Sara Baldin

The Agrarian Economy of Roman Egypt

The PhD dissertation project will be devoted to trace the influence of changing environmental conditions on the agrarian economy during the Roman period of Egypt (with a focus on the third century CE) by using mainly papyrological evidence. Mainly tied to wheat production, the agricultural economy of Roman Egypt has been of rising interest in scholarship in recent years. Next to northern Africa and Sicily, Egypt was the principal source of grain for the population of Rome and the Roman military, but thanks to its rich papyrological evidence Egypt yields considerably more detailed sources than its two sister regions. By using this depth of information not available for other regions of the ancient Mediterranean, this PhD project will be an example of incorporating climate history into the study of the ancient agrarian economy, and also establish a model how ancient economies generally responded to environmental shocks.

Since Roman Egypt’s economy was strongly based on agriculture revolving mainly around the Mediterranean basin, the analysis will depart from, and concentrate on, the Mediterranean triad: Wheat, wine and oil, besides from being among the most represented commodities throughout the entire timeframe covered by papyrological evidences, were staples of the everyday diet of all social classes, thus produced and sold in huge quantities. Considering the central role played by such a market and its likelihood of being significantly exposed to any climatic change, the study will take into account not only the products themselves, but will include any other data somehow related (manufacturing facilities such as oil presses and mills, contracts of lease and sale for plots of land intended for cultivation of such staples, commodities frequently mentioned as trade goods in transactions involving them).