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The Oxford Roman Economy Project

[First posted on AWOL 26 November 2912, updated 23 February 2015]

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The Oxford Roman Economy Project
The Oxford Roman Economy Project is a research project based in the Faculty of Classics, at the University of Oxford. The project, lead by Prof. Alan Bowman and Prof. Andrew Wilson, was originally funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the period from October 2005 to end September 2010, but additional funding through the generosity of Baron Lorne Thyssen now allows it to continue until the end of 2012.

The research programme addresses the fundamentals of the Roman imperial economy and analyses all major economic activities (including agriculture, trade, commerce, and extraction), utilising quantifiable bodies of archaeological and documentary evidence and placing them in the broader structural context of regional variation, distribution, size and nature of markets, supply and demand. The project mainly focuses on the period between100 BC and AD 300, including the era of greatest imperial expansion and economic growth (to c.AD 200), followed by a century conventionally perceived as one of contraction or decline. Geographically, the project draws on material selected from all over the Mediterranean world. A more detailed description of the aims and methods of the project can be found here

The large amounts of data that are studied during the project, which mostly already have been published in some form or another, are stored and organized in a large database, which is currently being made accessible online to the wider scholarly community through this website.

Integral part of the project is a series of conferences, which take place roughly each year and addresses specific aspects of the economy, such as urbanization (2007), agriculture (2008), trade (2009), and metals, mining and coinage (2010). Moreover, in connection with the Oxford Roman Economy Project, Oxford University Press has agreed to inaugurate a series of publications under the general title Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy (OSRE), edited by the two project directors.


The Roman Economy Introductory Bibliography

Compiled by Andrew Wilson. Version 1.1, July, 2014.

Ancient City Populations Bibliography

Compiled by Andrew Wilson. Version 1.1, July, 2014.

Indo-Roman Trade Bibliography

Compiled by Andrew Wilson. Version 1.1, December, 2012

Roman Textile Economies Bibliography


Compiled by Miko Flohr. Version 1.0, December, 2012.

Mining Bibliography


Fish Industries and Garum Production Bibliography


Wine Production and Trade Bibliography


Olive Oil Production and Trade Bibliography


Working Papers

Coinage and the Roman Economy in the Antonine Period: the view from Egypt

Christopher Howgego, Kevin Butcher, Matthew Ponting, and Volker Heuchert
The Antonine period and the Antonine period in Egypt in particular have become central to current studies of the Roman economy. There is the debate between Wilson and Scheidel about whether per capita Roman economic growth continued throughout the first two centuries AD or stagnated already from the Augustan period. There is also Rathbone’s study of Egyptian prices, the only useable series from anywhere in the Empire, which sees the doubling between AD 160 and 190 as the only significant change between AD 45 and AD 274/5. This picture underpins an important paper by Temin on the causes of inflation in the Roman World in general.

Quantification of fish-salting infrastructure capacity in the Roman world

Andrew Wilson
The Roman empire saw extensive export of salted fish, and the sauces derived from them – garum, liquamen, muria and allec - were used widely in cooking, acting as a flavour enhancer. Several amphora types used for salted fish or for derivative sauces have been identified, especially from Spain and Morocco, and are widely distributed. However, a relative lack of work on amphorae carrying fish products made elsewhere in the Roman world hampers attempts to track the development of trade in salted fish in any quantitative manner. In addition, some regions which produced salted fish seem to have exported it in barrels, which are much less archaeologically durable.

The uptake of mechanical technology in the ancient world: the water-mill

Andrew Wilson
The water-mill is one of the earliest examples of human efforts to harness natural forces to do mechanical work, and stands as the ancestor of a long line of machines. Water-milling greatly increased per capita productivity in the time-consuming and widely needed grinding of grain into flour, and enabled greater specialisation in labour, with the water-miller (molendinarius) emerging as a separate figure from the miller-baker (pistor) of the earlier Roman period. The spread and uptake of the water-mill is therefore important to questions of economic development and the relationship of capital investment in technology to economic growth (Wilson 2002).

Quantifying Egyptian Evidence for Transport

Colin Adams
As we know, the papyri of Egypt offer the historian of the ancient economy valuable evidence for a wide range of issues. One such central issue is transport, and it is problematic – Peter Brunt described it as’ the greatest failure of ancient technology’. The primitivist approach to the economy, advocated most vigorously by Finley, Jones, Duncan-Jones and others, holds that trade and transport was held back by two main factors: firstly, a lack of incentive to trade due to regions having the same needs and surpluses, and secondly, the high cost of transport – especially by land. Using the evidence of Roman agronomists and the costs of transport established by Diocletian’s Edict of Maximal Prices, Jones stated that it was ‘cheaper to ship grain from one end of the Mediterranean to the other than to cart it 75 miles’. The cost of transporting a mill 25 miles was 11% of its value, rising to 39% for 75 miles (Cato, Agr. 22. 3). Pliny’s well-known letter (Ep. 10. 41) on transport in Nicomedia makes the higher cost of land transport over water seem clear. Any attempt to challenge these ideas was met with force: in Brunt’s review, he criticizes Alison Burford’s paper on the transport of bulky goods, saying: ‘she merely showed what governments could do, regardless of cost, for defence, prestige or piety; it was no more possible for private entrepreneurs to emulate them than for IBM to put men on the moon’.

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