Rome's Eastern Trade: International Commerce and Imperial Policy, 31 BC-AD 305

Rome's Eastern Trade: International Commerce and Imperial Policy, 31 BC-AD 305

Rome's Eastern Trade: International Commerce and Imperial Policy, 31 BC-AD 305

Rome's Eastern Trade: International Commerce and Imperial Policy, 31 BC-AD 305

Synopsis

Gary K. Young's study offers unprecedented coverage of the major trading regions of Egypt, Arabia, Palmyra, and Syria, with detailed analysis of the routes used and of the roles of all the participants. He looks closely at the influence of the commerce in eastern goods both on the policy of the Roman imperial government, and upon local communities in the East itself. His findings contradict the standard view that the imperial government had a strong political interest in the eastern trade; rather its primary concern was the tax income the trade brought in. He also demonstrates the need for greater recognition of the efforts made by local authorities to exploit the trade to their own advantage.Incorporating the considerable archaeological research that has been undertaken in recent years, this comprehensive survey provides fresh insight into an important aspect of the eastern Roman Empire.

Excerpt

The long-distance trade in silk, spices and incense which was a feature of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire has long attracted attention, both from scholars and in more popular literature. This is perhaps not surprising, as the images of camel caravans laden with silk and spices, fabulously rich ‘caravan cities’ and ships making the long and dangerous journey from the Red Sea to India and back in search of Indian pepper and other goods have often excited the imagination of scholar and lay reader alike. Indeed, a number of general studies of the eastern trade of the Roman Empire have already been made, which might bring one to question the need for this work.

Many of the studies of the trade completed earlier in the twentieth century, however, place great emphasis on a view of a strongly proactive Roman policy toward the trade. Indeed, many more recent writers have followed this tendency as well. These views have put forward such ideas that the Romans tried to promote or encourage the trade, and especially to force non-Roman ‘middlemen’ out of the trade and to concentrate the trade into Roman hands. Such policies are envisaged as proceeding from the highest levels of government: on many occasions, commercial motives of this type have been posited as explanations for major military initiatives in the East, such as the annexation of the Nabataean kingdom in AD 106 or Trajan’s Parthian expeditions. In addition, Roman officials at both imperial and provincial levels are seen as deliberately encouraging the trade in some areas by the provision of facilities, or redirecting trade routes in order to weaken the commerce in other areas. One recent study, while retreating from such an extreme view of Roman involvement in the trade, has still suggested that the provision of facilities for the commerce is indicative of a direct imperial interest in the commerce and of a proactive trade policy proceeding from the imperial court.

Such views, however, have not been left unchallenged. In one particularly significant work on the topic, M.G. Raschke has questioned many of the assumptions which have been made about the Roman commerce with the East. His reappraisal of the commerce has emphasised the fact that the . . .

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