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Health and wealth in the Roman Empire

Author

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  • Jongman, Willem M.
  • Jacobs, Jan P.A.M.
  • Klein Goldewijk, Geertje M.

Abstract

Ancient Rome was the largest and most populous empire of its time, and the largest pre-industrial state in European history. Recent though not universally accepted research suggests that at least for the most populous central periods of its history standard of living was also rather higher than before or after. To trace whether this is also reflected in Roman biological standard of living, we present the first large and more or less comprehensive dataset, based on skeletal data for some 10,000 individuals, covering all periods of Roman history, and all regions (even if inevitably unequally). We discuss both the methodologies that we developed and the historical results. Instead of reconstructing heights from the long bones assuming fixed body proportions or from one individual long bone, we apply exploratory factor analysis and calculate factor scores for 50-year periods. Our measure of the biological standard of living declined during the last two centuries B.C. and started to improve again, slowly at first, from the second century A.D. It correlated negatively with population, but also with other aspects of standard of living such as wages or diets.

Suggested Citation

  • Jongman, Willem M. & Jacobs, Jan P.A.M. & Klein Goldewijk, Geertje M., 2019. "Health and wealth in the Roman Empire," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 138-150.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:34:y:2019:i:c:p:138-150
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2019.01.005
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Biological standard of living; Roman Empire; skeleton remains;

    JEL classification:

    • C55 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Large Data Sets: Modeling and Analysis
    • C82 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Methodology for Collecting, Estimating, and Organizing Macroeconomic Data; Data Access
    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe

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