The archaeology of ancient state economies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


This review addresses methods and theories for the archaeological study of ancient state economies, from the earliest states through the Classical period and beyond. Research on this topic within anthropological archaeology has been held back by reliance on simple concepts and an impoverished notion of the extent of variation in ancient state economies. First I review a long-standing debate between scholars who see similarities with modern capitalist economies (modernists and formalists) and those who see ancient economies as radically different from their modern counterparts (primitivists and substantivists). I suggest that the concept of the level of commercialization provides an avenue for transcending this debate and moving research in more productive directions. Next I review work on the traditional archaeological topics of production and exchange. A discussion of the scale of the economy (households, temple and palace institutions, state finance, cities and regional systems, and international economies) reveals considerable variation between and within ancient states. I review key topics in current archaeological political economy, including commercial exchange, money, property, labor, and the nature of economic change, and close with suggestions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-102
Number of pages30
JournalAnnual Review of Anthropology
StatePublished - Dec 6 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Commercialization
  • Economic anthropology
  • Exchange
  • States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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