Chapter

A Late Antique Consumer Revolution?

Leslie Dossey

in Peasant and Empire in Christian North Africa

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780520254398
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520947771 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520254398.003.0004
A Late Antique Consumer Revolution?

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Peasants' access to commodities such as fineware was weak in the early imperial period, not because they preferred their native artisan traditions (which had disappeared), but because the new Roman order had limited their ability to consume anything beyond the most basic necessities. Patterns of commodity distribution and production changed in late antiquity. The small farms and villages that had been all but archaeologically invisible during the early imperial period began to obtain datable fineware by the late fourth century. The African Red Slip industry fragmented into many microindustries, allowing fineware to be produced more locally, and therefore more cheaply, than previously. Literary texts began to assume that everyone in North Africa would be dining on pottery (if not something better). There are signs that other forms of material culture—glass, roof tiles, bathhouses, clothing, and money itself—were becoming available to rural populations. Some of these developments might be attributed to a general increase in wealth in the core African provinces, derived from their expanding overseas exports, but patterns of distribution also changed in less-prosperous Mauretania Caesariensis and Tripolitania. This chapter first summarizes the evidence for this diffusion of commodities to rural populations, and then explores its explanations and implications.

Keywords: peasants; fineware; rural consumption; material culture; North Africa; commodity distribution; rural populations

Chapter.  15517 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)

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