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Land and natural resources in the Roman World
Brussels, 2011, May Thu. 26th – Sat. 28thRoman Society Research Center
Further details on the conference and the wider research project of the
Roman Society Research Center can be found on www.rsrc.ugent.be)
In comparison with other pre-modern empires, the economic performance of
the Roman Empire (ca. 200 B.C. – A.D. 600) is impressive: not only were
living standards raised for the population at large, but the empire also
showed strong resilience and the ability to overcome economic crises. In
order to explain this remarkable success, recent work in Roman economic
history has placed particular stress on the analysis of economic
performance. Yet the economic foundation of any pre-industrial society,
namely agriculture and natural resource exploitation, has not yet received
the attention it deserves, notwithstanding some important recent work by
scholars such as Kehoe, Erdkamp, and Banaji.
The conference ‘Land and natural resources’, to be held in Brussel on May
26th-Sat. 28th, aims at studying in detail the varied ways in which the
Romans exploited their land and natural resources, how they reflected on
these usages, and how this contributed to the economic development of the
empire. We are interested not in performance per se, but in the structures
that made this performance possible.
‘Exploitation of land and natural resources’ should be understood in a
broad sense, ranging from the exploitation of uncultivated lands (e.g.
hunting and gathering), techniques to bring new land under cultivation, all
types of farming, mining and quarrying, to the harnessing of the power of
wind and water and techniques of irrigation. These cannot, however, be
studied in isolation. Wider economic and ideological developments need to
be included, in particular changes in agricultural structure (concentration
of land, management of holdings, attitudes of landowners etc.), changes in
the market (supply, demand, nature of trading channels) of agricultural
goods and natural resources, and changes in state structures (local
differences, the role of the tax system, the role of large landowners such
as the church); it also needs to be asked how these impacted on the
exploitation of the land and natural resources. In addition, ideological
factors, such as the idealization of agricultural labor in Roman society,
may have had a considerable impact on the exploitation of the land. The
conference thus does not wish to study the exploitation, processing and
distribution of various natural resources (agricultural and non-
agricultural) in isolation from each other, but in their interaction with
each other. We believe this integrative approach will greatly enhance our
understanding of the foundations of the Roman economy.
Keynote speakers include Dennis Kehoe. Elio Lo Cascio, Christer Bruun,
Analisa Marzano e.a.
We welcome proposals for 20 minute papers on any of the above topics.
Abstracts of 500 words should be submitted to Paul Erdkamp
(perdkamp AT vub.ac.be) or Koen Verboven (Koen.Verboven AT ugent.be) by Sept.
To enhance the coherence of the conference we ask you to choose one of the
The availability of natural resources
Natural resources (arable land, ores, fishing grounds, …) are unevenly
spread. Did access to natural resources matter in the long run ? Were
regions rich in resources more likely to experience economic growth or
Ownership and Control
Who enjoyed ‘rights of exploitation’ of natural resources ? What were these
rights were based upon (property rights, political control, custom…). Did
Roman ideas about social status influence definitions of rights of access
to and exploitation of natural resources (for instance, were sacred
properties, public lands, and private lands managed and exploited
Organisation and modes of exploitation
How was the exploitation of natural resources organized. What is the
implication of this for investment, productivity and the acquisition of
expertise? Is the State directly involved in the exploitation of mines,
quarries, forests, salt pans etc. (for instance through the army),
indirectly, or not at all ? How did all this develop over time?
Exploitation and processing of natural resources
Natural resources are rarely ‘ready at hand’ or ‘ready to use’. Their
exploitation requires an amount of know-how and investment in extraction
and processing facilities. We are not interested in technology per se, but
in whether and how innovations occurred, how technology spread, and how
skills were acquired. Who financed the necessary facilities ? How durable
were they ? How much expertise and expense was needed for upkeep?
The fruits thereof …
Who benefited from the exploitation of natural resources apart from the
direct consumers ? Did the profits accrue into the hands of private
entrepreneurs ? of middlemen or the state ? Did the latter profit through
taxation or as owner farming out the natural riches ? What was the role of
the market in this process ?