Related teams & projects

Capital, Investment, and Innovation in the Roman World

Brussels 28th – 30th May 2015

A book publication project with conference / open authors discussion meeting

Edited by Paul Erdkamp, Koenraad Verboven and Arjan Zuiderhoek


Capital may be defined to comprise all man-made resources available for production. These include (1) financial capital : all monetary wealth in whatever form (stocks of currency, bullion, transferable credit bonds, etc.) available to buy whatever is needed or used to realize production: supplies, tools, equipment, labor, licenses, information, etc.; as well as (2) real (or physical) capital: all material resources such as tools, workshops and factories, warehouses, etc. needed or used to realize production. Both forms of capital may be privately or publicly owned. In a wider sense the concept 'human capital' denotes the embodied stock of human competencies, intellectual and other, that allow a person to perform the tasks necessary to create 'labor'. In order to retain a clear focus for the project and monograph, however, we will limit ourselves for this project to these 'classical' definitions of capital. The concept 'social capital', while valuable in itself, would take us too far from what we consider the core issues of our project. We explicitly focus, furthermore, on investments and innovations, i.e. on the quantitative and qualitative changes that stocks of financial, real and human capital underwent in the Roman world. The objective is to produce a coherent and innovative study of capital, investment and innovation in the Roman world.

Capital and credit are important elements in the furthering or holding back of economic growth. The allocation of capital, labor and natural resources through market and non-market channels determines economic performance.

Hence, fundamental issues in understanding the functioning of the economy of the Roman world include: who had access to capital, to what extent, and in what form, and how they dealt with it. Various segments of society controlled capital to different extents and used it for diverse purposes.

Did the social and political elites of the Roman world treat the wealth they controlled fundamentally differently from the magnates of the capitalistic era, or do the different forms and instruments of the Roman business world no more than cloak an essentially identical mentality? To what extent did other segments of society have access to capital, and how did capital circulate through society?

Asking these questions implies that we should not limit our study to the formal instruments of banking and business, but also take into account the wider institutional framework, both the formal rules and the social networks and informal arrangements that eased or hampered the dissemination of capital. Recent approaches within NIE (North, Wallis & Weingast, Violence and Social Orders, 2009) urge us to look at political and social conditions that constrained the pre-modern economy. According to a pessimistic view, the predatory and exploitative inclinations of the state and of the politically leading rentier class, who extracted the surpluses produced by the peasantry and an underprivileged workforce, hampered the accumulation and productive investment of capital. In other views, it was not the shortage of capital, but the poor allocation of capital that restrained economic performance. The question, however, is whether this is a valid assessment of the situation in the Roman Empire.

Some questions that we will discuss are: 

Equally important is the question to which purposes capital was used: what scope for investment did the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors offer, and to what extent was capital invested in means of production that boosted productivity rather than in status-enhancing assets such as urban palaces, benefactions, and expensive cooks? While investments potentially created growth, market oriented capital investment is as much a response to an expanding market as it is an incentive for economic growth in itself. The increasing urbanization and market integration of the Roman world made productive capital investment an increasingly attractive option, as it widened the market and increased the stability of demand. At the same time, to what extent did landowners and businessmen actually respond to these changing conditions of the market? And how did their response to population decline and the shrinking of the urban markets aggravate the economic decline that seems to occur in many parts of the Roman world after the second century AD? The examples of capital investment in agriculture, transportation, and industry in our archaeological and written sources are undeniable, but what limits were there to the investment of capital in the economy ?

One form of investment that deserves particular interest and which operated at all levels of society is that in knowledge and expertise. As with other forms of investment, a costly and time-consuming effort in gaining specialized know-how and expertise was economically only viable in conditions of sufficient - and sufficiently stable - demand. The ways in which knowledge and expertise were disseminated in pre-modern societies has been used as a marker of the economic development of such societies. In concrete terms, how did servile and freeborn workers and artisans acquire the knowledge they needed? To what extent did this stimulate or constrain economic development? In which ways was professional education embedded in the social and domestic context of business, agriculture, and industry? How is education of labor related to the control of capital and other means of production? Who had what interest in the acquisition and dissemination of expertise and know-how among the free and servile population.

Some questions that we will discuss are: 

As with investment, incentives to modernize methods of production in agriculture or other economic sectors can be seen as stemming from the rise in urban markets and the increase of rural industries as much as causing economic growth in the first place. In many societies, capital investment went hand in hand with innovation. The investment in expertise and know-how does not only concern the dissemination of existing knowledge, but also provides the starting point for the creation of new technologies and methods. Innovation in the Graeco-Roman world not only consisted of the introduction of new cash and fodder crops and new agricultural techniques, but also of the introduction of new forms of equipment and technologies, and of the application of existing methods on a vastly larger scale. A fundamental question concerns the goals of innovation, i.e. whether innovation was intended to overcome the constraints of production (as in irrigation in agriculture or the application of new technologies in industry), to introduce new sources of energy, or to reduce the input of labor. Available energy was a constraining factor in pre-industrial economies, which makes energy-enhancing innovations of vital importance for economic growth. Of equal importance for the allocation of production factors, however, is the extent to which such sources of energy could be concentrated or transported (such as coal was from the 18th century onwards).

Some questions that we will discuss are: 

Programme / Table of Contents

Thursday 28th May. Capital

10:05 Coffee break

12:45 lunch

15:10 Coffee break

Friday 29th May. Investment

11:05 Coffee break

12:25 Lunch

15:20 Coffee break


Karl Gunnar Persson (University of Copenhagen),
Estimating  income in economies with incomplete data: method and  applications

Estimations of per capita income of ancient economies are hampered by the lack of adequate production and factor income data. However there  is an alternative, indirect, method which is using data on the occupational structure of the labour force. The basic idea relies on a well established empirical regularity known as Engels’ law. It is well established that the  share of household and aggregate income  spent on food declines  as income is increasing. In a closed economy a per capita income  increase will  lead to an increase in consumption of other goods and services and under plausible  assumptions that change in consumption patterns will lead to a change in occupational structure: the share of non-food producers in total employment will increase.

By measuring   changes in the  occupational  structure , the urbanization ratio can serve as a proxy, you can derive estimates of per capita income change if controlling for factors such as net food imports and  the marginal propensity to consume food.

The paper will provide a precise model and method of estimating  income changes from changes in occupational structure  and provide historical applications of the method.

Wim Broekaert & Arjan Zuiderhoek (University of Ghent),
Capital goods in the Roman economy

Research on the Roman economy and the possibility of Roman economic growth has focussed on market integration, on demographic structures, on technology and modes of organisation and on institutions and mentalities. A factor which has received less attention is investment in capital goods. Economists have found, however, that among all the different variables that might play a role in economic performance, particularly investment in production equipment (tools, machinery, i.e. capital goods) strongly stimulates economic growth. On the basis of extensive empirical data from a wide range of countries, including both developed and less developed economies during the post -WW II period, De Long and Summers (1991, 1992) were able to demonstrate a strong causal relationship between high rates of investment in equipment and machinery and high productivity growth. Of course, these data and the conclusions based upon them pertain to modern industrialised or industrializing economies. Nonetheless, they suggest that it might well be interesting further to explore the relationship between investment in equipment and economic performance in pre-modern settings too. After all, the Industrial Revolution itself, arguably the strongest historical case of the causal relationship between equipment investment and economic growth, arose from a pre-modern context. Rome, of course, did not experience an industrial take-off. Yet in light of the foregoing it certainly seems worthwhile to (re)investigate the level and structure of investment in capital goods, and the way(s) in which these goods were produced, distributed and owned in the Roman economy.

After an introduction to chapters’ theme and the questions we wish to address, we shall devote a brief section to the definition of capital goods within various branches of modern economics, and discuss the applicability of this terminology in Roman economic history. We then turn to the main analysis.

The timeframe of our chapter will be late Republic/early and high empire. We shall focus on three case studies:

Each case study will be relatively brief and analytical. We do not aim for a detailed descriptive account of the processes of production and distribution of all the various types of capital goods employed in the sectors in question. Rather, for each case study, we shall attempt to provide answers to just four questions:

(1)    Who were the investors, and where did the funds they invested originate, in other words, whose savings were being translated into investments, by whom, and via which mechanism(s)?

(2)    Who were the producers of the capital goods in question, and how was production organised?

(3)    How did the capital goods in question reach those who needed them, i.e. how was distribution organised, and by whom?

(4)    And, related to the previous three questions, what was the ownership-structure of the capital goods in question? To what extent did primary producers and labourers in agriculture, riverine /maritime transport or urban manufacturing, retail and service work have any direct control over the capital goods they used, their ‘means of production’ ?

One aim in attempting to answer these questions is to find out to what extent the processes in question were marketized. Did market transactions dominate, or were investment into and the production and distribution of capital goods mostly organized via semi-market or non-market channels, such as households, associations and/or different types of social networks? Our expectation is to a find a mix of both market and non-market structures involved in the generation and distribution of capital goods.

In the final section of our chapter, we shall provide a discussion of the performance-implications of the Roman structure(s) of investment in and production and distribution of capital goods. How efficient were these processes, given the institutional context in which they took place? Did Romans manage to reduce costs of transaction and information in the generation of capital goods? Where there any distorting effects caused by rent-seeking behaviour of elites or the state? Did Roman structures of investment into and production of capital goods contribute to an economic environment conducive to growth?

Cameron Hawkins,
Slavery, Human Capital, and the Economic Performance of the Roman World

In his monumental study of slave systems in comparative perspective, Orlando Patterson famously defined slavery not in terms of the concept of property, but rather as a system of social relations, founded upon the violent domination of slaves by their masters.  From this perspective, the fact that Roman law conceptualized the slave as a form of property is interesting primarily because of what it tells us about how Roman slaveholders constructed an institutional system that permitted them to dominate their slaves.  In recent studies of the economics of slavery in the Roman world, ancient historians have applied this model to their own material with considerable success, primarily by showing that Roman slaveholders exploited the legally-enforceable property rights that they enjoyed over their slaves in order to create a system of labour relations in which they maximized their own interests at the expense of those of their slaves.  In particular, historians stress that the property rights enjoyed by Roman slaveholders gave them the unconstrained ability to craft regimes of rewards and punishments designed to extract maximum effort from their human possessions.

As productive as approaches informed by this perspective have been, they have tended to overlook an additional and potentially important economic consequence of the fact that slaves, from the point of view of the law, were property.  More specifically, the fact that slaves were property meant that, in the eyes of their masters, they were also important and costly capital assets, which could even appreciate in value in certain circumstances.  This was true above all when slaveholders sought to enhance the human capital embodied in their slaves, whether by securing specialized training for those slaves, or by employing them in tasks that permitted substantial amounts of learning-by-doing.  In these contexts, slaveholders were able to capture the potential returns of investing in the human capital of their slaves in a very real and direct way, since any enhancements in a slave’s skill and training tended to translate directly into an improvement in market value.

My goal in this paper is to explore some of the economic consequences that derived from a slaveholder’s ability to internalize the rewards of human capital formation on the part of their slaves.  I do so by pursuing two lines of analysis.  First, I discuss the personal economic strategies that may have been deployed by slaveholders who were willing to invest directly in the training and skills of their slaves, or who employed them in ways that encouraged learning-by-doing.  In this portion of my paper, I engage heavily with recent work which stresses the importance that slaveholders in the Antebellum American South placed on the value of the human capital embodied in their slaves.  Because it could appreciate in value, that human capital contributed directly to the efforts of slaveholders to accumulate wealth.  Moreover, because lenders often regarded slaves as a favoured form of collateral, slaveholders who sought actively to enhance the value of their human property found themselves capable of securing greater access to credit, which they could then deploy in their pursuit of any number of consumption or production goals.  By drawing on scattered testimonia in our legal and documentary sources for antiquity, I suggest that the same was likely to have been true in the Roman world, especially among those slaveholders who were in a position to minimize the costs necessary to train their slaves by imparting skills to them personally, and thus to realize relatively high rates of return on their investments in their slaves’ skills.

Second, I assess the potential effects that strategies of this nature may have exerted on the performance of the Roman economy as a whole.  Here, I concentrate primarily on two potential and countervailing outcomes.  On the one hand, and precisely because they were able to capitalize directly upon any increases in the human capital embodied in their slaves, entrepreneurs in industries that relied on skilled labour may have been more willing to incur the risks and costs necessary to expand their operations than otherwise would have been the case.  On the other hand, if the personal benefits enumerated above did create a preference among entrepreneurs for training their slaves personally, then that preference had the potential to generate at least one important negative externality for the economy as a whole:  to the extent that it discouraged the circulation of workers between firms and workshops, it also may have inhibited the rate at which knowledge of new innovations in process or technique spread among specialist producers.

Norman Underwood (University of California, Berkeley),
Labouring for God: The Clergy and Human Capital in the Later Roman Empire

This chapter explores the rapid expansion of the hierarchical, more specialized clergy in terms of how the church sourced its human capital. Recent scholarship has made it clear that the holders of specialized occupations such as doctors and lawyers were primary targets for ecclesiastical employment. This chapter gauges how Christians understood the social mechanisms for acquiring qualified ecclesiastical candidates and the effects of their entry into clergy. Through a dataset of clerics with prior secular careers and professional training, it argues that the late antique church consciously drew on skilled professionals to fill its ranks. Their minds allowed the church to manage its new resources and put Roman social structures into service of their heavenly Master. The second half of the piece illustrates how Christian intellectuals, especially Ambrose and Chrysostom, patterned clerical life on the practices and lifestyle of Roman professionals. The analysis pays particular attention to the language used to describe ideal clerics, the expressed logic of payment and promotion, and prohibitions against certain prior careers and side economic activities that could result in clerical censure.  Ultimately, it suggests the church’s sourcing of human capital set in motion a transition from a relatively homogenous clerical body to one retaining its own bureaucrats (oikonomoi), lawyers, (defensores cclesiae), scribes, and physicians.

Leonardo Gregoratti (Durham University),
Temples and Traders in Palmyra

As generally known, during the first three centuries of the Common Era, the Syrian city of Palmyra played a fundamental role in the trade between Asia and the Mediterranean area. From the reign of Augustus through the high empire the city’s commercial structures and its trade network developed to the point that Palmyra became the most important trade centre along the Roman section of the silk Road. This wealth and economic relevance put the city in the condition to face successfully the crisis which effected most of the empire in the 3rd century CE. After the disastrous Sassanid raids in the Near East, the rich and powerful Palmyrene leading classes thus became the only reliable political authority in the Roman Near East. Thanks to their wealth and to the weakness of the Roman central authority, they managed to gain a position of political autonomy which led to the short lived attempt of establishing an independent rule from Rome in the East.

The prosperity of Palmyra depended on the increasing importance of the caravan trade, originating in the 1st century exponentially growing demand of Oriental goods in the Roman Empire in comparison with the previous centuries. Merchants’ expeditions were forced to cross vast desert areas where state authorities were not able to grant safety to either people or loads. These areas came gradually under the control of Arab sheikhs, chiefs of the nomadic tribes. At the very beginning they wielded their power through robbery and the imposition of tributes to merchant caravans. Sums were paid in exchange for protection and for permission to cross tribal territories as well as to exploit their water supply points.

It is generally thought that very soon these same chiefs abandoned the passive exploitation of the caravan trade, and instead began to offer to the traders services and support structures which went far beyond the traditional vague promises of protection. This new approach involved stricter relationships with settled communities, in order to be able to offer active support to the caravan trade in terms of knowledge and structures on the territory. Arab groups began to settle near those places where members of different tribes and clans used to meet each other, or where their leaders used to negotiate with merchants: places which combined logistics with a strong religious characterization. Here, cultic structures were built early on, constituting the core of the larger settlements of the later period. In a few decades mere supply points placed on a trade route were thus able to develop into well structured cities: cities like Palmyra.

In the first half of the II century AD the city was now able to provide a vast range of services in relation to long distance trade. The organization of the commercial expeditions, the choice of the caravan leaders (the 'synodiarchs'), and the itineraries, the supply of the necessary equipment and the armed escort, were activities in which the experience of the Palmyrenes soon became irreplaceable. As Ernst Will pointed out, this complex organization was led by very few personalities, a type of merchant oligarchy run by just a few powerful family leaders: the well-known “caravan protectors”. Apart from coordinating all of the above-mentioned activities, they were businessmen themselves. They possessed the necessary know-how and money to organize a caravan expedition, and often financed commercial expeditions from which they obtained a generous income.

The role of different figures of merchant and businessmen involved in the Palmyrene caravan trade has been since long time the object of several studies. What remains still an elusive element, as in many other commercial realities of the ancient world, is the role of capital in the Palmyrene trading system, that is to say the money used to organize the merchant expeditions in the East and support the trade activity. It seems probable that the traders travelling eastwards and the Palmyrene merchants living in the city trade colonies in the Parthian empire had a disposal large sums of money which were provided by the city or by the most important “caravan protectors”. This money was indispensable to buy the Oriental goods from the eastern merchants. Selling these same goods into the Roman empire at higher prices would have created the large profits which constituted the basis of the Palmyrenes’ prosperity. Like many other commercial activities of the ancient world the Palmyrene long distance trade was a risky enterprise. A large amount of money was needed to buy the good coming from the East. Besides, the very nature of the distant trade which implied long journeys by sea and through barren and dangerous deserted areas, rendered the investment rather risky. On the other hand the high profit was granted once the goods had reached the Roman territory.

With the Palmyrene trade considerable riches could be built rather quickly as the rapid prosperity of the town and its inhabitants, showed by the archaeological data, seems to prove. The inestimable collection of Palmyrene texts (more than 500 texts, now republished in the new IGLS catalogue edited by J.-B. Yon) provide precious details about the trade and its protagonists. Along some very powerful and influential family groups many other minor figures seems to be involved in the lucrative commercial activity. The trade constituted in fact am extraordinary opportunity for enrichment for a Palmyrene citizen who had a disposal the initial capital he needed to buy the goods from the East. This will be the main object of my investigation: trying to establish which could have been in Palmyrene society the sources of this capital, the groups and the institutions able to provide the initial capital necessary for the trade activity.

Aim of this paper is to track the traces of the capital coming from the commercial activity and reinvested in trade, by analyzing all the references to money and wealth contained in the several epigraphic texts. In particular way my attention will be focused on the relation between merchant classes and sanctuaries both in the city and abroad. Analyzing the dedications made by traders and privates to the city sanctuaries I will try to establish whether the numerous temples of Palmyra played a role in the commercial trade as holders of capital indispensable for trade, especially in the case of minor traders groups. Capital which could be lent and employed in the trade activity.

The information provided by the Palmyrene inscriptions have been instrumental in order to reconstruct the genealogical relationships within one or more families. The results of this investigation will be used to individuate the connections between temples and trade groups through those members of a family which also belonged to high sacerdotal ranks.

Jean Andreau (EHESS Paris),
Capital and Investment in the Campanian Tablets

The three groups of Campanian tablets (those from Pompeii, those from Herculaneum and those found in Murecine, which concern businesses run in Puteoli) are now much better known, owing to the outstanding research carried out by Giuseppe Camodeca. Moreover, these last decades, many papers have been written on them (for instance, Koen Verboven’s papers) ; and books have even been devoted to them by Peter Gröschler (Die tabellae-Urkunden aus den pompejanischen und herkulanensischen Urkundenfunden, Berlin 1997) and David F. Jones (The Bankers of Puteoli : Finance, Trade and Industry in the Roman World, London 2006). These tablets are very varied, and, through them, we know hundreds and hundreds of persons (above all, male free adults ; but there are some women and some slaves as well). Of course, many of these men and women are only known by names, and apart from the tablets, we do not know anything about many of them. Nevertheless, if one considers all the financial operations in which they are involved, and if one compares and contrasts them, it is possible to reach some new conclusions on the function of capital and on the nature of investment in those Campanian tablets. This is what will be treated in the present paper. It will very probably propose some reflexions on the words which express the two notions of capital and investment in Latin, but its main argument is more practical : what can we say as regards the capital and the investment in the evidence provided by the Campanian tablets ?

The contracts which Lucius Caecilius Jucundus signed with the colony of Pompeii are an interesting form of investment, and they allow to reflect on the role of municipal public auctions. In another way, the Herculaneum and the Murecine tablets turn us towards financial investments, at least partly ; but the amounts of money which are laid out in both of them do not have the same importance, and the social and economic context is not the same at all. In Sulpicii’s business in Puteoli, a kind of competition seems to take place between the financial and the commercial investment. Two merchants who were busy with grain or with pulses are present in the Murecine, C. Novius Eunus and L. Marius Jucundus ; it means that a part of the loans that the Sulpicii gave, had a commercial character. The presence of peregrini such as Euplia, or Epichares from Athens, or Trupho from Alexandria, or Zenon from Tyre, in the tablets confirms it. But was the whole business of the Sulpicii linked with trade? The role that several imperial freedmen play has to be studied more accurately. The role of C. Julius Pudens (TPSulp. 48) has to be analysed besides. From the commercial point of view, the loans contracted by C. Novius Eunus and L. Marius Jucundus and the nomina arcaria are particularly interesting. It is necessary to consider the landed capital and the investment in land ownership as well.  On that sector, a very recent paper, written by M. V. Bramante (Index, 42 (2014), p. 141-163), is devoted to the tablet TH4.

This paper will try to be a synthesis and a reappraisal of the various aspects of the Campanian tablets, from the point of view of the notions of capital and of investment. The conclusions which have been expressed in the recent books and papers will be explained and discussed in it, and the evidence provided by the tablets will be contrasted with which is known through the rest of evidence on the economic and social situation of the Roman World, and particularly of Roman Italy, in the first century AD. 

Koenraad Verboven (University of Ghent),
Credit institutions and financial capital in the Roman world

Modern capitalism is unthinkable without institutions that provide financial capital to entrepreneurs. The availability of credit is a strong determinant for the scale a business enterprise can operate on. This need for financial capital has been inherent in commercial capitalism since the middle ages and appears to have been equally strong also for ancient commercial enterprises. ‘If you want to do business, you will need to borrow’, Seneca warns Lucilius.

But capital may be raised in many different ways. Modern investment banks offer credit and act as intermediaries for private investors. Stock markets provide ways to attract equity investors and ways to provide collateral for loans. The ease with which debentures can be bought and sold attracts investors whose liquidity preference would otherwise deter them. But these are all very young institutions. Their present form hardly dates back to the 19th century. Bankers have long assisted companies in managing working capital and bridging temporary deficits, but down until World War II venture capital was provided almost exclusively by private investors, relying on their informal social networks and business instincts. Debentures (bonds) originated in the 18th century but became available to private entrepreneurs only in the 19th.

Early modern historians have stressed the role of direct credit drawn from the entrepreneur’s personal network. The role of financial intermediaries was limited largely to assisting businessmen in in the management of their working capital and brokering contacts between private investors and entrepreneurs. At the same time however, complex negotiable financial instruments were developed and received backing from legal institutions: bills of exchange (endorsable since the early 17th c. , transferable cheques, etc.

None of these early modern financial instruments existed in the Roman world. Nor was there an interlocking banking system centred on Rome, as would be developed in 17th century England. The attempt made by scholars to project back modern instruments to Roman realities is in vain. However, Roman commercial enterprises needed financial capital as much as medieval or early-modern ones. The scale of production and trade as documented archaeologically suggests that Roman financial institutions were up to the task. How can we reconcile this with what we now of Roman legal regulations and banking practices?

I will argue in this paper that the attempt to discover modern institutions clad in Roman clothes is mistaken. Instead we need to analyse Roman financial institutions for what they were and relate them to the output in terms of goods and services that they made possible. Can we detect institutional changes accommodating the increased need for financial capital by private entrepreneurs ? If so, was there a causal link between the need felt by private entrepreneurs and the response of legislators ? What were the constraints inherent in the institutional framework regulating the provision and use of financial capital?

Sitta von Reden, (Universität Freiburg),
Credit and Investment in Roman Egypt

Egypt is the only province of the Roman Empire where credit and its role for investment can be studied on the basis of large sets of data.  The papyrological evidence offers us numerous examples of loan contracts, accounts, documents related to agricultural management and banking operations, as well as people involved in agriculture, trade and monetary affairs. Moreover, Egypt played a key role in the Roman agrarian economy in so far as it provided grain not only for the Roman corn dole but also for empire-wide commercial distribution. In addition, Egypt was located at the border to the Arabian, Indian and Chinese worlds from where the elite imported essential goods for social display and representation. So, Egypt is probably the single most important province for investigation, if we want to explore structures leading to economic development and growth in the Roman Empire as a whole.

Recent work on the economic development of Egypt (e.g. A. Monson, From the Ptolemies to the Romans, Cambridge 2011) emphasizes the capacity for investment and growth created by the privatization of land and the new fiscal régime introduced under the emperor Augustus. There is also enough evidence to suggests that there was population growth, a growth of the monetary economy, greater market integration, and the development of agrarian structures from a patrimonial type of exploitation, in which the state and its personnel siphoned off large parts of the agrarian output, to a more strongly market oriented economy from which private landowners profited.  This suggests prima facie that there was important institutional change in the early Roman Empire which is likely to have stimulated growth.

This chapter aims to explore to what extent, and in what ways, credit and banking reflects institutional change and economic growth. It will begin by presenting the nature of the material that is available for the study of credit in Egypt from the 1st -3rd c. CE and then ask for what purposes credit was most frequently applied. Many loans took place in the context of rental and fiscal obligations, that is, for making up for temporary deficits (thus B. Tenger, Die Verschuldung im römischen Ägypten). But other documents (most famously the Muziris Papyrus) suggest that there were enormous quantities of money available for investment into trade and (possibly also) agricultural improvement. In what ways did the state, law, and legal practice create better opportunities for lending and borrowing. Egypt also offers much evidence for banking operations, most notably examples of cashless giro transfers of money from one account to another (Bagnall and Bogaert, Orders of payment from a banker’s archive, in AncSoc 6, 1975). To what extent can we relate the development of banking to the growth of investment and the market economy?

The chapter will discuss:

Economic development: putting together arguments and evidence for economic development in Egypt from the 1st to the 3rd c. CE; e.g. demographic change, urban growth, monetization, market integration, technical development (especially in irrigation practice), better know-how and dissemination of know-how within Egypt.

The nature of loan contracts: presenting a selection of representative examples that show the contexts and purposes of loans attested by written loan contracts. It might be useful to separate here, to begin with, between loans made in a narrowly agrarian context (i.e. loans for seeds, labour costs, rental payments) and those that were made for commercial purposes (trade, transport, market exchange, and so on). It will then be asked to what extent agrarian and commercial types of investment and credit interrelated, what types of people used credit for what kind of purposes.  This section will also deal with the development of contractual forms, in order to address the question of whether Roman law created greater security for the recovery of unfulfilled obligations. And if so, for what reasons? Do we have evidence for some “creditable commitment” (Weingast & North) of the Roman government to an economy supported by credit?  

The nature of loans attested other than by loan contract: asking the same questions as the previous section, but in relation to credit attested other than in the form of formal loan contracts. One of the very characteristics of the Egyptian economy is that there were types of advancing money, and making capital available, without resorting to formal loan contracts.  The form of written loan contract was used in very specific circumstances only, but happens to be most easily available and thus tends to dominate analyses of credit.

Banks and banking operations: Our major obstacle to studying banks and banking operations in Roman Egypt is the fact that the evidence relates mostly to the chora of Egypt rather than Alexandria and the harbor towns that developed on the eastern borders of Egypt. There is the well-known fact that there are very few examples for bankers’ involvement in maritime loans, a type of loan that was the most important for the development of trade. The papyrological evidence, however, privileges rural practice, and it is quite likely that (rural) banks were less involved in maritime finance simply because of their location. Not surprisingly, the only maritime loan from a banker that we do have from Egypt, relates to a banker in Alexandria. Nevertheless, the relative absence of bankers’ involvement in maritime loans does raise the question of where capital assets were socially located in Roman Egypt.                         

Conclusion: As might transpire from the previous, the evidence for capital investment based on credit in Egypt is not very easy to come by. It is almost undeniable that there was a growing market economy and genuine economic growth in Roman Egypt. It is almost equally undeniable that this developed from the growth of private economic activity, if only this concentrated in the hands of a Romanized and Rome-oriented Egyptian elite that held large estates in some of the most economically developed parts of Middle Egypt. Yet there is the need for a better model that does not distinguish rigidly between “state” and “private” sectors, not least because, as has frequently been emphasized - state personnel themselves were involved in the latter. The key question that remains to be answered is what made money circulate in the Roman Empire and what kinds of institutions stimulated monetary investment, investment in, and development of, credit.

G. Minaud,
Turnover, operating profit and capitalisation

By initiating manufacture, exchange or service operations, agents create economic flows. Western rationality since the 19th century has tried to distinguish successive stages—now designated by the concept ‘intermediate balances’—in these flows. But is this a meaningful approach for historical societies ? Is the pattern imagined more than a century ago analytically useful ?

At first sight, it seems that agricultural, commercial or financial entrepreneurs in the Ancient world could only intuitively discern the economic flows they caused. It is even difficult to conclude whether or not entrepreneurs were aware of the existence of these flows. There exists no direct documentation about this point. We have to wait, for instance, until the mid-twelfth century to find management advice to stockpile cash while distinguishing turnover and operating profit (Bernard Sylvestre, De gubernatione rei familiaris). Mere common sense—rather than any theoretical approaches—appears to have prevailed in making business decisions. Latin and its vocabulary was the only available tool for investigation and reflection.

It is not exceptional to read references in Latin literature on business management, but the authors never define the words they use. This is a major problem for modern scholars when these words are used in ‘accounting’ sense. Only some arithmetical explanations are clarified. The details make it look like household accounting, but the sums involved are of a totally different scale, nothing is said about the flows leading to the gradual formation of a profit and it is difficult to see when a profit is gross or net.

Fortunately, this lack of explanation is not a lack of information. A technical reading of the ancient texts, based on accounting mechanisms, helps to overcome the difficulty by identifying what is unnamed but present in the background. This is not an anachronistic approach—Romans had no special word to speak of ‘the economy’ either, but they were conscious of its existence. I will argue, on the contrary, that evidence suggests that Romans had developed a notion of cost accounting and intermediate balances proportionated to their needs. In addition to this quantitative aspect, I will argue, that the behaviour of Roman economic agents reveals operations—single or repetitive—where the purpose is not strictly to make profit but to capitalize.

Marguerite Ronin, (Université de Nantes),
Cooperative investment in rural communities of the Roman Empire

There is clear evidence throughout the Roman Empire for cooperative investments made in the agricultural sector, and endowed by rural communities. This is well known based on legal, papyrological and late literary sources . These investments may be financial or human, and undertake a wide range of aspects of the agricultural business, such as communal harvesting, construction of collective equipment like wells, cisterns, granaries or irrigation canals. Due to the crucial importance of watering in a dry Mediterranean environment, and thanks to the epigraphic evidence at our disposal, a particular attention will be focused upon the pooling of resources in irrigation communities. On that particular matter, our knowledge comes essentially from two texts, the Lex Rivi Hiberiensis and the Table of Lamasba, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries and discovered respectively in Hispania Tarraconensis and Numidia . They provide a useful account of how such communities managed to run and maintain large collective irrigation equipment, thanks to a common human investment . A comparative reading of these documents, along with others pertaining to the documentation about agricultural communities, must involve an inquiry about other types of collective contributions, such as financial ones. Besides, it will allow clarifying how rural associations managed their subsistence by cooperative investments .

In order to acquire the infrastructures they needed, those societies had several possibilities . On the one hand, they could fund the works by pooling individual financial capital and hiring a building contractor, as we know from the inscriptions that it was common practice in the Empire. On the other hand, they could invest human capital consisting in the personal work of their members. One method does not invalidate the other, while both may have been used in conjunction. Yet, a task that will be assigned to this chapter would be to determine if there was a general tendency to prefer one over the other amongst rural communities. The Lex Rivi Hiberiensis shows that a number of maintenance duties required the physical participation of the community members. The question is: can we assume that the same pattern applied in setting up the irrigation canal? Municipalities are often cited for resorting to a free manpower, thanks to compulsory days of labor that people had to provide their city with. Yet, we may wonder how such a system could be rendered effective in rural and especially irrigation communities . It allows carrying out different kinds of public works and presents the undisputable advantage of avoiding making the substantial financial investment which would otherwise be required. As such, are we to assume that the choice of human over financial investment suggests a lack of currency? The answer to this question must first take into account the availability of coinage in these communities, whose members can be from different origins, rural as well as urban. It must also question the traditional communal practices, and the link between inclusion in a community and cooperative activities.

That leads us to a first line of inquiry, based upon the extent of the investments. The main question here consists in examining in what capacity the agricultural work was undertaken by the community rather than by individual work. We will reasonably assume that members drew a benefit from the cooperation, lying in the fact that collective work enables achieving a task no individual could have done for himself. If we take the example of irrigation, the kind of hydraulic equipment used by dozens of agriculturalists, as related in Lamasba or the Lex Rivi Hiberiensis, could simply not have been set up without a cooperative investment, either financial or human, or both. However, one is entitled to wonder if such enterprises were so frequent. Furthermore, our assumption needs to be validated for other sectors of agricultural activity, such as harvesting, storage of grain, or construction .

The second line of enquiry concerns the running of the cooperation amongst the members. We said that inclusion into a community involved a pooling of human or financial resources. If a member refused to participate in the investment, it is but legitimate to wonder what the community could do. The solution could be sought for through external authorities, as several documents show it was the case, notably the Lex Rivi Hiberiensis. In that event, we would have to establish whether those authorities acquired a control over the purpose of the investments on this occasion. But the communities could also provide solution thanks to their own internal rules and authorities. The most extreme means consisted in excluding the transgressor from the benefits of the operation, if not from the community, at least for a while. More moderate ways belonged to the range of possibilities as well. For instance, when a human investment was required and not fulfilled, it was possible to fine the offender. The human investment could thus be effectively replaced by a financial contribution, according to a process we would have to explain.

The last question that must be answered concerns the access to human or financial capital in rural communities. Indeed, different social statuses are clearly depicted in the texts, where the level of inequalities must have been the same as in other fields of the Roman activity. It also seems that wealth, hence political status, induced a different investment from the members. Consequently, it seems useful to wonder to what extent was investment proportioned to wealth, because different social status involved distinct rights as well. So the same persons who held the capital were probably entitled to lay down the rules . On that matter, the Lex Rivi Hiberiensis allows an investigation on the management of human investment, proportioned to the capacity of the members.    

We can see that cooperative investment needed clear rules and authorities in charge of enforcing those rules and guaranteeing the running of the community. We expect that the comparison between late and early sources and between different kinds of rural communities will prove fruitful. Antic world highly depended on agriculture. And, part of it, irrigation had to be undertaken collectively when it was needed on a large scale. Yet, the mode and management of that type of investment still raises many questions.

Cristiano Viglietti (University of Cambridge),
Oxen and weighed bronze. Innovation and investment in an uncoined-money economy. Rome c. 725-325 BCE

The purpose of this paper is to rethink the long-standing image of the economy of archaic Rome as static and backward because lacking with regard to the dynamics of ‘capital’ [Salvioli 1929; Schiavone 1989] by putting into perspective the archaeological data that have been unearthed – and interpreted – in recent decades and a part of the written tradition.

1. Challenging a cliché

One of the most persistent commonplaces in the scholarship on the ancient economy is that throughout the archaic age of Rome no significant economic innovations occurred [Mommsen 1873; De Martino 1979; Morel 2007]. This idea can be now challenged in many respects. Already in the second half of the 8th century BC, at the beginnings of urbanization in Latium Vetus, ceramic production shifted from households to more organised workshops where labour was divided and ceramic forms were more standardized, in connection with the introduction of the potter’s wheel [Carafa 1995]. Standardization of earthenware production later involved the manufacture of roof-tiles for élite houses [Ampolo 2013] and, from the 6th century BC, temple decoration. In fact, from that time temples in central Tyrrhenian Italy were adorned with friezes composed of standardized earthenware panels that re-produced ‘circulating’ moulds created by master-craftsman and put at the disposal of independent workshops [Smith 1998]. The standardisation of artefacts also involved production both of bronze and of iron. In particular, the uses of the latter, from the 7th century BC, extended from martial or ornamental applications to economic uses (e.g., axes and sickles) [Nijboer 1995, 2006]. From the late 7th century BC, innovations in carpentry and building techniques allowed Rome to have a paved forum and, from the 6th century, massive stone temples (the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, built around 500 BC, was the largest in Italy) and city walls, the realisation of which involved a noticeable exploitation of the labour force [Cifani 2010]. Important developments were carried out also with regard to water canalisation and drainage, at least from the 7th century BC [Bouma et al. 1995], permitting more efficient, and more extended, use of cultivable land [Alessandri 2013]. Further economic innovations included the development of mixed farming already in the earliest part of the urbanization [Minniti 2012], the introduction of olive press in early 5th century BC [Carandini et al. 2006], and the cultivation of wheat (alongside ‘traditional’ grains like emmer, spelt and barley) from the 5th and especially 4th century BC [Motta 2002; Purcell 2003].

2. Interpreting innovations. the role of investment

Interpretation of such dramatic economic innovations is still under debate [e.g. Terrenato 2001, 2011]. Furthermore, the generally poor and problematic information available regarding commodity, factor, credit markets [cf. Viglietti 2011, 2014], and costs of transactions, limits the possibility of developing an integrated picture. Yet, some hypotheses as to the dynamics of investment and capital in archaic Rome can be made.

In the 8th-7th century BC, economic and social differences in Latial society were enhanced, first, by an increase in occupation and exploitation of land – both for cultivation and grazing – by the local élite [Capogrossi Colognesi 2012; Fulminante 2014]. In this phase the most prominent members of the community relied upon a labour-force of lower ranking citizens, either belonging to their family or voluntarily bound (clientes). Land possession, beside guaranteeing subsistence, allowed élite citizens to own a very precious return-merchandise/means of exchange for merchants reaching central Italy from the Greek colonies of Italy: cattle. Cattle trade, centred in Rome’s Forum Boarium, stimulated the acquisition and circulation of foreign goods – and relevant techniques –, and their local imitation by itinerant and local craftsmen, possibly organizing in the earliest Roman collegia [Smith 1996; Verboven 2012]. Furthermore, the fact that in the ‘Homerising’ Greek society of the time cattle were a unit of value [Seaford 2004] allowed the members of the Roman élite to come by status-enhancing goods (as those connected to the incipient symposiastic habits) [Menichetti 1994] without having to pay for them in weighed bronze, the form of money prevalent in much of the Mediterranean [Smith 2001; Nijboer 2006], but scarce at Rome [Parise 2002].

From the late 7th to the early 5th century BC, the social and economic role of land and cattle possession was further enhanced by the introduction of a constitutional reform in which the ownership of res mancipi, measured on the standard of an abstract unit of value, determined the social rank of every adult male citizen [Andreau 1998; Viglietti 2011], in the context of a clearer definition of land typologies (ager publicus, privatus, conpascuus) [Capogrossi Colognesi 2012; cf. Cifani 2009]. In this phase, investment of economic surpluses by wealthiest citizens apparently shifted from luxury exotic goods to the building of stone houses in the city of Rome and, slightly later, in the countryside, where the extension of properties permitted a part of the élite surplus production not only of cereals, but also of olives and oil [Motta 2002; Carandini et al. 2006].

It is in this phase that a more systematic policy of public investment begins in Rome. The local rulers – kings, with all likelihood [Cornell 1995] – invested wealth (both state, mostly gathered with wars, and private) to provide Rome with monumental structures. If we believe the written tradition [Cifani 2010], the Roman kings, while hiring some prominent foreign artisans, obliged lower-class citizens to participate in the construction of some of the principal buildings (city walls and temple of Jupiter) in the form of an obligatory duty (munus).

The 5th and the first half of the 4th century show a contraction of investments, both public and private. This phenomenon is connected to two circumstances. The first is the growing role of silver from c. 500 BC as a means of exchange in the Greek world – but, for a long time, not in central Italy. This shift certainly made the means of exchange traditionally held by the Roman élite less attractive, and partially weakened their purchasing power. The second circumstance is the well-known pressure on Roman territory by bordering enemy peoples. Attacks on the borders of Rome, and the constant involvement of citizens in wars, prevented many of them from cultivating their properties, thus impoverishing and finding themselves in the condition of becoming indebted (nexi) to wealthier citizens [Drummond 1989; Viglietti 2011]. Despite debts being calculated in bronze units (while usury was regulated by the XII Tables, and other later norms), normally no circulation of metal occurred: on one hand, the debtor was allowed the possibility to maintain his properties; on the other, the debtor himself repaid the acquired right in the form of corvées – thus providing creditors with extra work force [Albanese 1982].

Finally, in this historical context, state investment (made possible by war plunder and the state control on salt trade) was oriented toward defence, occasionally to expand Roman territory, and to guarding the subsistence of citizens on the occasion of food crisis, often caused by enemy incursions [Garnsey 1988; Viglietti 2013].

3. Capital in archaic rome: complexity and change without ‘modernity’

The dynamics of ‘capital’ in archaic Rome provide the image of a society generally open to innovation, and where major economic changes concerning both industry and agriculture occurred over time. Backwardness and fixedness should appear now as two words not appropriate to describe the first four centuries of Rome [Viglietti 2011].

Meanwhile, it would be naïve to see in this phase of the Roman economy the signs of a proto-capitalistic economy. Investment of private capital was fundamentally aimed to the acquisition of status-enhancing assets. If in the earliest phases luxury goods played an important role, after the watershed of the centuriate reform the property of stone-built (and decorated) houses, along with the traditional status symbols of land and cattle, represented the principal economic goal of the Romans. Furthermore, not only were private credits unlikely to assume the form of (weighed) bronze units: as far as we can tell, they were basically never market oriented.

In parallel, public investment was aimed at monumentalising the city, defending the state borders, and safeguarding social stability. The preference for social order over investment in market enhancing means of production is well embodied by the enactment of laws like the Lex Licinia de modo agrorum of 367-366 BC, which prevented private citizens from possessing more than 500 iugera of land [Rich 2008].

In this paper’s perspective, the non-modern character of the uses of capital in archaic Rome is not to be regarded as signs of an imperfect economic system, or of defective economic thought. The dynamics that can be outlined should be understood as a result of the shifts and adaptations through time of a local system of institutions and beliefs in which choices and behaviours vis-à-vis the material sphere were organised and oriented in a direction certainly very different from ours, but no less meaningful for that [Sahlins 1976, 2010; Gudeman 1986].

Mick Stringer (University of Reading),
Impensae, operae and pastio uillatica: New venture investments in the Roman agricultural treatises

Despite the large body of work on all aspects of the Roman economy, Andreau’s complaint of ten years ago, that the research does not allow us  “... à s’interroger ni sur les choix des agents économiques, ni sur la manière dont ils prennent leurs décisions ...” still seems valid.  This applies particularly to investment decisions, for although Columella’s financial argument for the acquisition of vineyards has been much discussed,  usually and misleadingly as a demonstration of the inadequacies of Roman book-keeping, it remains the exception and very little work has been done on how Roman landowners decided to allocate the resources at their disposal to develop the potential income streams available to them.  Generally, the view has prevailed that they had very little room for manoeuvre, a view which my chapter will challenge.

It is my contention that our understanding of financial decision-making in the Roman world can be much improved by an exploration of the linguistic and accounting frameworks which it employed.  Even in today’s world, with its highly developed lexicon of financial terms and its extensive catalogue of accounting standards, apparent objectivity in the making and presenting of investment decisions can be shown to be largely illusory.  In fact, economic rationality is relative, bounded by computational and data retrieval constraints and reliant on the cognitive tools that prevail in different cultures at different times.  Much of the scholarship on Roman accounting has failed to take into account the constraints implicit in modern systems and by retrojecting these has risked contributing to fallacious judgements on how Roman landowners made their financial choices.

A fruitful area for an examination of the interplay between accounting language and economic activity is the development of the pastio uillatica as evidenced in the agricultural treatises of Cato, Varro and Columella.  Once considered to be a marginal activity - Cato makes no mention of it - it merits a whole book and some detailed philosophical argument in Varro’s work, and is treated at some length by Columella, who grudgingly concedes its wealth-generating potential.  It seems clear that the development of this lucrative sideline, which necessitated the employment of capital resources that could presumably have been used for more central activities, was a response to market conditions, demonstrating a growing commercial awareness by at least some Roman landowners.

The chapter will describe how the language employed by the agronomists to describe costs shows a growing awareness of the distinction between what might be described as running expenses and what has more of the quality of a fixed investment.  In Cato, for instance, all costs are sumptus, and for the most part something to be avoided or minimised.  He gives details of the costs of the equipment required for cultivating and processing the core products of grain, grapes and olives, but in his world these are merely the items required to maintain the status quo and there is no attempt to link the capital outlay with the expected income.  Varro, on the other hand, introduces the alternative of impensae, differentiating it from sumptus and on at least one occasion linking it to the notion of return (Rust. 1.2.8). For the most part, however, costs for him remain sumptus, and when he turns to pastio uillatica, with the exception of a single reference to the value of an urban dove-cote (Rust. 3.7.11), his focus is more on the income to be derived from the products than on the investment in equipment required.  It is as if capital resources are a given, possibly because, for him, they represent a relatively small cash outlay.

The chapter will then move to discuss the terminology relating to ‘expense’ in Columella. Columella makes regular use of both impensae and sumptus, and although at times he can be shown to be employing the terms interchangeably, the chapter will show that impensae is always preferred when the cost has an investment component.  Hence, outside of the three core crops, it is used of the construction of poultry houses (Rust. 8.4.6; 8.15.1) and of the erection of a wall to enclose a garden (Rust. 11.3.2). It might also be significant for our understanding of his investment strategy that when he focuses on cash returns, Columella seems to be thinking more of wine production and the income to be derived from the pastio uillatica than of any revenues from the sale of grain and oil.  As I will discuss, his well-known calculation of vineyard “profitability” is cash based (Rust. 3.3.7ff.) and he applies the term aere mutari only to must (Rust. 12.26.2) and such steading products as suckling pigs, eggs, game and beeswax (Rust. 7.9.4, 8.5.4, 9.1.8, 9.16.1). The chapter will suggest that the production of oil and grain was seen as a moral imperative, ring-fenced against baser commercial considerations, whereas wine and steading products were more likely to be developed to meet market demands and therefore represented genuine investment choices.

The central section of the chapter will address how capital investment in the minds of the agronomists was not just a matter of the cash outlay on land, buildings and equipment.  Labour was a key input and the agricultural treatises show how this was conceived of in investment terms.  It did not, of course, appear on a Balance Sheet, a concept that did not exist in Roman times, but investment decisions are not dependent on double-entry book-keeping and even today they are more likely to be made using techniques that do not form part of conventional accounting records.  Oddly, considering its importance, labour as investment capital rarely features in the financial statements of modern companies, with the exception of professional sporting clubs, but the agricultural treatises show that it was an important consideration for the Roman farmer.  At the simplest level he had to consider whether to purchase a slave or hire labour, and in advising how to set up a pastio uillatica enterprise Varro lays down the choice of acquiring one’s own specialists, such as fowlers and fishermen, or buying stock from third parties for one’s own staff to raise. Again, he does not provide figures, although when discussing a similar choice in respect of the artisans required for the general running of an estate, he observes that the death of a key craftsman can wipe out the profit of an enterprise (Rust. 1.16.4).

It will be argued that the purchase of a slave, then, was seen as a capital investment with the potential to generate a future cash flow, but human capital for the agronomists was not only a capital asset. It was also a store of potential operae, the control of which was central to estate management.  Usually in the texts operae are not costed but there can be no doubt that they were considered as much a source of economic utility as any impensae expressed in cash terms.  Cato makes the distinction between opus and opera quite clear (Agr.Orig.2.2) and in evaluating twice-yearly sheep shearing Varro tellingly links opera with impendo. Columella makes extensive use of the term—there are more than 300 references to it—and when considering investment in pastio uillatica also links it with impensae. (Rust.8.7.5: poultry; 9.8.5: bees; 8.10.1: thrushes ).

The chapter will conclude that analysis of the use of the terms impensae and operae in the agronomists demonstrates that for Varro and particularly for Columella pastio uillatica represented a genuine investment choice in which investments of cash, labour and other resources were made with the specific intention of generating a cash return.

Annalisa Marzano (University of Reading),
A story of land and water: Capital and Investment in large-scale fishing and fish-salting operations

The proposed chapter will contribute to Part One of the volume, devoted to ‘Capital’(although it will also, by necessity, touch on themes suggested for the ‘Investment’ section, such as ‘forms of investment visible in the archaeological and written records’), and will develop further issues and lines of enquiry identified in my recent monograph Harvesting the Sea (OUP 2013).

The chapter will discuss the natural resources offered by, and the exploitation of, the sea, coastal lagoons and lakes, particularly in respect to large- and medium-scale fishing and connected fish-processing activity. By looking at these categories it will be possible to address several key issues connected to the broad questions raised by the proposers and editors of this volume, namely what factors governed the allocation of natural resources, who had access to capital, in what form, and how they dealt with it. The different legal status, from the point of view of property law, of the sea versus internal bodies of water such as lagoons, will also offer the opportunity to investigate the degree to which municipalities, sanctuaries, and wealthy landowners tried to dominate and control exploitations rights to these bodies of water and how, at times, they tried to bent the legal framework to their advantage. The key case studies I plan to use to illustrate this last point will be the disputes involving sanctuaries and/or municipalities against the publicani, such as the dispute about the Selinusia lagoon in Ephesus (Strabo 14.1.26) and the southern branch of the Danube near Histria (I. Histriae 67-68). 

My previous research work has suggested that business partnerships were important in large-scale fishing activities because they allowed individuals to pool financial and labour resources, since the capital goods needed (boats; large fishing nets; rental of locations used as lookouts) were costly. I have discussed evidence such as the inscription I.Parion 5 in this light. I have also suggested that collegia of fishermen might have helped with finding capital/ credit and with establishing commercial networks. In this chapter I intend to explore these points more systematically than what I have done in my last monograph, including in the discussion the issue of who was behind the financing of the large fish-salting establishments which flourish at key locations around the Mediterranean starting from the early 1st century AD.

The underlying research hypothesis shaping this chapter is that wealthy landowners, social elites, and collective entities such as sanctuaries situated in favourable geographic locations tried at all cost to secure the exploitation of these natural resources, aided by the fact that they had at their disposal the needed capital. Voluntary collectives were the only other way in which people of more modest means could enter this game; however, links and connections with the political and social elites must have been crucial in establishing proper supply and distribution networks and in securing protection in the case of disputes / upholding certain rights when challenged.

Tim Clerbaut, University of Ghent
The Roman villae: new beacons of capital production, capital management and Romanization in the Roman North

VILLAE, as we know them in the northern provinces of the Roman Empire, embody the three MAIN FACTORS OF PRODUCTION. As a large-scale agricultural entity they intensify the exploitation of local LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES, attract skilled and unskilled LABOR and are important elements in the creation of surplus and CAPITAL for local elites.

The introduction of the system of VILLAE within the Roman North meant a vast change in economic structure and the introduction of EXTRANEOUS ELEMENTS within local economy. The main novelty in economy is the need for SURPLUS PRODUCTION due to TAXATION which made it essential to participate in the new CASH-DRIVEN (global) market economy.

The Roman North is an extremely SUITABLE CONTEXT for the study of these economic changes and the production of capital because it is unaffected context where none of the new elements have their roots or predecessors in the local pre-Roman society.

In pre-Roman times, rural communities were mainly focused on autarkic production based on mixed farming. Where small surpluses were available, they were subject of barter or trade on the local market. By the introduction of the Roman economic system, socio-economic differentiation emerged between regions suitable and non-suitable for the intensified production of cash crops. In the Roman North, this leads to the development of different socio-geographical units as descripted by Roymans (1996). A clear distinction can be made between villa and non-villa landscapes which are clearly linked to the land and natural resources of a certain region and more specific the suitability for intensified agriculture and surplus production.

Probably first as a necessity, this large scale exploitation of the agricultural landscape was direct and indirect stimulated by the Roman government (by means of land ownership or taxation) to conquer a large (mainly military) demand at that time.

Some local elites, which already had some claim on the land, became the first villa owners. This is clearly visible in the archaeological record. Several examples are known of stone-build villae that are built upon the remains of a modest wooden predecessor.

By implementing intensive grain farming and selling their surpluses to the market, they were able to transfer their PHYSICAL CAPITAL into FINANCIAL CAPITAL. This process of capital building became exponential, stimulated by a growing (or at least stable) demand and almost not limited by natural conditions and the availability of workforce.

The financial capital they gained, gave them almost no direct benefits on a local scale which only gave them few options to spend it on: investment or further prestige-building. In this respect some parallels can be drawn with modern CAPITALISTIC MAGNATES, who tend to invest their money (to gain even more) to be able to compete in the social struggle for status, prestige and power.

The most visible aspect of the disposal of capital was the appropriation of more and more PRESTIGE. With their growing FINANCIAL CAPITAL they were able to buy luxurious products (fine ceramics, glass, metalwork, art, ‘exotic’ consumables, expensive building materials, …) and became ‘material’ more and more Roman. Also Roman building traditions linked to luxury (hypocaust-systems, bathing facilities, …), needed to be obtained in the social struggle for status.

In this context, no TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE or SKILLED LABOUR could be found locally. The villa landscape with a broad group of demanders for such EXPERTISE formed a STABLE DEMAND to sustain SPECIALIZED (TRAVELLING) CRAFTSMEN (builders, painters, sculptors, …). For some regions, it is even argued that ‘Schools’ of craftsmen are visible within the archaeological record. These ‘Schools’ could reflect a close working relation between different specializations within these travelling craftsmen.

The intense Romanization at these villa-sites, as result of the DISPOSAL OF CAPITAL, made them important beacons of Romanization within their broader landscape. Apart from prestige, INVESTMENT was another important aspect of spending their financial capital.

An important reason to invest was to become more independent and thus support the intensity of the system. On many villa-domains, it is possible to confirm the presence of workshops and housing facilities for labourers. The investment in these LARGE INSTALLATIONS supports in the first place the general system but aids in the procurement of even more capital (financial and physical). By PRODUCING THEIR OWN tools, equipment and resources, they are able to work more independently and increase PROFIT.

Such a system by which the most of benefit is made by those who can invest the most is always in disfavour for those without financial or ‘capital’ means what so ever. Powerful villa-owners tend to DOMINATE ALL CAPITAL GOODS in their region. For instance, they tend to control all land, even the land not suitable for agricultural. This can be seen in known leasing-contracts between landowners and for example potters or brick makers. These contracts can be seen as a CREDIT ‘in natura’ which potters had to return before making their own profit as well.

At first glance a major part of their financial capital can be seen as DISPOSABLE to some extent, in contrast with the major part of their capital fixed in physical capital. In essence, at least some part of their income needed to be directly spendable to cope with their status and Romanized lifestyle, while other parts were available for INVESTMENT in infrastructure or status.

So clearly, these villa-owners saw their capital not only as an ECONOMIC ASSET but as a SOCIAL ASSET as well. Using these ASSETS, they were able to respond to the CHANGING CONDITIONS OF THE  MARKET and in some cases to CREATE THEIR OWN.

In regard to INNOVATION, sources are scarcer but not non-existent and show different FORMS OF INVESTMENT. Iconographical evidence for southern Belgium shows the existence of a ‘primitive’ harvester as an example of TECHNICAL INNOVATION closely linked to possible REDUCED INPUT OF LABOR in the large scale agriculture in this region. In addition, archaeozoology provides clear indications of the introduction of donkeys and mules from the Mediterranean to the North onwards and the deliberate selection of larger cattle breeds as a more effective animal working force which clearly increased the AVAILABLE ANIMAL ENERGY AND LABOR PRODUCTIVITY.

In conclusion: Villae in the Roman North seem a suitable subject for the study of CAPITAL in the Roman World. Villae can be seen as CAPITAL CENTERS and form important contexts for CAPITAL PRODUCTION, CONSUMPTION and TRANSFORMATION. To support these villa-systems, INVESTMENT and INNOVATION seem indispensable.

Paul Erdkamp, Flemish Free University of Brussels
Malthusian constraints on the Roman economy. A critique of the ‘low equilibrium trap’

This paper questions the validity of a Malthusian model that assumes that population pressure constrained innovation and living standards in the Roman world.

According to a widely accepted model of pre-industrial economies, without significant technological progress, population growth kept a check on the per capita economic growth that could be achieved. Any progress in total production had only a temporary effect on per capita production, as higher per income inevitably triggered increased fertility, as a result of which any per capita benefits were negated. Bruce Frier suggested a drop in per capita income and a lowering of living standards in the Roman world, precisely as a result of such a negative Malthusian scenario. Walter Scheidel in his contribution to the Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman world (2007) uses a Malthusian model to argue that while the Roman economy expanded and the population grew, living standards were bound to remain at a low level. Scheidel makes one significant exception to this model of zero per capita growth: due to the successful expansion and warfare of the late republic, a massive inflow of booty, tributes, and rents from the provinces and newly conquered areas caused a major rise in average income in Italy. However, in his view this was a purely exogenous and temporary effect: from the beginning of the Principate the relationship between core and periphery changed and the inflow of capital and goods diminished, while population continued to rise, inevitably leading to falling per capita income in Italy from the early Principate onwards.

According to Scheidel’s model, the low equilibrium trap in which the ancient world was caught, constrained the scope for innovation. The low agrarian surplus limited the non-agrarian sectors, which in turn constrained innovation. Being risk averse, only the pressure of population increase caused an increase in levels of production in agriculture. Hence, apart from exogenous shocks that allowed temporary and geographically limited growth, innovation in the Roman world was limited by a low agricultural surplus and low living standards.

However, we should question the hypothesis that rising per capita income caused fertility to rise to the same extent as falling income caused fertility to decline. Looking at the land/people ratio, real wages & living standards, and fertility, this paper questions the validity of the negative Malthusian scenario. At least temporarily and regionally, economic growth outpaced population growth and the volume and stability of demand resulted in a rise in the application of technologies. Economic growth in the Roman world was the result of the interconnectedness of improved market integration, increasing division of labour, shifts away from agricultural employment, urbanization, benefits from increasing scale of production and density of market, all causing the economy to spiral upwards, until exogenous developments caused a downward process. In short, we should question the hypothesis that a low equilibrium trap constrained innovation in the Roman world.

Hellmuth Schneider (Universität Kassel),

This paper investigates the attitudes of the political elites of Rome towards technical and economic innovations. In particular building projects of the mid and late Republic show a significant potential for innovation. This holds true for the domain of infrastructure, for example the construction of bridges or aquaducts, as well as monumental buildings, such as the Tabularium on the Forum Romanum.

The concern for increasing yields was an important cause for a range of technical and organisational innovations in agriculture, while the demand for luxuries that heightened the status and prestige of its users stimulated the production of superior and exclusive goods in manufacture.

In addition changes emerged in manufacturing techniques that allowed mass production, such as in the production of terra sigillata. The demand for silver and gold on behalf of the coinage resulted in significant technical improvements in mining.

Next to the innovations in the transport sector, in particular in land transport, which was of great importance in particular in the north-western provinces, also those in the milling techniques have to be mentioned. The utilization of water-power was a vital technical development. In sum, in contrast to older views, Rome should be seen as an innovative society. 

Robyn Veal, (University of Cambridge),
Forest resources and technical innovation in the Roman economy

Trees contributed to the Roman economy in a number of ways. Past studies of tree resources have focused on provision of timber for construction of monumental buildings in the Empire. Arboriculture in the Roman period, (production of food and other goods from trees), especially of the plum family, nut trees, grape-vine and olive, increased. Arboreal resources in general however, have not been explored as a source of innovation in the economy. Fuel is another new area of economic research. Raw wood and charcoal fuel were the engine of the economy (together with slave labour), and the importance of non-wood fuels is also of interest.

Innovation in timber management and use was driven by demand for large, strong and resistant wood types for ever larger monumental buildings; demand for timber in low timber resourced areas (through trade), and increasing technical prowess in managing these large beams, and later, in spanning large spaces with smaller beams when large old wood became scarce. Innovation in arboriculture, was driven by preoccupation with introduced species, mostly for otium, however as demand grew, the incentive to cultivate species locally in Italy led to advances in specialist agricultural practice, such as grafting of multiple species on one tree plant, and a large increase in diversity of such products as part of pastio villatica production in general.

However, innovations in industrial technologies requiring the use of larger amounts of fuel, for increasingly complex processes, and using hotter temperatures, drove increases in outputs, and potentially, a real increase in economic growth and efficiency. After examining the role of timber demand and supply, and the rise of arboriculture in the Roman period, this paper will focus on fuel as a source of, and as an essential material for, industrial innovation. Differing kiln technologies (ceramics, glass, metals) will be considered in terms of their increasing sophistication over time, and their commensurate requirements for fuel.  As temperature increased, so too did the need for more precise control of that temperature (for example in the production of very fine ceramic wares, such as Red Slip). In metal alloy (especially iron) production, sourcing good base ores, employing catalysts and working to increase hardness (and for weapons, sharpness), together facilitated increased quality and performance, and in this mix, fuel was essential. Control of fire goes hand in hand with kiln technology advances and command of fuels of different types. Which came first, increases in technological sophistication or fuel refinement? It was not possible to have one without the other. Ultimately, the demand for more and more, beautiful and useful things, provided the incentive for such technological advances, but other factors also influenced demand and growth, especially transport possibilities in the Mediterranean of the pax Romana.


Location: Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Building D. Room: D.0.08

Papers will be circulated among all participants. Registration before the start of the conference is advised. Please register by sending a mail to Francesca Cadeddu ()

Admission fee: € 10 for the entire conference. € 5 for one day

For more information, please contact Prof.dr. Paul Erdkamp () or Francesca Cadeddu (