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The Economy of the Early Roman Empire

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  • Peter Temin

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter Temin, 2006. "The Economy of the Early Roman Empire," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 133-151, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:20:y:2006:i:1:p:133-151 Note: DOI: 10.1257/089533006776526148
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 263-288, September.
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    5. Temin, Peter, 1980. "Modes of behavior," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 175-195, June.
    6. 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.
    7. Peter Temin, 2001. "A Market Economy in the Early Roman Empire," Economics Series Working Papers 2001-W39, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    8. 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.
    9. 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, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1231-1294.
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    Cited by:

    1. M. Fleurbaey., 2012. "Beyond GDP: The Quest for a Measure of Social Welfare," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 3.
    2. Shekhar Aiyar & Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Omer Moav, 2008. "Technological progress and regress in pre-industrial times," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 13(2), pages 125-144, June.
    3. Arruñada, Benito, 2016. "How Rome enabled impersonal markets," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 68-84.
    4. Michaels, Guy & Rauch, Ferdinand, 2013. "Resetting the Urban Network: 117-2012," CEPR Discussion Papers 9760, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    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. Benito Arruñada, 2015. "The institutions of Roman markets," Economics Working Papers 1471, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    7. Hugh Goldsmith, 2014. "The Long-Run Evolution of Infrastructure Services," CESifo Working Paper Series 5073, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. Gary M. Pecquet, 2017. "The Original Road to Serfdom: From Rome to Feudal Europe," Journal of Private Enterprise, The Association of Private Enterprise Education, pages 45-62.
    9. Poitras, Geoffrey & Geranio, Manuela, 2016. "Trading of shares in the Societates Publicanorum?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 95-118.
    10. Wicks, Rick, 2011. "Assumption without representation: the unacknowledged abstraction from communities and social goods," MPRA Paper 51674, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Patrizio Pagano & Massimo Sbracia, 2014. "The secular stagnation hypothesis: a review of the debate and some insights," Questioni di Economia e Finanza (Occasional Papers) 231, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    12. 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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