Honor Among Thieves

Craftsmen, Merchants, and Associations in Roman and Late Roman Egypt
Philip F. Venticinque
A consideration of transaction costs and associations in the ancient world


Honor Among Thieves examines associations of craftsmen in the framework of ancient economics and transaction costs. Scholars have long viewed such associations primarily as social or religious groups that provided mutual support, proper burial, and sociability, and spaces where nonelite individuals could seek status supposedly denied them in their contemporary society. However, the analysis presented here concentrates on how craftsmen, merchants, and associations interacted with each other and with elite and nonelite constituencies; managed economic, political, social, and legal activities; represented their concerns to the authorities; and acquired and used social capital—a new and important view of these economic engines.

Philip F. Venticinque offers a study of associations from a social, economic, and legal point of view, and in the process examines how they helped their members overcome high transaction costs—the “costs of doing business”—through the development of social capital. He explores associations from the “bottom up,” in order to see how their members create status and reputation outside of an elite framework. He thus explores how occupations regarded as thieves in elite ideology create their own systems of honor.

Honor Among Thieves will be of interest to scholars of the ancient economy, of social groups, and Roman Egypt in all periods. 

Philip F. Venticinque is Associate Professor of Classics at Cornell College.

Praise / Awards

  • "A wide-ranging, thought-provoking book."
    --Bryn Mawr Classical Review
  • "Venticinque’s book is unique in that it impressively—and
    persuasively—documents the ways in which papyri can disclose the persistent economic truth that there is strength from uncertainty in numbers."
    --American Journal of Philology
  • "Highly commendable and Venticinque has produced a fine piece of scholarship: the first comprehensive modern treatment of the role of craftsmen and of the workings and impact of their strategies to band in groups and associations in Roman Egypt."
    --Journal of Roman Studies
  • "The book is clearly argued, adducing a wealth of papyrological and epigraphical evidence, mostly from Egypt but with many excursions into Italy, Greece, and Asia. Venticinque offers an effective demonstration that associations served not as retreats into private sociality, overturning the older view that they compensated handworkers and other non-elite for being otherwise excluded from social and political opportunities."
  • "The book makes a welcome contribution to the role of associations in Roman society. It is very well and accurately presented and an interesting read." 
    -The Classical Review

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 288pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-13016-0

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  • $79.95 U.S.

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