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The Economy of the Early Roman Empire

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  • Peter Temin
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    Abstract

    Many inhabitants of ancient Rome lived well. Tourists marvel at the temples, baths, roads and aqueducts that they built. Economists also want to understand the existence of a flourishing and apparently prosperous economy two millennia ago. Market institutions and a stable government appear to have been the combination that produced this remarkable result. This essay provides an economist's view of the Roman economy that emphasizes the role of markets. I focus on the early Roman Empire, from 27 BCE to around 200 CE. I begin with some indications suggesting that the standard of living in ancient Rome was similar to that of early modern period of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, an extraordinary achievement for any economy in the ancient world. I then argue that ancient Rome managed to achieve this high standard of living through the combined operation of moderately stable political conditions and markets for goods, labor and capital, which allowed specialization and efficiency. After surveying the labor and financial markets in turn, I return to the broad questions of how the Romans prospered and the economy appears to have grown.

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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/089533006776526148
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

    Volume (Year): 20 (2006)
    Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
    Pages: 133-151

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    Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:20:y:2006:i:1:p:133-151

    Note: DOI: 10.1257/089533006776526148
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    References

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    1. Temin, Peter, 1980. "Modes of behavior," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 175-195, June.
    2. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2002. "Reversal Of Fortune: Geography And Institutions In The Making Of The Modern World Income Distribution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1231-1294, November.
    3. Temin, Peter, 2004. "Financial Intermediation in the Early Roman Empire," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(03), pages 705-733, September.
    4. David, Paul A., 1967. "The Growth of Real Product in the United States Before 1840: New Evidence, Controlled Conjectures," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 27(02), pages 151-197, June.
    5. Goldsmith, Raymond W, 1984. "An Estimate of the Size and Structure of the National Product of the Early Roman Empire," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 30(3), pages 263-88, September.
    6. Peter Temin, 2001. "A Market Economy in the Early Roman Empire," Economics Series Working Papers 2001-W39, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    7. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
    8. Peter Temin, 2001. "A Market Economy in the Early Roman Empire," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _039, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    9. Temin, Peter, 2002. "Price Behavior in Ancient Babylon," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 46-60, January.
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    Cited by:
    1. Wicks, Rick, 2011. "Assumption without representation: the unacknowledged abstraction from communities and social goods," MPRA Paper 51674, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Ferdinand Rauch & Guy Michaels, 2013. "Resetting the Urban Network: 117-2012," Economics Series Working Papers 684, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    3. Aiyar, Shekhar & Dalgaard, Carl-Johan & Moav, Omer, 2006. "Technological Progress and Regress in Pre-Industrial Times," CEPR Discussion Papers 5454, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Ulrike Malmendier, 2009. "Law and Finance "at the Origin"," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(4), pages 1076-1108, December.
    5. Robartus J. van der Spek & Bas van Leeuwen, 2013. "Quantifying the integration of the Babylonian economy in the Mediterranean world using a new corpus of price data, 400-50 BC," Working Papers 0047, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
    6. John Hartwick, 2013. "Mining Gold for the Currency during the Pax Romana," Working Papers 1313, Queen's University, Department of Economics.

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