Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 March 2012
The economy of the early Roman Empire has been an object of study for at least the last century. The discussion has been marked by continuing debate, known sometimes as the primitivist/modern debate and at other times as the Finley debate, following his famous Sather lectures, The Ancient Economy. This paper is a contribution to this debate, written by an economist rather than an ancient historian. My purpose is to define the concept of a ‘market economy’, and to see if it fits the evidence we have for the early Roman Empire.
Finley declared that, ‘ancient society did not have an economic system which was an enormous conglomeration of interdependent markets’. He drew implicitly on research by Polanyi to oppose the views of Rostovtzeff within the field of ancient history and those of Fogel and Engerman in economic history, but he did not explicitly join their conceptual apparatuses. Morris has summarized the debate fuelled by Finley's dramatic lectures in his foreword to the twenty-fifth anniversary edition and argued that the controversy is still vigorous today. I hope to clarify the issues in this debate and even resolve the debate for the period of the early Roman Empire.
I thank Roger Bagnall, Alan Bowman, Richard Eckaus, Joseph Manning, Ian Morris, Steven Ostrow, Walter Scheidel, and the Editor of this journal for helpful comments. All errors are mine alone.
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