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Economy

Besides the basics of agriculture, crafts, and trade, will we also be able to sell basic resources like wood and stone? The reason I’m curious is that basic building materials were scarce in ancient Sumer; so they had to import nearly all of their wood and stone from Ebla which, judging from their records, was a major part of their economy. So, I’m essentially wondering if we can sell off and buy natural resources from other settlements with better access to those basic resources. Or will all of the trade be done at random by random traders?

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And what will the developers use as the main currency, or will they be able to implement a like for like bartering system?
“Oh the traders is here… but he wants fish… my village only grows wheat.”

I’m not sure about Europe, but the Sumerians used clay tokens as far back as agriculture itself. https://lauravaleri.com/2014/12/18/sumerian-currency/

If we’re talking about the base game and the Neolithic Europe setting, any form of “economy” would be really out of place. Even barter, as we conceive of it, is unlikely to have happened in prehistoric societies. People exchanged material objects but these exchanges would have happened on an ad hoc basis and would have been inextricably linked to personal, social relationship. For example, your cousin might visit you and you’d give him some shell bangles to show what a great host you are. Then, later, if you really wanted some obsidian, you might go to his place and drop some hints. And exchange would have also been focused on exotic, precious objects, rather than day-to-day essentials like food. Don’t ask me how the devs can represent this in the game, though!

Mesopotamia did eventually have a monetary economy that we would recognise, but that’s a very late development, perhaps as late as the 1st millennium BCE, and I’m not sure the devs intend to cover that period. We need to be very careful not to make anachronistic assumptions about how prehistoric/protohistoric economies functioned based on our own understandings of money. For example, it’s highly implausible that the clay tokens you mentioned functioned as currency. For one, how could you possibly enforce the value of something that’s literally made out of dirt? Early money was universally made from intrinsically valuable materials like precious metals. Enforcing the value of an arbitrary token by fiat is something that even modern nation states sometimes struggle with.

More broadly, Graeber (Debt, 2011) and others have convincingly made the case that Mesopotamian economies were based on a socially-enforced credit system rather than physical currency. When we read accounts of, for example, Sumerians buying wood from Ebla, it’s easy to assume that there was some medium of exchange involved – whether that’s silver, coinage, tokens, whatever. But in fact that texts say nothing of the sort. It seems they were actually based on a credit-debit relationship between the two parties, which was recorded on written contracts. This why temples (which kept track of ordinary people’s debt), writing and the reputation of individual rulers became so incredibly important in Mesopotamian society.

On the plus side this seems even easier to implement in a game than a currency-based system. You can have an arbitrary unit of value (silver) that sits in the player’s “account” and can be used to buy pretty much anything. It’d even be realistic to let them run a deficit.

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The oldest form of currency? Salt.

Salt was the first and most important currency used by humans for millennia, the latin word “Salarius” (retribution) derived from the habit of using salt (Sal in latin) to pay the early legionaries. If the devs want to add a sort of economy they have to think about salt :slight_smile:

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… not sure they’re going to do that. But, cool.

@joeroe To be fair, these tokens were used in large quantities and this presumably means that they were effectual to some degree. If you read the article, it describes their use as a representation of specific goods or services. I.e. tokens for barley, tokens for grain, tokens for human labor, tokens for XYZ were all separate tokens. Because these existed as a medium of some kind of exchange, it’s likely that they were used in conjunction with actual goods or were used for accounting. Heck, they might have represented the debt of a citizen for all I know.

What do you think they were used for then? And remember, these were in use very early on and possibly the craft of making them was what the people considered valuable.

I would argue that Temples became important because they were required for the effectual mustering of men in order to build and maintain canals and irrigation, not for keeping track of goods. However, that does seem to be the case with administrative centers on Temple grounds in later periods.

Not to sound like a dick, but you actually made me laugh a little with this double standard: [quote=“joeroe, post:4, topic:1100”]
We need to be very careful not to make anachronistic assumptions about how prehistoric/protohistoric economies functioned based on our own understandings of money.
[/quote]

then you go on to say: [quote=“joeroe, post:4, topic:1100”]
For one, how could you possibly enforce the value of something that’s literally made out of dirt?
[/quote]

And, while I agree with you that I wouldn’t want clay tokens as a currency, maybe the Mesopotamians did… just a using your own argument.

Hopefully there will be a bartering system without a main currency where the value of any given item is dictated by the person it is being offered to.

“You want to give me a chunk of meat for my spear? Heck no, i can hunt stuff whenever I want! But I’ll give you my spear for your pouch of salt.”

One game I’ve seen implementing a similar system is “Sheltered”. Whenever you traded with someone you were shown a list of the traders items (or those that he/she wanted to trade) and a list of your own items. Each item (from your own and the traders list) was then given a numerical value that depended on how much the trader wanted that specific item.

You could then choose items from the traders list and the attached value would be deducted from the trade. To counter this you could choose items from your own list and that would add the attached value to the trade. You could conclude the trade as long as the trade value was zero or above (a value above zero would indicate that the trader probably got the better of you :wink: )

sounds a lot like Banished’s system. I think it would work too, however, I foresee this requiring states to diversify their economies in order to please as many traders as possible. I find that to be unhistoric as most settlements were fairly specialized from what I gather… I could be wrong, but from my limited knowledge, it would seem that villages took advantage of their geography as much as possible.

I interpreted what he meant as being more of a comment on commodity currencies in general, rather than viewing the letting our anachronisms get in the way: if you are using a commodity (eg gold, silver, sea shells, it doesn’t really matter what) it needs to be difficult to obtain so that someone can’t just flood the market with the commodity. If I can wander down to the shore and pick up 20 seashells in a few seconds then it doesn’t make sense to use that as a currency because… well why would you trade your food for those seashells if you yourself can just pick them up?

So if the Sumerians did run their economy on clay shards, then either: It wasn’t a commodity currency system and something else is at play, or: It was a commodity currency and by some amazing twist that I don’t understand it didn’t collapse.

@joeroe So what about places like the megasettlements of the Tripolye people? Settlements like Talianki and Dubrovody which had well in excess of 10,000 people living in them and where over 200 hectares in size? Surely they must have had some sort of economy, barter or otherwise, even if only internal?

from what I can gather, nobody quite understands how it survived. Like I said, read the article to see what they think. But, these tokens exist in plentiful amounts. So saying they simply don’t work just doesn’t mean anything when they obviously did for a few thousand years.

I am fully aware of how currency works.

Glad to hear you know how it works, but you didn’t indicate that in anyway before so sorry for taking the time to try and explain something you might have missed.

Did I say “it simply doesn’t work”? No. I said either it wasn’t a commodity currency as we understand it or there was some other twist to it that I am missing. That is demonstrably not the same thing.

Maybe I should have used a joke to lighten the mood?

I would have assumed it was common knowledge. However, have you forgotten that the USD is currently not backed by anything but the word of the FED? Whose to say that these tokens were backed by their respective icons? (jokes are easy to spot if you’re not autistic. Two can play at the game of underhanded digs.) However, I was addressing a larger issue with the idea of using tokens. Someone said that it would collapse, but it didn’t. Someone said they would just make more to cheat the system, they probably didn’t. I was only using the argument that you, nor anyone else can just assert that it doesn’t work therefore it’s not a currency. But, I digress. The fact of the matter is that they do exist and were used in trade deals from all the evidence that we have, neither you nor I quite understand why they worked but they did. So why not use a similar system in the game?

That’s because the USD is not a commodity currency. Gold is a commodity currency, Silver is, Seashells are. Modern currencies are not.

Believe it or not jokes are not easy to spot when you use sarcasm in a written medium this is commonly known. But thanks for the ad hominem in response to a joke. Class individual you are.

It was a slight dig, no need to get all defensive Mrs. holier than thou :P.

I still struggle to see why tokens would be used as a commodity currency. They seem to only have been used within Sumer and Akkad, not exported for foreign goods. My best assumption was that they were a kind of credit representative of their icon that could be brought to a market instead of lugging your entire stock of goods to and from the public forum every day… But, that’s just another one of my assumptions.

Can you please try and keep the discussion civil Sargon? We’re just talking about a game here. Implying that someone is “autistic” as a negative thing is seriously not cool.

Not to sound like a dick, but you actually made me laugh a little with this double standard:

I don’t think it’s a double standard. I meant that it’s anachronistic to assume that prehistoric economies or long-distance trade necessarily involve money. But money itself is still a real thing that is well studied and has to have certain qualities to function. First among those is that the supply has to be limited. Today, this is done by central banks. In premodern economies, it was usually achieved by using a natural resource that was relatively rare and difficult to obtain (e.g. gold, silver) as money. The supply was limited because there was literally a limited amount of gold that had been extracted from the ground. It would be impossible to limit the supply of clay tokens. If you were short the 10 tokens you needed to buy something, you could just go out and make them, meaning their value would instantly collapse.

If you read the article, it describes their use as a representation of specific goods or services. I.e. tokens for barley, tokens for grain, tokens for human labor, tokens for XYZ were all separate tokens.

The author of that blog post seems to be conflating a number of unrelated observations from different periods, some based on quite dubious sources. If you follow their better references, i.e. to this primer by Denise Schmandt-Besserat, she talks about them as counters and accounting aids, related to the earliest forms of proto-writing used by Sumerian temple bureaucrats to keep track of debts. Money isn’t mentioned at all. The goods depicted are for counting units of those goods; if you play board games, think Settlers of Catan rather than Monopoly.

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So what about places like the megasettlements of the Tripolye people? Settlements like Talianki and Dubrovody which had well in excess of 10,000 people living in them and where over 200 hectares in size? Surely they must have had some sort of economy, barter or otherwise, even if only internal?

I think bringing up the Trypillia mega-sites is opening up a whole other can of worms, since there are still lots of open questions regarding how many people lived there, for how long, whether they lived their simultaneously, what the internal organisation was like, etc. Maybe one day down the line the devs will do an Eastern European scenario and have to grapple with it! But just going back to Mesopotamia we can see that populous, urban societies could operate without money or barter. It’s not that they had no economy – they had a very sophisticated economy. They just weren’t based on money.

I highly recommend Debt for getting your head around these issues. In particularly, Graeber does a great job of deconstructing what he calls the “myth of barter”. We tend to assume that barter is the natural and original way that people exchanged goods, at least until they come up with the idea of money to make it easier. In reality it only seems to occur in the context of collapsing monetary economies. When people already have the idea that you can exchange any two goods with money as the medium, but don’t actually have a lot of money around, they improvise by cutting out the middle man and exchanging them directly. But it’s very difficult to make such a system work in the long run, and moreover it just doesn’t seem to be humanity’s natural way of dealing with each other. Instead people tend to devise reciprocity- or credit-based systems of exchange.

It was a purposefully unsubstantiated dig at the hostility I received; and, I never made a normative statement about autism, only that the autistic don’t know how to discern jokes from factual statements. Which, is what she was doing. It seems to me that you’re the one with the normative statements here.

First point: I know what you’re saying, and the author explains that it was likely that the Temple’s administrators had some kind of list of all the tokens currently in circulation.

Secondly, The author uses at least five different sources throughout the article and has a pretty firm grasp on these discoveries from the looks of it. I’m not sure if you missed my other posts, but I said that the tokens could have been used as a form of credit, or as you said, used as an administrative aid. However, we just don’t know. It would seem likely that due to their abundance in later periods that they lasted for a fairly long time, and by all means could have been in circulation, but who knows?

My best guess is that the Temple issued these tokens so that they could be used in transactions before any transfer of goods actually occurred. Like I said, it’s hard work to bring all of your wares, livestock, harvest, etc to the market every day you either want to buy or sell something. So, you would bring along a string of tokens which represent your end of the bargin. After the transaction, the merchant you’re getting the good from can redeem his tokens with you at any time as long as he has those tokens encased in that clay envelope bearing your name/cylinder seal.

if he tries to open the envelope to cheat the system by making it seem like you owe him more, then he voids the contract. The administrators could easily see that he opened the sealed envelope and therefore the transaction was null. Or if you run, then you are a fugitive as evidenced by your disappearance with an outstanding debt.

Just for clarity sake, the merchant would have to see the tokens before they went into the clay envelope.

I’m open to criticisms. But, I think the tokens were probably not a currency as we know it today but more of a way to enforce the terms of trades and deals.