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Muziris papyrus  

Dominic W. Rathbone

The “Muziris” papyrus (PVindob. G40822) provides unique details about the trade between Roman Egypt and India. It was purchased in 1980 for the Austrian National Library, and first published in 1985, and has been much discussed since then.1 Its provenance is unknown, but was probably middle Egypt. It preserves parts of two texts, one on its front (recto) and one on its back (verso), written in two different hands which have both been assigned to the middle decades of the 2nd century ce.The first text is part of a contract, from near the contract’s end, between a merchant (“I” in the text) and a financier (“you”), who was apparently based in Alexandria; this contract accompanied a separate contract between them for a maritime loan “to Muziris.”2 Muziris was a port in the Malabar region of soutwest India (Kerala), which Periplus of the Red Sea, ch.56, from the mid-1st-century ce, says was visited by large ships from Egypt to acquire pepper and malabathrum (a cinnamon-like plant, whose leaves were pressed to make a perfume), and also pearls, ivory, silk, nard, and gemstones.


markets and fairs, Greek  

David Tandy

The single Greek word for market, agora, did not originally refer to a place for exchange; rather, it was a place for the gathering of chattel (as early as Linear B, e.g., Knossos Co 903) and of people. In Homer, the agora is strictly a place of gathering for political action, including military muster. The heroes in epic do not buy and sell; there are no regular markets for the acquisition of food and other necessary things. Heroes take what they want from neighbouring communities by raids. On the fringes of the narratives, however, Homer reveals the presence of one-time or spot markets, most clearly at Iliad 7.467ff.:

Many ships from Lemnos filled with wine lay at anchor, which Jason’s son Euneos had sent … On the side Jason’s son gave the Atreidae Agamamnon and Menelaos a thousand measures of wine to carry off. There the flowing-haired Achaeans got wine, some with skins, others with whole cows, others with spear-captives. And they threw themselves a jolly feast.


textile production  

Miko Flohr

Textile production was a central part of everyday life in the Greco-Roman world, both in cities and the countryside. In the Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, increasing urbanization and acculturation transformed dress practices throughout the Mediterranean and created a more complex manufacturing economy, even if not all textile production was market oriented. Textiles were mostly of wool and linen, though other materials, including cotton and silk, also existed. Raw materials were prepared and then spun into yarn using simple, handheld tools. Weaving was mostly done on upright, weighted looms, but loom design began to show increasing variation in the Roman Imperial period, reflecting innovation that served to increase the quality of the output rather than productivity. While textile production had a strong basis in household production for personal needs, there are some signs of increasing professionalization, and it is clear that, particularly in the Roman imperial period, there was a significant (and unprecedented) trade in textiles over longer distances. At the same time, textile production, and particularly spinning and weaving, remained of enormous cultural significance and contributed enormously to the personal identities of men and, especially, women.


economy, Roman  

Annalisa Marzano

The Roman economy was preindustrial, and most of the population was engaged in agricultural production. Agriculture and household production were salient features of the economy, along with urbanization, taxation, market exchanges, and slavery. Roman economic history is usually divided into three major chronological periods: the Republic (509 bce–31 bce), the principate (31 bce–c. 284 ce), and the late empire (late 3rd–6th centuries ce). The Republican period was characterized by significant territorial expansion and the acquisition of vast amounts of wealth in the form of booty. The principate is when one can consider economic developments in Roman Italy and the provinces and investigate the empire as an economic system. The late empire was marked by increasing state interventionism.By “Roman economy,” we refer to the economic system created by the geographical expansion of the political power of Rome in the Republican era and maintained until its gradual transformation in late antiquity. As in all other preindustrial economies, .


slavery, Greek  

David Lewis

Our earliest glimpses of slavery in Greece are afforded by Linear B tablets from the Bronze Age. Following the collapse of the palatial institutions, slavery disappears from view; but when we catch sight of it again in the Homeric epics and in Hesiod’s Works & Days, it appears as an important and entrenched feature of society. Our evidence again becomes patchy for the late archaic period, before a mass of evidence pertaining to the classical era (mainly focused on Athens) affords us a much more granular knowledge of slavery and its role in society. Literary evidence for slavery becomes thinner as we move into the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but this deficiency is remedied by a profusion of inscriptions and papyri.Slavery is the status or condition of a person subjected to the powers of ownership by some person, persons, state, or institution.1 Slavery first comes into view in Greece in .


maritime loans  

Dominic W. Rathbone

In the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, centred as they were on the Mediterranean, maritime transport was far more practical than land transport for long- and even medium-distance trade. Most ships seem to have been of medium size (around 70 tonnes burden) and to have been owned and run by a shipper who both carried goods as freight and traded on his own account. There were also many individual merchants who hired shipping as needed for their ventures. Then as now, the major expense in trading was the investment in purchasing goods; roughly, one cargo of wheat was worth as much as the ship. Hence a merchant, whether or not also a shipowner, often needed third-party finance, for which, because of the peculiar risks involved, a special type of loan was used. This was the maritime loan—nautikon daneion in Greek, nauticum faenus or mutua pecunia nautica in Latin.The maritime loan is first attested in 4th-century bce Athens, in four speeches attributed to Demosthenes, of which the most informative is the prosecution of the brother of a pair of merchants for fraudulent default on a loan (Dem.


associations, Roman  

Koenraad Verboven

Voluntary associations are attested already in early republican times, but they became important especially during the late Republic. Their role in street politics in the 1st century bce led to a general ban and lasting imperial apprehension. Yet by the mid-2nd century ce, important collegia were an essential part of urban public life, participating in processions and ceremonies and having reserved seats in (amphi)theatres. The three central activities of all associations were shared dinners, religious cults, and funerary practices. Religious (and) neighbourhood-based collegia prevailed during the Republic. Professional associations became more important during the Principate as authorities began to use them to facilitate and supervise public works and provisions (particularly for the annona), and for levying taxes. Some collegia received privileges and had extensive funds and property. Professional collegia continued to be important at least until early Byzantine times. Imperial control intensified in late antiquity, but the overall legal framework hardly changed.


shops and shopping  

Claire Holleran

Almost all inhabitants of the ancient world were dependent to varying degrees on retailers to supply them with at least some food items, raw materials, or manufactured goods, and this was particularly true of urban inhabitants. While the amount of built commercial space increased in the Hellenistic period and was a particular feature of Roman urban centres, we cannot trace a simple linear development from periodic markets through to permanent shops. Instead the retail trade remained varied throughout antiquity, consisting of periodic and permanent markets, shops and workshops, and street stalls and ambulant hawkers, all of which performed complementary roles within an integrated network of distribution. The size of the local market, however, inevitably had an impact on the organisation of the retail trade, with increased specialisation and clustering of trades possible in larger urban centres, where a wider range of products was typically available to the consumer and capital investment in dedicated commercial space was encouraged by the level of demand for goods. Ancient shopping was an immersive and interactive experience. Prices fluctuated in response to market pressures and were very often arrived at through haggling and bargaining. Markets, shops, and streets were as much places of social interaction as they were of shopping, and men and women mixed freely as both buyers and sellers. Advertising and marketing may have been rudimentary, but the attempts by retailers to maximise sales contributed to the colorful and vibrant nature of the ancient commercial environment; the open doorways of shops and workshops facilitated interaction between those inside and outside, and goods, sellers, and customers often spilled out onto the street, while painted notices and signs displayed goods for sale, and the distinctive shouts of sellers competed loudly for the attention of potential customers.



Jean Andreau

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 bce and the 3rd century ce, professional bankers regularly participated in these private auctions by providing credit to the buyers.An auction is a procedure consisting of a public competition between several potential buyers. It was a common practice in Greco-Roman antiquity. The object being sold was awarded to the highest bidder, and he alone paid the object’s full price to the seller. Scholars do not know when auctions first began. They are well attested in the Classical Greek period, as well as in the Hellenistic world and in Rome. In Roman Italy, Plautus and Cato the Elder (in .