A History of Trust in Ancient Greece
Kreps, Clifton, The Historian
A History of Trust in Ancient Greece. By Steven Johnstone. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 242. $45.00.)
This work examines the operation of systems of impersonal trust in ancient Greece. Rejecting the Aristotelian view of political cooperation in Greek city-states as rooted in personal trust shared among fellow citizens, Steven Johnstone seeks to illuminate the ways in which effective functioning of the polis depended on economic and political systems that allowed citizens to act as if they trusted one another.
Readers proceed from an introductory chapter to the public marketplace, where the practice of haggling is analyzed as a system for addressing the asymmetry of information between sellers and buyers resulting from the use of coinage; sellers instantly know the value of the coins they are receiving in a given transaction, but buyers do not have similarly reliable information about goods for sale. The next chapter concerns the practice of measuring, especially in the grain trade, which in the classical period relied heavily on personal trust and expertise among the network of independent merchants and buyers; this is contrasted with the more standardized and impersonal system of quantity and quality controls in the larger-scale markets of Hellenistic Egypt.
In chapter 4, Johnstone explores how Greeks kept track of household supplies and managed consumption over time by skillful use of common containers rather than exact measurement or account keeping. A chapter follows on the attribution of money values in nonmarket contexts, tracing a shift over time from reliance on personal methods of valuing to impersonal ones: from unilateral ad hoc self-declaration of a citizen's value upon assuming a public office, for example, to regular, comprehensive censuses of all citizens and their worth. A subsequent pair of chapters examines collaborative practices that nurtured trust among those assigned to the many boards and committees of the Athenian polis, including a regime of collective liability under which all members of a group might be held responsible for the actions of any single member. …