We use cookies on this site. By browsing our site you agree to our use of cookies. Close this message Find out more

Home > Classics home > Staff directory > CL3367: The Rise of the Roman Empire: An Economic and Social History
More in this section Richard Alstonpages

CL3367: The Rise of the Roman Empire: An Economic and Social History

Course description

Classical history used to be the history of texts. It used to be the history of great men doing great deeds. But the study of history changed and now we ask different questions: how does the world change? How is the world made? When one looks at what we have left from antiquity, we see its material remains. All over the Mediterranean and from Egypt to Britain, the Romans left marks of what we call their civilization. The material remains suggest a prosperity and population unmatched until the early modern era or even later. To understand those developments and the nature of Roman civilization requires a different form of history: no longer is history to be understood through the actions of emperors and the leaders of Roman society, but we start to see Roman history as developing through economic and social structures. This course examines how the Roman empire came into being, not as a political entity, but as a social and economic structure, the structure that is represented in the remains that cover those lands that formed that empire. Those remains represent a particular society and, in its most simple form, that population and that society needed feeding. The villas needed farming. The cities needed constructing. The poor needed food, the soldiers needed pay, the elites needed wealth. This course looks at how Roman society came into being from a materialist perspective. How do the Romans organise themselves to generate that prosperity? How was society organised to generate wealth? How was that wealth used to establish particular social and political forms? The course examines the workings of the workings of Roman society (and history) through the Roman economy. Sessions 1-3 consider issues of approach. We then look at population before considering urban and then rural economies. Looking at how urban societies functioned and how the villas especially operated to maintain societies dominated by a landed elite. In the final part of the course, we look at the relationship between state, politics, and economy and how the economy changed in the transition into late antiquity.

Course Outline

  1. Economic History or a History of Structures?
  2. The City: Economic Models and Model economies
  3. Urbanisation, acculturation, and economic growth
  4. Macro-Demographics: The Population of Roman Italy
  5. SEMINAR: Macro-Demographics and The Size of the Roman Imperial Economy
  6. Micro-Demographics: Families and Family Strategies
  7. Micro-Demographics: Families and Death
  8. Urban Economics: Pompeii: Household Economies
  9. Urban Economics: Rome: Shopping Centre
  10. SEMINAR: Urban economics: Cities of Roman Britain
  11. Urban Economics: Ostia
  12. Urban Economics: Oxyrhynchus
  13. SEMINAR: Rural Societies: Pliny and Roman Estate Management
  14. Rural Economics: Economics Growth and Cultural Change: Colonising the Desert
  15. SEMINAR: Settlements and Settlement Change (Regional Studies)
  16. Fiscal Structures: Imagining the Roman Imperial Economy
  17. SEMINAR: Fiscal Crisis and Roman Economics
  18. Into Late Antiquity: Settlement and Settlement Growth in Roman Syria
  19. Into Late Antiquity: Roman Egypt: Fragility and Resilience
  20. Catastrophes and Crises: The End of the Roman Economy?


Formative: Essay Plan

Summative Essay: To be handed in on a day in the Summer term agreed by the Department (2500 - 3000 words) (70%)

Group Work: To be handed in on a day in the Summer term agreed by the Department (30%)

Artifact Study

The project involves the study of an artifact or group of artifacts from a Roman imperial site and the presentation of the economic significance of the artifact/artifacts. In 2015-16, this will involve working with and in the Museum of London. It will be assessed from presentational materials developed so as to explain the artifacts to an audience of the general public.


Comment on this page

Did you find the information you were looking for? Is there a broken link or content that needs updating? Let us know so we can improve the page.

Note: If you need further information or have a question that cannot be satisfied by this page, please call our switchboard on +44 (0)1784 434455.

This window will close when you submit your comment.

Add Your Feedback