Division of Labour

There is a great weekly radio programme here “In Our Time” hosted by Melvyn Bragg where he gets together three experts and discusses various topics, quite often on the ancient world. One of the recent programmes was on Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”. One point that Adam Smith had made was on the division of labour and how that increased productivity. The example he gave was that eighteen people were involved in making a pin all with different tasks. These efficiencies were found in manufacturing but not in agriculture. That’s probably not true. In the following example from the Iliad where Homer is describing the scenes depicted on Achilles’ shield, there are five distinct roles in reaping – the reapers themselves, the binders, the children picking up the cut wheat, those sacrificing the ox and the women sprinkling the barley. I suppose a sixth would be the king who is supervising the whole operation.
ἐν δ᾽ ἐτίθει τέμενος βασιλήϊον: ἔνθα δ᾽ ἔριθοι

ἤμων ὀξείας δρεπάνας ἐν χερσὶν ἔχοντες.
δράγματα δ᾽ ἄλλα μετ᾽ ὄγμον ἐπήτριμα πῖπτον ἔραζε,
ἄλλα δ᾽ ἀμαλλοδετῆρες ἐν ἐλλεδανοῖσι δέοντο.
τρεῖς δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἀμαλλοδετῆρες ἐφέστασαν: αὐτὰρ ὄπισθε
παῖδες δραγμεύοντες ἐν ἀγκαλίδεσσι φέροντες
ἀσπερχὲς πάρεχον: βασιλεὺς δ᾽ ἐν τοῖσι σιωπῇ
σκῆπτρον ἔχων ἑστήκει ἐπ᾽ ὄγμου γηθόσυνος κῆρ.
κήρυκες δ᾽ ἀπάνευθεν ὑπὸ δρυῒ δαῖτα πένοντο,
βοῦν δ᾽ ἱερεύσαντες μέγαν ἄμφεπον: αἳ δὲ γυναῖκες
δεῖπνον ἐρίθοισιν λεύκ᾽ ἄλφιτα πολλὰ πάλυνον.
He engraved (on the shield) land assigned to a king. Here the labourers were reaping holding their sharp sickles in their hands. Some of the thick swathes fell on the ground along the furrow, others  the binders tied into bundles. There were three binders standing by. But in the rear of the reapers children were picking up the swathes in their arms and carrying and passing them on. The king holding his sceptre stood over them in silence on the furrow, glad in his heart. At a little distance attendants were preparing a meal under an oak tree. They had sacrificed a large ox and were preparing it while the women were sprinkling lots of white barley on it for the workmen’s dinner.
Iliad 18.550
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