An analysis of what factors made a Roman province prosperous.
Baetica, the present-day region of Andalusia in southern Spain, was the wealthiest province of the Roman Empire. Its society was dynamic and marked by upward social and economic mobility, as the imperial peace allowed the emergence of a substantial middle social and economic stratum. Indeed, so mutually beneficial was the imposition of Roman rule on the local population of Baetica that it demands a new understanding of the relationship between Imperial Rome and its provinces.
Baetica Felix builds a new model of Roman-provincial relations through a socio-economic history of the province from Julius Caesar to the end of the second century A.D. Describing and analyzing the impact of Roman rule on a core province, Evan Haley addresses two broad questions: what effect did Roman rule have on patterns of settlement and production in Baetica, and how did it contribute to wealth generation and social mobility? His findings conclusively demonstrate that meeting the multiple demands of the Roman state created a substantial freeborn and ex-slave "middle stratum" of the population that outnumbered both the super-rich elite and the destitute poor.
- Glossary of Technical Terms
- One. Rural Settlement and Production in Baetica, c. 50 B.C.-27 B.C.
- Two. Baetica Pacata
- Three. The Julio-Claudian Experience
- Four. The Flavian Impact: The Evidence Surveyed
- Five. The Flavian Impact: An Analysis
- Six. Wealthy Baetici
- Seven. The Nature of Economic Growth in Roman Imperial Baetica: A Theoretical Perspective
- Eight. Conclusions
This book is a social and economic history of the Roman province of Baetica from Augustus to the Severan emperors. It represents also a contribution to the complex debate over the nature of the Roman economy. Those reflections on the Roman economy published in recent years that have helped to frame this study conceptually include the essays of Whittaker, Parkins, and others in Parkins' Roman Urbanism, as well as works by Harris, Jongman, and Pleket. They touch on, among other things, the problems of the role of the (consumer?) city, the nature of exchange, the primitiveness versus modernity of the ancient economy, consumption, labor, and the conceptualization of the ancient economy. A summary of the historical debate on the nature of the Roman and ancient economy in general, extending from the primitivist-modernist opposition of Bücher and Meyer, the substantivist position of Polanyi and his school, the legacy of Moses Finley and genesis of the ”New Orthodoxy,” and the tenets of the school of Gramsci represented by Carandini, Schiavone, and others, is neatly laid out by Molina Vidal in his study of trading contacts between Hispania Citerior and Italy in the late Republican and early imperial periods. Also worth careful study is Neville Morley's Metropolis and Hinterland.That book summarizes exhaustively the history of investigation into, and theoretical approaches to, the ancient economy in general, and Roman economy in specific. Morley propounds the “New Orthodoxy” and argues that within the constraints of a preindustrial economy, Rome did witness some growth in the central period of its history.
To what degree the needs of the central state in the form of taxes or the needs of the city of Rome and army in the shape of foodstuffs and supplies were responsible for this undoubted growth is a controversial matter. Noneconomic or only indirectly economic factors may have been, in part, at work in Hispania. A principal argument in this book is that Rome's bestowal of municipal and colonial status--but particularly the former--in Further Spain and in the province of Baetica that emerged from it under Augustus also generated economic growth for a variety of reasons, not least of which were the extraordinary financial demands--social in origin as much as economic--that municipalization imposed on the elite members of new municipia, in addition to potential elite members of Baetican communities.
Cui bono? Whom did the Roman economy benefit? Both critics and advocates of the “New Orthodoxy” hold that the mass of the population during the Principate lived at or just above subsistence. This notion is part of the widespread conception that the Roman economy during the Principate was underdeveloped. Proponents of this view argue with bravura: even classical economic analysis is brought in to argue that the imperial period saw little or no gain in labor productivity--certainly not enough to matter to the mass of the population. No evidence shows a rise in real per capita Gross Domestic Product during the Principate, and return on capital investment was stymied in part by a considerable number of slaves living at subsistence, and overall by lack of demand. The old minimalist versus maximalist debate is now eclipsed: the Roman economy was productive, on the whole, to a marvelous degree; was sophisticated in many respects; and generated complex patterns of commerce. A common assumption is that the wealth of the Roman world created splendid urban centers and urban-based elites, whose affluence rested on the "sufferings of the low-in-status." City-dwelling landowners siphoned off the resources of the town's territory and peasantry, chiefly in the form of rents, unequally imposed taxes, and grain requisitions. With limited resources and capacity for growth, Roman society came to a peculiar form of accommodation by which social inequalities and wealth disparity were largely immutable. Possibilities for social mobility existed but were restricted largely to freedmen and their descendants. Even the apparitores, adjutants to senatorial magistrates, who were frequently freeborn but of sub-decurional status, owed their social mobility to their relationship with, and access to, the powerful. They were also a minute percentage of the total Roman population.
A notable exception to the prevailing view is that of Engels, whose optimistic estimate of an average peasant surplus of 50 percent is based on what is, on the face of it, an inapposite use of a passage from Aristotle to describe the situation of peasants in the Roman imperial period. L. A. Thompson, drawing on the testimony of authors such as Strabo and Pliny the Elder, underscores the anachronistic notion of development versus underdevelopment as applied to antiquity. In terms of ancient, elite values, a province such as Baetica stands as developed: the main yardstick here is the proliferation of city-units and their sophistication. But even Thompson speaks of the essential exploitative nature of the Pax Romana, by which local elites used the provincial peasantry to satisfy their material wants; and he can characterize Roman society in the western provinces as marked by a widening "social and economic distance between the local aristocracy and the exploited peasant masses." Harl, in his survey of coinage in the Roman world, expresses a certain skepticism about the underdevelopment model and envisages the common use of coins as a medium of exchange even in rural contexts, but, in the end, he writes in general terms only about the "wealthy" or "richer" versus "humbler" or "poorer" elements in society. Did most peasants in southern Hispania have only a minimum of disposable income? Who are the peasants in Baetica? This book has as its central aim the elucidation of a variant of the “New Orthodoxy,” namely not only that the Roman world witnessed growth in the later Republic and early Principate, but also that in the province of Baetica, economic growth benefited the mass of the nonslave and ex-slave population in the form of income growth and increase in nonliquid wealth. A principal tenet of this study is that nonsenators, nonequestrians, and nondecurions in Hispania Ulterior Baetica created wealth both for themselves and for their social superiors.
This book first attempts to sketch in outline the material impact of Rome on Baetica in the form of the pattern of rural settlement and production. The spread of Roman-style rural settlement in Baetica during the early Principate is a physical manifestation of the generalized growth that the Roman economy experienced from c. 50 B.C. to A.D. 200. And rural settlement along Roman lines in Baetica was complemented by the progressive intensification of production. Rural settlement and production are interconnected problems that cannot be fully understood in isolation. This book will elucidate both phenomena in detail.
Second, this study will tackle the related questions of who built these new settlements, who benefited from this production, and why. The core argument of this book is that rural landowners and tenants not only represent the senatorial, equestrian, or decurional orders in Baetica but also include a broad ”middle stratum,” the freeborn component of which can be assigned the shorthand label of the municipal juror class, that is, those persons--including viri honesti outside the ordo (described below) and the descendants of freedmen--whose birth, moral repute, and property qualification, ranging from a modest 5,000 sesterces to the ducenarian census of 200,000 sesterces, permitted them to serve as local jurors in noncapital cases. It is best to write ”middle stratum' because no contemporary scholar invokes a ”middle class,” that is to say, a clearly defined intermediate group in the Roman world with independent economic resources or social standing. Modern scholars generally will only go so far as to categorize persons of free birth below the level of decurions as heterogeneous in composition and sizable in number. A principal aim of this study is to justify the invocation, if only in a heuristic manner, of the expression ”middle stratum” or, alternatively, ”middle layer” in connection with the society of Baetica in the early and middle Principate. This book's concern is with wealth and income and their distribution: from this perspective, the ”middle stratum” in Baetica ought to encompass both the freeborn and ex-slaves, and refer indiscriminately to individuals with property ranging in value from 5,000 to 200,000 sesterces. In this sense, it would be perfectly legitimate to speak of middle-income earners in the early Roman Empire. But the Romans did not think in terms of the ”middle class,” ”stratum” or ”sort,” or even of ”middle-income earners”--hence the emphasis in this study is on honesti, whose membership extended beyond decurions and local magistrates. Let another scholar be the torch-bearer for Harris' interesting reorganization of the society of the Roman world into three social classes, namely those who were politically active and whose wealth came from the labor of slaves or other dependents; a "separate" class of those who, with a modicum of land or other resources, such as a shop, and relying on their own labor, succeeded in earning an independent survival, but whose political power was slight; and a third class of mercenarii, dependent labor, and almost all slaves. Chapter Six will devote some words to the problematic nature of Harris' scheme. Is this to deny the economic importance and potentially sizable number of prosperous freedmen in Hispania? Not at all. But freedmen in Hispania are a comparatively well-known phenomenon. By comparison, viri honesti outside the ordo are scholarly terra incognita.
What does the expression ”vir honestus” mean in the context of Baetica? To anticipate the more detailed discussion in Chapter Seven, the Lex Irnitana of the late first century A.D. makes it clear that at Irni (Molino del Postero, El Saucejo, Sevilla province), and probably throughout most of Baetica, viri idonei (= viri honesti) were any freeborn males who possessed a minimum census of 5,000 sesterces (see Map 1). The unassailable and highly radical conclusion follows that viri honesti throughout Baetica, on the standard estimation of an average 6 percent return on capital, were those with a yearly income that could be as low as approximately 300 sesterces, whether imputed or in coin, a figure that is roughly 2.6 times the estimated minimum subsistence income in the Roman world during the first two centuries A.D. These persons, and prosperous freedmen as well, are the particular beneficiaries of the generalized growth that the Roman world experienced during the Principate, growth that is nowhere more manifest than in the province of Baetica. And it is vital to emphasize, in the most forceful terms possible, that the municipal ”juror class” includes honestae feminae, that is, those women possessores and tenants whose wealth was on a par with or even, on occasion, exceeded that of decurionales (decurions and their families). The numbers of these reputable and wealthy women are appreciable, as will become manifest in any cursory look at the names of Baetican olive-oil producers and merchants. The municipal “juror class” obviously includes local iudices or jurors, whose wealth fell short of that required for entry into local town councils, and it also encompasses honesti possessing the wealth required of decurions but who remained outside the ordo. When I speak of honesti outside the ordo, I am referring to “middle stratum" males who did not become decurions or local magistrates.
The upper social and economic strata of the Roman Empire were defined through statute and fixed by custom, but they were not closed, immutable castes. The Roman economy during the early Principate was a generator of social mobility that elevated countless ex-slaves and their descendants into the upper strata of Roman society. The ”juror class” of Baetica embodies, therefore, both Romanized freeborn natives and descendants of Italian settlers, as well as the offspring of ex-slaves. The emphasis on income distribution may allow us to gauge the effects of Roman economic growth at the microscopic, provincial level of individuals and groups of persons in the communities and countryside of a core province of the Roman Empire during the early Principate. The focus on total wealth and, more importantly, income may permit the use of modern concepts of economic growth and analysis without side-stepping or dispensing altogether with the Romans' own self-conscious division of their society into the dichotomous categories of honesti and plebs. But even the seemingly innocuous notion of the ”middle stratum” or of middle-income earners will not carry conviction unless it can be argued that the aforementioned grouping of freeborn persons represented a substantial proportion of the total population of Baetica during the early Principate.
It is, unfortunately, impossible to know with exactitude what percentage of the provincial population the aforementioned grouping represents. As a working hypothesis, though, it may be reasonable to posit a component in Baetica of prosperous freeborn females, decurions, potential and serving municipal iudices with a sub-decurional census--the latter defined as those possessing a capital worth of between 5,000 and 20,000/25,000 sesterces, and honesti possessing the decurional census, but who remained outside the ordo, which comprised up to 25 percent of the total number of that province's inhabitants. The picture of the socioeconomic structure of Baetica's population in the earlier Principate that emerges in this study is thus at considerable variance with contemporary estimations of the makeup of the population in the Roman Empire as a whole. It is worth stating plainly, at this point, that Baetica during the reign of Trajan possessed a grand total of something in the order of 225-275 municipia and coloniae, each one of which on average possessed no more than roughly 1,000 to 3,000 free inhabitants and whose decurions alone, therefore, represented a substantial proportion of the total adult male population--certainly larger than the 2 percent posited for Africa by Duncan-Jones, and more in the order of 6 to 8 percent of the adult male population. Le Roux, certainly, takes Irni to be the average example of many Baetican communities in terms of number of inhabitants, and estimates a total population in that municipium of 1,500 to 2,000 individuals, out of which decurions constituted at most 5 percent of the dwellers. On the hypothesis of a maximum of 2,000 inhabitants in that community, it is thus possible to envisage up to 500 men, women, and children there who were honesti and honestae. As a preliminary point, the aforementioned group of males who were qualified to serve as local councilors and magistrates but who escaped this activity (honesti outside the ordo) also requires some elaboration.
To be sure, Garnsey has signaled the existence of this latter category of persons on the basis of the jurists as well as epigraphical evidence from North Africa and Asia Minor. It is likely, therefore, that a number of the Baetican negotiatores and possessores named or implied in the sources fall into that broad spectrum of persons whose census ranged from the 5,000 sesterces that we know from the Lex Irnitana was necessary for service as a municipal iudex to the 200,000 to 400,000 sesterces that, during the Principate, defined an individual as eligible for two of the (eventually) five panels of jurors serving at Rome. The merchants/shippers named in position beta in tituli picti, or painted inscriptions, of Dressel 20 oil-bearing amphoras, about whom more below, invariably possessed a capital worth in excess of 5,000 sesterces, and probably, in most cases, met the 20,000-25,000 sesterces census minimum posited by Le Roux, with great insight, as necessary for entry into the local ordo in most Baetican communities. Le Roux's figure, be it duly noted, is in line with Alföldy's estimate of a minimum decurional census of 20,000 sesterces in the small African municipia during the early Principate. A fortiori, those freeborn traders involved in the supply of staples to the city of Rome fall into the category of honesti outside the ordo, as their activity provided them immunity from civic munera (lit. "burdens")--uncompensated provisions of labor, services, or money. This immunity will have, as a practical matter, extended to freedom from service as local councilors and magistrates.
The preceding points require elaboration. Kruse was right to roundly criticize the author of this book for his defense of the notion of a ”middling class” in the Roman world against the view of Alföldy, who posits the dichotomy of the three aristocratic ordines, that is, senators, equestrians, and decurions on the one hand, and the plebs below on the other, of various categories and attainments. The defect of this writer's argument was its lack of terminological and conceptual precision. The cumulative evidence suggests that honesti and/or freeborn possessores outside local ordines decurionum in Hispania, and Baetica specifically, existed in appreciable numbers during the Principate. It is desirable to add, as it were, to Alföldy's model of Roman society, first, the horizontal category of honesti who were capable of serving as decurions but who remained outside the ordo, and second, those viri idonei, in the language of the Lex Irnitana, possessing a sub-decurional census, who made up, in substantial part, the ranks of jurors in Baetican communities. Le Roux makes the fine observation that it is precisely from this group of jurors that future decurions could be recruited. Mackie, following Garnsey (1970), acknowledges the conceptual possibility and actuality of honesti who were not decurions, but she is wrong, in my judgment, to categorically assert that local ordines in Spain, albeit of small size, "tended to embrace all resident citizens of social importance." The main problem is terminological, and it is on terminology, above all, that we must not get hung up. The Spanish inscriptions, to be sure, make a distinction between the plebs on one side and the ordo on the other. It is this language, one may judge, that led Mackie to conclude that the evidence for honesti outside the ordo is slight. This is to ignore Garnsey's very point that the terms decuriones and ordo--for him coextensive--could, in the jurists and in the inscriptions, be "regarded as representative of a wider group, composed of those with matching dignitas and honor in the community." It is precisely to this wider group that the Lex Irnitana makes explicit and unmistakable reference, as we shall see in Chapter Seven. To her credit, however, Mackie--a tough- and fair-minded scholar--noted the technically accurate distinction between honesti and plebs, citing Pliny (Ep. 10.79.3), a lawyer whose testimony on this point may surely be taken as definitive. F. Jacques and J. Scheid write, on the basis of Pliny (Ep. 9.5), that the "opposition la plus féconde" in Roman society was that between honesti and plebs. In this connection, Woolf's suggestion that villa owners in the territory of the Ambiani in Picardy constituted a class that extended beyond a hundred or so decurial families is welcome as an analogous argument to that of this book, as is his notion of broad elite strata in many Gallic societies. Less helpful, perhaps, is the same author's dualistic vision of emergent divides during the first century A.D. in Gaul between the "rich" and the "poor."
This study will go beyond a survey and analysis of the interlocking phenomena of settlement patterns, production, and social-juridical groups in Baetica in its attempt to identify explicitly those persons who prospered from the agricultural and mineral wealth of the province. As a practical matter, this entails the identification of Baetican landowners, tenants, and traders. In numerous instances they can be shown to be one and the same persons. And, mostly on the basis of nomenclature, it will be desirable to categorize possessores and traders in terms of juridical and social status. All of this will entail detailed prosopographical exposition, but the undertaking is necessary in order to substantiate the claim that honesti outside the ordo represented a substantial component of the Baetican population during the early Principate. It may be mainly the vagaries of the documentation that promote the notion that traders were an independent category of the Roman population, somehow divorced from the prevailing landowning mentality of the Romans. But it is also possible to agree with Whittaker, echoing Finley, that the very rich senatorial elite, while maintaining a general interest in gain, was not directly involved in entrepreneurial capital profit. On the other hand, it is also possible that the aforementioned scholars apply too loosely the terms ”wealthy landowners” or ”elite landowners,” and, in consequence, deny the more or less direct participation in negotia by any and all substantial Roman landowners and/or tenants, in general, below the level of senatorials. A typical statement in this regard is that of Harris, who notes that in the western empire, "merchants seldom seem to have possessed even curial status." The question remains, to be tackled, among others, by this book: Who are Roman traders in the West? In this regard, it may be pertinent, however briefly, to address the question of the ”typicality” of Trimalchio.
The question of traders and their identity raises large issues concerning the population and socioeconomy of Baetica from c. 50 B.C. to A.D. 200. This book will not shy away from these larger problems. But its conclusions and implications may be relevant for other areas and provinces of the Roman world, particularly the western and central portions. Thus the experience of Baetica in the early Principate may serve as a test case applicable to certain "core" parts of the empire, such as coastal Tarraconensis, Narbonensis, Italy, and proconsular Africa. The nature and importance of trade to, within, and from Baetica will also be a subject of concern in this study. It therefore will not be possible to address the more general question of the importance of trade in the Roman world, that is, to what degree trade was tied or administered and to what degree it represented the play of the free market and the forces of unfettered supply and demand. But it may be pertinent to spell out some assumptions concerning the Roman economy that underlie many of this book's conclusions. For example, it assumes the essential soundness of the view, albeit debatable in certain of its details, that much, if not most, long-distance seaborne trade in the Roman Empire, at least in its western portions, from the reign of Claudius on, was stimulated by the state for the various purposes of the supply of the plebs of Rome or the army. Wickham has made the same point, in his review of Società Romana e Impero Tardoantico III, that the extent and scale of commercialization--he has in mind African olive oil--depended "in the last analysis on the presence of a state that needed to move goods for its own ends," and that the role of the state was, above all, to push a few products such as oil and pottery from the level of intraregional commerce to a truly pan-Mediterranean plane. Computer simulations modeling the distribution of various commodities, including olive oil, wine, and fish sauces, according to transportation costs and the location of centers of production suggest nonmarket or redistributive mechanisms at work in the diffusion of Baetican olive oil and fish sauce in the Roman West. More problematic, it seems, is Whittaker's insistence that much long-distance trade represents the efforts of senatorials and equestrians to supply their slave familiae and clients in the urbs and environs from their own properties. In the case of the Baetican olive-oil export, the preceding notion is questionable, because the painted inscriptions on oil-bearing Dressel 20 amphoras reveal a host of traders, many of whom are named and discussed in Chapter Six, dealing in the oil of named, mostly unrelated tenants and/or landowners who are not obvious senatorials or equestrians. To salvage Whittaker's thesis in the case of the oil trade would be to assume to the point of special pleading that the names of possessores and/or tenants on the amphoras represent, for the most part, the tenants of absentee senatorial or equestrian proprietors, and that proposition goes beyond, and even against, the available evidence.
Be that as it may, private individuals still thereby became wealthy, not least through the commerce and sale of supplementary cargoes whose distribution may have been subsidized by the transport, partly at the behest of the Roman state, of high-density, high-value cargoes in the form of precious and semi-precious metals or indispensable cargoes such as grain. It is worth stating plainly at this point that Harris has arguably misunderstood the terms of the debate on Roman trade in driving a hard and fast distinction between the ”redistributive” economy and the ”market” with regard to the supply of the city of Rome. The presence of concessions and incentives to traders and domini navium who entered into specific, contractual relations with the fiscus, as Sirks reminds us, from at the least the reign of Claudius onward plainly means that a substantial number of private traders and possessores were not responding to pure market forces in deciding to participate in the supply of the plebs and urbs. The same criticism may fairly be leveled against Paterson, who characterizes the Roman economy during the early Principate as a free-market one, without taking into account the factor of transport subsidies, whether direct or indirect. Temin is similarly silent on nonmarket factors at work in the supply of the city of Rome and the army during the early Roman Empire. In addition, it remains possible to disagree with Remesal's assertion that olive oil came to Rome from the reign of Augustus onward as a tributary item. But the lamentable reality is that it is not possible to disprove Remesal's thesis; at the same time, though, Liou and Tchernia are surely justified to insist that the names of mercatores painted on the sides of Baetican olive-oil containers--about which much more below--represent "les noms des commerçants qui ont acheté les amphores et leur contenu et en assurent l'exportation." A premise of this book is that the Roman economy in the West during the Principate represents a ”subsidized market economy,” for want of a neater expression or term.
This study does not pretend to be exhaustive in the detailing, rehearsing, and exposition of every published item of archaeological interest in Hispania Ulterior Baetica. Nor does this book aim to supersede Thouvenot's monumental study of Baetica published in 1940. With the astounding explosion in archaeological survey, sondages, and emergency and systematic excavation within the confines of the province of Baetica since 1975, such an undertaking would be impossible. And it shall not be possible to adduce all the evidence for Baetican commodities in the Roman world outside Baetica. Nonetheless, this study will attempt to treat, if only summarily, most aspects of the production of goods and staples in Baetica within the period chosen. In that sense, part of the book's purpose is to complement and update the detailed overview of Baetican and Spanish production in Blázquez's study of the economy of Roman Spain, published in the late 1970s, and in the book on the economy of southern Spain under the Antonines, virtually unknown outside Spain, by Sánchez León. The reader will find, accordingly, detailed discussions of many facets of the economy and society of Baetica from the end of the Republic to the Severan dynasty in this book. The goal of this exercise, though, is to be as rigorously selective, accurate, and fair in the exposition of that detailed evidence, mainly archaeological and epigraphical, as is necessary to construct a model of the genesis and distribution of wealth and its relation to social mobility in Baetica that bears an approximate resemblance to the truth.
The first five chapters of the book will provide a diachronic overview of the political and administrative context for wealth creation in Further Spain between c. 50 B.C. and c. A.D. 200. They will also allude to the results of published archaeological surveys in Baetica and outline the physical impact of the Roman peace on Baetica in terms of the settlement pattern. And they will examine the general circumstances and specific forms of economic activity that enabled thousands of known and unknown Baetici from the late Republican period through the end of the Antonine period to enter into the ranks of senators, equestrians, and honesti, whether those in the ordo decurionum or those remaining outside town councils. Chapter Six will identify all those explicitly attested Baetican senators, equestrians, decurionals, honestae, and honesti outside the ordo, including possible local jurors, who can be directly or indirectly connected with negotia and/or specific wealth-making activity. Chapter Seven will consider the nature of economic growth in Baetica from the late Republican through late Antonine period from a theoretical perspective. And the same chapter will discuss in more detail the genesis and nature of the municipal "juror class" in the province. This chapter develops the hypothesis that the Roman peace elevated, in social and economic terms, not only those Baetici who pursued senatorial, equestrian, or decurional careers, but also viri honesti and feminae honestae in general. An eighth and final chapter sets out the principal conclusions of the study.
“By carefully identifying a ‘mid-spectrum’ population and then showing clearly how numerous and important they were in the Roman world, Haley makes an extremely sound, well argued, and well documented case for revising our basic concept of the organization of the free Roman social world. . . . His scholarship is absolutely first rate.”
Robert C. Knapp, Professor of Classics, University of California, Berkeley