Numbers and Numeracy in the Greek Polis


We tend to think of numbers as inherently objective and precise. Yet the diverse ways in which ancient Greeks used numbers illustrates that counting is actually shaped by context-specific and culturally-dependent choices: what should be counted and how, who should count, and how should the results be shared? This volume is the first to focus on the generation and use of numbers in the polis to quantify, communicate and persuade. Its papers demonstrate the rich insights that can be gained into ancient Greek societies by reappraising seemingly straightforward examples of quantification as reflections of daily life and cultural understandings.

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Robert Sing received his Ph.D. in Classics from the University of Cambridge and is an independent researcher. He has published on the Demosthenic corpus and the Athenian system of pay for political participation.

Tazuko Angela van Berkel is a University Lecturer in Classics at Leiden University. She has published on Protagoras, Xenophon, friendship, ancient economic reflection and the rhetoric of numbers. Her 2020 monograph The Economics of Friendship was published by Brill.

Robin Osborne is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King’s College. He has published widely in Greek history, archaeology and art history.

Contributors are Tazuko Angela van Berkel, Josine Blok, Florin George Calian, Steve Johnstone, Lisa Kallet, Eunsoo Lee, Robin Osborne, Catherine Rubincam, Daniel Mahendra Jan Sicka, Robert Sing.
List of Illustrations and Tables
Notes on Contributors

Robin Osborne, Robert Sing, Tazuko Angela van Berkel

Part 1 Numbers in Society

1 A Counting People: Valuing Numeracy in Democratic Athens
Lisa Kallet

2 The Appearance of Numbers
Robin Osborne

3 Punishing and Valuing
Steve Johnstone

4 Ten Thousand: Fines, Numbers and Institutional Change in Fifth-Century Athens
Josine Blok

5 Numeric Communication in the Greek Historians: Quantification and Qualification
Catherine Rubincam

Part 2 Communicating with Numbers

6 Creative Accounting? Strategies of Enumeration in Epinician Texts
Daniel Mahendra Jan Sicka

7 Hidden Judgments and Failing Figures: Nicias’ Number Rhetoric
Tazuko Angela van Berkel

8 Performing Numbers in the Attic Orator
Robert Sing

Part 3 Conceptualising Number

9 Numbers, Ontologically Speaking: Plato on Numerosity
George Florin Calian

10 Doing Geometry without Numbers: Re-reading Euclid’s Elements
Eunsoo Lee

Undergraduate and postgraduate students, academics, and researchers. Subject areas: Classics, Ancient History (specifically Greek), Numeracy, Ancient Mathematics, Ancient Philosophy, Historiography, Rhetoric, Epigraphy.
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