Trade & Industry

The Romans brought travel and communications to an unprecedented level during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. They cleared the seas of pirates and developed a network of all-weather rods. Trade flourished.

Brickstamp with Latin stamped impression inscription: FF...AVCC'ET, C^ESS'NN in a ring, in the center of the ring is a circle with SR stamped.
Brickstamp, Late 3rd-Early 4th Centuries AD.
Object #MS2152

Well-planned colonial cities sprang up in North Africa and across Europe and England. Their religious and civic centers, broad streets, adequate housing, and good sanitation rivaled those in the cities of Italy. Many of the old eastern Mediterranean centers enjoyed substantial state-subsidized improvements.

The Roman state administered the best farming and stock-raising areas, forest lands, mines, and quarries. Fishing grounds produced surpluses of freshwater and saltwater fish unimaginable today. Parts of North Africa supported agriculture where today there is only desert, while France and Spain routinely exported wheat, whine, and olive surpluses.

The impact of slavery on the economy of the Roman world was vast. It is estimated the one person out of every three was a slave. Public slaves built roads, cleaned sewers, and repaired aqueducts. Private slaves worked in domestic houses or on farms. Most actors, musicians, circus performers, and gladiators were slaves. Many typically "Roman" products, such as glass and pottery, were manufactured primarily by slaves, who were mostly likely Greeks, Gauls, or Africans by birth.

Roman Coinage

In a pre-newspaper age coins provided a convenient means for the state to disseminate its authorized messages to the Roman people. Their condensed imagery and simplified abbreviations conveyed complex information to audiences not neccessarily conversant with Latin. Their portraits have left us with a gallery of some of antquity's greatest heroes as well as its blackest villains. In a practical vein, control of the mint placed the finances of the nation, and in time the empire, squarely in the hands of the state.

Bronze as coin with Janus head engraved on it.
Bronze As, Ca. 225 BC
Ship's prow. The 'as' is a coin denomination that originally weighed one Roman pound.
Object #29-126-873A

Maritime Trade

To judge from the number of shipwrecks recovered from Mediterranean waters, Roman maritime commerce reached its peak between 100 BC and AD 100. Barges and riverboats plied the Rhône, the Po, and the Tiber. A brisk trade on the Nile connected sub-Saharan Africa with the Mediterranean coast. The largest seagoing merchantmen of this period carried up to 500 tons and more, although the bulk of ancient shipping must have been far smaller. The bulk goods normally transported by water ranged from regional agricultural commodities like grains, oils, and wines (shipped in barrels by the 3rd century AD) to consignments of lumber, marble, rooftiles, and other bulk building materials. The trade in finished marble sarcophagi and statuary reached its all-time high during the first three centuries AD. Entirely prefabricated churches were shipped from the Asia Minor coast to destinations as far as Sicily.

Ceramic amphora used to transport wine, two handles, tall basin and neck with large lip.
Wine Transport Amphora, Grand Congloue, second shipwreck, ca. 110-80 BC
This amphora was found in a Mediterranean shipwreck by the renowned underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. It is covered with traces of incrustation. Cousteau recovered some 1,200 amphoras from the site off the southern coast of France. He concluded that most of the ship's wine cargo had been stored in amphoras produced by the wealthy Sestius family from Cosa, a port of Rome. Massive numbers of amphora handles stamped SES have been excavated there.
Object #89-2-4