The Diffusion of Epichoric Scripts and Coinage in the Ancient Hellenic Poleis

86 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2022

See all articles by Yuxian Chen

Yuxian Chen

Brown University, Department of Economics

Yannis M. Ioannides

Tufts University

Date Written: April 4, 2022


The paper seeks to throw light at two discrete phenomena that were deemed as decisive for the development of the ancient Hellenic world and for urbanization in that part of the world via the emergence of sovereign urban entities, the Greek poleis. Although distinct, they are two conceptually and statistically interdependent aspects of total factor productivity. One is the emergence of the ancient Hellenic (Greek) alphabet, which we investigate via the diffusion of its antecedents, the epichoric, that is, its local ancient polis- and region-specific Hellenic scripts. It tackles, via formal economics tools, a phenomenon shrouded in mystery, namely how the Greek alphabet developed by tracking dates and locations where the various epichoric scripts diffused across the poleis of the ancient Hellenic world. The second is issue of coinage by Hellenic poleis, itself a path-breaking innovation, which allegedly started from ancient Lydia before it propagated in the Hellenic world and is matched only by the later development of coinage in China and India. Both these phenomena are motivated by means of simple theoretical models and are handled econometrically by means of similar econometric techniques, such as survival and other discrete but also linear regression methods, such as quasi-panel models of the spatial diffusion, while employing similar explanatory variables that allow for exploring their interdependence.

The underlying models of diffusion are modeled by means of novel applications of network tools, implemented on the system of poleis defined as a weighted directed network. It is the asymmetry of maritime travelling and shipping costs that is responsible for directed weights. Network-based measures of centrality are also employed, in particular right and left eigenvector centrality (including Kleinberg's concepts of authority and hub centrality), in order to control for proximity in the aggregate sense.

Keywords: Hellenic scripts and alphabets, Phoenician script, diffusion of innovations, transportation networks, network centrality, ancient Hellenic poleis, system of cities, trade, economic geography, coinage issue, Delian league. Koinon

JEL Classification: E60, F40, R10

Suggested Citation

Chen, Yuxian and Ioannides, Yannis M., The Diffusion of Epichoric Scripts and Coinage in the Ancient Hellenic Poleis (April 4, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Yuxian Chen

Brown University, Department of Economics ( email )

Providence, RI
United States
02912 (Fax)

Yannis M. Ioannides (Contact Author)

Tufts University ( email )

177 College Avenue
Medford, MA 02155
United States
6176273294 (Phone)
6176273917 (Fax)

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