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TWoN: Book 3 Chapter 7

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This chapter deals with colonies.  Smith begins by discussing ancient Greek and Roman colonies, in order to contrast them with the colonies of his day.  I don’t know enough history to be certain, but I get the feeling that the ancient colonies had nothing in common with the more modern ones except the name, so I’m not sure if the comparison is actually valid.  Smith, in any case, does not seem to be a big fan of colonialism.

Page 421: “Projects of mining, instead of replacing the capital employed in them, together with the ordinary profits of stock, commonly absorb both capital and profit.”  His point being that mining is risky, and therefore should not be especially encouraged by extraordinary laws lest it be harmful to the economy in general.

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  1. I’m hazy on the history myself, it’s been a while, but my understanding of Greek colonies was that folks from City A would go found City B, which would then trace its heritage back to City A, as being its colony. There would be strong ties, and often political affiliation, but the colony would generally be governed on its own. The Greeks frowned upon colonies turning against their parent cities, unless it had been a long time since their founding or other extenuating circumstances arose. It would not usually be the case that a Greek colony would function as the mercantilist colonies of the 18th century did, being established as a resource-gathering outpost.

    Take all this with a grain of salt, it’s been a while since I looked at my ancient Greek history.

  2. Allandaros: That fits with what Smith said, and is why I wonder if, economically speaking, a Greek (or Roman?) colony was nothing like the more modern ones.

  3. Greek and Roman colonies were self-governing and owed nothing financially to the parent state. So no, nothing like modern colonies economically.

  4. I’m no historian, but my impression is that it’s not that simple. Families of Greek colonies certainly retained allegience to the parent city, and indeed strategic placement was a key reason to establish a colony. This happens all the time in Thucydides, for example Sparta establishing a colony in order to have a better base for attacking Athens.

    And while they weren’t necessarily resource-gathering the way North American colonies were, setting up profitable trade routes or resource supplies were a consideration: see the settlement of Sicily by Athens to provide grain.

    Much of the entire purpose of Xenophon’s Anabasis is to set up a political argument for colonizing Asia Minor, in that it would give the Greeks more leverage against the Asians.

    The Athenians in the 5th century were essentially a sea-empire, and I thought they were in fact collecting monies from their subject colonies. (Wikipedia on Delian League: “The members were given a choice of either offering armed forces or paying a tax to the joint treasury; most states chose the tax.”)

    Even when they didn’t submit taxes, their military contribution (usually ships) was subject to Athenian leadership.

  5. “His point being that mining is risky, and therefore should not be especially encouraged by extraordinary laws lest it be harmful to the economy in general.”

    Our economy where I live is predominantly dependent on what we dig and suck out of the ground. Helped us through the GFC relatively unscathed (never technically fell into recession partly for that reason).

    Question is, what happens when its all gone? – granted this won’t happen for 50 years or so.

  6. My impression of Roman colonies, on the other hand (and maybe this is just the Provinces, and not colonies, forgive me) was that they were EXACTLY like modern colonies.

    Invade, colonize, and systematically raid the resources (material and human).

    Send a Roman Governor, along with concomitant administrative staff (look up the Tax Farmers and all the corruption there). Set up mines. Enslave the lower class citizens. Buy off the bourgeois local fat cats with second class citizenship (a.k.a. Latin Rights colonies) to have them help you subjugate the province. Have the governor provide the home land with extra expeditionary Legions from the displaced populous.

    Civilize the savages and provide them the benefits of Roman Culture.

    Really, to me, sounds exactly the same.

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