The Pre-modern World and Management: An Introduction

  • Bradley BowdenEmail author
Living reference work entry


In this introduction to our section on pre-modern management, the central question that is addressed is the following: were ancient and feudal managerial systems comparable to those found in modern, liberal-democratic societies? The answer to this question is “no.” For although pre-modern forms of management were characterized by the attributes described in most textbooks (i.e., planning, organizing, leading, controlling), they lacked other characteristic features of “modern management.” Pre-modern production was rarely directed toward competitive markets. Mass markets were even more uncommon. Instead, the tyranny of distance, and a reliance on either muscle power or wind in terms of transport, restricted most production to local markets. An absence of competitive markets meant that pre-modern managers were little concerned with costs. Pre-modern managers also differed from their modern counterparts in that they typically operated with few of the protections of both property and person that are the norm in today’s democratic societies. In the past, unfree forms of labor were also commonplace. Due to a lack of smelted metals, pre-modern managers and producers also lacked durable capital equipment. This weakness manifested itself in both low levels of capital intensity and energy usage. Such failings, in all pre-modern societies, resulted in living standards inferior to those of our own. Nevertheless, for all its failings, “modern management” owes its success to the travails of past managers. In looking to the past, therefore, we need to both acknowledge our debt to bygone eras and recognize the advances built on past sacrifices.


Pyramids Management Antiquity Ancient technology Medieval technology Inequality Climate change 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Griffith Business SchoolGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

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