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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


III. From the Union of Italy to the Subjugation of Carthage and the Greek States

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

Chapter XII - The Management of Land and of Capital


The Original Greek New Testament

» Contents of this Chapter

Roman Economics ||| Farming of Estates - Their Size ||| Management of the Estate - Object of Husbandry ||| Means of Husbandry - Cattle - Slaves ||| Other Labourers ||| Spirit of the System ||| Husbandry of the Petty Farmers ||| Pastoral Husbandry ||| Results - Competition of Transmarine Corn ||| Prices of Italian Corn ||| Revolution in Roman Agriculture ||| Decay of the Farmers - Culture of Oil and Wine, and Rearing of Cattle ||| Management of Money ||| Moneylending ||| Speculation of Contractors ||| Commerce - Manufacturing Industry ||| Management of Business by Slaves ||| Extent of Roman Mercantile Transactions - Coins and Moneys ||| Roman Wealth ||| Mercantile Spirit ||| Associations ||| Moneyed Aristocracy ||| Sterility of the Capitalist Question ||| The Capitalists and Public Opinion ||| Reaction of the Capitalist System on Agriculture ||| Development of Italy ||| Falling Off in the Population

Roman Economics

It is in the sixth century of the city that we first find materials for a history of the times exhibiting in some measure the mutual connection of events; and it is in that century also that the economic condition of Rome emerges into view more distinctly and clearly. It is at this epoch that the wholesale system, as regards both the cultivation of land and the management of capital, becomes first established under the form, and on the scale, which afterwards prevailed; although we cannot exactly discriminate how much of that system is traceable to earlier precedent, how much to an imitation of the methods of husbandry and of speculation among peoples that were earlier civilized, especially the Phoenicians, and how much to the increasing mass of capital and the growth of intelligence in the nation. A summary outline of these economic relations will conduce to a more accurate understanding of the internal history of Rome.

Roman husbandry(1) applied itself either to the farming of estates, to the occupation of pasture lands, or to the tillage of petty holdings. A very distinct view of the first of these is presented to us in the description given by Cato.

1. In order to gain a correct picture of ancient Italy, it is necessary for us to bear in mind the great changes which have been produced there by modern cultivation. Of the -cerealia-, rye was not cultivated in antiquity; and the Romans of the empire were astonished to rind that oats, with which they were well acquainted as a weed, was used by the Germans for making porridge. Rice was first cultivated in Italy at the end of the fifteenth, and maize at the beginning of the seventeenth, century. Potatoes and tomatoes were brought from America; artichokes seem to be nothing but a cultivated variety of the cardoon which was known to the Romans, yet the peculiar character superinduced by cultivation appears of more recent origin. The almond, again, or "Greek nut," the peach, or "Persian nut," and also the "soft nut" (-nux mollusca-), although originally foreign to Italy, are met with there at least 150 years before Christ.

The date-palm, introduced into Italy from Greece as into Greece from the East, and forming a living attestation of the primitive commercial-religious intercourse between the west and the east, was already cultivated in Italy 300 years before Christ (Liv. x. 47; Pallad. v. 5, 2; xi. 12, i) not for its fruit (Plin. H. N. xiii. 4, 26), but, just as in the present day, as a handsome plant, and for the sake of the leaves which were used at public festivals. The cherry, or fruit of Cerasus on the Black Sea, was later in being introduced, and only began to be planted in Italy in the time of Cicero, although the wild cherry is indigenous there; still later, perhaps, came the apricot, or "Armenian plum." The citron-tree was not cultivated in Italy till the later ages of the empire; the orange was only introduced by the Moors in the twelfth or thirteenth, and the aloe (Agave Americana) from America only in the sixteenth, century. Cotton was first cultivated in Europe by the Arabs. The buffalo also and the silkworm belong only to modern, not to ancient Italy.

It is obvious that the products which Italy had not originally are for the most part those very products which seem to us truly "Italian;" and if modern Germany, as compared with the Germany visited by Caesar, may be called a southern land, Italy has since in no less degree acquired a "more southern" aspect.

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