PODCAST | Public Spending in Ancient Democratic Athens and Today

Listen in: #DemocracyFutures lunchtime seminar Public Spending in Ancient Democratic Athens and Today presented by Dr David Pritchard on 3 June 2015.

About the talk

This SDN Democracy Futures seminar analyses public spending in ancient democratic Athens. Ancient historians debate whether this famous democracy spent more on religion or war. They cannot agree how the Athenians paid for politics. These debates go back to August Böckh. This pioneer of Ancient History criticised the Athenians for spending more on festivals than the armed forces. Böckh complained that the Athenians levied unjust taxes to pay for their bloated government. Calculating public spending would settle both debates. Böckh lacked the evidence to do so.

Two centuries after him such calculations are now possible. But making them today does more than settle longstanding debates. In Athenian democracy voters had full control over public spending. In voting for a bill they always knew its cost and how much they normally spent on such bills. The Athenians could spend more on what they saw as important and less on what was less important. Therefore the sums which they spent reflected the order of the priorities which they had set for their state. By calculating these sums this lecture confirms that it was not religion or politics but war which is the overriding priority of this famous ancient democracy.

About the speaker

David Pritchard is an historian of ancient democratic Athens and Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland. He has held research fellowships at Macquarie University, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Sydney. In 2013 Dr Pritchard was the Charles Gordon Mackay Lecturer in Greek at the University of Edinburgh. This year Dr Pritchard was Research Fellow in Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study. In 2016 he will be Research Fellow in the University of Strasbourg’s Institute of Advanced Study and Margo Tytus Visiting Fellow at the University of Cincinnati.


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