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The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture

Peter Garnsey
Richard Saller
Jaś Elsner
Martin Goodman
Richard Gordon
Greg Woolf
with the collaboration of Marguerite Hirt
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 2
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Roman Empire
    Book Description:

    During the Principate (roughly 27 BCE to 235 CE), when the empire reached its maximum extent, Roman society and culture were radically transformed. But how was the vast territory of the empire controlled? Did the demands of central government stimulate economic growth or endanger survival? What forces of cohesion operated to balance the social and economic inequalities and high mortality rates? How did the official religion react in the face of the diffusion of alien cults and the emergence of Christianity?

    These are some of the many questions posed here, in the new, expanded edition of Garnsey and Saller's pathbreaking account of the economy, society, and culture of the Roman Empire. This second edition includes a new introduction that explores the consequences for government and the governing classes of the replacement of the Republic by the rule of emperors. Addenda to the original chapters offer up-to-date discussions of issues and point to new evidence and approaches that have enlivened the study of Roman history in recent decades. A completely new chapter assesses how far Rome’s subjects resisted her hegemony. The bibliography has also been thoroughly updated, and a new color plate section has been added.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96130-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
    (pp. xii-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xv)
  6. Map
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    P.G. and R.S.

    The Roman empire at its zenith in the period of the Principate (roughly, 27 BC to AD 235) covered vast tracts of three continents, Europe, Africa and Asia. It encompassed countless cultures, languages, climates and diets. It included nomads and sedentary farmers, primitive tribesmen and cultivated urbanites, bandits and Platonic philosophers. How was it ruled? What forces of cohesion held it together? What was the outcome of the confrontation of imperial and local institutions, customs and values in the provincial setting? How did the society and culture of the imperial capital itself adapt to foreign (especially Greek and Oriental) influences...


    • 1 Introducing the Principate
      (pp. 3-18)

      In the prevailing tradition, Kings were expelled from Rome and the Republic was inaugurated in 509 BC.Libertaswas the watchword of those rebelling against the monarchy (led by a Brutus) and of the assassins of the ‘perpetual’ dictator Julius Caesar in 44 BC (also led by a Brutus). From 30 BC, the date of the battle of Alexandria (following the battle of Actium in 31 BC), the Romans again fell under the control of one man, Octavian, renamed Augustus in 27 BC, and this time monarchy endured. The Kings had presided over a small city with a modest rural...

    • 2 A Mediterranean empire
      (pp. 19-34)

      Contemporaries explained the rise of Rome in terms of the moral character, political institutions, military talent and good fortune of the Roman people.¹ Writers of the era of Augustus (31 BC – AD 14) adduced also the physical environment of Rome and Italy. Livy, the historian from Padua, referred to the central position of Rome in Italy, its serviceable river and not far distant sea (5.54.4), while Strabo, the historian and geographer from Amaseia near the southern shore of the Black Sea, spoke of the location of Italy in the heart of the inhabited world: ‘Further, since it lies intermediate between...

    • 3 Government without bureaucracy
      (pp. 35-54)

      The Romans controlled an empire far flung by any historical standards. They did not, however, develop an imperial administration that matched the dimensions of the empire. A rudimentary apparatus of officialdom sufficed a government whose concerns were limited to essentials. The basic goals of the government were twofold: the maintenance of law and order, and the collection of taxes. Taxes were needed for wages, military expenses and to provide shows, buildings and handouts of food or cash in the capital city. To achieve these very limited aims the early emperors took the Republican system of senatorial administration and expanded it,...

    • 4 Enemies of Rome
      (pp. 55-68)
      Martin Goodman

      The impression that thepax Romanareigned supreme over the empire for the first two centuries AD without any great effort by the central authorities is to be found stated or assumed in a good deal of the Roman literature of the period and in modern scholarship derived from it, but the impression is in some ways misleading. Intensive Roman military activity in the conquest of territory and in civil wars caused exceptional distress among the subject populations in the last two centuries of the Republic, and the more moderate violence of the following centuries appears benign in comparison, but...


    • 5 An underdeveloped economy
      (pp. 71-90)

      We know little in detail about the economy of the Roman world. There are no government accounts, no official records of production, trade, occupational distribution, taxation. A systematic account of the Roman economy is therefore beyond our reach. Economic historians, more even than those historians with traditional interests, must set themselves limited objectives and be imaginative and discriminating in their pursuit of them.¹

      We begin with a simple model of the Roman economy, arrived at by setting that economy against the background of other, better known, preindustrial economies. The next step is to ask how far it is possible to...

    • 6 The land
      (pp. 91-108)

      The younger Pliny, a Roman senator originally from Como in north Italy, wrote to a friend that his investments were almost entirely in rural property (Ep.3.19). Many or most senators would have been similarly placed, especially those who like Pliny were not among the most wealthy and who were not from Rome itself or its environs. Pliny is thought to have been worth about 20 million sesterces, but fortunes twenty times more substantial are known from the early Principate. Pliny’s fortune was itself twenty times larger than the minimum property qualification for the Roman senate, one million sesterces. There must...

    • 7 Supplying the Roman empire
      (pp. 109-128)

      Under the Principate, the Roman government was in a position to exploit the whole of the Mediterranean basin, north-western and central Europe and the Balkans. The existence of this massive empire had implications for distribution and consumption in Rome, Italy and the empire at large. Under the heading of distribution, one might ask: How did the city of Rome, the central government and the Roman army secure the consumption items they needed? How far was the government involved in the supply of essential foodstuffs? On consumption, the key questions include: What claims were made by Roman imperial governments on the...


    • 8 The social hierarchy
      (pp. 131-150)

      The Principate of Augustus was preceded by two decades of civil war, in which armies of a size not previously seen in Roman history fought for the supremacy of their generals. The confusion of traditional social distinctions that accompanied the collapse of Republican political institutions is illustrated by two anecdotes relating to the first of the civil-war victors, Julius Caesar. Caesar was said to have admitted to the Roman senate ‘men of foreign birth, including semi-civilized Gauls who had been granted Roman citizenship’, and who now discarded trousers for togas. A stage performance before Caesar won for the actor Decimus...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 9 Family and household
      (pp. 151-172)

      When Romans of the Augustan age compared their own times with their idealized past, they lamented, among other things, the decline in family morality. In early Rome discipline in the family was hard and standards of virtue high: in paradigmaticexemplafathers executed adult sons for disobedience in battle, and virtuous women esteemed their chastity more highly than their lives. Augustus clearly considered familymoresto be of considerable importance, devoting much of his reforming legislation to marriage and child-bearing.¹

      The first emperor was right about the importance of the family in society, though unduly optimistic about his ability to...

    • 10 Social relations
      (pp. 173-184)

      The place of a Roman in society was a function of his position in the social hierarchy, membership of a family, and involvement in a web of personal relationships extending out from the household. Romans were obligated to and could expect support from their families, kinsmen and dependants both inside and outside the household, and friends, patrons, protégés and clients. In the eyes of Seneca, whose longest moral essay was devoted to the subject, the exchange of favours and services (beneficia) which underlay these relationships ‘most especially binds together human society’ (Ben. 1.4.2).¹ Seneca’s emphasis on reciprocal exchange is justifiable...


    • 11 Religion
      (pp. 187-206)

      The official Roman religion was a cluster of beliefs expressed in an elaborate system of institutions and rituals. The Romans accepted that the safety and prosperity of their communities depended upon the gods, whose favour was won and held by the correct performance of the full range of cult practices inherited from the past. Supervision of the state religion was in the hands of the political authorities. Priesthoods were held by the same men who held political office. In Rome, as in other societies, religious institutions and practices reflected the power relations within the community and provided the justification for...

    • 12 Culture
      (pp. 207-228)

      Following the victory of Augustus, institutions, values and cultural life in Rome gradually adjusted to the monarchy. Augustus’ exercise of political patronage had its counterpart in the cultural sphere. As loyalty to the emperor became the key to office and high status, so those writers and artists who were the beneficiaries of the emperor’s patronage were expected to treat Augustan themes and to do so in a sympathetic manner.

      The provinces were less directly exposed than the capital city to the processes of cultural transformation stimulated by the installation of an emperor; nor was there any grand design emanating from...

    (pp. 229-236)

    The spreading outwards of Rome was a process almost as old as Rome itself. But the transition from oligarchy to monarchy at the beginning of our period (27 BC to AD 235) ushered in a new phase of expansion, extending Roman rule well beyond the Mediterranean basin.

    Rome’s rulers pursued contrasting aims in the Mediterranean world and in the world removed from the Mediterranean. In the former, a level of political and cultural unity was achieved not previously known in antiquity. Rome reconciled the Greek East to its rule by protecting Hellenic civic culture and encouraging its diffusion; meanwhile immigration,...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 237-256)
    (pp. 257-276)
    (pp. 277-312)
  16. List of emperors
    (pp. 313-314)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 315-334)