Regional, inter-regional and international trade was a usual feature of the roman world. A mix of state control and also a free market strategy ensured goods created in one location might be exported far and wide. Cereals, wine and also olive oil, in particular, were exported in large quantities whilst in the various other direction came far-reaching imports of valuable metals, marble, and also spices.


Factors driving Trade

Generally speaking, similar to earlier and contemporary civilizations, the Romans gradually emerged a much more sophisticated economy following the development of an farming surplus, populace movement and urban growth, territorial expansion, an innovation innovation, taxation, the spread of coinage, and not insignificantly, the should feed the great city of Rome itself and also supply its huge army wherever it might be top top campaign.

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The economic climate in the Roman human being displayed functions of both underdevelopment and also high achievement. Facets of the former, some chroniclers have suggested (notably M.I.Finley), are:

a slow diffusion the technologythe high level of regional town intake rather than local tradea low level of investment in industry.

However, there is additionally evidence that from the second century BCE to the second century CE there to be a far-reaching rise in the relationship of workers associated in the production and services industries and greater trade in between regions in essential commodities and manufactured goods. In the later empire period, although profession in the eastern increased - engendered by the starting of Constantinople - trade in the western realm declined.

Those citizens rich enough to invest, frequently employed slaves, freedmen, & agents to regulate their service affairs.

The Roman mindset to trade was rather negative, at the very least from the greater classes. Land ownership and farming were extremely regarded as a resource of wealth and status but commerce and also manufacturing were viewed as a less noble search for the well-off. However, those rich sufficient to invest regularly overcame your scruples and employed slaves, freedmen, and agents (negotiatores) to regulate their service affairs and also reap the often large rewards of advertising activity.


Traded Goods

Whilst the archaeological evidence of trade have the right to sometimes it is in patchy and misrepresentative, a mix of literature sources, coinage and also such distinct records together shipwrecks help to create a clearer photo of simply what the Romans traded, in what quantity, and also where.

Trade involved foodstuffs (e.g. Olives, fish, meat, cereals, salt, prepared foodstuffs such together fish sauce, olive oil, wine and also beer), animal products (e.g. Leather and also hides), objects made from wood, glass, or metals, textiles, pottery, and materials for manufacturing and construction such as glass, marble, wood, wool, bricks, gold, silver, copper, and tin. Finally, over there was, of course, also the an extensive trade in slaves.


The fact that countless goods were developed as local specialities on regularly very large estates, for example, wine from Egypt or olive oil from southerly Spain, only increased the inter-regional profession of goods. The such large estates might produce a substantial surplus for profession is confirmed at historical sites throughout the empire: wine producer in southerly France v cellars qualified of save on computer 100,000 litres, one olive oil factory in Libya with 17 presses qualified of creating 100,000 litres a year, or gold mines in Spain developing 9,000 kilos of gold a year. Although communities were normally centres of usage rather than production, there to be exceptions where workshops could produce impressive quantities the goods. This "factories" can have been minimal to a maximum workforce of 30 but they were often collected together in extensive industrial zones in the larger cities and harbours, and also in the instance of ceramics, also in rural areas close to essential raw materials (clay and wood because that the kilns).

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Map of roman & Parthian trade Routes
Jan valve der Crabben (CC BY-NC-SA)
Sometimes trade goods complied with land courses such together the well-established Silk roadway or took trip by sea across the Mediterranean & Indian Oceans.
Goods were not just exchanged throughout the roman inn world, however, as bustling port such as Gades, Ostia, Puteoli, Alexandria, and Antioch additionally imported products from such far-flung locations as Arabia, India, southeast Asia, and also China. Sometimes these goods complied with land paths such together the well-established Silk roadway or took trip by sea across the Indian Ocean. Such global trade was not necessarily restricted to luxury items such as pepper, spices (e.g. Cloves, ginger, and cinnamon), coloured marble, silk, perfumes, and ivory, though, together the low-quality pottery uncovered in shipwrecks and geographical spread of terracotta oil lamps illustrates.

Transporting Goods

Goods were transported across the roman inn world however there to be limitations resulted in by a lack of land transfer innovation. The Romans are commemorated for your roads however in fact, that remained much cheaper to transport items by sea rather than by flow or land together the cost ratio was about 1:5:28. Nevertheless, it must be psychic that sometimes the means of transport was identified by circumstances and also not by choice and every three modes of transport grew substantially in the first and second centuries CE.


Although move by sea was the cheapest and also fastest an approach (1,000 nautical miles in 9 days) the could additionally be the riskiest - subject to the whims of weather and theft indigenous piracy - and also was restricted by the seasons as the duration between November and March (at least) was related to as being too unpredictable for for sure passage.

From the evaluation of over 900 shipwrecks from the Roman period the most typical size of merchant vessel had a volume for 75 loads of goods or 1500 amphorae however there to be bigger vessels qualified of carrying up to 300 tons of goods. One interesting instance is the 40s CE port Vendres II wreck located in the Mediterranean off the Spanish-French border. The cargo was taken native at the very least 11 various merchants and also contained olive oil, sweet wine, fish sauce, well pottery, glass, and also ingots that tin, copper, and lead.

State regulate of Trade

In the royal period, there was an excellent state control over profession in order come guarantee supply (the annona system) and also even a state vendor fleet, instead of the system during the Republic of paying subsidies (vecturae) to encourage exclusive shipowners. There was a certain official in fee of the grain it is provided (the praefectus annonae) that regulated the assorted shipowner associations (collegia navicularii). The state taxed the activity of goods in between provinces and likewise controlled many local markets (nundinae) - regularly held once a mainly - together the facility of a sector by a huge land-owner had actually to be authorized by the Senate or emperor.


The biggest state expenditure to be on the army, which compelled some 70% of the budget. The state"s apparatus of taxation to gain revenue might be taken into consideration a success in that, in spite of the taxation burden, local prosperity and economic growth were not unduly hampered.

Evidence of state regulate can be seen in the plenty of goods which were stamped or lugged markers denote their origin or manufacturer and in some instances guaranteeing their weight, purity or genuineness. Pottery, amphorae, bricks, glass, steel ingots (important for coinage), tiles, marble and also wooden barrels were usually stamped and also general goods for transportation carried metal tags or command seals. These measures assisted to regulate trade, carry out product guarantees and also prevent fraud. Inscriptions on olive oil amphorae were an especially detailed as they suggested the weight of the vessel empty and of the oil added, the ar of production, the surname of the seller transporting them and also the names and signatures of the officials who brought out this controls.

Trade was also carried out fully independent from the state, though, and also was favoured through the advancement of banking. Back banking and money-lending generally remained a regional affair over there are documents of merchants taking out a loan in one port and also paying it off in an additional once the products were delivered and also sold on. There is additionally abundant proof of a free-trade economy beyond the will of the empire and independent that the bigger cities and army camps.


Whatever the exact economic mechanisms and proportion of state to private enterprise, the range of trade in the Roman people is hugely impressive and also no other pre-industrial culture came also close. Such mundane practical items together amphorae or oil lamps were created in their millions and it has actually been approximated that in Rome alone the quantity of oil traded to be 23,000,000 kilograms per year whilst the city"s yearly wine intake was well over 1,000,000 hectolitres, most likely nearer 2 million. These kinds of numbers would no be checked out again until industrialisation swept the arisen world long after roman traders had closed their audit books and been forget by history.

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Mark is a background writer based in Italy. His one-of-a-kind interests encompass pottery, architecture, world mythology and also discovering the concepts that all worlds share in common. That holds one MA in politics Philosophy and also is the posting Director at WHE.