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Institute of Advanced Study


IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Public Spending in Ancient Democratic Athens and Today

10th March 2015, 17:30 to 18:30, Birley Room, Hatfield College, Dr David M Pritchard, University of Queensland

This richly illustrated public lecture 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 in making them this lecture 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 was the overriding priority of this famous ancient democracy.

This lecture is free and open to all. 

Details about Dr David M Pritchard

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Map - University College is denoted as building No: 20

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