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Finances of the Roman Empire? Roman Economy

Finances of the Roman Empire? Roman Economy



my name is dr. al mcLaughlin and my subject is the Roman economy including trade beyond the Imperial frontiers I have published several books on this subject I am a member of the Council of the classical Association of Northern Ireland the question is how did the Romans finance their empire modern historians have estimated the expense cost of the Roman Empire using ancient information about pay rates army size and other outlays it is calculated that the Roman government spent about a thousand million sesterces per year on its essential costs that is a billion sesterces the main expense was the cost of maintaining about 30 legions and up to 300,000 professional soldiers in full-time military service it is estimated that up to half of Roman spending was on the military forces needed to defend and control the empire this is understood but how did the Romans raise the funds needed to pay these costs in the time of the Emperor's the Roman regime was heavily reliant on international trade Finley's the elder who served in the Advisory Council of the Emperor Vespasian reported that a hundred million sesterces of bullion were exported from the Roman Empire every year to pay for products from Arabia India and China this export figure represented one but one-tenth of the finances needed to fund the entire Roman Empire the Romans encouraged this trade because in the short term Eastern Commerce created highly lucrative revenues for the imperial government the geographer strabo who was an associate of the Roman governor of Egypt provides further evidence for the scale of Eastern trade while on a tour with the governor Strabo learned that over a hundred and twenty Roman ships were selling every year from Egypt to India and Beyond evidence of the value of the cargo was returning from these distant trade dealings is given an illegal contract known as the MU sura spot iris this document records that a single Indian cargo brought back aboard a Roman trade ship called Dharma pollen was valued at almost nine million sesterces a fleet of a hundred and twenty Roman ships returning from India would feasibly have imported Eastern goods worth over 1 billion sesterces every year one thousand and eighty million sesterces the Romans imposed to 25 percent a quarter rate import tax called the tataki on all international goods crossing the Imperial frontiers so commerce on the scale must have raised at least 270 million sesterces for the Roman state every year this is between a quarter and a third of the revenues Rome required to maintain its Empire sustain its prosperity and pay for the legions this financial situation is confirmed by the surviving ancient evidence for Roman revenues the total revenues of the Republican state in the mid 1st century BC were about 340 million sesterces per annum when Julius Caesar conquered Gaul he imposed tribute of about 40 million sesterces on the newly subdued territories however the greatest surge in Imperial income came when the Emperor Augustus annexed Egypt a realm which had produced revenues of over 300 million sesterces for the Ptolemaic Kingdom by adding these figures together the total arrived at suggests that the Roman Empire must have been receiving over 680 million sesterces from its conquered territories additional income came from gold mines which produced up to 19 million sesterces of bullion per annum during periods of peak production during the second century the Romans also received up to 19 million sesterces from the Overland trade passing through the Syrian city of Palmyra which controlled a frontier route between Parthia and the Roman Empire but was Indian Ocean commerce that added the greatest total to Roman revenues tax is imposed on international trade passing through Egypt added a further 270 million sesterces to the Egyptian revenues and raised the income of the Roman Empire to more than a thousand million sesterces per year the historian Josephus was a client of the Flavian emperors and he confirms that Egypt provided annual revenues greater than 570 million sesterces for the Roman state this evidence confirms the value of international commerce and the importance of Eastern economies such as India and China in sustaining Roman prosperity this rendered the Roman Empire vulnerable to any serious disruptions to the flow of international commerce in the early 3rd century AD the Han Empire of ancient China was destroyed by Civil War and the Parthian realm the ruled Persia was violently overthrown because the economies of the ancient world had become financially interdependent these vents had an impact on the Roman Empire when Eastern economies collapsed the international trade routes that sustained Roman revenues suffered an irreversible decline between 235 and 284 AD the Roman Empire entered an era known to historians as the crisis of the 3rd century the military Anarchy or the Imperial crisis in a 50-year period there were over 25 claimants to the title of Emperor as the Roman army fought repeated civil wars to control the regime and maintain their finances to summarize the Roman Empire needed its trade with India and China to pay for regime costs on crucial military infrastructure over 1/4 perhaps a third of the revenues received by Roman government came from taxing the large-scale international commerce that was conducted with Eastern economies without continued trade with the distant East the Roman Empire was set on a course for long term financial decline for further information on this and other topics please see my academic monograph Rome and the deceased published in 2010 the Roman Empire the Indian Ocean 2014 and the Roman Empire the Silk Roads 2016 thank you you


Reader Comments

  1. I am constantly astonished at how such erudite scholars reliably discover that the great events of history are caused [i] by whatever is the liberal issue of the present day![i] When I was a youth deforestation cause the Fall, now it's Brexit. And all I can I do is post a meme of a angry space marine declaring "Contemporary Citation Needed"

  2. Very cool! I've heard this information over and over again from other sources, but never in such a concise way. Turns out that Rome fell not because of moral decline but because the Parthians and Chinese fell! But I wonder–could the opposite be true as well? Could political or economic turbulence in Rome have caused political schisms in Han China and the Parthian kingdom? Did Rome in at least some way contribute to these other nations' failures?

  3. I have old eyes and cant handle electronic books! Are there hard copies of your books to be had? I am in Belfast.

  4. Did the Romans and Chinese ever establish any direct connections? (either economically or diplomatically)

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