marjaerwin: (Default)
I went over the figures again, comparing info for slaves's rations as well as soldiers's rations. I don't know the appropriate price for olive oil, but I suspect that it was higher, and I suspect the slave population was even higher, than my last estimate.

(In case it wasn't clear, I think it is important to understand the size and structure of Roman slavery in order to study resistance to it.)

Roman Diet and Roman Slave Populations, 200 B.C.E. to 300 C.E.

Surviving Roman and Hellenistic sources suggest that agricultural slavery was strongly associated with certain industries, including wine and olive oil in the food industries, both cash crops, and wool in the clothing industry. Surviving Roman sources list rations for Roman slaves, and Jonathan Roth reconstructs rations for Roman soldiers, and surviving late Roman sources list the prices for Roman foods, which strongly suggest the relative labor requirements for growing and processing these foods.

Since the Roman Republic exported wine and imported grain, the relative labor requirements probably understate the relative number of slaves.

Since the Roman Republic was a pre-industrial society, the food industries were the largest part of the economy, and the proportion of slaves in the food industry, keeping in mind probably higher proportions of slaves in the clothing industries and certain other industries, should indicate the proportion of slaves in the entire economy.

Jonathan Roth's Reconstruction of Military Rations

Jonathan Roth offers the following reconstruction of the daily ration:

1. Grain 850 g/day 2 sextarii
or Bread 850 "
or Biscuit 650 "
2. Meat 160 1/2 libra
3. Vegetables 40-50 1/3 sextarius
4. Cheese 27 1 uncia
5. Olive Oil 40 1 1/2 unciae
6. Wine 160 1/2 sextarius
or Vinegar 160 1/2 sextarius
7. Salt 40 ?

Of course soldiers were not expected to support dependents out of these rations.

Ulrike Roth's Reconstruction of Slave Rations

Cato offers the following figures for the daily rations:

1. Wheat av. 900 g/day 3-5 modii per month, just over 1 1/2-2 1/2 sextarii per day
3. Vegetables ? sparingly
5. Olive Oil ? sparingly
6. Wine av. 160 1/2-1 1/2 sextarii per day
7. Salt ? 1 modius per year

Ulrike Roth suggests that the workers were expected to support dependents out of these rations.

Early and Late Imperial Prices for these Rations

Diocletianus's edict on maximum prices is the best available source for relative prices in the Roman Empire. It dates to the late Roman Empire, so we would have to adjust for hyperinflation to estimate nominal prices in the early Roman Empire or the late Roman Republic. For the ingredients listed above:

1. Grain 100 d/camp modius for wheat, and 6 d/camp modius for barley; assuming wheat
2. Meat 12 d/libra for pork, and 8 d/libra for beef; assuming beef
3. Vegetables 60 d/camp modius for beans and lentils
4. Cheese 8 d/libra for fresh cheese
5. Olive Oil 24 d/sextarius for ordinary olive oil
6. Wine 8 d/sextarius for ordinary wine
7. Salt 100 d/camp modius for salt (?)

1. Grain 850 g wheat 8.33 d/day, late 0.44-0.50 s/day, early Empire
2. Meat 160 g beef 4.00 d/day
3. Vegetables 40 g lentils 1.25 d/day
4. Cheese 27 g cheese 0.67 d/day
5. Olive Oil 40 g olive oil 3.00 d/day (?)
6. Wine 160 g wine 4.00 d/day
7. Salt 40 g salt 0.40 d/day (?)

A soldier's ration cost about 21.65 denarii/day in Diocletianus's time, or 1.21 sestertii/day in Augustus's time. Army records from Aegyptus from 81 C.E. suggest that soldiers had about 0.66 sestertii/day deducted to cover rations, which would be below cost. A slave's ration was probably cheaper, if it had less or no meat.

About 32% of the cost of the soldier's ration came from the wine and olive oil industries associated with slave labor. Given the similar amounts of wine in soldiers' rations and slaves', and the unknown amounts of olive oil in slaves', it is likely that these were typical diets for most Italians. And given that the Romans exported wine and imported grain and various other foods, it is likely that more than 32% of the Italian agricultural economy relied on slave labor and more than 32% of the Italian population were enslaved.

Major Sources

Robert Allen, "How Prosperous were the Romans?:
Evidence from Diocletian's Price Edict (AD 301)," 2009.
in Alan Bowman and Andrew Wilson, Quantifying the Roman Economy.
Peter Herz, "Finances and Costs of the Roman Army," 2011.
in Paul Erdkamp, A Companion to the Roman Army.
Dominic Rathbone, "Earnings and Costs: Living Standards and the Roman Economy
(First to Third Centuries AD)," 2009.
in Alan Bowman and Andrew Wilson, Quantifying the Roman Economy.
Jonathan Roth, The Logistics of the Roman Army at War, 1999.
Ulrike Roth, "The Female Slave in Roman Agriculture: Changing the Default," 2003.
marjaerwin: (Default)
It is still unclear just how many people were enslaved in the Roman Republic. Walter Scheidel estimates 1.2 million people, about 20% of the low-count estimated total population, at any given time, in mainland Italia in the late Republic and early Empire.

I get the impression that slavery was associated with cash crops, in the food industry, and with wool, in the clothing industry. Diodorus certainly emphasizes the fact that the Romans in Sicilia used slaves as shepherds, and the slave-plantation manuals emphasize wine and olive oil.

I can't be sure how much of the economy these accounted for. Going by Jonathon Roth's recunstruction of Roman military rations, the olive oil and wine account for about 27% of the food costs, although it would seem the army subsidized food costs. In Italia, wool and wool-working probably account for more than 50% of the clothing costs. In Aegyptus, with the better records, linen accounted for more, and soldiers often paid more than the standard 181 1/2 sestertii on clothing including shoes and socks.

On the whole, I think that the 'traditional' interpretation that slaves accounted for somewhere around 33% of the Italian population seems more plausible than the newer estimates that they accounted for around 20% of the Italian population.

I admit this is a very tentative estimate.
marjaerwin: (Default)
I've done a bit of demographic research, mostly on the Mediterranean and Europe. Anyway, typical estimates of life expectancy:

Hellas, 330s B.C.E.: 25 years. (Mogens Herman Hansen, The Shotgun Method, p. 55.)

England, 1270s: 25 years. (Quoted in Ole Benedictow, The Black Death, p. 252.)

Europe, 1390s to 1540s: 20-25 years. (Benedictow, p. 251.)

Norway, 1660s: <26 years. (Benedictow, p. 250.)

France, 1700: 25 years. (Benedictow, p. 250.)

Norway, 1750s, 35 years. (Benedictow, p. 250.)

France, 1780s: 29 years. (Benedictow, p. 250.)

India, 1911: 22-24 years under colonialism. (Benedictow, p. 250.)

Of course, Europe had a particularly bad disease environment. It's quite likely that the Americas had on the whole a higher life expectancy, before European colonization, smallpox, and other European diseases. I don't know how to eveluate the sources available; some papers suggest 20 years, but that's worse than Europe, when the disease environment was better than Europe, so that seems less-than-trustworthy. I just don't see how it's racist or colonialist to think in terms of 40 years instead of 80 years.
marjaerwin: (Default)
So there are a lot of uncertainties about the events. Only fragments of Sallust’s histories survive, and that leaves much later sources from Plutarch’s lives and Appian’s histories, inter alia.

Appian mentions free rebels in one line. Diodorus mentions free rebels in three other uprisings, so it’s likely that there were some free rebels, but it’s unclear how many.

Sallust mentions Galli and Germani among the rebels. Plutarch also mentions Thraci. None of the sources mention Graeci or Asiaci, although recent Roman campaigns had enslaved tens of thousands of people in the East. None of the sources mention Italiaci, although most of the slaves in Roman Italia had grown up in Italia.

A better understanding of how many slaves there were in Roman Italia, and how many people, slave and free, joined the revolt, and what their backgrounds were, would be a good thing.
marjaerwin: (Default)
Most of the work I’ve seen covers either classical Greece or classical Rome. At least Beloch and Russell tried to cover some of these areas, but Beloch tried to use Caesar’s figures, and Russell tried to use urban population as a proxy for total population, which could use adjustment for less urbanized areas. Hansen covers classical Greece and Greek colonies in depth, and has been an eye-opener, but doesn’t cover the rest.

I've posted about this before, but I'm reconsidering my earlier estimates. Thanks!
marjaerwin: (Default)
Walter Scheidel, in his 2007 working paper “Roman population size: the logic of the debate” notes that the best reconstructions of Roman population distribution seem to clash with the best reconstructions of medieval and early modern population distribution. He presents the following estimates:

Peninsular Italy:

4.5 million to 5.5 million in the 1st Century CE (low count)
4.1 million to 5.0 million in the 13th Century CE

Cisalpine Gaul

1.5 million to 2.5 million in the 1st Century CE (low count)
6.0 million to 7.0 million in the 13th Century CE (?)

Higher population counts leave the distribution problem unresolved, and create other problems. Scheidel considers this one of the major problems in understanding the demography of the Roman world.

His working papers are online at

It's fascinating, but I think Leslie White was three-quarters right with his plow theory. He argued that the heavy plow was introduced in the 6th and 7th Centuries, revolutionizing northern European agriculture, and spreading Slavic language and culture with the technology. In fact, the heavy plow incorporated new technologies, such as the coulter and the mouldboard, which developed over the entire 1st Millennium CE.

Although this probably misses much of the complexity of the issue, I think it makes sense to distinguish two agricultural traditions:

An older agriculture, which developed before the 1st Millennium CE, which was adapted to lighter soils, which used lighter plows, square fields, and two-field farming.

A newer agriculture, which developed during the 1st Millenium CE, which would adapt to heavier soils, which would develop heavier plows, strip fields, and in its later version three-field farming.

If we look at soil maps, it's clear that most arable land – excepting very rocky soils – in mediterranean Europe consists of alluvial soils and relatively light soils. Most arable land in northern Europe consists of heavy soils, including forest soils and wetland soils. About two-thirds of the arable land in Cisalpine Gaul had forest soils.

Some loess soils were accessible to the older agriculture, but most northern European soils – and Cisalpine Gallic soils – were marginal or inaccessible to the older agriculture. As the newer agriculture developed, it seems to have allowed increased settlement density in the intermediate soils, and gradual colonization of the heavier soils.

Pre-Roman and Roman settlement was generally concentrated in alluvial soils and other light soils. But, for example, Chernyakhov-culture settlement was generally concentrated near intermediate forest soils, such as those of Bukovina, circling the Carpathians and north of the Balkan mountains – as in the settlements outside Nicopolis, at Gradishte, and at Veliki Preslav.

When the newer agriculture was beginning to develop, it allowed increased settlement of intermediate soils, such as the Gothic settlement of Bukovina; as it continued to develop, it allowed increased settlement of heavy soils, such as the Slavic settlement of the Black Earth.

The newer agriculture allowed a population explosion in northern Europe – perhaps doubling or tripling between the 1st and 4th Centuries and doubling or tripling again between the 4th and 10th Centuries. But the newer agriculture disrupted existing field systems and, by opening new land to settlement, weakened established landlords and, it would seem, emperors.


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