The Roman empire

"At Romae ruere in servitium consules patres eques"

Tacitus, Annals, 1,7,1. (Describing the adulation of Tiberius at the death of Augustus).

[Meanwhile at Rome people plunged into slavery - consuls, senators, knights. The higher a man's rank, the more eager his hypocrisy, and his looks the more carefully studied, so as neither to betray joy at the decease of one emperor nor sorrow at the rise of another, while he mingled delight and lamentations with his flattery.]

"If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honour of restoring the republic had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom."

Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Lecture notes, Rome

Required readings:

(42 pages)

  • Hopkins "On the Political Economy of the Roman Empire". I have reproduced the article in Word with numbered sections so that you can save time in reading. Browse the whole article, and then concentrate on the distribution of wealth, the budget and the army. You may skip the section on economic growth. (15 pages)
  •  Malmendier, U. (2009). "Law and Finance 'at the Origin'," Journal of Economic Literature47, 1076-1108. Required readiing only Section 2.2, 2.3 (skim), and 2.4. (8 pages). For the complete paper, see here.

Other readings:

  • Map of the Roman Empire
  • Letters of Pliny the Younger All the letters between Pliny and Trajan can be read (book X), in english, on this site. The letters for Assignment 1 were selected as the only directly related to the public finances in Bithynia. But the letters before 110 illustrate the personal relation between Pliny and the emperor and how personal relations with state officials may have been important for one's personal gains in the Roman empire. The letter on the Christian is letter 97.

Additional references

  • The inventory of the Roman army at the time of Augustus by Tacitus.
  • Hopkins (1995).  "Rome, Taxes, Rents and Trade". This article is a follow-up, and to some extent a correction of a previous article (1980 below). I do not recommend this article anymore. Interesting and useful because thoughts-provoking (as much of Hopkins), but the central idea that Rome used fiscal and especially monetary policy to keep the cohesion of the Roman Empire is, for an economist who is confronted with the data, just wrong.

Keith Hopkins : You will notice immediately that Keith Hopkins's style is invigorating, unexpectedly so from a historian. He was controversial, obviously. I like him more for the stimulation than for his reliability. He clearly enjoys to "épater le bourgeois".