The Collapse of Antiquity: Greece and Rome as Civilization’s Oligarchic Turning Point

Yves here. In a departure from our usual programming, below is the promotional material for Michael Hudson’s newest book, The Collapse of Antiquity. Enjoy!

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The Collapse of Antiquity, the sequel to Michael’s “…and forgive them their debts,” is the second and latest book in his trilogy on the history of debt. It describes how the dynamics of interest-bearing debt led to the rise of rentier oligarchies in classical Greece and Rome, causing economic polarization, widespread austerity, revolts, wars and ultimately the collapse of Rome into serfdom and feudalism. That collapse bequeathed to subsequent Western civilization a pro-creditor legal philosophy that has led to today’s creditor oligarchies.

In telling this story, The Collapse of Antiquity reveals the eery parallels between the collapsing Roman world and today’s debt-burdened Western economies.


“In this monumental work, Michael Hudson overturns what most of us were taught about Athens and Sparta, Greece and Rome, Caesar and Cicero, indeed about kings and republics. He exposes the roots of modern debt peonage and crises in the greed and violence of antiquity’s oligarch-creditors, embedded in their laws, which in the end destroyed the civilizations of classical antiquity.”

– James K. Galbraith, author of Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe.


“In this fascinating book, Hudson explores the rise of the predatory rentier oligarchies of classical Greece and Rome. He makes a fascinating and persuasive case that the trap of debt led to the destruction of the peasantry, the states and ultimately even these civilizations.”

– Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator, Financial Times.

“Michael Hudson is an old school, 19th-century classical economist who puts fact before theory. To read his new book, The Collapse of Antiquity, is to learn why and how it has come to pass that we live in a world in which the money owns the people, not the people who own the money. The clarity of Hudson’s thought is like water in a desert, his history lesson therefore a sad story that is a joy to read.”

– Lewis Lapham, editor of Lapham’s Quarterly.


The Collapse of Antiquity is vast in its sweep, covering:

  • the transmission of interest-bearing debt from the Ancient Near East to the Mediterranean world, but without the “safety valve” of periodic royal Clean Slate debt cancellations to restore economic balance and prevent the emergence of creditor oligarchies;
  • the rise of creditor and landholding oligarchies in classical Greece and Rome;
  • classical antiquity’s debt crises and revolts, and the suppression, assassination and ultimately failure of reformers;
  • the role played by greed, money-lust (wealth-addiction) and hubris, as analysed by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other ancient writers;
  • Rome’s “End Time” collapse into serfdom and pro-creditor oligarchic legacy that continues to shape the West;
  • the transformation of Christianity as it became Rome’s state religion, supporting the oligarchy, dropping the revolutionary early Christian calls for debt cancellation and changing the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer and “sin,” from a focus on the economic sphere to the personal sphere of individual egotism;
  • how pro-creditor ideology distorts recent economic interpretations of antiquity, showing increasing sympathy with Rome’s oligarchic policies.


From Backcover

Rome’s collapse was the forerunner of the debt crises, economic polarization and austerity caused by subsequent Western oligarchies. The West’s pro-creditor laws and ideology inherited from Rome make repeated debt crises transferring control of property and government to financial oligarchies inevitable. Classical antiquity’s great transition to the modern world lay in replacing kingship not with democracies but with oligarchies having a pro-creditor legal philosophy. That philosophy permits creditors to draw wealth, and thereby political power, into their own hands, without regard for restoring economic balance and long-term viability as occurred in the Ancient Near East through Clean Slates. Rome’s legacy to subsequent Western civilization is thus the structure of creditor oligarchies, not democracy in the sense of social structures and policies that promote widespread prosperity.

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  1. Stephen

    I recently read The Destiny of Civilization. Reminded me of so much of the economics I learned as a student (eg the concept of economic rent) but which is rarely in the public discourse. The critique of comparative advantage was also very helpful.

    Perhaps these concepts are rarely discussed because much of classical economics is so unhelpful to the people who rule our modern economies.

    Will read this too. A combination of economics and history hits my own prime academic sweet spot.

    1. CallMeTeach

      It’s not his decision. It’s the publisher’s. Audiobooks are incredibly expensive to make, relative to other publishing inputs. They must not believe there would be an adequate return on investing in making one.

      1. .Tom

        Or we could make our own.

        There was a decent free audiobook of David Graeber’s Debt and one of Jeff Schmidt:s Disciplined Minds.

        Assign chapter reading and editing to NC commenters. That would be fun.

        1. Joe Well

          There are also ways of doing a paid podcast, I think Substack has the option, I know Patreon does.

      2. Rodeo Clownfish

        Audible does allow authors/publishers to solicit audiobook recording service (performance) by a large cadre of amateur audiobook narrators/voice actors. Some eventually make a living after ‘bootstrapping’ themselves up into the career.

        I think .Tom’s idea of crowdsourcing a reading by the readers of this blog is a good one. I would gladly participate.

  2. Kouros

    I wish there was some work on the history of debit in Asia: East Asia and the Confucian type of polities as well as in the Indian subcontinent and further beyond in South East Asia.

    Will we discover that debt interest was so high and crippling in not too long ago times, never mind 2000 BC in Middle East or Ancient Rome and Greece?

    Then what?

    Given the sheer size of those populations, their potential contribution of continuing on this path and keeping all of us on it, those societies need to be brought in the historical discourse and made part of the conversation.

  3. John Merryman

    One way to frame this, so it would connect to the larger conceptual reality is that as the executive and regulatory function, government is analogous to the central nervous system, while money and banking function as blood and the circulation system.
    Such that with public government and private banking, the banks rule, because they don’t have as much oversight, don’t have to plan around election cycles and control the finances of anyone running for office.
    Consequently the only real job the flunkies allowed in is to run up the debt the banks need to function.
    As these linear, goal oriented creatures in a cyclical, circular, feedback generated reality, we see money as signal to save and store, while markets need it to circulate, so Econ 101 calls it both medium of exchange and store of value. Which are different functions. For instance to blood is a medium, while fat is a store.
    So to store the asset side of the ledger, there has to be a debt on the other side. Consequently the secret sauce of capitalism is public debt backing private wealth.
    The wars are just a way to make it go away, so more can be borrowed. That’s why they are so strategically incompetent and no one is taken out and shot.

    1. TomDority

      Jefferson warned and stated that banks are more dangerous than standing armies.
      That favoritism goes to the creditors always leads to debt servitude and bond servants and government and nations collapse as evidenced through the eons. The real economy can never keep pace with geometric increase in debt. Kings and Monarchs understood this, our own republic understood this, but our economic teaching and the predators teaching will always disguise this dynamic to hold dominion. We liberated ourselves from the aristocracy, declared our independence and wrote a constitution to have a system to avoid these abuses and usurpations by the landed and aristocracy…. but those forces never truly left and are now making a comeback. Jefferson complained of the lies and disinformation from the press and its farcical fear mongering but never defended restrictions on the press and rags of the day…..instead he wanted an educated and informed citizenry – free education in the arts and sciences as a defense, really the only defense to a republic and a Democracy. So now we have college affordable to only a few who can afford…..a re-emergence of the old aristocracy and monarchism and its supporters in both parties today because of this economic thinking that puts the financial (banks and invest ment houses in charge of our government through bribes and dishonesty One just has to open ones eyes….tik tok tik tok

      1. John Merryman

        The one fact that will break this cycle is the current speed of information and the resulting dynamics. They are blowing up the foundations of their own system, before it can settle into place.
        The banks are having their, “Let them eat cake.” Moment.

      2. digi_owl

        I suspect the reason they understood it was because they had direct experience with farming.

        The old description of usury was the demanding of interest on dead materials, in contrast to taking the first calf as interest on the initial loan of a cow.

  4. Mark Andrew Oglesby

    I read Michael Hudson religiously, his “…and forgive them their debts,” was excellent and informative. Also, if possible, read his ‘Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy’ as well as ‘J is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception’ plus ‘The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism’ If we fail to heed what this brilliant economist is attempting to teach us, our nation will become “toast” actually, we’re there already but hope remains. Learn and act before it’s too late.

  5. lyman alpha blob

    I’ve been waiting for this one! But I don’t see where you can purchase it yet other than through amazon, which I won’t do. Will it be available at alibris eventually or can I order it from my local bookstore, or maybe directly from Mr. Hudson?

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