Walter Scheidel




Purpose and structure


Demography is essential for our understanding of ancient societies: patterns of mortality, the social organisation of reproduction, household formation and population density are among the crucial factors governing life in every society, including ancient Greece and Rome. Following a long period of neglect, scholarly interest in ancient population history has grown quite considerably over the past twenty years. Recent contributions include M. H. Hansenís books and articles on the size of the Athenian population; N. Corvisierís monographs on health and demography in Greece; R. Sallaresís expansive survey of the ecology of the ancient Greek world, more than half of which is taken up by chapters on demography; B. W. Frierís studies of Roman life expectancy and fertility; Bagnall and Frierís book on the demography of Roman Egypt (CUP 1994); and B. D. Shawís and R. P. Sallerís papers on the structure of the Roman family, as well as Sallerís monograph on the same subject (CUP 1994). Since 1996, at least five different conferences on ancient demography have been held in the UK, France and Italy.


Despite all this, no introductory textbook on this subject is available in English. The overall structure of the book is determined by the central concerns of the historical demography of the more recent past. As a result, it will help to acquaint classicists with the perspectives of professional demography, and make the book more readily accessible and relevant to historical demographers and social historians of other periods. The core of the book consists of a discussion of the three determinants of population structure, namely mortality, fertility and migration. A separate chapter will be devoted to questions of family and household structure, a topic of great interest to historical demography in general and of relevance to studies of the history of the family, women, and childhood in classical antiquity. The issue of population size, which has traditionally received most attention by ancient historians, will be assessed with particular emphasis on the concepts of population pressure and demographic contraction. Each chapter will conclude with a section that discusses its significance for our understanding of the ancient world in general.





The introduction will describe the scope and approach of the book.


Chapter 1, on mortality, will discuss the problem of deriving mortality rates from age distributions attested in samples of ancient evidence; their relationship to model life tables and comparative evidence; their implications for life expectancy and fertility; seasonal mortality and causes of death; and mortality crises.


Chapter 2, on fertility, will introduce the concept of natural fertility; examine the principal determinants of fertility, such as age of marriage, incidence of marriage and re-marriage, birth spacing, stopping strategies; contraception, abortion, and child exposure/infanticide; and the effects of fertility control on the sex ratio.


Chapter 3, on migration, will focus on urbanisation; Greek and Roman colonization; the slave trade; and other means of population transfer.


Chapter 4, on family and household structure, will discuss quantifiable evidence of the composition of families and households, especially in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt; the information furnished by Roman epitaphs; and literary and legal records.


Chapter 5, on population size, will address problems of determining population size; its change over time, with particular reference to classical Athens, the city of Rome, and Roman Italy; and the notions of population pressure and depopulation, as well as the relationship between demographic and economic conditions.


Chapter 6 will offer concluding observations on the prospects of further research in this field.


© 2003, 2009 Walter Scheidel