The Dark Secret of ancient Greece . . .

What was the dark secret of ancient Greece? Well, the dark secret is money. The Greeks invented money or rather, they were the first to use it, they were the world’s first market economy; and that is what makes them different from the great empires that came before.

I am an archaeologist and as an archaeologist, I look at cities. Those in the great empires that came before money were based round palaces, or temples, where the ruler lived. Greek cities are very different for they are centred round the marketplace,  the agora in Greece, the forum in Rome.

The reason for this difference is money. Money is something that is widely misunderstood, not least by economists, which is why I call it dark. The great thing about money is that it gives choice. Choice primarily in little things of life, what to eat, what to wear;  if you’re lucky, where to work and where to live. This choice spreads over into a new way of life, with greater freedom, a taste for experiment, for trial and error, for suck it and see. And this brings about new forms of art,  new forms of philosophies, new ways of writing history,  and most fascinating of all, the feeling that the people and not the big emperor should rule and the people should be in charge of their own destiny; and so we see the birth of democracy.

This is a somewhat different approach from the norm, perhaps because I have a different background. I have spent my life setting up and running a magazine, Current Archaeology, so I have at least half a foot in the commercial world.  I began by studying classics, but then, wanting to know how the modern world works, I became a Chartered Accountant. But finding I was better at editing magazines than doing accounts, I decided to launch a new magazine on archaeology which has been my great delight and pleasure. But having spent my life writing about the past in bits and pieces, I decided to step back in my retirement and ask the big question, why are Greece and Rome so different? And since I came from the commercial world, it gradually began to dawn on me that the real reason was that they had a new type of economy, based on money and the market economy, and that this brought about a whole new way of thinking – and acting.

This book is divided into two halves. The first part looks at three of the great early empires with what I call the Palace economy. I start with the Minoans, then go on to Egypt and then, for something completely different, to China. I then look at the two great market economies, firstly, Greece and then the Romans – who are widely misunderstood.

This is basically a fairly orthodox account of history, but with a new framework, based on the philosophies of Hayek. It is also an enquiry into barbarism and civilisation – for a civilised society is one where we have choice; and there is a background of democracy, for democracy is not really possible when a society depends on the Chief or Emperor for the workings of the gift exchange economy. And lurking in the background there is an implicit comparison with the Industrial Revolution which itself was based on the market economy, and is widely misunderstood – just as the Romans are misunderstood. Choice is important, it needs to be better understood if our own civilization is to survive.

On to Contents page


On to the Trobriand Islands, to find out how a primitive economy works.

19th June, 2021