Aspects of Roman Economy

  • Created on: 18-05-13 17:08


  • There was no Roman concept of "economy" as we have today. Instead, there were countless local economies and industries. The only evidence for this is the mention of it in ancient texts and artifacts.
  • Towns were market places and also sources of production eg) metal works. The towns attracted imported goods, as did the military forts. The villa estates and smaller farmsteads were included in this trading system - this was fundamental as at least 90% of people lived rurally. 
  • The province had an Eastern Zone (Southeast and East Anglia), a Western Zone (Wales, the Northwest and the Southwest) and a Central Zone that lay between the other two. The Central Zone had the highest proportion of Roman villas and Roman towns, and thus was the area that changed the most during the Roman period. 
  • The Vindolanda tablets have provided unparalleled evidence for the types of goods moved about in Roman Britain; many provide lists of commodities, quantities and costs. They show that good record keeping must have been widespread and routine. 
  • Strabo, writing at the end of the 1st century BC, believed that the Briton's enthusiastic approach to trade meant that they had Romanized themselves without any need for invasion. 
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  • The procurator would have been in charge of mining. After the invasion of 43 AD, production ncreased significantly as the demand for it did; the arrival of the Roman army required huge amounts of metal to, for example, build the forts that they needed. The best evidence for this mining comes from lead pigs that are stamped with the date and source. 
  • Lead pigs that have been found in Britain show that mining was undertaken mostly in the Mendips in Somerset. A Mendips pig is stamped with Claudius' name from the year 49 AD - this shows that the frontier mining zone was already underway after just 6 years
  • Pliny the Elder, writing in the mid - 70's, said that Britain's lead was so abundant and easily extracted compared to that in Gual or Spain. This is reinforced by a law that was passed to limit its production, pressumably to prevent the prices being driven down. 
  • The Roman army often built forts next to mines so that they were protected at all times.
  • By the 4th century, some lead mines had been handed over to local government, another way that the Romans could appease the native people and hand control back over to the province. This also came at a time when the authorities became less interested in lead and more interested in the production of silver/iron: iron was used for weapons, armour and vehical fittings. Some settlements even grew around iron mines because they provided so much economic activity eg) a settlement grew around the Chaterhouse mine
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Metal Working

  • In towns, there were manufacturing firms with slave staff. Metal work, however, was also an everyday craft that had been pursued long before the Roman arrival - like many other things, the Romans exploited the extraction of metal and made the working of it into a very organised procedure. 
  • Metalworking went on in almost every settlement. For example, a gold smith was working very close to the so called govenors palace in London in the late 1st century. Also, the larger villa estates would not have been able to function without a smithy on site to make repairs, farming tools, etc. 
  • The military forts and fortresses often had a fabrica, or workshop, where the unit's weapons and armour was manufactured. This shows the dependence of the army on metal production; it wasn't just to help the Roman economy with respects for trade but it was also a necessary element in day - to - day life. 
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  • Roads connected the military forts with the major and smaller towns of Roman Britain. They allowed communication for trade.
  • The principal roads radiated from London, suggesting that it was an administrative centre for the province, and were initially constructed to support the military conquest of the province. The social and economic life of Romano-British society came to depend on these crucial communication links. 
  • A lot of the Roman roads would have originated before the invasion of 43 AD. However, the army adapted them, adjusting their alignments, and widening their surfaces. 
  • Milestones were used to tell travellers ( for example merchants) that they were on the right track. This method was used throughout the rest of the Empire. Some milestones have been found in very rural areas of Roman Britain, showing that their influence was widespread. This allowed effective trade throughout the province and internationally. 
  • The road system had a dramatic effect on some settlements. Water Newton had never been a formal town, and it owed its growth almost entirely to its prime location on the main road North. Major and minor towns benefited from the passing flow of trade due to the developement of roads. Also many villas were built very near to major roads, eg) Lockleys villa was close to the major Roman road that ran from St Albans to Colchester
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  • The greatest change to agriculture during the Roman occupation was in terms of the extent and type of land that could be of arable use. This changed happened most quickley and was the most lasting in the Southern and Central parts of England, where the villa system was to take its strongest root.
  • The fields were improved because the Romans brought with them better knowledge on dranaige and construction - this lead to woodlands being more easily cleared and marshlands drained. This changed farming from being a short term staple to a long term surplus. 
  • The celtic field was generally square, which suffered from developing headlands where the soil moved by ploughing built up, gradually reducing the cultivable area. Roman fields were rectangular, usually 80m by 30m, with smaller headlands. Both types of field were used during the Roman occupation, with the rectangular ones being more popular with large villa estates. 
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Agriculture 2


  • Part of the developement of agriculture was due to the developement of new tools. Eg) iron was in greater supply so ordinary farmers gained access to iron-shod spades, ploughs and steel axes. All of these were sharper, more durable and able to deal with the heavy clay soils of the Midlands. The sickle was also improved by the addition of a better handle, improving its balance and swing. 
  • The plough was the most important development: it gained both its horizontal-bladed iron ploughshare and the addition of the coulter board which meant that it now turned the soild over rather than just cutting a slit in it.

Crops and Animals:

  • Farming in Britain was a mix of arable and pastoral. Before the Romans, the Celts had a lack of winter fodder, which meant that they had to conduct annual culls of their herds and flocks. This meant that they were unable to build up their animals. Larger heards and flocks meant that there could be a surpluce of dairy products and wool - this was important as the trade of the Birrus Britannicus in the 4th century came into large demand.
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Agriculture 3

  • Traditionally, the cereals grown in Britain were barley and emmer wheat. These were both resistant to the cold and mould however they could not make bread flour. Emmer wheat also had very hard husks that had to be toasted before being winnowed and milled
  • The Romans encouraged the growth of spelt, that could also grow in winter but could be made into a much finer flour. Rye, oats and flax were also encouraged. The Romans created granaries which were raised above the ground and barns that had adequate drains and ventilation that allowed for the storage of a great amount arable production. They also introduced a range of root crops, eg) turnips, carrots and parsnips. Some of these helped to feed the animals in winter. 
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