*** ancient civilizations -- Roman economy

Ancient Rome: Economy

Figure 1.--Ancient Rome because of its martial success became a slave state and economy. Classical Greece was also slave states and economies. This was unusual in history, and not only in the ancient world. The general pattern until the American Revolution (1776-83) was the creation of a landless peasantry. Slavery in almost all human socities throughout history involved a small proportion of the population. This was true around the world, the Middle East, Russia, China, Japan, India, Africa, pre-Colomian Americas, and Latin America. This only began to change with the creation of the United States. We are not sure who the artist here was.

Surely Rome is the best known of all the ancient civilization, proding a grand heritage of architecture, art, law, literature, and much else. However rich Rome was, its economy was fairly simple. Rome was a largely agrarian, slave-based economy. Slavery was fundamental to the Roman economy became umportant to the Roman economy beginning as early as the Punic Wars (264-146 BC). Because Rome is the best known and best studied ancient civilization this has resulted in a misunderstanding about slavery and it role it human civiliization. Almost all ancint civilizations did not have large slave populations. The primary way of ordering society not only in ancient civiizations and even modern society, until the creatiion of the United States was the creation of a landless peasantry. Rome's major economic objective was feeding the vast number of Roman citizens and Legionaries which expanded and maintained the Empire. The Legions were also needed to obtain silver to finance the Empire and mines in Dacia ahd Spain were particularly important. Agriculture and trade were at the center of the Roman economy along with some small scale industrial production. Mining was also imoprtant. Given the importance of agriculture, agricultural technology affected the productivity of this vital sector. Romans to a degree used a two crop rottion. Yields were, however, relatively low and necesitated vast number of slaves to gain substantial quantities. Farmers had a choice of donating surplus crops to the government or pay a monetary tax. Thus both Republican and Imperial rulers had grain which could be used to curry the favor of the population. The grain could be used for both free grain distribution and to feed the legions. The slave system did not, however incentevize farmers to improve productivity or expand output. A higher harvests meant greater taxes. Roman citizens grew dependent on the free grain. It also meant that large numbers of Romans fed on the state, but did nothing to support or to create economic value. The need to secure grain providing provinces was one important, of many factors that would lead to the expansion and conquests of the Roman State. Rome after gaining control of southern Italy, imposed their system of large estates worked by slave labor to produce grain. 【Zamagn】 Other important provinces included: Egypt, Sicily and Tunisia in North Africa. A very large quantity volume of trade ensued. These areas were of vital importance in the production of grain to fed Rome. Grain was shipped directly to Ostia, the principal port of Rome. The staple crops grown by Roman republican farmers and on the great estates were the standard crops of the Mediterranean world. There were different grains, olives, and grapes. Olive oil and wine were not only important food stuffs were among the most important trade products. The wine industry was especially imprtant. Olive oil and wine were an important part of Rome's exports. As the Roman population grew, grain had to be imported from outside Italy, but grain producing areas like Egypt and North Africa were eventully conquered and became part of the Empire. Deforestation and soil defradation in the Mediterranean area occured with the expansion of the Roman Empire and increased population. Large-scale agriculture and unprecedented economic development increase pressure on the land. Many modern historians believe this was an imprtant factor in the decline of the Empire. Climatic changes may have been a relasted factor.


Zamagni. Vera. Economic History of Italy 1860-1990.


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Created: 2:52 PM 4/4/2024
Last updated: 2:52 PM 4/4/2024