Roman industrial development was shaped by a number of factors that were overcome some time ago in the western world. As a consequence, the structure of Roman industry requires some explanation before one can fully appreciate the attraction the frontier exerted upon the manufacturers of the period.
Roman society was based upon slave labor, and a significant portion of the population--the slaves--was therefore almost entirely without purchasing power. Although there were numerous instances of masters allowing their slaves to earn money, this was the rare and urban exception rather than the rural rule. The mass of Roman slaves were agricultural or mining workers who were worked in large gangs, housed in barracks, and fed at a common mess. The Romans had long been accustomed to the constant replenishment of the slave population by the prisoners of successful wars and were not much concerned with the rate at which the physical ability of their laborers declined or whether they reproduced at a rate sufficient to maintain a stable supply of enslaved manpower. Although the Roman slave structure was complex, by and large the Romans appear to have worked their unskilled slaves to death rather rapidly, and secured replacements from conquered peoples.
This meant not only that a significant portion of the population was chronic underconsumers and thus limited the growth of internal markets for manufactured goods, but also that Roman society was