The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium

By Ian Morris; Walter Scheidel | Go to book overview

5
The Political Economy of the Roman Empire

Keith Hopkins


1. INTRODUCTION

The Roman Empire lasted as a single political system for five centuries and more. At its height, it stretched from the Black Sea to the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. This essay explores how the empire was governed, how its wealth was created, and how that wealth was distributed among competing elements of the population: the central government, the emperor, the aristocracy, the army, the city of Rome, municipal elites, peasants, and slaves.


2. ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION

By origin, the Roman Empire was an empire of conquest, one of a handful of empires which developed throughout the world in the golden millennium of empire formation and religious innovation (c. 550 B.C.E.–650 C.E.). This world-wide evolution of large preindustrial states depended crucially on three material innovations: the effective use of iron weapons and tools, writing, and money. Iron was used to conquer and plough. Writing was used to organize collectives of humans toward common objectives, both instrumentally and symbolically in spite of distances in space and time (for example, via written religious texts and law codes). Coinage (first introduced in large quantities into Rome in the third century B.C.E.) was used to store value and to reward, motivate and exploit subjects.

In this perspective, the Roman Empire represented only one further stage in the gradual evolution of states from tribes to kingdoms and from kingdoms to larger and larger empires. Rome was thus the grandchild of Mycenae and Troy and the heir of countless and now unknown warring tribes, which have left no epics or histories. Rome was also the immediate heir and beneficiary of important empires, such as Carthage (conquered in 202 B.C.E.), Macedon (conquered in 168 B.C.E.), Syria (63 B.C.E.), and Egypt (30 B.C.E.). Symptomatically, the first Roman emperor, Augustus (31 B.C.E.–14 C.E.), wore the image of that other great empire

-178-

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The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents ix
  • Contributors xi
  • 1 - Ancient States, Empires, and Exploitation Problems and Perspectives 3
  • 2 - The Neo-Assyrian Empire 30
  • 3 - The Achaemenid Empire 66
  • 4 - The Greater Athenian State 99
  • 5 - The Political Economy of the Roman Empire 178
  • 6 - The Byzantine Empire 205
  • 7 - Sex and Empire a Darwinian Perspective 255
  • Bibliography 325
  • Index 369
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