In recent years, interest in the welfare levels of ancient economies has increased considerably, partly in a quest to find the origins of present-day income differences. A popular method for calculating income differences is the use of subsistence ratios that indicate whether the wage of an unskilled male labourer is sufficient to purchase enough products and services to maintain his family. In this paper, we present new estimates for the southeastern part of Han China and modify existing estimates for the eastern half of the Roman Empire (Egypt and Syria) and Babylonia to make them comparable. We find that the agricultural regions of Egypt and Babylonia experienced substantially lower subsistence ratios than Syria and southeastern Han China. We find that the main reason for the difference was that unskilled male workers belonged to the higher income brackets in southeastern Han China and Syria. This finding can be explained by the small group of free wage workers in these societies, combined with excess demand for this type of labour in the Eastern Roman Empire and southeastern Han China.
|Tijdschrift||经济社会史评论 (Economic and Social History Review)|
|Status||Gepubliceerd - 2019|