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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: March 2008

22 - The Early Roman Empire: Consumption

from Part VI - The Early Roman Empire
Roman society of the early empire presents a confusing and ambiguous image that we cannot easily situate in unidirectional accounts of European economic history. Clearly, public monuments in marble or other precious stone, military security, the urban food supply, roads, aqueducts and gladiatorial games testify to public consumption on a grand scale. On the other hand, the signs of poverty, misery, and destitution are no less obvious. Many inhabitants of the Roman empire only eked out a meager living, their skeletons grim testimonies to malnutrition and disease. Growth occurred because the wealth of the elite may have been a sign of effective exploitation of the poor. Roman National Income was indeed larger than that of any preindustrial European state. One of the requirements for an economy is to provide enough subsistence for its population to survive. The economic and social achievements of pre-industrial societies can be measured if standard of living of the masses exceeds bare subsistence levels.
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