THE MARKET FOR UNCERTAINTY BEARING IN ROMAN EGYPT

Authors


  • My thanks to Jean-Jacques Aubert, Roger Bagnall, Katherine Blouin, Andrea Jördens, Peter van Minnen, and especially to an anonymous reader for BICS for most helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. The responsibility for any errors is entirely mine. My research benefited greatly from the conscientious assistance of Evelyn Bodden of the Interlibrary Loan Department in the Cohen Library in the City College of New York.

Abstract

This paper (re)calls attention to an unusual, much discussed Roman era Egyptian contract between Tetoueis and Venaphrios for the future delivery of grain. It is argued that the contractual provisions cannot be adequately explained within the framework of strictly credit or strictly commodity purchase instruments. It is shown, however, that sale in advance transactions for grain (and also for wine) can be understood by placing uncertainty in the foreground and viewing them as option contracts. Thus, this paper develops and refines an idea that has lain dormant since being put forward by Packman in 1975. Although this is quite possible, the point of the discussion is not that many Roman economic actors made their living by writing option contracts but only that such contracts were written and might be purchased even by unexpected individuals such as the illiterate Tetoueis.

 

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