Modelling the quest for status in Ancient Greece: Paying for liturgies

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The substantive view of the ancient economy argues that social considerations and especially the quest for status featured prominently in ancient Greece. Paying for liturgies, the private finance of public expenditure by wealthy individuals, offered the opportunity to acquire status by choosing the level of contributions to outperform rival providers. Effectively, liturgies were a system of finance of public provision through redistributive taxation sidestepping state administration of taxes and expenditures. Applying the insights of the economic approach to status, the paper examines status competition in ancient Athens and compares paying for liturgies with a hypothetical system of explicit income taxation of the rich. It is concluded that status seeking increased aggregate provision of public goods. The results formalise important aspects of substantivism and illustrate the value of formal economic analysis in the investigation of the ancient Greek economy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-236
Number of pages24
JournalHomo Oeconomicus
Early online date5 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished online - 5 Sept 2020


  • Ancient Greek economy
  • substantivism
  • status
  • liturgies
  • public provision
  • taxation


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