After empire: Xenophon's Poroi and the reorientation of Athens' political economy

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Jansen, Joseph Nicholas, 1972-

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In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Xenophon as a historian, literary artist, and political philosopher. However, scholarly research on the Poroi--the only work of political economy to survive from antiquity--has been minimal. To date, no book-length, synoptic analysis of the text exists. This dissertation contributes significantly to filling this lacuna in the scholarship while also serving to enhance our understanding of fourth-century Athenian political discourse and ideology, finance, and economics. I argue that the Poroi is a unique anti-imperialistic discourse that aims to demonstrate the ways in which the Athenians can maintain themselves financially without exploiting other states. While Xenophon's objectives of alleviating the poverty of the Athenians and increasing their revenues are conventional, the means by which he intends to achieve these goals are innovative. Unlike his contemporaries, Xenophon recommends employing financial resources derived not from empire but rather from peaceful economic activities. Specifically, I contend that the Poroi boldly challenges the parasitic, consumer-based orientation of Athens' imperial economy by proposing practical measures meant to transform Athens into a center of silver mining, manufacture, and free commercial exchange. Xenophon's vision for Athens' new economy, I submit, even displays features of modern rational capitalism. To advance this argument, I adopt a contextualist approach that situates Xenophon's ideas both in the immediate historical milieu of fourth-century Athens and within the history of economic and political thought. I am therefore able to highlight the points of contact between the Poroi and subsequent developments in the history of ideas and thus to underscore the groundbreaking aspects of Xenophon's political economy. My study parts company with previous interpretations in two fundamental ways. First, Xenophon's attempt to improve the financial condition of the Athenians stems from a desire not to promote or to retard the political activity of the people but to eliminate the injustice of Athenian imperialism. Second, his program to stimulate the Athenian economy necessarily entails the development of the productive forces of Attica. In brief, such a radical transformation of Athenian fiscal and economic practices represents nothing short of a "reorientation" of Athenian political economy.