University of Cambridge > > Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History > Wine Production and Exchange in Late Antique Egyptian Monasteries: A Micro-Economic Analysis’

Wine Production and Exchange in Late Antique Egyptian Monasteries: A Micro-Economic Analysis’

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This paper will examine the crucial role that wine played in the economy of Late Antique Egyptian monasteries. Not only did monks consume wine themselves, but so did their servants, with the large size of Egyptian monasteries – many had over 100 monks, and servants in addition – meaning that meeting this internal demand for wine needed to be a major concern for monastic institutions’ financial strategies. This paper will sketch out how monks met this internal need through credit, leases, and direct production (both through working vineland and by processing the grapes into wine), which allowed them to acquire large volumes of wine more efficiently (at low cost, and a guaranteed supply) than by simple purchase. In fact, it appears that monks acquired much more wine than they could consume, and so either used it to cost-effectively meet other expenditures to servants, suppliers, and the state, or sold it in regional markets. Throughout this analysis, it will be stressed that the methods used to acquire (and later sell) wine are a product of the small size of the local markets for wine, labour, and other goods in which rural monasteries often operated, which made direct purchase of wine a less rational or viable method of acquisition than alternatives. However, these alternative methods were open only to those with more (financial or labour) capital than the average household, or who had different attitudes to risk, making monasteries almost unique in their ability to manipulate local microeconomic dynamics in their favour. Wine was therefore a key element of monastic involvement in local microeconomies, presenting an economic need that needed sating, but also an opportunity for enrichment – an opportunity that was frequently taken – which was almost uniquely available to them due to their economic scale and possession of gold coin.

This talk is part of the Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History series.

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