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PhD Defense

Sarah Toby Wilker, "The Social Life of Ancient Markets: Using Formal Network Approaches and Ceramic Data to Reconceptualize Market Behavior in the Late Classical–Early Hellenistic (400–200 BCE) Southeast Aegean”

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Communities are built around dinner tables, with a favorite wine or cup conjuring the memory of a holiday meal or family gathering. In the ancient Mediterranean world, these tables would have often held wine, a major agricultural product and dietary staple, with access to specific wines and vessels frequently contingent on participation in markets. Recent research on Mediterranean markets has employed a range of modern economic theories and methods to quantify and assess the performance of markets and economies more broadly. This research has brought with it an understanding of ancient economies and markets as formal yet impersonal spaces, with the human messiness of markets — the everyday relationships and quotidian exchanges — acknowledged as a force in markets yet difficult to find and impossible to systematically assess.

This dissertation presents a new view of ancient markets, one that centers the impact of social relationships and community networks on market outcomes. Bridging approaches from archaeology, ancient history, sociology, and computer science, it develops computational models of markets that allow potters and drinkers to compare wine production and consumption preferences with individuals in their social network. These models create hypothetical records of wine vessel choices, which can then be compared to the archaeological record of wine transport and drinking pottery. Focusing on wine vessels from the Late Classical and Early Hellenistic (c. 400–200 BCE) southeast Aegean, I show how social relationships between wine potters and drinkers were a driving force behind markets for wine and its vessels. Regional standardization in transport amphora shape may have been the result of changing social relationships among wine producers, with decreased social distance between individual potters and increased influence of several well-connected potters driving the creation of a regional koine. When it came to consuming wine, however, the diverse selection of wine cups best matches market models that allow consumers to both emulate the drinking practices of well-connected drinkers and simultaneously compare their choices with their closest connections. Within a marketplace of options, communities used shared drinking practices to demonstrate shared identities.

Bringing together archaeological analyses and digital methods, this dissertation shows that, when it came to wine, social bonds and community relationships had the power to shape economic trends in the southeast Aegean during the Late Classical and Early Hellenistic period. These results demonstrate just how human ancient markets were, how countless interpersonal interactions that occurred before, during, and after participating in markets may have built to something larger, a collective force which could change the circulation of goods in the wider Mediterranean world.