The Ecology Of The Ancient Greek World

by Robert Sallares

Graham Shipley | Published in
  • The Ecology Of The Ancient Greek World
    Robert Sallares – Duckworth, 1991 - x+ 588pp. - £42

In this, his first book, Robert Sallares attempts to apply ecological theory to the study of antiquity. The all-embracing title makes a big claim; and, as the briefest glance at the splendid Index will reveal, the book contains a wealth of information about the ancient Mediterranean, much of which will be new to students of ancient history.

The author argues that a knowledge of ecology, natural habitats, and the principles of Darwinian evolution is indispensable to the study of the Greek past. Historical developments, in the long term, are influenced much more by environmental and evolutionary processes than by conscious human choices; but humans can affect the environment in important ways, for instance by selecting productive crop varieties.

After a long and polemical Introduction (which includes fascinating information about the migration of crops and animals into Greece from the Near East) comes the longest section of the bbook, 'Human Demography'. This is very dense, with excursions into evolutionary and demographic theory, life expectancy, voluntary family limitation, and disease. Sallares argues for a population explosion in Greece in the eighth century BC, followed by a gradual levelling off until the fourth century, when the population reached, and overshot, the 'carrying capacity' of the landscape, thereafter to fall back again until the Late Roman period.

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