Foreseeing the Past: Probability and Ancient Greek Decision-Making


  • Paul Vădan



The article explores the concept of probability in ancient Greece from a non-scientific perspective and shows how ancient decision-makers used historical data to make calculated decisions and speculate about the future. First, the paper considers how quantitative data was used by ancient Greek communities to make economic projections. It then shows how ancient Greek generals used the same conceptual tools to determine their odds of victory by tallying up and comparing the number and composition of armies and resources available to them and their enemy. In the third section, the paper examines how qualitative probability was articulated through the language of hope and likelihood to formulate chances of success in moments of crisis. Finally, the paper shows that ancient decision-makers implemented “power laws” to adapt to changing circumstances and the flow of new information, as they sought to improve their odds of success relative to their rivals.