The Economy of Roman Palestine

The Economy of Roman Palestine

The Economy of Roman Palestine

The Economy of Roman Palestine


The Economy of Roman Palestine presents a description of the economy of the province of Judea-Palestina in the Roman era (AD70 to AD400) on the basis of a broad selection of primary rabbinic sources and a considerable volume of archaeological findings. The period studied is characterised by demographic growth and corresponding economic development. The work describes the agricultural and agrarian structure of the province, the pattern of settlement, trade, and other aspects, depicting an economy based to a great extent on an open market.


The Hasmonean kingdom was established in the Land of Israel at the end of the second century BCE and began a series of conquests which changed this small state into one of the most powerful political forces in the ancient Middle East. With the Roman conquest in 63 BCE, the Land of Israel became a vassal state which in the year 6 CE or a little before became Provincia Judaea. In 135 CE, after the Bar-Kochba revolt, the name of the province was changed to Palaestina (Palestine) or Syria-Palaestina. The boundaries of the province changed from time to time and took on a final form really only at the end of the first century CE. The province of Palestine was further divided in the fourth century CE into Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda. In spite of this administrative division, both Palestines continued to be basically one geographic-historical unit (Avi-Yonah 1963).

The Land of Israel is known in the history of mankind as the source, birthplace and original sphere of action of the great monotheistic world religions and as the “Holy Land” of Judaism and Christianity. None of this, however, resulted in political importance during the Roman period. The province of Judaea or Palestine was only about 18,000 sq. km and was a small and economically unimportant province. In spite of all this, the study of the economic history of Judaea during the Roman period is different by its very nature from the study of the same topic in any other province of the Roman Empire. The unique nature of the province was in a number of spheres.

(1) Almost no remains of great wealth have been found in the province of Judaea. The various public buildings which have been discovered were apparently not particularly elegant and their level of preservation is also not very high in comparison with other areas of the Empire (Tsafrir 1985). Thus, a number of farmsteads (or villae) have been discovered in the Land of Israel, but none as large or fancy as some of those found in other provinces such as Gaul, Germany or Britain (Chapter 1.V below). Moreover, very few inscriptions have been found in the Land of Israel which add important information to the study of the economic history of that land.

(2) In spite of all this, there has been a good deal of excavation of the rural

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