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Feeding the Capital

Contributed by David Verne

At this time in the Empire's history, Rome had a population of 1.0 - 1.6 million; this will be the largest any European city reached until London during the Industrial Revolution. Their diet primarily consisted of bread, olive oil, and wine, with an estimated 330,000 tons of grain needed annually. Italy would never have been able grow the amount of grain needed, so trade was used to fill the demand. North Africa and Egypt had always been large producers of grain, and with Roman rule over the entire Mediterranean Sea, the amount produced and exported each year grew. In the waning years of the Republic, the Romans had wiped out all pirates in the sea, making natural dangers the only problem for ships. During the Principate, the current system of government where an Emperor ruled but acted as merely the first among equals, the Empire stayed out of the way of the market, and only stepped in if famine or similar problems disrupted trade. This allowed the merchant class to flourish, and many companies were established with shareholders and functioned similarly to corporations today. This ease of trade enabled many cities to exist even though they couldn't produce enough food for themselves, similar to modern cities. [1]

My Take by David Verne
One of the little thought about, but most important inventions in history, is the contract. When people don't know one another, trust can be hard to come by and without trust, transactions can't take place. With contracts enforced by a judicial system, people can rely on the protection in the contract and can do business without trusting one another. The Romans vigorously enforced contracts and receipts, but the government wasn't the only enforcement, the market regulated itself. If the contract didn't involve the State and only included private individuals, they could hire a private arbitrator. Guilds were established and were essentially cartels that closely policed their members behavior. Merchants or laborers who broke contracts would be fined, and if the behavior continued could find themselves blacklisted and unable to do business.

See Also


  1. Temin, Peter (2013). The Roman Market Economy. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0- 691- 14768- 0. 

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