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Aspects of the economic organization of the Roman household during the late Republic and early principate.

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posted on 19.11.2015, 09:01 authored by Helen Margaret. Parkins
This study seeks to put the economic organization of the elite Roman household into its social context. Despite the disdain for trade expressed by Roman writers, social and political competition required the paterfamilias to exploit every opportunity for gain, while socio-legal institutions, principally inheritance and dowry, required that, where possible, the household should comprise discrete, easily separated 'enterprises'. Since urban property typically came in small units (insulae, shops, workshops) and generated rents, it met these criteria. Chapters 1-3 investigate how the elite managed urban properties without necessarily being visibly involved; Cicero's 'portfolio' forms one case study. A highly organized urban familia was also essential, like those of Cicero, the Statilii, or the Volusii: craftsmen, traders, and agents attached to the household were vital to its success. Using a database, the distribution of tabernae, fulleries, and brothels at Pompeii, and their spatial relationship to the houses in which they occur, are analysed. Owners did not see their rural estates simply as sources of long-term, steady income: they were geared to profit, not merely self- sufficiency, and were not restricted to 'cash crops' (olives and vines): specialized crops yielded high profits. Inheritance and dowry promoted diversification and specialization, largely achieved by using additional forms of labour alongside the familia rustica. Chapters 4-6 use the agronomists and archaeology to explore specialized production, relations with markets (particularly the macellum), and the organization of the familia rustica (especially the vilicus). While the familia urbana promoted the owner's ostentation and influence and his chances of receiving gifts, loans, and inheritances, his total household not only generated profits but was largely self-sufficient, reducing his dependency on rivals. Most importantly, he kept a stranglehold on both urban and rural resources, amassing the necessary profits while he remained in the town, the chief social and political arena.


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Archaeology and Ancient History

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University of Leicester

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