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Birth of the Multinational: 2000 Years of Ancient Business History--From Ashur to Augustus (review)

From: Journal of World History
Volume 14, Number 1, March 2003
pp. 90-92 | 10.1353/jwh.2003.0014

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Journal of World History 14.1 (2003) 90-92

Birth of the Multinational: 2000 Years of Ancient Business History—From Ashur to Augustus. By KARL MOORE and DAVID LEWIS. Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press, 1999. 341 pp. $48.00 (cloth).

There is little doubt that globalization is one of the main topics on today's world agenda. After endless discussion in the last years on pros and contras, one almost expected someone to tell us that, in the words of the preacher, "there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccles. I:9) and to explain how the "birth of the multinational" took place some 4,000years ago and developed since—with variable steps but steadily—toward high standards already reached in Roman Imperial times. Beginning with Old Assyrian multinational trade (chapter 4), the book treats the rise of the Phoenician corporate economy (chapters 5 and 6) and the free-market revolution in classical Greece (chapter 7). State and military capitalism very convincingly are considered hallmarks of the Hellenistic Age (chapter 8). In the unified and globalized Mediterranean world of the Roman Empire business culture becomes "the closest model in antiquity to that of modern Europe and America" (p. 266).

Apparently, the book has been written and produced in a great hurry, manuscript editing and proof correcting being reduced to a minimum. This makes reading wearisome and to one who is not so familiar with the subject matter (for instance, classical topography and history) rather difficult. To mention but a few of abundant misspellings (at the foremost non-English names, but see e.g. "enshuring" for "ensuring," p. 97), the reader finds "Phonenican" or "Phonecian" for "Phoenician" (p. 22; p. 313: quoting M. Aubet's book, The Phoenicians in the West), "Phonecia" for "Phoenicia" (p. 278), "Thairos" for "Tharros" (p. 278), both "Tajada" and "Tejeda" for "Tejada la Vieja" (p. 118). The Greek patron god of craftsmen and artisans was not (the Roman) Vulcan, as erroneously stated on page 96, but Hephaistos. The authors in many if not almost every case that is a little more delicate or dubious seem to have confined themselves to look up books or articles of vulgarizing or generalizing character for reference. Thus, one reads with some astonishment about "the Phoenician goods [that] were likely value-added items produced locally from bronze, gold, glass and ivory in the shops of Gades and eventually Toscanos." The reviewer, being one of the excavators of the latter site and therefore quite familiar with the archaeological evidence, is ready to ascertain that this is highly speculative, to say the least. Reference is made but to the English book of M. Castro. In the same manner, the ubiquity of Melqart temples is stressed in a rather generalizing style: "Temples would soon be erected in not only Samaria [the city lies outside Phoenicia, which is not mentioned], but Syria, Cyprus [where in particular on this large Mediterranean insula?], Malta, Carthage, Sicily [same question as for Cyprus], Malta [why the doubled mention?] and most importantly, Spain [where in particular on this large European peninsula that geographically is almost a subcontinent?]," as if we could take them all for granted (p. 98), giving reference for all this but to a small general article of eleven pages (!) on "Phoenician Religion" by R. M. Clifford that appeared in 1990, as if there didn't exist the very serious large book of some 500pages focussing on the cult of Melqart in the Mediterranean by Corinne Bonnet, published in Studia Phoenicia in 1988(but, alas, written in French).

There is another general objection I have to mention on behalf of the methods employed by the authors in their discourse: Throughout, they seem to be very fond of comparing political, economic, or sociological circumstances in the past to seemingly similar ones in modern times. This is a device quite often applied in vulgarizing books in order to facilitate the understanding of the less erudite reader. It needs careful premeditation and critical evaluation though. But the authors apparently don't waste much time proving that the modern parallels adduced are really sound, even leaving aside that in most cases the issues put side by side are some 2,000 or...