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The introduction begins with a discussion of previous scholarship on Roman frugality and a critique of its shortcoming. The second part consists of a theoretically informed reconsideration of frugality, which identifies four areas of special interest: (a) the lived realities and the husbandry of small-scale farmers and their discursive reflection in other settings; (b) ‘the frugal subaltern’: slaves and freedmen and their economic interests and acumen, as well as ‘the thrifty wife’; (c) Rome’s political culture, in particular its political economy, i.e. the interface of wealth and power; (d) the (literary/rhetorical) projects of specific individuals, not least those who invested in virtue signalling and shows of self-restraint in their self-promotion and/or authorial self-fashioning. The introduction concludes with a survey of the place and function of modes of moderation in Roman history and culture.
The chapter opens with a discussion of the methodological challenges involved in the study of a society for which we have very few contemporary literary sources, before exploring the dynamic intersections of wealth and power in archaic Rome with special attention to changes over time, primarily on the basis of archaeological evidence. The discussion considers the noticeable shift in the display of wealth from funerary settings to housing, stimulated by the introduction of the census; limits on the degree of ostentation on the part of rich and powerful members of the archaic Roman community; and protection against the dissipation of patrimony. In the final part, the focus shifts to the lower end of the social spectrum with a reconstruction of the lifestyle of a typical Roman farmer in the archaic period, with particular reference to calorific needs and allotment size.
Roman Frugality offers the first-ever systematic analysis of the variants of individual and collective self-restraint that shaped ancient Rome throughout its history and had significant repercussions in post-classical times. In particular, it tries to do the complexity of a phenomenon justice that is situated at the interface of ethics and economics, self and society, the real and the imaginary, and touches upon thrift and sobriety in the material sphere, but also modes of moderation more generally, not least in the spheres of food and drink, sex and power. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach drawing on ancient history, philology, archaeology and the history of thought, the volume traces the role of frugal thought and practice within the evolving political culture and political economy of ancient Rome from the archaic age to the imperial period and concludes with a chapter that explores the reception of ancient ideas of self-restraint in early modern times.