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Roman Roads to Prosperity: Persistence and Non-Persistence of Public Goods Provision


  • Dalgaard, Carl-Johan
  • Kaarsen, Nicolai
  • Olsson, Ola
  • Selaya, Pablo


How persistent is public goods provision in a comparative perspective? We explore the link between infrastructure investments made during antiquity and the presence of infrastructure today, as well as the link between early infrastructure and economic activity both in the past and in the present, across the entire area under dominion of the Roman Empire at the zenith of its geographical extension. We find a remarkable pattern of persistence showing that greater Roman road density goes along with (a) greater modern road density, (b) greater settlement formation in 500 CE, and (c) greater economic activity in 2010. Interestingly, however, the degree of persistence in road density and the link between early road density and contemporary economic development is weakened to the point of insignificance in areas where the use of wheeled vehicles was abandoned from the first millennium CE until the late modern period. Taken at face value, our results suggest that infrastructure may be one important channel through which persistence in comparative development comes about.

Suggested Citation

  • Dalgaard, Carl-Johan & Kaarsen, Nicolai & Olsson, Ola & Selaya, Pablo, 2018. "Roman Roads to Prosperity: Persistence and Non-Persistence of Public Goods Provision," CEPR Discussion Papers 12745, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:12745

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oded Galor & Ömer Özak, 2016. "The Agricultural Origins of Time Preference," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(10), pages 3064-3103, October.
    2. Nathan Nunn & Diego Puga, 2012. "Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography in Africa," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 94(1), pages 20-36, February.
    3. Thomas Barnebeck Andersen & Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Pablo Selaya, 2016. "Climate and the Emergence of Global Income Differences," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(4), pages 1334-1363.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Ancient Infrastructure and Economic Activity
      by msoderhall in NEP-HIS blog on 2018-04-14 04:19:32


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    Cited by:

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    2. Sequeira, Tiago & Morão, Hugo, 2020. "Growth accounting and regressions: New approach and results," International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 162(C), pages 67-79.
    3. Despina Gavresi & Anastasia Litina & George Tsiachtsiras, 2022. "Railways and Roadways to Trust," Discussion Paper Series 2022_08, Department of Economics, University of Macedonia, revised Sep 2022.
    4. Gojko Barjamovic & Thomas Chaney & Kerem Coşar & Ali Hortaçsu, 2019. "Trade, Merchants, and the Lost Cities of the Bronze Age," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 134(3), pages 1455-1503.
    5. Pushkar Maitra & William Yu, 2021. "The Long Shadow of Infrastructure Development: Long Run Effects of Railway Construction in Colonial India," Monash Economics Working Papers 2021-01, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    6. Anna Bottasso & Maurizio Conti & Simone Robbiano & Marta Santagata, 2022. "Roads to innovation: Evidence from Italy," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(4), pages 981-1005, September.
    7. Ahmad, Zofia & Chicoine, Luke, 2021. "Silk Roads to Riches: Persistence Along an Ancient Trade Network," MPRA Paper 105146, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Shoshanna Saxe & Dena Kasraian, 2020. "Rethinking environmental LCA life stages for transport infrastructure to facilitate holistic assessment," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 24(5), pages 1031-1046, October.
    9. Fabian Siuda & Uwe Sunde, 2021. "Disease and demographic development: the legacy of the plague," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 26(1), pages 1-30, March.
    10. Fritsch, Michael & Obschonka, Martin & Wahl, Fabian & Wyrwich, Michael, 2020. "The deep imprint of Roman sandals: Evidence of long-lasting effects of Roman rule on personality, economic performance, and well-being in Germany," Hohenheim Discussion Papers in Business, Economics and Social Sciences 05-2020, University of Hohenheim, Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences.
    11. V. Licio, 2019. "When history leaves a mark: a new measure of Roman roads," Working Paper CRENoS 201904, Centre for North South Economic Research, University of Cagliari and Sassari, Sardinia.
    12. Vania Licio, 2021. "When History Leaves a Mark: A New Measure of Roman Roads," Italian Economic Journal: A Continuation of Rivista Italiana degli Economisti and Giornale degli Economisti, Springer;Società Italiana degli Economisti (Italian Economic Association), vol. 7(1), pages 1-35, March.
    13. Geloso, Vincent J. & Salter, Alexander W., 2020. "State capacity and economic development: Causal mechanism or correlative filter?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 170(C), pages 372-385.
    14. Michael Fritsch & Korneliusz Pylak & Michael Wyrwich, 2022. "Historical roots of entrepreneurship in different regional contexts—the case of Poland," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 59(1), pages 397-412, June.
    15. Miquel-Àngel Garcia-López & Alfonso Herranz-Loncán & Filippo Tassinari & Elisabet Viladecans-Marsal, 2021. "Paving the way to modern growth. Evidence from Bourbon roads in Spain," Working Papers 0209, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).

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    More about this item


    infrastructure; Persistence; Public Goods; Roman Empire; Roman roads;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General

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