The economy of the Ancient Age (4,000 BC-V century AD) had agriculture as its main activity. Although, initially, self-sufficiency was sought, later barter would emerge.
It is evident that agriculture and livestock were the great economic activities of the Ancient Age. However, trade was done through barter. To do this, surplus production was traded, although, later, coins appeared, which would give a great boost to trade. The development of commerce was also influenced notably by advances in agriculture and crafts. Well, these advances allowed a greater supply of goods for barter.
To better understand what type of economy occurred in the Ancient Age, we are going to expose what economic activity was like in its most important civilizations.
Ancient Economics: Egypt and Mesopotamia
The lands located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers constitute what is called "Mesopotamia", a place where cities such as Babylon arose. In this territory, city-states proliferated that counted on the production of the neighboring areas. These city-states would eventually unite to form true empires.
As agriculture was the main source of wealth, the floods were a threat to the well-being of the inhabitants of Mesopotamia. Therefore, they got to work to channel the water and create irrigation techniques. The wealth generated by agriculture was complemented by livestock and hunting, while mining had less weight in the economy.
Thanks to the income that agriculture provided, it was possible to support the kings and priests. Temples and royal palaces were the great nerve center of the economy. Regarding the management of tributes, the scribes recorded the taxes collected. Furthermore, the king had to manage the economy, playing a key role in the distribution of labor, while deciding on what the income earned was used.
Later, and due to its particular location between two rivers, trade would flourish in Mesopotamia. Thanks to this, currencies emerged as a means of payment and loans would appear.
Ancient Economics: Egypt
The economic organization of Ancient Egypt was very similar to that of Mesopotamia, since both civilizations had arisen along the rivers. Agriculture and livestock were the basis of its economy. However, in the stages of the year when the land did not have to be cultivated, the labor force was employed in the construction of large works and infrastructures, such as canals, pyramids and temples.
The pharaoh, considered a god, held control of the land, determining what work each should do and what their resources would be.
Given the large amount of desert land in Egypt, the Egyptians were forced to trade to provide themselves with scarce raw materials such as iron and wood. On the other hand, from the lands of Nubia they would obtain precious metals such as gold, silver and copper. Now, the development of coins was somewhat late if we compare it with other civilizations.
Ancient Economics: Greece and Rome
Greece was made up of a series of city-states that, on numerous occasions, competed. Thus, Aetolia was a region devoted to grazing, while Thessaly, the Peloponnese and Boeotia were mainly dedicated to livestock and wheat production. On the contrary, the famous city-states of Athens, Sparta and Corinth were important commercial and artisan centers. Thanks to trade, they supplied themselves with slave labor and raw materials such as wheat and wood. In fact, the agora or market was the center of the economic life of the Greek cities. And it is that, in the agora transactions were closed and deposits were made.
In the cities there was a notable development of crafts, with artisans being distributed in neighborhoods, according to their activity: potters, metallurgists and craftsmen specialized in furniture. Parallel to the advances in crafts, there was an outstanding development of mining.
The Greeks reached the Italian peninsula and left customs that the Romans inherited. Crafts, agriculture and commerce were a direct legacy of Ancient Greece. Thus, the expansion of Rome would be accompanied by the growth of a trade that would contribute to reinforcing the economic power of Roman civilization.
The conquests of Rome increased their wealth, because with each territory that fell into their power, they appropriated new lands, cattle and slaves. Furthermore, the conquered had to hand over their gold and silver to Rome. Even the mines, quarries, shipyards and agricultural properties were confiscated by Rome.
Meanwhile, the Roman nobility, enjoying the benefits of the surplus of their agricultural production, had sumptuous villas in which slaves worked the land. And it is that, in Rome, owning land was synonymous with wealth.