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Aristocrats and Agriculture in the Middle and Late Republic*

  • Nathan Rosenstein (a1)

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This paper asks how much money Republican aristocrats could make from agriculture and approaches the question from the perspective of supply rather than demand. Potential growers of wheat, wine, and grain were so numerous in second- and first-century B.C. Italy that its urban population could not have provided a market large enough to enable each of them to derive a substantial income from meeting its demand for staple foods. Agriculture is not likely to have furnished the economic foundation for most senators' lavish life-styles. Instead, money-lending and other commercial activities were where the profits were, while prestige and similar non-economic factors guided their decisions about investments in land.

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* Versions of this paper were presented at the 2005 meeting of the American Philological Association and at Agricoltura e scambi nell'Italia tardo repubblicana in Rome, 2008. I would like to offer my thanks to all those who offered comments on those occasions as well as to Walter Scheidel, Wim Jongman and to the Editor and the anonymous readers for the JRS whose suggestions and criticisms have greatly improved it. For its remaining imperfections I alone am responsible. This study is dedicated to my teacher and friend, Erich Gruen, in honour of his retirement from the University of California, Berkeley, who always urged us to question the conventional wisdom.

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