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I spent the weekend in Tübingen at a conference organised by John Weisweiler on Debt: the first 3500 years, exploring different aspects of the ideas presented by David Graeber in Debt: the first 5000 years within ancient contexts, from early Babylonia to the early Islamic period; programme can be downloaded here, or follow my attempts at pithy summary on Twitter under #Debt3500. My initial reaction to the idea was that it’s amazing no one had thought of doing this before. It’s not just that Graeber’s book offers some provocative ideas about the roles of debt and money in shaping human relationships (above all, different forms of dependence) that seem well worth exploring in the context of antiquity, but also that the periods we ancient historians are concerned with play a significant role in his overall schema of historical development – this is the Axial Age, in the phrase he borrows from Karl Jaspers, where world-changing intellectual developments went hand in hand with far-reaching economic and social changes, with dramatic implications for everything that then followed up to the slow-motion car crash of contemporary capitalism. (more…)

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