Earthquakes and Wealth Inequality: a diachronic study of household wealth inequality in the Insula of Menander, Pompeii

Event Details
Date: 10.11.2020, 18:15 o'clock - 19:45 o'clock 
Location: Link nach Anmeldung per Email, digital, digital
Organizer(s): Prof. Dr. Natascha Sojc (Klassische Archäologie), Prof. Dr. Gregor Weber (Alte Geschichte)
Topics: Politik und Gesellschaft, Geschichte
Series of events: Altertumswissenschaftliches Kolloquium
Event Type: Vortragsreihe
Speaker(s): Amanda Gaggioli (Stanford)

Amanda Gaggioli zeigt für das Altertumswissenschaftliche Kolloquium, wie moderne statistische Methoden zu ökonomischer Ungleichheit auf antike Kulturen angewendet werden können, um den Einfluss von Naturkatastrophen das soziale Gefüge zu bestimmen.

This lecture explores applications of statistics to questions concerning the relationships between environmental change, resilience, and economic inequality in the ancient world. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the field of economics has given considerable attention to the effects of natural hazards on income and wealth inequality in modern societies—some studies using changes in Gini coefficients over time. Gini coefficients are statistical ratios between 0 and 1, representing a measure of income or wealth inequality in a region. A Gini coefficient value of 0 signifies equal income or wealth distribution among a population, while a value of 1 signifies complete concentration to one individual or family unit. Using archaeological evidence of households and room numbers as proxies of wealth, it is possible to calculate Gini coefficients for both pre- and post-earthquake phases and therefore to track changes in wealth inequality in relationship with earthquakes over time. For the case of the Insula of Menander in Pompeii from the first century BC to the first century AD, I evaluate the impacts of an earthquake disaster on wealth inequality using Gini coefficients. This statistical study of the Insula of Menander also takes into account a critical definition of disaster from the social sciences, resilience theory in archaeology, and the socio-economic and political context of Pompeii during the first century AD. This combined approach aids in quantifying observed patterns of increased wealth inequality in the context of a disaster and explaining how and why a disaster caused such changes. In the case of the Insula of Menander, the earthquake disaster escalated disequalizing trends of wealth distribution already occurring in the city. The results of this study build on the critical definition of environmental disaster as social, rather than natural. It reveals that a disaster’s impact on wealth inequality is contingent on a society’s socioeconomic and political organization. Overall, the study of the Insula of Menander demonstrates how statistical approaches of Gini coefficients offer promising avenues for exploring the relationships between environmental change, resilience, and economic inequality in the ancient world.

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