Rome and the Western Greeks, 350 BC-AD 200: Conquest and Acculturation in Southern Italy

By Kathryn Lomas | Go to book overview

7

Economic Developments and Agrarian Problems 200 BC-AD 200

Roman authors from Cicero onwards stress the impoverishment and desertion of contemporary Magna Graecia, in contrast to the previous wealth of the region. The entire area is said to be in decline, with many famous cities deserted or so impoverished as to be merely a shadow of their former selves. 1 The reasons why this must be regarded as literary topos rather than literal truth have already been discussed (see pp. 13-17), but this still leaves the problem of reconciling the literary and archaeological evidence. Certainly, the cities of Magna Graecia were less wealthy than had been the case in the fourth century, but an economic crisis in the second century BC is much more doubtful, even though there were major changes in the economy of all areas of Italy. 2 The assertion that Magna Graecia entered a period of total and irreversible decline must be rejected: archaeological evidence is casting increasing doubt on the notion of agrarian crises in the second century BC and first century AD. 3 This chapter does not aim to give a comprehensive analysis of the economic history of the region, which would require a book to itself, but will offer a brief summary of the main problems and issues.

Magna Graecia is a diverse area, and it is not possible to make broad statements covering all cities in the region. Some recovered, others continued to decline or were abandoned, while a small number flourished more markedly from the first century BC onwards than they had done previously. 4 Undoubtedly changes occurred in the economic basis of all these cities but these were frequently different in form and result, making it impossible to generalise. Our understanding of the economy of Magna Graecia has been greatly enhanced by the large number of recent excavations and surveys, but of necessity these have concentrated on the territories and cities which were abandoned. Many important centres are also the site of modern cities and have been continuously

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