International conference
Land and natural resources in the Roman World

Brussels, 2011, Thu. 26th – Sat. 28th May

click here for the flyer (pdf)
click here for conference booklet containing full program, abstracts and working paper



In comparison with other pre-modern empires, the economic performance of the Roman Empire (ca. 200 B.C. – A.D. 600) is impressive: not only were living standards raised for the population at large, but the empire also showed strong resilience and the ability to overcome economic crises. In order to explain this remarkable success, recent work in Roman economic history has placed particular stress on the analysis of economic performance. Yet the economic foundation of any pre-industrial society, namely agriculture and natural resource exploitation, has not yet received the attention it deserves, notwithstanding some important recent work by scholars such as Kehoe, Erdkamp, and Banaji.

The conference ‘Land and natural resources’, to be held in Brussel on May 26th-Sat. 28th, aims at studying in detail the varied ways in which the Romans exploited their land and natural resources, how they reflected on these usages, and how this contributed to the economic development of the empire. We are interested not in performance per se, but in the structures that made this performance possible.

Exploitation of land and natural resources’ should be understood in a broad sense, ranging from the exploitation of uncultivated lands (e.g. hunting and gathering), techniques to bring new land under cultivation, all types of farming, mining and quarrying, to the harnessing of the power of wind and water and techniques of irrigation. These cannot, however, be studied in isolation. Wider economic and ideological developments need to be included, in particular changes in agricultural structure (concentration of land, management of holdings, attitudes of landowners etc.), changes in the market (supply, demand, nature of trading channels) of agricultural goods and natural resources, and changes in state structures (local differences, the role of the tax system, the role of large landowners such as the church); it also needs to be asked how these impacted on the exploitation of the land and natural resources. In addition, ideological factors, such as the idealization of agricultural labor in Roman society, may have had a considerable impact on the exploitation of the land. The conference thus does not wish to study the exploitation, processing and distribution of various natural resources (agricultural and non-agricultural) in isolation from each other, but in their interaction with each other. We believe this integrative approach will greatly enhance our understanding of the foundations of the Roman economy.

The conference will focus on the following five topics.

The availability of natural resources 

Natural resources (arable land, ores, fishing grounds, …) are unevenly spread. Did access to natural resources matter in the long run ? Were regions rich in resources more likely to experience economic growth or not ?

Ownership and Control 

Who enjoyed ‘rights of exploitation’ of natural resources ? What were these rights were based upon (property rights, political control, custom...). Did Roman ideas about social status influence definitions of rights of access to and exploitation of natural resources (for instance, were sacred properties, public lands, and private lands managed and exploited differently).

Organisation and modes of exploitation 

How was the exploitation of natural resources organized. What is the implication of this for investment, productivity and the acquisition of expertise? Is the State directly involved in the exploitation of mines, quarries, forests, salt pans etc. (for instance through the army), indirectly, or not at all ? How did all this develop over time?

Exploitation and processing of natural resources

Natural resources are rarely ‘ready at hand’ or ‘ready to use’. Their exploitation requires an amount of know-how and investment in extraction and processing facilities. We are not interested in technology per se, but in whether and how innovations occurred, how technology spread, and how skills were acquired. Who financed the necessary facilities ? How durable were they ? How much expertise and expense was needed for upkeep?

The fruits thereof … 

Who benefited from the exploitation of natural resources apart from the direct consumers ? Did the profits accrue into the hands of private entrepreneurs ? of middlemen or the state ? Did the latter profit through taxation or as owner farming out the natural riches ? What was the role of the market in this process ?


[click here for the flyer (pdf)]

Thursday 26th May, 2011

Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten
(click here for this location)


  • 9:00 Welcome
  • 9:30 General Introduction (organizers)

Session I. Agriculture & elite wealth: the fruits thereoff…

  • 9.45 Paul Erdkamp: Agriculture and the various paths to economic growth
  • 10.05 Annalisa Marzano: The varieties of villa exploitation, from agriculture to aquaculture (click here for the handout)
  • 10.25 discussion
  • 10.55 coffee break

Session II. Availability and accessibility of natural resources

  • 11.15 Colin Adams, Moving Natural Resources (click here for the handout)
  • 11.35 Jordan Pickett, Construction and the Roman Economy: Five Logistical Case Studies from  Roman and Late Antique Cappadocia in Comparison
  • 11.55 Ray Laurence, State and Road Building in the Roman Empire
  • 12.15 discussion
  • 12.55 lunch

Session III. Organisation and modes of exploitation

Agrarian economy

  • 14.00 Daniel Hoyer, Diverse crop harvesting and the Maghrebi agrarian economy
  • 14.20 Hilali Arbia, Rome et l’agriculture en Afrique. L’aménagement de l’espace et la gestion des  ressources naturelles
  • 14.40 Julia Hoffmann-Salz, The local economy of Palmyra – Organizing agriculture in an oasis  environment
  • 15.00 discussion
  • 15.40 coffee break

Animal husbandry

  • 16.00 Tony King: Regional factors in production and consumption of animal-derived food in the  Roman Empire
  • 16.20 Michael McKinnon, Changes in animal husbandry as a consequence of changing social and  economic patterns
  • 16.40 discussion
  • 17.10 end of sessions

Friday, May 27th 2011

Free University of Brussels (VUB)
Campus Etterbeekn auditorium D
(click here for this location)

Session IV. Ownership and control of natural resources

Elite property

  • 9.30 Kyle Harper, Patterns of Landed Wealth in the Long Term
  • 9.50 Elio Lo Cascio, The development of imperial property
  • 10.10 Rens Tacoma, Imperial wealth in Roman Egypt. The Julio-Claudian ousiai (click here for working paper)
  • 10.30 discussion
  • 11.10 coffee break

Law and landed property (I)

  • 11.30 Eva Jakab, Property and profit in Roman law and economy
  • 11.50 Dennis Kehoe, Property Rights over Land and Economic Growth in the Roman Empire
  • 12.10 discussion

12.40 poster presentations / lunch ¨

  • Posters by:
    • Kim Van Liefferinge (Phd project, UGent) Water management in the Laurion mines (click here for abstract)
    • Dimitri Van Limbergen (PhD project, University of Pisa), Towards a more diversified Roman economy: a working hypothesis for Central Adriatic Italy (click here for abstract)
    • Patrick Murray (University of Melbourne), Veteran settlements under Sulla
    • Devi Taelman (UGent), Ancient Quarryscapes: Stone Supply of Roman Ammaia (click here for abstract)

Law and landed property (II)

  • 13.45 Peter Temin, The Terms of Land Tenure in the Roman Empire (click here for working paper)
  • 14.05 Egbert Koops, Absentee landowners and bailiffs: the legal framework
  • 14.25 discussion 
  • 14.55 coffee break

Water (I)

  • 15.15 Christer Bruun, Ownership and legislation concerning water resources
  • 15.35 Adam Rogers, Controlling waterscapes. A study of towns and water in Roman Britain (click here for the powerpoint)
  • 15.55 discussion
  • 16.25 coffee break

Water (II)

  • 16.45 Toni Naco del Hoyo & Dario Nappo, When the waters recede. Economic recovery and public  policies after the AD 365 tsunami and some earlier precedents
  • 17.05 Yuri Marano, Management of water resources in Ostrogothic Italy (end of the 5th - first half  of the 6th century A.D.)
  • 17.25 discussion
  • 17.55 end of sessions

20.00 Dinner in restaurant Le Marmiton
Koninginnegalerij 38, Beenhouwersstraat 43A (near Brussels Central Station)

Saturday May 28th 2011 Free University of Brussels (VUB)

Free University of Brussels (VUB)
Campus Etterbeek
(click here for this location)

Session V. Exploitation and processing of natural resources

Natural resources (I)

  • 9.30 Shawn Graham, Areas of logging and agent-based models of resource extraction
  • 9.50 Isabella Tsigarida, Salz in der Provinz Asia. Eine Untersuchung staatlicher Interessen an der  Ressource
  • 10.10 discussion
  • 10.40 coffee break

Natural resources (II)

  • 11.00 Alfred Hirt, The Roman Army, Imperial Quarries and the Emperor 
  • 11.20 Fernando Lopez Sanchez, The mining, coining and obtaining of gold  in the Roman Empire
  • 11.40 Discussion
  • 12.10 coffee break

Exploitation of local resources

  • 12.30 Saskia Roselaar: The role of Italians in local economies of the late Roman Republic
  • 12.50 Sophia Zoumbaki: The exploitation of local resources of Western Greece by Romans and  Italiote  Greeks
  • 13.10 discussion
  • 13.40 end of sessions

Practical details


Register with Paul Erdkamp (

  • Participation : € 10,- a day  (students free)
  •  Lunch (on Thursday and Friday): € 15,- per lunch
  •  Dinner (on Friday): € 50,-

Please indicate *clearly* how many days, how many lunches and whether you wish to join for dinner

Payment is possible in cash at the start of the colloquium or by giro transfer to

Free University of Brussel, History Department
Pleinlaan 2
B-1050 Elsene (Brussels)

IBAN: BE51 0010 6864 5562

with mention of CONI350 / HISTINK81.

Conference locations

The Royal Flemish Academy Of Belgium For Science And The Arts
(Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten)

Academy Palace, Hertogsstraat 1, B-1000 Brussel
tel.: 32 (0)2 550.23.23

  • From the airport: Train to Brussels Central Station
  • By train: Brussels, Central Station. It's only 10 minutes walking. It's also possible to take the metro.
  • By metro (MIVB): Metro station Troon
    • From Central Station: line 1 or 5 to Kunst-Wet, then line 2 or 6.
    • From North Station: metro Rogier, line 2 or 6 direction Koning Boudewijn or Simonis (Leopold II).
    • From South Station: line 2 or 6 direction Simonis (Elisabeth)
  • By car: follow the inner lane of the inner ring road, past the Wetstraat (=Regentlaan), take the rightmost lane, and either enter the Academy Palace here, or turn around the domain of the Academy Palace to enter it at the side of the Royal Palace.

(a printable route map is availabe at the website of the academy:

Free University of Brussels

Campus Etterbeek
Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussel
Phone: +32 (0)2 / 629.21.11

For all directions click :


Brussels has a wide range of hotels in various price classes.speakers will be staying at Aris Grand Place Hotel, which is in the centre of Brussels, very close to Central Station. For information on the hotel and its location, see

Information on hotels in Brussels is available at:

for Youth hostels:

for Bed & Breakfast and Chambres d'hotes see 

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