Gift and Gain
Publication Date 9 Feb 2017
OverviewThe economy of ancient Rome, with its money, complex credit arrangements, and long-range shipping, was surprisingly modern. Yet Romans also exchanged goods and services within a robust system of gifts and favors, which sustained the supportive relationships necessary for survival in the absence of the extensive state and social institutions. In Gift and Gain: How Money Transformed Ancient Rome, Neil Coffee shows how a vibrant commercial culture progressively displaced systems of gift giving over the course of Rome's classical era. The change was propelled the Roman elite, through their engagement in shipping, moneylending, and other enterprises. Members of the same elite, however, remained habituated to traditional gift relationships, relying on them to exercise influence and build their social worlds. They resisted the transformation, through legislation, political movements, and philosophical argument. The result was a recurring clash across the contexts of Roman social and economic life. The book traces the conflict between gift and gain from Rome's prehistory, down through the conflicts of the late Republic, into the early Empire, showing its effects in areas as diverse as politics, government, legal representation, philosophical thought, public morality, personal and civic patronage, marriage, dining, and the Latin language. These investigations show Rome shifting, unevenly but steadily, away from its pre-historic reliance on relationships of mutual aid, and toward to the more formal, commercial, and contractual relations of modernity.