The secrets of economic success and the causes of failure
: the case of Imperial Rome

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The subject of this thesis is the economy of the Roman Empire from the beginning of the first through to the end of the third century AD. The approach taken is partly quantitative and draws on detailed quantitative research undertaken by scholars across a wide area. I concentrate the analysis on those few numbers which are likely to have the richest explanatory power and I consider the relationships between those numbers. The numbers analysed include the average amount of grain produced on a hectare of land, the size of the urban population, the average life expectancy and the silver content of the coinage. The approach also considers the institutions of imperial Rome, to the extent that they are relevant to economic achievement. 
I consider the structure of the economy of the Roman Empire in terms of the separation of town and country, the agglomeration of individuals in the towns and the connections between those towns. I map out the development of the economy over time with a discussion of the creation and destruction of its currency. 
I compare the performance of the economy of the Roman Empire with that of other economies by considering rural and urban productivity, trading activity, the infrastructure that supported trade and the knowledge base used in the production of goods and services. 
The question that this thesis addresses is the following: How well did the economy of imperial Rome perform in terms of the quantity and quality of goods and services produced relative to the technology available and in comparison, with medieval and later economies and which institutions contributed to or hindered economic achievement? 
I believe that the achievements of the Roman Empire in this period provide important lessons as to what is possible in economies generally and where some of the risks to economic success lie.
Date of Award1 May 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDominic Rathbone (Supervisor)

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