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Sir Moses I. Finley CBE, FBA (May 20, 1912–June 23, 1986) was an American and English classical scholar. His most notable work is The Ancient Economy (1973), where he argued that status and civic ideology governed the economy in antiquity rather than rational economic motivations.

He was born in 1912 in New York City as Moses Israel Finkelstein to Nathan Finkelstein and Anna Katzenellenbogen; died in 1986 as a British subject. He was educated at Syracuse University and Columbia University. Although his M.A. was in public law, most of his published work was in the field of ancient history, especially the social and economic aspects of the classical world.

He taught at Columbia University and City College of New York, where he was influenced by members of the Frankfurt School who were working in exile in America. In 1952, during the Red Scare, Finley was fired from his teaching job at Rutgers University; in 1954, he was summoned by the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and asked whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party USA. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.

Unable subsequently to find work in the United States, Finley moved to England in 1955, where he taught classical studies for many years at Cambridge University, first as a Reader in Ancient Social and Economic History at Jesus College (1964–1970), then as Professor of Ancient History (1970–1979) and eventually as Master of Darwin College (1976–1982). He broadened the scope of classical studies from philology to culture, economics, and society. He became a British subject in 1962 and a Fellow of the British Academy in 1971, and was knighted in 1979.

Among his works, The World of Odysseus (1954, revised ed. with additional essays 1978) proved seminal. In it, he applied the findings of ethnologists and anthropologists like Marcel Mauss to illuminate Homer, a radical approach that was thought by his publishers to require a reassuring introduction by an established classicist, Maurice Bowra. Paul Cartledge asserted in 1995, "... in retrospect Finley's little masterpiece can be seen as the seed of the present flowering of anthropologically-related studies of ancient Greek culture and society".[1]

Finley's most influential work remains The Ancient Economy (1973), based on his Sather Lectures at Berkeley the year before. In The Ancient Economy, Finley launched an all-out attack on the modernist tradition within the discipline of ancient economic history. Following the example of Karl Polanyi, Finley argued that the ancient economy should not be analyzed using the concepts of modern economic science, because ancient man had no notion of the economy as a separate sphere of society, and because economic actions in antiquity were determined not primarily by economic, but by social concerns. This important text has come under scrutinisation in recent years with varied criticism coming from, amongst others, Kevin Greene [2] who argues that Finley underplays the importance of technological innovation, and Whittaker [3] who refutes the concept of a 'consumer city'.


  • Studies in Land and Credit in Ancient Athens, 500–200 B.C.: The Horos Inscriptions (1951).
  • Economy and Society in Ancient Greece (1953).
  • The World of Odysseus (1954).
  • The Ancient Greeks: An Introduction to Their Life and Thought (1963).
  • A History of Sicily: Ancient Sicily To The Arab Conquest (1968).
  • Aspects of Antiquity: Discoveries and Controversies (1968).
  • Early Greece: The Bronze and Archaic Ages (1970).
  • The Ancient Economy (1973).
  • Democracy Ancient and Modern (1973).
  • Studies in Ancient Society, editor (1974).
  • The Use and Abuse of History (1975).
  • Schliemann's Troy: One Hundred Years After (1975).
  • Studies in Roman property, editor (1976).
  • The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years, with H.W. Pleket (1976).
  • Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology (1980).
  • The Legacy of Greece: A New Appraisal (1981).
  • Authority and Legitimacy in The Classical City-State (1982).
  • Politics in the Ancient World (1983).
  • Ancient History: Evidence and Models (1985).

Finley was also the editor of numerous volumes of essays on ancient history.


  1. ^ Cartledge, Paul. "The Greeks and Anthropology", Anthropology Today, Vol. 10, No. 3. (1994), p. 4 (available online).
  2. ^ Greene, K., 2000, "Technological innovation and Economic Progress in the ancient world: M.I. Finlay reconsidered, Economic history Review 53 no.1, pp29-59
  3. ^ Whittaker, C.R., 1990, "The Consumer city revisted: the vicus and the city", Journal of Roman Archaeology" 3, pp110-118

Further reading

  • Derks, Hans. "The Ancient Economy: The Problem and the Fraud," The European Legacy, Vol. 7, No. 5. (2002), pp. 597–620.
  • Hornblower, Simon. "A gift from whom?: [Moses Finley's book The World of Odysseus: Critical Essay]," Times Literary Supplement, December 24, 2004, pp. 18–19.
  • Morris, Ian. "Foreword [to the updated edition]," The Ancient Economy by Moses I. Finley. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1999 (paperback, ISBN 0-520-21946-5), pp. ix–xxxvi.
  • Nafissi, Mohammad. "Class, embeddedness, and the modernity of ancient Athens," Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 46, Issue 2. (2004), pp. 378–410.
  • Nafissi, Mohammad. Ancient Athens and Modern Ideology: Value, Theory and Evidence in Historical Sciences. Max Weber, Karl Polanyi and Moses Finley (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. Supplement; 80). London: Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2005 (paperback, ISBN 0900587911).
  • Shaw, Brent D.; Saller, Richard P. Editors' introduction to Economy and society in ancient Greece (with Finley's up-to-date bibliography). London: Chatto & Windus, 1981 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7011-2549-7); N.Y.: The Viking Press, 1982 (hardcover, ISBN 0-670-28847-0); London: Penguin Books, 1983 (paperback, ISBN 0-14-022520-X).
  • Silver, Morris. Review of The Ancient Economy, edited by Walter Scheidel and Sitta von Reden", Economic History Services, January 3, 2003.
  • Watson, George. "The man from Syracuse: Moses Finley (1912–1986)," Sewanee Review, Vol. 112, Issue 1. (2004), pp. 131–137.
Academic offices
Preceded by
A. H. M. Jones
Professor of Ancient History, Cambridge University
1970 - 1979
Succeeded by
John Anthony Crook
Preceded by
Frank George Young
Master of Darwin College, Cambridge
1976 - 1982
Succeeded by
Arnold Burgen


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