Roman economy

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The economy of Rome, like all ancient Mediterranean economies, involved the interaction of the circumstances of local agriculture with the available labour supply in the context of opportunities for inter‐regional redistribution in which the exchange of other commodities was involved. From the 7th cent bc. Rome was privileged among other Tiber valley communities as a centre for the movement of people and materials from peninsular Italy out into the world of Mediterranean contacts.

The exploitation of allotted public land (see ager publicus) rapidly became linked with the formation of estate centres (see latifundia) for the production of cash crops for mass‐marketing, the villas of the late republic, which were also central to the cultural life of the rich families that owned them. The cities grew as markets and centres of processing, distribution, and consumption of the products of this agriculture, and as centres for the control and management of a labour force which included, partly as a result of the victories of the 2nd cent., numerous slaves (see slavery). From the beginnings of the large‐scale export of wine from Italy in the mid‐2nd cent. the network of economic exchanges involved entrepreneurs, Roman military forces in the field, dependent consumers inside and outside Roman territory, and the city of Rome itself in an increasingly complicated web, in which the non‐agricultural resources of the growing imperial state, esp. metals (see mines and mining), were an important ingredient. The production of olive oil in Baetica, Africa, and Tripolitania (western Libya) transformed these regions, with concomitant gain to their market centres and port outlets (see amphorae, roman). The economy of the empire included connections with networks of exchange reaching across northern Europe, and central Asia, and via the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean area, to which Alexandria was central. Rome itself was a consumer on an enormous scale, and therefore powerfully influenced Mediterranean production and exchange. But the complexity of the network, the continued local interdependence of the regions of the empire, and the existence of very many smaller centres of consumption, and marketing, ensured that the economic life of the Roman world was not wholly directed towards Rome. See artisans and craftsmen; coinage (roman); industry; trade, roman.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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