement is exactly wrong for ancient Rome. Empire replaced Republic right around the time that the wealth explosion you highlight took off.

      • Peter Patton

        Farmers, in contrast, don’t share much, and are far more unequal in the resources they control, by which they can more directly “buy” wives… In economic terms if the urban fraction of the population rose a lot, that was likely due to an increase in regional wealth.

        Quite, which is why it is was not the case in Rome that “in economic terms if the urban fraction of the population rose a lot, that was likely due to an increase in regional wealth”. In fact, the opposite was the case. The land that was acquired as part of military spoils was – during the Republican days of representative government – supposed to be public (ager publicus). But the landed gentry appropriated it, and then leased it back to the smaller citizen-soldier land-owners (“veterans).

        So while yes, the large rise in the urban faction was related to increases in regional wealth, but quite the opposite of that wealth being shared around (trickling down) to a large and expanding urban population, most of the rise was from former – smaller-holding – veteran Roman citizen-farmers lose their land due to not being able to tend it after the 2nd Punic war. Losing the land, and associated income, meant the veterans no longer satisfied the census tests to be a Roman soldier; anyway, they could no longer afford the swords, shields and kit, which Roman soldiers had to pay for themselves. Basically, they were disenfranchised.

        The large land-holding aristocracy was able to grab even more land as the ordinary citizen-farmer-soldier lost his holdings. Cicero reports the tribune Lucius Philippus that at the turn of the 1st century BC

        “there were not in the state two thousand people who owned any property”.

        So much for our property-owning proto bourgeoisie!

        Quite astonishing when we remember there were 450,000 citizens in Rome in Cicero’s day, without counting slaves, foreigners, freedmen. This rot however had well set in by even 140 BC.

        These huge land estates “(latifundia) were not used for industry, but for agriculture and pastoralism. These disenfranchised and impoverished “veterans” had to make their way to the city, where they became a great civil threat. If it wasn’t the large land-owners, it was the landowners’ cousins the tax-farmers (publicani), generally from Cicero’s class; the equites. The publicani, and other Roman financiers – the Greeks taught the Romans had to write commercial contracts, and calculate loan interest rates – acted like the mafia loan sharks.

        They would lend money to the smaller land-owners, so the small land-owners could pay their taxes, often charging more than annualized equivalent of 60% interest. So while this class of money men and landed gentry retired to the country estates to get fat, drunk, and laid, the Republic’s middle-class backbone was evicted to the city, where he once again met his friendly financier, from whom he was forced to once more borrow to pay the rent on his squalid bedsit, before inevitably spending his days panhandling on skid row. Often, he was invited to stay on his property as a tenant farmer (colonus) – the beginnings of serfdom.

        Now, the REAL economic lesson here was that the latifundia acted as a cartel charging the city exorbitant prices for grain. The tribunes were thus forced to accept grain as tax payments from the Latifundia, which was then distributed to the “veterans” thus keeping a lid on social unrest. At least 2 tribunes tried to pass laws to force the landed gentry to redistribute the stolen ager publicus among the veterans. 2 of those tribunes (the brothers Gracchus) were assassinated for their effort, while the third Lucius Philippius was later excoriated by Cicero

        The man in an administrative office, however, must make it his first care that everyone shall have what belongs to him and that private citizens suffer no invasion of their property rights by act of the state. It was a ruinous policy that Philippus proposed when in his tribuneship he introduced his agrarian bill.

        Before Cicero’s time, the powerful general Marius came up with the ingenious idea to relax the property-owning requirement for military service. But Marius’ real revolutionary reform was to provide the soldiers with sword, shield, sandals, and kit. Equally revolutionary, Marius offered them full-time ongoing gigs as part of a voluntary, professional, full-time professional army. The poor and disenfranchised could not join up quickly enough. And boy, were these re-enfranchized dudes loyal to their paymaster general!

        Rather than any proto-industrial revolution, it was more proto fascist with looting the vanquished the main source of Rome’s wealth, and any economic growth that might have taken place [which in reality, of course it didn’t – the Malthusian trap and all], was swallowed up by increased fertility.

        To this extent, Rome became nothing like industrial Europe, but remarkably similar to the ante-bellum Confederacy. Just as the plantation owners replaced former white/European indentured workers with African slaves, so to the Roman landed classes, kicked the old owner’s family out, and replaced them with slaves captured from wars, which, tragically were won by the very citizen-soldier-farmer he was now evicting.

      • Ray

        Exactly. The early empire was much more stable than the republic, but the concentration of power in the early portion of empire did not substantially change the liberty or social latitude of the citizens.

        So in this early period anyway, the only thing that changed was the soundness of the overall society, but liberty as they knew it did not change.

    • Peter Patton

      When empires like Greece and Rome achieved sustained periods of prosperity, their elites reverted to more forager-like ways

      Hardly. At the height of Athens’ glory – the 5th century BC – the citizens of the whole of Attica moved inside the “Long Walls”, which the Athenians construced as a fortress so no land army could interrupt access of the Athenians to their key strategic and imperial asset; their Navy.

      In an early example of the law of unforeseen consequences, Athens’ close ally against Persia – Sparta – used the Wall’s construction as Casus bellum. Thus during Athens’ glory, they were fighting war on 2 fronts – Persia and Sparta – while all [estimated] 250,000 residents – men, women, and children – slaves, foreign workers, squeezed into about 20 square kilometers, with all the attendant famine [when the Spartans trashed their crops], disease, and so on.

      Yet, it was precisely in this completely agriculture-focused and dependent polity that western civilization’s greatest works of poetry – tragedy was actually invented – historiography, music, mathematics, science, oratory, philosophy, and most importantly law flourished. And it was in this same environment that the truisms of democratic politics were born and mastered.

      They had more drinking and art, more egalitarian politics, fertility fell, and [non-slave] mating became more egalitarian and about feelings.

      While this was the case, it had nothing to do with a transition from farming to foraging. In fact, both [classical] Greece and Rome’s wealth were overwhelmingly agriculture based plus war booty. Even our modern word “economics” comes from the mid 4th century BC dialog Oeconomicus by Xenophon. However, far from foraging it was a treatise on how most efficiently to manage a household and agriculture. Now, like today, the soil in the Aegean was far from bountiful, so the Greeks have always had to rely on substantial imports of even food. Why do you think an otherwise insignificant economic power in modern times, nevertheless still has a substantial shipping industry?

      And Athenian democracy formed when she was a marginal civilizational also ran; third fiddle to humanity’s most artless and culture-free power – the Spartans.

      It had nothing to do with wealth, or at least not in the way posited. It was a story entirely based on property rights. After the collapse of the Bronze Age, followed by the Greek Dark Age, population had declined so much, that the former landless classes appropriated all the land. 6th century Attica saw humanity’s first democracy, because these small private land owners, provided the backbone to the Athenian fighting machine – the hoplite phalanx. They used their property holdings to blackmail the ruling aristocracy into extended political, civil, and most importantly COMMERCIAL rights to them, or they would not fight. Deal done.

      The Romans travelled to Athens to try and learn the ways of democracy, but they botched it completely.

      While the correlation between wine and monogamy is clever – somewhat precocious perhaps – the reality was much more banal. For starters, the Greeks had been boozing ever since the Neolithic, and were expert international exporters by the middle of the Bronze Age; long before monogamy. Olives were about the only thing that flourished in the forbidding Greek soil. And they had to have something to trade for all that oriental and Egyptian spice, silk, metals, wood, and most vitally, grain. Wine was exported right across the Mediterannean and beyond to Egypt, the Black Sea, Spain, Scythia, Gaul, Italy – which, of course is how the Romans learnt – and on to modern day Near East.

      By the time the Romans started coming down from the trees, the Greeks has spent centuries passing laws to do with commerce, especially maritime trading, and especially wine. By the time they taught the Romans, Greek banking and maritime financing law was highly evolved, and prolific, including standard-form written contracts. A style of court room rhetoric had naturally also involved focusing on maritime and banking law.

      Again, no foraging, all farming.

  • Evan

    I can’t see the conflict between openness and belief in witches – around me it is the most open folk who believe in them.

    It isn’t belief in witches that I see as a conflict with openness. It is the belief that witches are always harmful, evil, and dangerous. Blaming evil strangers for your problems is an anti-open value, in my view.

  • I do not understand the idea that traditional marriage reflect’s the husband’s property rights in the wife. If that were the case, then we would expect to see a husband purchase his wife from her father. But we see the exact reverse – dowry. What kind of property rights do you have to be paid to accept?

  • Ray

    Ray, I don’t think I’ve talked about accountability.

    Accountability was my word.

  • This is probably your weakest farmer/forager post. Link to an actual history of Rome, not chain-mail quality person on the internet trying to make a point about the modern U.S.

  • Ray

    RE: Democracy and wealth

    Well what we do know is that the most stable, and seemingly prosperous time was the early Empire. Leaving aside the cause and effect of wealth at this point, it seems that the concentration of power also brought with it stability. The rulers enjoyed unprecedented power, but were still somewhat constrained by the need to at least give some deference to the republican institutions.

    It’s easy to see in retrospect how those democratic forms were crumbling, and it’s tempting to think that the rulers could have just totally run away with the farm, but they of course were living in real time – they weren’t so sure themselves. In other words, they didn’t go from the Gracchi to Nero overnight.

    So back to the cause of wealth, stability perhaps is the key factor with a degree of liberty or social latitude required as well for a society to prosper, but not necessarily democracy itself.

    I like Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s take on dictatorship and politicians. They all have a constituency to keep happy in order to stay in power. The dictator a relatively small group, the populist politician a very large group. Freedom is of course restricted when the necessary power constituency is very small, but society is inherently unstable to the point of corrosion when the power constituency is spread too far. Mesquita makes good example of Leopold and the difference in how he treated his subjects in Belgium, and how he behaved in the Congo.

  • Peter Patton


    Well what we do know is that the most stable, and seemingly prosperous time was the early Empire.

    Which is precisely the time Roman polity changed from a tyranny to Fascism. Any chance at democracy had died nearly a century earlier.

  • Matt

    My understanding of the late Roman period is of a move towards abstraction and away from physical arts, not even abstract art. Philosophically, the late Greco-Romans were increasingly concerned with unseen and unknowable Forms and physical modelling was increasingly disdained. I wonder if this fits the farmer/forager model, i.e. people do “what’s natural” for the EEA, which was not, as far as we can tell, an environment which involved producing physical art or any real concern for modelling or understanding nature.

    On the other hand, describes an axis in which physical art/ornamentation and male violence are positively correlated, are dependent on how much male effort is subsumed into food production and are essentially independent of foraging or farming, as such (poor foragers with low male mate competition and high male parental work seem to have no more than poor farmers with the same conditions).

  • Barry DeCicco

    A few comments:

    1) The Roman Republic was, IIRC, not very democratic at all; the elites largely ran things (think of the problems of the Gracchi bros, for example).

    2) The 1st century BC, as has been mentioned above (and which is known to anybody even casually familiar with Roman history), was the period in which the Republic fell and the Empire was formed. There were several dictators (Marius, Sulla, Julius Caesar) who trashed the place, and slaughtered enemies. There were others (Crassus, Pompey) who had massive power because they had vast wealth and/or private armies.

    3) The Roman Empire peaked during the 3rd century, IIRC. What felled it is (again, IIRC) the sheer difficulty of maintaining a sprawling, empire, the ability of provincial commanders/governmors to stage coups, plague, and in the end an abandonment of the Western Empire for the far richer Eastern Empire (this can be seen as cutting off the West, and letting the barbarians have it).

    4) The behavior you’re describing is pretty much an upper-class behavior, I believe. It’s similar to somebody in the year 4000 thinking that American men all spent their days snorting coke, crashing expensive cars, and flying their private jets around to have affairs with hot supermodels, while the women spent their time snorting coke, crashing expensive cars, and flying their private jets around the world to b*tch with other women about the sheer burden of having children (whom they only recognize because their nannies send them videos). Except for those women who run businesses, practice the profession, who spend their time c*str*ting men.

  • Hopefully Anonymous, Alex Tabarrok used the phrase “ideas behind their time” to describe what you’re talking about. And kudos on doing some google breakfast research. How about doing it for the numbers you think we are biased towards?

    mjgeddes, if you had your own blog I’d ask you to list the 27 irreducible categories there.

    • Clear victory.
      I searched “n types”, n= 4 … 14

      For n = 4, 5, 10, hits = approx. 4 million each.
      For n = 6 … 9, 11 … 14, hits = approx 500,000 to 1.5 million each.

    • mjgeddes

      I’ve already hinted at the 27 universal categories enough times before TGGP, I’m not elaborating any further at the moment.

      Another interesting short sci-fi story:

      “I’ve only had the Super-Neural Bypass for sixteen seconds, and already I’ve learned twenty-seven languages and figured out how to play the piano.”

      It seems that subconscious awareness filtered through even to this fellow 😉

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