The annona was the imperial service responsible for overseeing the supply of key food items to the city of Rome and the army. Primarily concerned with grain, the service became increasingly involved in the provisioning of other commodities, such as olive oil, wine, and pork. By the end of the 3rd century, the annona was a complex machinery involving private and public agents in different parts of the empire, overseen by the prefect of the annona, based in Rome. The operation of this system is documented in literary texts, administrative documents such as papyri and writing tablets, inscriptions, and a rich archaeological record, in Rome and in the provinces. However, the precise working of the system and the degree to which it was controlled by the Roman state remain open to debate. The annona was also involved in the supply of the army, especially with regards to provisions brought from distant producing centres. During the later empire, the system became more centralised, being overseen by the praetorian prefecture.
While our sources mention numerous prices of a wide range of commodities, the question remains to what extent these prices offer insight into the ancient economy. Despite the wealth of data, reliable prices of everyday goods under normal market conditions are rare. The extent to which they can be used to analyze such topics as market integration, living standards, market stability, and inflation is limited. Only regarding Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt do we possess sufficient market prices (rather than imposed prices or valuations) to conduct meaningful analyses. For most of the rest of the empire, the prices—in particular those of everyday goods—are generally too uncertain, too sparse, and too diverse to form a solid basis for economic analysis. It is a valid question, moreover, to what extent prices in the ancient world reflect the interplay of supply and demand according to modern economic theory. Nevertheless, ancient writers depict price levels as depending on the interplay of supply and demand, and market transactions, as narrated in our sources, emphasizing competition and bargaining, make clear that price formation was largely determined by economic forces. Hence, prices fluctuated over time and differed in various places. The authorities tried to keep prices of staple foods low by influencing market conditions, but direct price fixing was rare.
An auction is a type of sale consisting of a public competition between several buyers; whoever bids the highest price obtains the object being sold. Such auctions existed in the Greek as well as in the Roman world. Some were organized by the public authorities, while others were organized by individuals selling some of their goods at auction. In Roman Italy, these private auctions served a commercial function. In addition, they facilitated the sale of guarantees for unrepaid loans; likewise, they facilitated the management of private inheritance and estates. Between the 2nd century
Romans not only gave gifts to express emotion and build relationships; a long-standing tradition of mutual aid gave rise to more intensive exchange of gifts and services (or reciprocity), among relatives, friends, and business associates; from the wealthy to the public in the form of public benefactions; and in legally sanctioned relationships between patrons and clients. Roman gift culture, distinctive among its contemporary Mediterranean societies, became increasingly transactional from the middle Republic to early Empire.
Arising from the agrarian and domestic contexts of classical antiquity, the notion of “frugality” (frugalitas) was a positive, desirable, and in many respects distinctively Roman concept that generally refers to a set of practices, ethical principles, and cultural and moral values pertaining to the production and consumption of resources. Closely related to this more general category is the concept of “parsimony” (parsimonia), which, as one type of frugalitas, is properly concerned with the prudent and judicious management of property and wealth. Both concepts tend to be associated with temperance and moderation (moderatio; cf. Gk. sophrosyne) and are often framed in opposition to “luxury” (luxuria) and “greed” (avaritia). Partly as a response to perceived increases in social ills and partly under the influence of Greek philosophy, the moral connotations of frugalitas and parsimonia become increasingly pronounced over time and are variously embraced by later Christian writers. Prominent historical exempla for these important Roman concepts include L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi, M.’ Curius Dentatus, and Cato the Elder.
Gloria Vivenza and Neville Morley
Roman attitudes to wealth were complex and sometimes ambivalent. Wealth was an essential basis for political and social life, but also a topic of extensive debate, which focused on the proper uses of wealth and the proper ways of attaining it. These moral, philosophical, and literary debates had practical implications for how the Romans spent their wealth and how they acquired it.
The practice of fulling woollen garments was never part of an integrated textile production chain in the Greco-Roman world, though in several contexts, there were developments towards large-scale investment and rationalization in fulling workshops. Fullers, particularly in the Roman period, developed a strong, and positive, occupational identity, and were well-integrated members of their respective urban communities.
Energy and power are closely related concepts: energy implies the capacity to do work, and power affects the rate at which work is done (energy transmitted per unit of time). The availability of energy, and the rates at which that energy can be converted into heat or mechanical work, for example, constitute fundamental limits to the performance of any economy.
“Energy” derives from the Greek ἐνέργεια. The word is used by Diodorus Siculus (
Robert I. Curtis
The Mediterranean Sea dominated Greco-Roman society in many ways, but none more importantly than as a source of food. Early Punic settlers in the West and later Greeks and Romans, motivated by the need for long-term storage and commercial transportation of highly spoilable marine products, developed methods for salting fish that have persisted, albeit in more technically sophisticated ways, into modern times. Salted fish products took two basic forms, salt-fish (salsamentum, tarichos) and fish sauce (garum, liquamen, allec, muria). The former served as an appetite enhancer during the gustatio; the latter was the primary condiment used in food preparation and consumption. In addition, both products had perceived dietary and therapeutic value.
Ancient literary, epigraphic, papyrological, and archaeological sources show that salt-fish products were produced at family, artisanal, and industrial levels and played a significant role in long-distance trade. Greeks and especially Romans, for whom evidence is more plentiful, established processing centers at places on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, including in some urban areas, that offered sources for fresh water, salt, and fish, particularly pelagic species. Extant remains of fish salteries (cetariae), especially in Spain, North Africa, and the Black Sea, display consistent patterns of vat construction, arrangement, and operation that imply a common origin for the salting process. The most active period of production of and commerce in salted fish occurred between the 1st century
David M. Lewis and Sara Zanovello
In the Greek world, manumission, which spelt the end of an individual’s life in slavery, was achieved in a variety of ways, but it often entailed legal obligations to remain (paramenein) as a free servant for a fixed period of time. In some cases, freedmen and freedwomen subject to paramone obligations were able to “buy out” of this condition (apolysis). Manumission documents, which have been found in many parts of the Greek world, particularly in northern Greece (especially Delphi), reveal the legal position of slaves and how it differed from the legal position of freedpersons. Unlike in Rome, freedpersons in the Greek world did not automatically become citizens of their ex-owner’s polis (although some freed slaves did manage to achieve naturalization in return for benefactions bestowed on the community). In Athens, they held a legal position almost identical to that of resident foreigners (metoikoi), with some minor differences. Manumission was usually a private act, but in some cases the polis manumitted privately owned slaves, and in Sparta, helots could only be manumitted by the state. The frequency of manumission in the Greek world remains a debated topic, but recent work has raised the possibility that its use as an incentive for slaves was probably targeted mainly at slaves working in skilled, “care-intensive” roles, and also for slaves (including hetairai) with whom individuals conceived sexual attachments.