Ancient Demography

Saskia Hin

in Classics

Published online September 2015 | | DOI:

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Demography, or population studies, tackles questions surrounding the structure and dynamics of populations. It is concerned with life events of individuals: births, marriages, migration, and death. At a meso-level, demography studies household composition and family ties and changes in these over the life course or across time and space. At the macro-level, population growth dynamics and the question of what drives these dynamics are concerned. As a strongly interdisciplinary field, demography draws on a range of divergent sources that provide complementary perspectives. For the ancient world, main sources to reconstruct the composition of populations (by age, by sex, by marital status, and by household composition) and to track their development over time are provided by (1) the census papyri from Roman Egypt; (2) census figures preserved in various literary sources; (3) gravestones or epitaphs that yield insights in marriage patterns and family ties (but not household composition directly); (4) archaeological survey evidence that sheds light on population trends; (5) bioarchaeological or paleodemographic evidence that increasingly starts to inform us about health conditions and migration. The limited and fragmentary nature of all of these sources means that quantitative approaches to ancient demography have their limitations. Qualitative approaches, however, are fruitfully applied to complement quantitative perspectives—here demography intertwines especially with the areas of family studies and social and economic history. The sources exploited to provide these perspectives likewise encompass documentary (epigraphic, papyrological and [bio]archaeological), as well as literary evidence. This bibliography collects some of the work published in the field of ancient demography. Its aim is not to be comprehensive, but rather to provide the reader with tools to start his or her own journey into the area with an informed perspective on key works, and to provide references to publications that will offer further guidance into the literature and debates on subjects related to the core of demography (such as family studies). Given the purpose of offering guidance to nonspecialists first engaging with the sub-discipline, this critical bibliography occasionally includes works that do not represent the most recent viewpoints on an issue, but those that readers are likely to encounter, and for which it is particularly helpful to have a critical annotation.

Article.  17052 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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