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The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean For my parents William John McLaughlin and Elizabeth Terry McLaughlin The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean The Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India Raoul McLaughlin First published in Great Britain in 2014 by P E N & S W O R D MI LI T A R Y an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd 47 Church Street Barnsley South Yorkshire S70 2AS Copyright # Raoul McLaughlin, 2014 ISBN 978-1-78346-381-7 The right of Raoul McLaughlin to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the Publisher in writing. Typeset by Concept, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD4 5JL. Printed and bound in England by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY. Pen & Sword Books Ltd incorporates the imprints of Pen & Sword Archaeology, Atlas, Aviation, Battleground, Discovery, Family History, History, Maritime, Military, Naval, Politics, Railways, Select, Social History, Transport, True Crime, and Claymore Press, Frontline Books, Leo Cooper, Praetorian Press, Remember When, Seaforth Publishing and Wharncliffe. For a complete list of Pen & Sword titles please contact PEN & SWORD BOOKS LIMITED 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS, England E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.pen-and-sword.co.uk Contents List of Plates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vi Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii Abbreviations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . viii Ancient Figures and ; Modern Estimates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix Ancient Greek and Roman Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi Maps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii Introduction: The Ancient Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xvii 1. Revenue and the Roman Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 2. Roman Prosperity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 3. Incense: A Unique Product . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 4. The Intermediaries: Petra and the Nabataeans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 5. Beyond Egypt: The Nile Route and the African Kingdom of Meroe . . 59 6. The Red Sea Route . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 7. The Scale and Significance of Indian Ocean Trade . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88 8. International Business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 9. East Africa and the Aksumite Kingdom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113 10. Southern Arabia and the Saba-Himyarites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128 11. Arabia Felix and the Hadramawt Kingdom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140 12. The Indo-Parthians . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 13. The Saka and Satavahana Kingdoms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157 14. The Tamil Kingdoms of Southern India . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172 15. The Anuradhapura Kingdom of Sri Lanka and the Far East . . . . . . . 196 16. The Antun Embassy to China and the Antonine Pandemic . . . . . . . . 207 Conclusion: Assessing the Roman Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218 Appendix A: The Roman Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226 Appendix B: Reconstructing Roman Revenues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228 Appendix C: The Expense of the Roman Legions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230 Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 266 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 270 List of Plates Roman merchant ship depicted on the Sidon Relief. Roman ship graffiti from a wall at Pompeii: The Europa (first century AD). Roman relief showing armoured marines on a bireme warship. Silver Egyptian tetradrachm issued by the Emperor Nero (AD 54–68). Roman grave relief showing the Peticii business-family who exported wine to India. Peutinger Map showing a Roman temple in Southern India. Relief depicting Prince Arikankharer of Meroe (AD 25). Gold Coins of the Aksumite King Ousanas (AD 300). Silver Saba-Hymarite coin displaying emblems from Greek drachmas and Roman denarii (Athenian owl and laureled head of Caesar). Indian ship depicted in a painting from a temple-cave in Ajunta (western India). Silver Coin of the Indo-Parthian King Gondophares (AD 20). Silver Coin showing the Saka King Nahapana (AD 50). Silver Roman denarius found in India. A denarius of the Emperor Tiberius. An Indian sculpture showing the death of the Buddha with a robed monk in attendance (Gandhara, Indus Region, second century AD). Indian Ivory Statuette found at Pompeii (first century AD). Relief Sculpture from the Stupa at Sanchi depicting an Indian City (first century AD). Portrait Bust of a Buddhist Roman (second century AD). Acknowledgements I was educated at Lagan College in Belfast, the first cross-community integrated school to be established in Northern Ireland. The college was founded to offer young people of all cultural backgrounds an education free from the divisions of race, religion or social class. I owe a lot to my school, its staff and principal at that time, Dr Brian Lambkin. I attended Queen’s University Belfast for an undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Ancient History and the early stages of my doctoral research was financed by the Northern Ireland Department of Education and Learning. I am grateful to Doctor John Curran and Professor David Whitehead for giving me the opportunity to teach tutorial classes in Republican Roman and Classical Greek history at Queen’s. After finishing my doctorate in 2006, I completed and published my monograph, Rome and the Distant East: Trade Routes to the Ancient Lands of India, Arabia and China (2010). Turning my doctoral research into a book and the completion of further volumes has meant financial hardship. This book is therefore dedicated to my immediate family, my parents William and Elizabeth McLaughlin, my brother Leon and my sister Thayna, all of whom gave me their support and encouragement. Raoul McLaughlin Belfast September 2013 Abbreviations C.I.L. = Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. C.I.S. = Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum. F.H.N. = Fontes Historiae Nubiorum. I.L.S. = Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae. O.G.I.S. = Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae. Periplus = The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. P. Vindob. G. 40822 (Papyri Vindobonensis Graecus) = The ‘Muziris Papyrus’. R.E.S. = Répertoire d’épigraphie Semitique. Ancient Figures and Modern Estimates Roman currency O 4 brass sesterces = 1 silver denarius. O 25 silver denarii = 1 gold aureus. O 1 day’s labour: 1 silver denarius. O 1 month’s earnings: 1 gold aureus. O 1 Roman pound (libra) = 12 ounces or 329 grams. O Greek silver talent: 24,000 sesterces. O Greek silver drachma: 1 denarius or 4 sesterces. O Greek silver talent: 6,000 drachma (denarii). O Egyptian silver talent: 6,000 sesterces. O Egyptian silver drachma: 1 sesterce. O Tetradrachm: 1 denarius (4 sesterces). Mediterranean shipments O Citizens in Rome eligible for the government grain dole: 200,000 men.1 O Size of grain dole: 88,000 tons.2 O Contribution of Egypt: 29,000 tons.3 Cost of a Legion = 11 million sesterces O 5,000 Legionaries paid 900 sesterces annually = 4.5 million.4 O 5,000 Auxiliaries paid 750 sesterces annually = 3.75 million.5 O 54 Centurions (each paid 13,500); 4 Centurions First Cohort, Primi Ordines (paid 27,000); Senior Centurion – Primus Pilus (54,000); 5 Tribunes (45,000); Legion Legate (61,000) = 1 million sesterces.6 O Discharge bonuses (praemia) paid after 25 years service: c.120 legionaries per year granted 12,000 sesterces = 1.4 million plus 1.1 million sesterces bonus for auxiliaries.7 O Plus additional cost of junior and auxiliary officers, cavalry pay (900 sesterces per horseman), purchase of cavalry horses (deposit cost: 500 sesterces) and pack animals.8 Animal feed perhaps received through local taxes.9 O Cost of food and clothing was deducted from troop pay.10 But some soldiers were able to accumulate significant funds in their military accounts.11 Roman Military (300,000 professional soldiers) O Augustan era (27 BC–AD 14): 28 Legions reduced to 25 after the Varus disaster (AD 9).12 x The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean O First-Second century AD: 27–30 Legions in service (150,000 Legionaries sup- ported by 150,000 Auxiliaries).13 Modern estimates for Roman State spending (1,000 million sesterces per annum)14 O Military: Legions and Auxiliaries, Praetorian Guard in Rome and Roman navy = 640+ million sesterces. O Civilian Employees = 75 million sesterces. O Imperial hand-outs including donatives (occasional cash gifts to soldiers) = 44 million sesterces. O Imperial building projects = 60 million sesterces. O Emperor’s Household and imperial gifts = 50–100 million sesterces. Ancient Greek and Roman Authors 484 BC–425 BC: Lifetime of the Greek writer Herodotus, author of the first classical history. 60 BC–30 BC: The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus writes his universal history. 70 BC–19 BC: Lifetime of the Roman poet Virgil. 20 BC–AD 24: The Greek geographer Strabo writes and revises his Geography. 65 BC–8 BC: Lifetime of the Latin poet Horace. 50 BC–AD 15: Lifetime of the Latin poet Propertius who wrote eulogies. 43 BC–AD 18: Lifetime of Ovid, a Roman poet who composed important works on the theme of love and seduction. AD 14: The first Roman Emperor Augustus dies and his achievements are published in an inscription called the Res Gestae. AD 14–AD 37: A wealthy Roman named Apicius becomes famous for his banquets. His name is attached to a collection of household recipes. AD 27–AD 66: Lifetime of Petronius, a Roman courtier who wrote a story called the Satyricon. AD 50: An anonymous Greek merchant writes the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, describing Roman trade voyages around and across the Indian Ocean. AD 77: Pliny the Elder, Roman governor and advisor to the Emperor Vespasian, publishes his encyclopedic Natural History. AD 40–AD 102: Lifetime of the Roman poet Martial who composed a large collection of Latin epigrams. AD 45–AD 96: Lifetime of Statius, a Latin poet who composed works commenting on Roman society and promoting patrons. AD 55–AD 138: Lifetime of Juvenal, a Latin poet who composed a collection of satires. AD 61–AD 112: Lifetime of Pliny the Younger, a Roman magistrate who wrote and published a series of letters to colleagues and superiors, including the Emperor Trajan. AD 56–AD 117: Lifetime of Tacitus, a Latin senator and leading historian. AD 46–AD 119: A Greek historian named Plutarch writes a series of moralistic biographies of famous Greek and Roman generals and statesmen. xii The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean AD 119: An imperial secretary named Suetonius published a biography of early Roman Emperors. AD 150: An Alexandrian mathematician named Claudius Ptolemy publishes a world Geography containing detailed coordinates for the construction of maps. AD 129–AD 200: Lifetime of the renowned Greek doctor Galen, who wrote numerous medical texts. AD 205–AD 229: A Roman Consul named Dio Cassius writes a Greek history of the Roman Empire from its earliest times to his own era. The Ancient World. Claudius Ptolemy’s World Map (AD 150). The Roman Empire (second century AD). Western Asia and the Indian Ocean. Introduction: The Ancient Economy This book sets out to bring the Ancient World Economy to widespread attention. It focusses on ancient evidence without the influence of modern precepts, ideology, or theory-based economic models. The book presents the case for an ancient world economy and gives a perspective to eastern trade by discussing better known phenomena such as the Roman grain dole. Information is based on the relevant source testimony and archaeological remains from the main civilisations involved in the Ancient Economy. These explain the condition of the Roman Empire and reveal what imperial authorities knew about State revenues and the value of international trade. This book deals with a fundamental question – how did the Roman Empire function and in particular, how did it pay for its military costs? The answer requires a wider view than that presented by most Classical Historians who confine their studies to the Mediterranean and the western part of Europe. Roman contacts with eastern civilisations have been judged to be outside the scope of Classical Ancient History and therefore beyond productive scholarly consideration. But the Roman Empire belonged to an ancient world economy that stretched thousands of miles across the Indian Ocean and significant commercial contacts linked Roman subjects with their distant counterparts in east Africa, southern Arabia and the kingdoms of ancient India. These trade exchanges are confirmed by source testimony from many different cultures and verified by numerous archaeological finds. Preoccupied by contemporary issues, past generations of Classical Historians have dismissed the significance of ancient India and China. The last Classical Historian to write a book on Indo-Roman commerce was a Cambridge based scholar named E.H. Warmington. Born in the nineteenth century, Warmington published The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India in 1927 at a time when India, Somalia, the Sudan and Aden (in Yemen) were part of the British Empire. Current debate on the Roman economy preserves a complex legacy of past fixations, including mid-twentieth century reactions to the Soviet Union (a centralised socialist state-economy) and the issue of whether Rome was ‘market orientated’ or ‘capitalist’ drew relevance from Cold War concerns (1947–1991). However, some of the underlying assumptions defining modern study are still grounded in much older traditions, including nineteenth-century concepts of social class, race and colonialism. xviii The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean Current historians often use modern theory-based models as a shortcut to identify and explain processes and qualify select ancient evidence. Most current discussions of the Roman economy are a reaction to debate-led theories and generally support, or criticise, pre-set thesis statements. Debate is focussed on semantics and on defining abstract features such as ‘market growth’ or ‘economic prosperity’. A careful re-examination of ancient evidence reveals the authentic Roman economy and this can be done without modern pretexts, or the use of current models as a foil for debate. The sources suggest that the movement of world resources through international commerce was a vital element in the success of Imperial Rome. The Romans were well aware that their Mediterranean Empire was not the only powerful regime in the ancient world and there were other prominent powers in the east that matched their administration. Some Latin poets publicised ideas of a globalised Roman authority, but their views were far from reality.1 Anyone in a Roman crowd moving through a commercial district could see evidence of a wider ancient world in the fashions worn by rich patrons, the incense burnt at religious altars, or the spices that flavoured many Mediterranean meals. This is the ancient world described and evidenced by the ancient sources and this book explains how these distant contacts provided Rome with the revenues it needed to finance its army and sustain its Empire, thereby enabling the Pax Romana (Roman Peace and good-order). The Romans knew about India, but were unaware of the Far East until the first century BC when silk began to reach the Mediterranean by way of the Parthian Empire which ruled ancient Iran. There were thousands of miles of steppe-land and desert between Rome and China and the presence of intervening regimes, such as Parthia, prevented contact and limited the flow of information. The Parthians understood the profits to be made by controlling overland trade and therefore denied Roman subjects access to the caravan routes that led across Iran.2 The final Civil War of the Roman Republic was fought in 31 BC, when the Roman general Octavian, adopted son of Julius Caesar, declared war on the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and her consort Mark Antony. Cleopatra ruled the rich Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt and Mark Antony commanded the Roman Legions of the eastern Mediterranean. Together they planned to defeat Octavian with a rapid seaborne campaign, then seize Rome and take power in Italy. The decisive sea battle was fought at Actium in western Greece. During the engagement, when the galleys commanded by Mark Antony seemed to be losing, Cleopatra suddenly turned her fleet about and fled. In desperation Antony followed Cleopatra back to the Egyptian capital Alexandria and so lost the battle. Anthony’s eastern Legions deserted him and the victorious Octavian readied his army to capture Egypt and put an end to the reign of the Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra. The world changed when Rome annexed Egypt and gained access to the Red Sea shipping-lanes that led into the Indian Ocean. Within a decade, there were over a hundred Roman ships sailing to India and the Mediterranean markets were Introduction: The Ancient Economy xix suddenly inundated with goods from across the eastern world.3 These imports included products such as incense, spices, gemstones and silks. The Roman Empire imposed a quarter-rate import tax known as the tetarte on these commodities and as trade increased, the tetarte began to generate enormous new revenues for the imperial regime. It is estimated that by the first century AD, foreign trade was supplying Roman government with perhaps a third of the income it required to finance the entire Empire.4 The Emperor Augustus used these new revenues to fund the first full-time professional army created by any ancient regime.5 This military institution was both unique and crucial to the long-term security and success of Roman civilisation. It was a career-based military force structured around the Roman Legions and their auxiliary support. At its height, the Roman Empire employed 300,000 professional soldiers to defend its vulnerable frontiers and maintain order amongst subject nations. But this army depended upon the finance that was obtained from taxes imposed on international business. Consequently, the fortunes of the Roman Empire were inextricably linked to world trade and in particular, to the eastern economies of India and China. CHAPT ER O NE Revenue and the Roman Economy Roman authorities were well informed about the revenues that sustained their Empire. For example, during the Republican period Cicero listed the information that a senator ought to possess concerning the interests of the Roman State. This included, ‘how many soldiers the Roman Republic has, what are its financial resources, what allies it has, who are its friends and what subjects have to pay tax’.1 Many of these details were known by members of the Roman ruling class comprising senators and equites. The Roman elite also recorded and circulated financial information within their own writings. In his last book on Roman History the Greek author Appian promised to consider ‘the size of the Roman army, the tribute that they collect from each province, what they spend on naval garrisons, and other things of that nature’.2 Unfortunately this work has not survived and few modern historians now recognise the significance of the extant ancient testimony that does describe Roman finances. Some of the more astute Emperors appointed men who had demonstrated a good understanding of provincial finances to high office. For example, the Emperor Hadrian selected Antoninus Pius to be his successor because he displayed an array of interests and noble qualities, which included a thorough knowledge of State business. It was said that Antoninus ‘knew the budgets of all the provinces and their sources of revenue extremely well’.3 When the Emperor Augustus was gravely ill in 23 BC he gave a senator named Piso a ‘list of the military and the public revenues written in a book’.4 A staff of administrative slaves and freedmen worked for the imperial regime in order to manage provincial finances and keep track of the different revenues and expenses. The Emperor operated his own imperial treasury called the fiscus which was managed by an official known as a rationibus. The court poet Statius describes the responsibilities of the rationibus, ‘to him alone have been entrusted the records of the revered treasury, the riches received from all peoples, revenues that have come from the entire world’. The rationibus kept income accounts and had to track expenditure. As Statius explains, ‘he balances income against major expenses – such as how much will be needed to maintain the demands of the Roman military in every region’.5 Newly appointed Roman governors brought some of their own staff to the provinces and these men worked alongside the existing administration. Most governors therefore had good knowledge of the revenues and expenses involved in the provinces they managed and this information was freely exchanged between their colleagues in Rome who had served in various regions of the Empire during their own careers.6 Official information about provincial revenues 2 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean could be assembled into a comprehensive report and on the discretion of the Emperor these accounts were made widely available to the Roman elite. Unfortunately, most medieval scholars were not interested in preserving documents that contained mainly financial information; so much of this data is no longer available. But the surviving sources do mention several occasions when an imperial budget was circulated amongst the Roman governing class. At his death in AD 14, the Emperor Augustus left a document in his Will that described the overall revenues and expenses of the Roman Empire. He also left instructions that this financial information was to be read out in front of the Senate to inform the ruling class about the fiscal condition of the Roman State. Suetonius reveals that the document gave an account of: ‘how many soldiers there were in service and where they were; how much money there was in the central Roman treasury and the provincial treasuries; how much were the outstanding revenues and where they could be located’. Tacitus provides further details on the same incident stating that ‘the document contained a description of the resources of the State, the number of citizens and allies under arms, information on the fleets, subject kingdoms, provinces, taxes both direct and indirect, necessary expenses and customary bounties.’7 Suetonius refers to the administration that managed this financial data. Augustus stated that his representatives would ‘supply the names of freedmen and slave-secretaries who could provide accounts on demand regarding each of the categories of expenditure’.8 The Emperor Caligula published an imperial budget at the onset of his reign (AD 37–41). In it he made a commitment to deposed client princes by restoring their former realms and repaying them the revenues that had been extracted from their territories when the Emperor Tiberius was in power. Suetonius reports: ‘any king who Caligula restored to his throne was awarded the arrears of taxes and revenue that had accumulated since his disposition. This included Antiochus of Commagene who got a refund of a million gold pieces from the treasury.’9 This initiative indicates that the Roman State kept financial records stretching back over several decades and these archives were available for official consultation if it proved necessary. In certain parts of the Empire the collection of some Roman taxes was granted to private companies in return for a fee paid to the State. Precise details about these arrangements were not generally made public since many of the profitmaking companies included members of the governing class. There was a change in policy during the reign of Nero when Tacitus reports that ‘the Emperor issued an edict that the regulations about every branch of the public revenue should be published including details which had previously been withheld’. These details revealed how much provincial income came from the sale of tax-collecting contracts and ‘arrangements were made to ensure an exact correspondence between the amount of income and required spending’.10 Knowledge of Trade Roman authorities knew about the scale and value of eastern trade because it was part of the tax system that sustained their Empire. International trade had to pass Revenue and the Roman Economy 3 through designated custom posts and all exports and imports were subject to fixed-rate taxes. Source evidence suggests that total trade figures were available, along with specific totals for certain commodities such as coin or bullion.11 In the case of Indo-Roman trade, members of imperial government such as Pliny the Elder could easily obtain information about bullion exports from Roman tax records collected at Coptos. All goods sent to the Egyptian Red Sea ports had to pass through this single custom station and separate officials were tasked with assessing different commodities.12 Trade ventures were also timed according to seasonal schedules, so goods intended for export to India would generally have to pass through custom stations during certain identifiable periods. For example, cargoes headed for India were loaded before July and goods destined for the nearest ports in East Africa would pass through the custom stations in July and August to facilitate sailings in September.13 Roman officials who knew the amount of revenue gained from customs tax could easily estimate the overall value of any particular export. Frontier customs taxes were set at a quarter-value, so the collected revenue multiplied by four would suggest the scale of trade to those who wanted to know the figures.14 In the case of exports from Egypt, the Romans probably allowed private business to bid for the right to collect certain government imposed customs taxes. Acquiring a contract was a competitive process and the winning company had to outbid rival businesses in order to gain the commission. The successful company had to keep the bid beneath the value that the tax might produce and by this means cover their costs, yet still make sufficient profit from the collection rights. Any tax collected beyond the bid amount could be kept by the private company, so there were often good opportunities for profit. These contracts gave Roman authorities an indication of trade levels, especially if particular companies bid to collect taxes on specific exports such as bullion, or fabrics. The export amounts suggested by tax records would have been confirmed by businessmen who had dealings with central Roman government. These included Annius Ploclamus who ran an eastern trade business and had a freedman associate manage his contract to collect Red Sea taxes (AD 50).15 This freedman discovered a new route to Sri Lanka and returned with a team of Sinhalese ambassadors. Annius Ploclamus may have accompanied this embassy to meet the Emperor Claudius, with his freedman probably serving as translator for the visiting envoys. During these proceedings the Emperor and his advisers would have had an opportunity to question Annius and his freedmen about the scale and value of Indo-Roman trade. Later members of the Anni family are evidenced in Puteoli, including another Annius Ploclamus who served as a decuriones (town magistrate) in AD 187 and an L. Annius, the son of Annius Numisianus, who was honoured with a public statue.16 A further example indicates the contacts that could occur between important businessmen and senior members of Roman government. Josephus mentions a prominent Jewish businessman named Tiberius Julius Alexander (Major) who was an alabarch in charge of collecting import taxes at Alexandria.17 This income made Tiberius Alexander extremely influential and he is probably the ‘Alexander’ 4 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean mentioned in the New Testament when the Apostles Peter and John began their ministry in Jerusalem after the Crucifixion.18 Josephus reports that Alexander paid for gold-plated decorations to embellish the nine gates that led into the Jewish Temple complex in Jerusalem.19 Sometime before AD 35 Alexander also lent the Jewish prince Herod Agrippa 200,000 Greek drachmas to repay his debts in Rome, with 30,000 handed over in Alexandria and another 170,000 to be collected in Puteoli.20 Subsequently, he arranged for his youngest son Marcus to marry the daughter of Herod Agrippa in a union that would combine business finances with royal lineage.21 Alexander also assisted the imperial family and when Antonia, the mother of Claudius, wanted someone to oversee her Egyptian properties she chose Alexander to manage these affairs.22 In AD 38, Tiberius Alexander joined a political delegation to Rome led by his brother the Jewish philosopher Philo. The Emperor Caligula detained Tiberius Alexander in Rome as a political hostage in order to guarantee compliance amongst the Jewish community in Alexandria. He was not released until Claudius became emperor in AD 41.23 Tiberius Alexander used his profits to give his eldest son a political career in imperial service and to establish his younger son Marcus as a leading businessman. Beginning in AD 37, transport receipts from the Nicanor Archive reveal that Marcus had commercial agents at Coptos and in the main Red Sea ports. In Myos Hormos he used a free agent named Saturneinos and a slave managed his business at Berenice.24 Marcus was sending ships to India and trading along the sea-lanes described in the merchant handbook called the Periplus of the Erythaean Sea. During this period his elder brother Tiberius Julius Alexander (Junior) held office as a Roman administrator in the Thebaid district of southern Egypt, which included Coptos.25 Marcus died sometime before AD 44, as his widow remarried that year.26 By AD 66, his brother Tiberius Alexander Junior was serving as the governor of Egypt and during the Roman civil war of AD 69 supported the general Vespasian in his bid to become emperor.27 When Vespasian was victorious, Tiberius Alexander became one of the most influential people in the Empire. He was part of Vespasian’s inner circle of advisors, but he also had family members involved in the eastern trade business. Tiberius Alexander could therefore confirm details about the scale and value of international commerce, including the amount of bullion carried aboard Roman vessels bound for India. Tiberius Alexander ended his military career as Prefect of the Praetorian Guard and his statue was erected in the Roman forum to honour his achievements.28 Other leading members of Roman government spent their early careers in the frontier provinces and would have learned about foreign trade from these experiences. A responsible Roman governor would have toured his province to inspect the outlying garrisons and investigate issues on the frontier.29 For example, Strabo received figures for the size of the Roman fleet sailing to India while he was on a tour with the Roman governor Aelius Gallus. Gallus was on a journey from Alexandria through Coptos to the cities of Syene and Philae on the frontier between Egypt and Nubia.30 It would have been a simple matter to question a Revenue and the Roman Economy 5 trusted Roman businessman and enquire how much bullion was typically carried aboard vessels sailing to different eastern destinations. Roman authorities could have gained information about the scale of Arabian trade at Coptos, Leuke Kome, or Gaza. The Periplus reports that there was a Roman customs post at the Nabataean port of Leuke Kome and this garrison was commanded by a centurion to ensure that all quarter-taxes were paid in full.31 Pliny also mentions ‘our customs agents’ at the Mediterranean port of Gaza and he was able to give precise figures for the amount of tax taken in non-Roman territory. He reports that 688 denarii were collected per camel-load by foreign agents on the Incense Trail between southern Arabia and Nabataea.32 This indicates that precise figures were available for taxes that included regions beyond Roman control. Imperial officials would have known how many camels were arriving at Gaza, how much revenue this trade raised in customs tax and how much Roman bullion was being expended to sustain this commerce. Roman authorities knew about the amount of incense being produced in southern Arabia and this information would have come from traders and foreign envoys.33 By the first century AD the Hadramawt Kingdom was managing the main frankincense groves as a royal monopoly and the Qataban realm was collecting a quarter-tithe on all myrrh produced in its territories.34 Both regimes therefore had good knowledge about the scale of incense production in their territory and were able to convey these details to the Roman government. Pliny and the author of the Periplus suggest that Arabian kings sent frequent embassies to the Roman Emperors and these officials could confirm the value of the incense trade.35 Roman authorities could also have calculated the value of Arabian trade by estimating how much incense was produced in southern Arabia. The Roman elite devoted their attention to vineyards, so the idea of estimating production from areas under cultivation was a familiar concept.36 Pliny repeats well-known figures about the size of the incense-growing territories in southern Arabia and the number of families tasked with cultivating these plots.37 Leading Roman authorities could have estimated frankincense production from these details. The Roman System: The Republican Period During the Republican period, the Roman regime operated an army raised mainly by citizen levies. The Romans and their Italian allies recruited and trained a body of soldiers drawn from their large citizen populations. As Rome expanded, it raised revenue by imposing war indemnities on the defeated foreign powers and demanding regular tribute from subject regions. Conquest was a profitable venture for Roman commanders and their troops, who could capture booty and seize foreign resources. But when a region was conquered, the Roman State had to assume the long-term costs of regional administration and the expense of defending that particular territory. This was an expensive process and often, in the long-term, the cost of a region was barely covered by its regular revenues. 6 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean Between 66 and 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey Magnus campaigned in the eastern Mediterranean and added substantial new territories to the Republic. These included Bithynia et Pontus and Cilicia in Asia Minor, most of Syria and the island of Crete. He also accepted further regions into Roman control as protectorates, including the Kingdom of Judea. In 61 BC, Pompey staged an elaborate Triumph in Rome to display the wealth of these newly subdued territories. Amongst the exhibits, Pompey paraded information about the revenues his conquests would provide for the enlarged Roman Empire. Plutarch reports that, ‘it was shown on written tablets that the new taxes Pompey added to the State came to 50 million denarii and the Republic now received revenues of 85 million denarii’.38 This meant that Pompey had increased the Roman revenues from 200 million to 340 million sesterces per annum. In this period, the Ptolemaic Kingdom was the last major Greek regime to retain power in the eastern Mediterranean. By 80 BC, the Ptolemaic regime was confined to ancient Egypt where it received revenues worth about 300 million sesterces from a highly prosperous, well-ordered kingdom. Details of the Ptolemaic revenues are given by the Greek geographer Strabo who spent time in both Alexandria and Rome during the Augustan period. Strabo also consulted legal and political speeches given by prominent Republican statesmen who were contemporaries of Pompey and King Ptolemy XII Auletes (80–51 BC). Strabo reports, ‘Cicero tells us about the revenues of Egypt in a certain speech. He states that Auletes, who was the father of Cleopatra, received annual revenue of 12,500 talents’.39 In Roman currency this was equivalent to about 75 million silver denarii, or 300 million sesterces. Asia Minor, the Near East and Egypt were ancient urbanised territories that had been part of sophisticated and well-organised kingdoms for thousands of years. Consequently, they had pre-existing well-developed monetary economies that were capable of producing large cash revenues on a regular basis. By contrast most of northern Europe was rich in agricultural produce, but had few centralised civic institutions such as towns, or mints able to produce and circulate extensive currencies. Julius Caesar added a large territory to the Roman Empire when he conquered greater Gaul (58–50 BC), but the region provided only moderate income for the Roman Republic. Suetonius reports that ‘when Caesar reduced the defeated parts of Gaul to the status of a province he imposed upon them a yearly tribute of 40 million sesterces’.40 This is a seventh of what Egypt provided for their Ptolemaic Kings. During the late Republic, Asia Minor (Anatolia) was possibly the only Roman territory that, after paying its own costs, was still able to forward substantial revenues to the central government in Rome. In a law court speech, Cicero explains that ‘the revenues of the other provinces are such that we can scarcely derive enough from them for their own protection’. Asia Minor was an exception because it exported more valuable goods than other subject territories. This was because it had rich soil, a wide variety of crops and a large amount of land given over to pasture. As Cicero explains, ‘due to multitude of its exports, Asia is greatly superior to all other countries’.41 Cicero confirms this situation in a political Revenue and the Roman Economy 7 speech delivered in 63 BC. In it he calls Roman Asia ‘the most beautiful estate belonging to the Roman people – the main source of our riches, our chief ornament in time of peace, our chief source of supply in time of war, the foundation of our revenues’.42 When the Roman general Mark Antony took the eastern Mediterranean as his share of the divided Empire, he made an alliance with the Ptolemaic Queen, Cleopatra VIII. Together they used the Ptolemaic revenues to fund an expensive war against the Parthian Empire which ruled ancient Persia (40–33 BC). During this period, increased taxes damaged Egyptian businesses and the regime neglected important elements of Egypt’s economic infrastructure, including the canals necessary for irrigation and transport.43 When Octavian conquered Egypt in 30 BC, it was reported that this new province could only provide revenues of about 40 million sesterces per annum. Velleius sums up the situation when he writes that Octavian ‘made Egypt tributary, thereby contributing nearly as much revenue to the treasury as Caesar had brought in from the Gauls’.44 The inclusion of Egypt into the Roman Empire brought the total imperial revenues to about 420 million sesterces per annum. This included the Republican provinces (340 million), Caesar’s Gaul (40 million) and newly conquered Egypt (40 million sesterces). But this income alone was not enough to sustain the enlarged Empire and provide the funds needed to meet its long-term military costs. Octavian (Augustus) therefore convened a conference with his closest advisors to debate the future of the Roman State. He was told by his leading general Agrippa ‘you will need to procure a large supply of money from all available sources, because our present revenues are not sufficient to support the troops and our other expenses’.45 The best solution for this revenue deficit seemed to be further conquests and plans were therefore made to seize the Sabaean Kingdom of southern Arabia and invade the Parthian Empire.46 By this period the Sabaean Kingdom was producing over 40 million sesterces worth of incense per annum.47 The nation also had stockpiles of precious metals that could be used to subsidise the Roman regime and postpone the approaching financial crisis. Strabo was an associate of the Roman general Aelius Gallus who the Emperor ordered to ‘gain authority over these Arabs, or subjugate them’. Strabo explains that ‘the Emperor’s plans were based on well-established reports that the Arabs are very wealthy because they sell aromatics and extremely valuable gemstones for gold and silver. But they never offer the wealth they receive from this trade to outsiders.’48 However, when the invasion failed, the imperial regime was forced to seek other revenue sources to pay for its long-term expenses. The Cost of Empire Modern scholars have calculated the costs of the Roman Empire based on its military expenses and other outlays. Army pay, military numbers and other items of State spending have all been analysed and estimated to create figures for the Roman State ‘budget’.49 These estimates also indicate the income of the Empire, since the regime must have had sufficient revenues to pay its regular expenses. 8 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean But the problem of how and where these revenues were acquired is harder to clarify. It seems that compared with other ancient regimes Rome did not impose large amounts of tribute on its subject populations. In 167 BC, the Romans imposed an annual tribute on the conquered kingdom of Macedonia. Plutarch reports: ‘Macedonia was restored to its people. Their cities were permitted freedom and independence and in return they were to pay the Romans 100 talents (2.4 million sesterces) in tribute, a sum less than half of what they used to pay to their kings’.50 Similar policies were enacted during the Imperial era and Tacitus explains that when the Kingdom of Cappadocia was made a province in AD 17, ‘royal tributes were reduced to encourage hope that Roman rule would be lenient’.51 Tribute levels imposed by the Roman State probably remained relatively stable over long periods of time. Strabo reports that after Marcus Metellus conquered the Celtiberians he placed an annual tribute of 14 million sesterces on Spain (143 BC). A century later Spain was able to provide funds worth 18 million sesterces to the faction that opposed Julius Caesar during the Civil War that began in 49 BC.52 During the Imperial period the Romans collected regular census reports from subject provinces that contained details about population size and private wealth. Roman government used these details to allocate where and how regional tribute was to be collected. Tribute was seen as an act of political submission and many communities resented paying any tax to a foreign power, even when the tribute taken was minimal. Augustus imposed three censuses on Greater Gaul between 27 BC and AD 14.53 Many Gauls would have resented this State intrusion and the census taken in 12 BC provoked a regional uprising.54 The tribute that the Romans imposed on their eastern conquests seems to have been comparatively low and probably not subject to regular increases. Herodotus provides tribute figures for the Persian Empire in the fifth century BC. He reports that western Anatolia gave the Persian King Darius 1,170 Attic talents per annum (equivalent to 28 million sesterces).55 During the second century AD, the Roman province of Asia included most of this territory and collected a similar amount of tribute.56 This suggests that Rome did not demand large sums or substantially increase tribute payments imposed on its subject territories. Cicero writes that in the Republican period Asia Minor was the only region to provide Rome with worthwhile surplus revenues and most provinces of the Roman Empire could barely meet their own protection costs.57 Furthermore, the revenues forwarded to central government in Rome were relatively small. During the Civil War of 43 BC, the quaestor (lieutenant governor) in charge of the Roman province of Asia delivered 2 million sesterces to the Republican commander Brutus. Plutarch explains ‘he gave him 500,000 drachmas which was the money that he was delivering to Italy’.58 This situation seems to have continued during the Imperial period when the Emperors were in power. In most Roman provinces locally produced revenues were used up by regional costs and only a small token amount of surplus wealth was forwarded to Rome as a symbolic act of compliance. Revenue and the Roman Economy 9 In the Imperial period there were almost forty Roman provinces and most sent less than 4 million sesterces to central government as part of their annual tribute. This situation is confirmed by Seneca who reports that the Emperor Caligula spent 10 million sesterces on a single banquet, representing the ‘tribute-money from three provinces’.59 When Caligula restored the small Kingdom of Commagene in Asia Minor, he repaid its ruler 1 million aurei (100 million sesterces). This was the amount that the Roman regime had collected from the region as tribute in the course of twenty years.60 The figure suggests that a prosperous and well-urbanised territory might only produce about 5 million sesterces of surplus revenue per annum. The idea that most provinces provided limited revenue could explain other measures. In AD 67, the Emperor Nero made all of Greece exempt from direct Roman taxes to celebrate his tour of the leading Greek festivals.61 The Roman system was able to support this scheme because Greece was not a heavily garrisoned region and probably sent only small amounts of revenue to Rome. The Roman ethos promoted the idea of public spending on buildings and grandiose displays to benefit, or entertain, large numbers of people. This meant that Roman governors were encouraged to spend most of their excess revenues on improving their province. Any surplus funds were spent on expensive acts of State benevolence, including regional building initiatives. Little of this surplus was ultimately transported to central government in Rome and most regional revenues were used for the benefit of local citizens and subjects. Philostratus describes how all the revenues raised in the Roman province of Asia were spent on a single project to benefit one city. They were used for the construction of an aqueduct that took several years to complete and cost 28 million sesterces.62 This policy of spending local surplus would have been sufficient to manage the Empire, except that some Roman provinces could not meet their own long-term costs and therefore were governed at a loss. Deficit regions were a problem for the late Roman Republic and certain European provinces had to be subsidised from treasury funds. Cicero describes events in 57 BC when Calpurnius Piso was made governor of Macedonia with the support of his son-in-law Julius Caesar. Piso was granted funds by the Roman treasury to finance his governorship, but Cicero accused him of keeping the money for personal gain. In court he claimed, ‘the treasury gave you 18 million sesterces as governor of your province, but you left this money in Rome to be lent out at interest’.63 Deficit Regions The ancient evidence indicates that most of the Empire’s revenue deficit territories were in northern Europe. Northern Europe may have been well populated and rich in agricultural produce and natural materials, but before the Roman conquest, urban development had been limited. The Celts and the Germans did not live in rich kingdoms similar to the long-established urbanised civilisations existing in the Near East and India. Their economies were not currency-centred and did not have the benefit of tax-systems developed over many centuries to 10 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean produce easily transferable cash revenues for centralised government. This was a serious problem for the Roman State, as large garrisons were needed to hold and defend the frontier territories of northern Europe and these regions could not support their military cost with locally raised taxes. The Roman State therefore sent large amounts of money into these regions in the form of army pay. This military money attracted merchants and supported the businesses that kept garrisons supplied with essential goods and services. The provinces with revenue shortfalls became a long-term problem as Appian confirms in his Roman History, written about AD 150. Appian explains, ‘the Romans lose money on some of their subject nations, but they are ashamed to set them aside, even though they are detrimental’.64 Some of these deficit territories were necessary for frontier defence and others provided corridors for contact between crucial regions. Some had been places where ambition or honour had taken Roman interests, then committed their forces to long-term occupation. Defence was an important issue as between 113 and 101 BC the Roman Empire withstood a large-scale invasion of Germanic peoples called the Cimbri and the Teutones, who had migrated through Gaul towards Italy. This invasion was the mass movement of thousands of refugee families supported by a vast horde of warriors who threatened to overrun the Italian peninsula and permanently occupy Roman territory. The crisis was averted by a Roman general named Gaius Marius who was proclaimed ‘Third Founder of Rome’ because he preserved Roman possession of the land.65 Julius Caesar used the subsequent Roman fear of Germanic invasion to justify his conquest of Gaul. Caesar advised: ‘it would be dangerous to the Roman people if the Germans should become accustomed to cross the Rhine. What if a great mass of them entered Gaul? After possessing Gaul, these wild and savage men will not restrain themselves. They will enter our province (Transalpine Gaul) and march into Italy, just as the Cimbri and Teutones attempted’.66 His solution was to subjugate Gaul to prevent the region falling under Germanic control (58–50 BC). His successor the Emperor Augustus thought that the part of Germany that lay between the Rhine and the Elbe was a viable conquest. After two decades of campaigning, the region seemed pacified (12 BC–AD 6). But in AD 9 there was an uprising among German tribes who annihilated three Roman Legions as they marched through the dense Teutoburg Forest. After this defeat, Roman forces withdrew back to the Rhine frontiers and Greater Germany was left to its native peoples. Other conquests ordered by the Emperor Augustus did succeed. Celtic Pannonia was added to the Empire so that the Danube became a defensible frontier and the land routes between Italy and Greece were properly safeguarded. But the loss of Germany shocked Augustus and convinced him that further conquests were unwise. Suetonius reports that Augustus ‘thought that taking large risks with the chance of small gain was like fishing with a golden hook. If lost, the value of the hook was greater than any catch.’67 In his will Augustus warned his successor Tiberius that ‘the Empire should be confined to its present limits’ and Revenue and the Roman Economy 11 there is evidence that during this era the Roman State was struggling to pay its military costs.68 In AD 14 the Rhine and Danube legions threatened to revolt due to reduced pay and the claim that veteran troops were not receiving their expected discharge payments.69 The situation in Gaul can be used to suggest the scale of the Roman deficit problem. When Suetonius writes about the conquest of Greater Gaul he describes a vast territory that produced only moderate amounts of revenue for Rome (40 million sesterces). By the first century AD, Greater Gaul was split into five separate provinces which included two narrow frontier zones called Germania Superior and Germania Inferior. In total there were eight Legions stationed near the Rhine frontiers which would have cost the Roman State over 80 million sesterces per annum to maintain.70 Gaul could not have paid for these Legions if the central Gallic provinces were only contributing revenues of about 40 million sesterces per annum. Rome probably increased provincial taxes during the early Imperial period, but it is unlikely that the regime was able to double the Gallic revenues in order to meet regional expense costs. Appian confirms that parts of the Empire still operated at a loss in the second century AD, so it is apparent that Rome had not rectified its deficit problems. Tacitus offers an insight into the Roman mind-set and its response to the deficit provinces. During the Roman civil war of AD 69 there was a revolt in the northern Rhineland territories (modern Belgium) when German auxiliaries known as Batavians staged a regional uprising with the support of the local Gallic population. When the Roman army crushed the rebellion, the Gauls were singled out for severe condemnation. A Roman commander addressed them: ‘you have often provoked us, yet we have imposed upon you by right of conquest only one demand: that you pay the costs of keeping the peace here. For the tranquillity of nations cannot be preserved without armies; armies cannot exist without pay; pay cannot be furnished without tribute.’ He added, ‘perhaps you think that you yourselves can equip armies to repel the Germans and the Britons for less tribute than you pay us?’ The answer was no – as ‘Gaul always had its petty kingdoms and internal wars’ and without the Empire paying money into the region for its defence, then ‘there would be nothing but discord in its future’.71 The Roman armies posted on the Rhine frontier guaranteed the security and prosperity of Gaul. Towns and cities developed, craft industries appeared, agricultural productivity was increased by new farming techniques and the population grew. When Josephus explains the importance of Gaul to the Empire he describes how ‘the prosperity of the Gauls grows from their soil and enables them to inundate the whole world with their goods. This is because they submit to being the milch cow of Rome.’72 However, this trade provided Roman government with little direct revenue, because custom-taxes between Roman provinces (portoria) were set at a comparatively low value (one-fortieth).73 The Case of Britain In the Augustan period the Roman Empire had high defence costs and limited surplus revenues, so the invasion of Britain seemed a remote prospect. Strabo 12 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean thought that Britain would never be added to the Empire because its population was not a threat to Roman territory. Writing before AD 14 he explains, ‘the Romans could have held Britain, but they scorned the opportunity because they saw that there was nothing to fear from the Britons. They are not strong enough to cross over and attack us.’74 Another reason to leave Britain as a free territory was the low revenues expected from its conquest and occupation. These were predicted to be less than the expense of stationing a Legion on the island (about 11 million sesterces).75 Trade between the provinces produced relatively little revenue for the Roman State, but the situation was different for cross-border commerce. This was because the Roman regime collected quarter-rate taxes on all goods crossing the imperial frontiers. In the Augustan era, trade between Gaul and Britain must have been worth over 44 million sesterces a year since Rome collected at least 11 million sesterces from taxing this commerce. Strabo calculated that ‘at present more revenue is derived from the custom duties imposed on their commerce than the tribute could bring in, given the expense of the garrison needed to guard the island and to collect revenues from it’.76 When the Emperor Claudius launched the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43 he was motivated by ideas of honour and prestige.77 But once southern Britain became Roman territory, the quarter-rate frontier tax was replaced by a standard one-fortieth portorium. Revenues on cross channel-trade would have fallen to about a million sesterces and income from the new province must have been less than that from Gaul (40 million sesterces collected from a larger territory). Writing a century after the Romans began their conquest of Britain, Appian reports: ‘the Romans have taken possession of the larger and better part of the island. They do not care for the remainder because even the part they do hold is not profitable.’78 Tacitus describes how Nero thought of abandoning Britain during the Boudican Revolt of AD 61, but ‘changed his purpose only because he was ashamed to seem as denigrating the glory of Claudius’.79 Ancient evidence indicates the scale of the Roman investment in Britain. Diodorus describes Alexandria in the first century BC when the city was ‘the prime city of the civilized world and far ahead of all other cities in terms of its extent, elegance, riches and luxury’. He reports that ‘when we were in Egypt, those who kept the census returns of the population said that there were more than 300,000 free residents in Alexandria. The Ptolemaic King received more than 6,000 talents from the place.’80 This is equivalent to approximately 36 million sesterces and nearly the amount needed to pay for the annual cost of three Roman Legions (33 million sesterces). In the first century AD the Roman Empire deployed three or four Legions in Britain at any given time. These had to be supported by regional taxes supplemented by central government funds.81 Revenue comparable to the tax-wealth of Alexandria, one of the largest and richest cities in the entire empire, was therefore being paid into Roman Britain. The result was rapid and substantial urbanization as cities developed in a previously rural landscape. But overall, the conquest and occupation of Britain placed further stress on imperial finances in return for few strategic gains. Revenue and the Roman Economy 13 The situation in Britain demonstrates another important aspect of the Roman system. In the Augustan era cross-channel trade raised revenue equal to a quarter of the income obtained from occupied Gaul. Furthermore, frontier tax was a revenue source that required only a relatively small investment of troops to manage. This has relevance for the eastern frontier where Roman merchants were trading with large urbanised kingdoms that produced numerous unique and expensive commodities. Roman Revenue Wealth The evidence suggests that once their internal costs had been paid, most Roman provinces sent very little cash revenue to Rome. But the Empire had other ways to profit from its conquered territories. During the Imperial period the main gold and silver mines in Europe were brought under government control and large amounts of new bullion passed directly into the Roman treasuries. This bullion was minted into new coin and sent to the deficit provinces to pay for military wages in the frontier regions. Ancient evidence suggests that by the late first century AD, bullion production provided Rome with between 120 and 200 million sesterces per annum. This was about a sixth of the revenue that the Roman Empire needed to meet its basic costs (1,000 million sesterces per annum).82 There were gold mines in Gaul and the Eastern Desert of Egypt, but the main bullion sources for the Roman regime were in the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal). Pliny the Elder served as procurator in Hispania Tarraconensis, so he had good knowledge of bullion production in Iberia (AD 72–4).83 Some of the most productive silver mines available to Rome were in southern Spain where work had begun in the third century BC by the Carthaginians. Pliny describes how a site named Baebcio ‘provided Hannibal with 300 pounds of silver a day as tunnelling was extended a mile and a half into the mountain’.84 Strabo records that in the second century BC the mines near Carthago Nova ‘covered an area four hundred stades in circuit (44 miles); employed 40,000 workers and contributed 25,000 drachmas (100,000 sesterces) to the Roman treasury per day’.85 These figures suggests silver production of about 36 million sesterces per annum, but output during the first century AD was probably smaller as the underground deposits became harder to access. Roman gold mining operations were highly productive during the first century AD and Pliny gives figures for Iberian output in this period. He reports that Iberia produced up to 20,000 pounds of gold a year which is equivalent to 800,000 aurei or 80 million sesterces.86 This was enough to pay the annual cost of more than seven legions, or almost the entire army stationed on the Rhine frontiers. Bullion income was therefore an important part of the imperial finances and it helped the Empire to maintain its deficit regions. Gold from Iberia was a long-term, reliable income source and as Pliny comments, ‘no other part of the world has offered such a continuous production of gold for so many centuries’.87 Sometimes there were short-lived, but highly lucrative, bullion strikes in relatively underdeveloped parts of the Empire such as Dalmatia (modern Croatia). 14 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean Pliny describes how, ‘recently in Dalmatia when Nero was Emperor, a metal seam was discovered near the surface that yielded fifty pounds of gold a day’.88 This represents a bonus of about 70 million sesterces per annum that suddenly enriched government finances. This probably explains how Nero was able to pay an extra 60 million sesterces a year into the State treasury, the aerarium.89 The aerarium was managed by the Senate and received many of its finances from the old Republican provinces. Gold output from the Dalmatian mines would have declined as the most accessible deposits were stripped from the surface and specialist miners began underground exploration. However, these mines were still a major source of revenue in AD 93 when Statius lists Iberian and Dalmatian gold as one of the main incomes received by the imperial treasury (the Emperor’s fiscus).90 It is significant that Statius does not mention silver mines as a major state-resource, so by this period the Roman regime was probably receiving comparatively limited quantities of new silver bullion. In the early second century AD, the Emperor Trajan led Roman Legions across the Danube to conquer the mountainous Transylvanian Kingdom of Dacia. Dacia possessed gold mines that possibly compensated for any long-term decline in output from Iberian and Dalmatian sites. Modern scholars have estimated coin production in the Roman Empire by counting the number of dies used to strike new coins. By the time of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117–138), the Roman mint was producing a probable 16 million denarii and 1.1 million aurei per year. This is equivalent to 64 million sesterces worth of silver and 110 million sesterces worth of gold.91 However, most of this silver was possibly collected from older coinage melted down for reissue. Rome could sustain its military provinces as long as this high-value bullion income continued without interruption. This bullion created prosperity within Roman territories, but it was also needed to replace the wealth lost from the Empire through large-scale eastern commerce, particularly through trade with India. The Roman System: The Imperial era The early Roman Empire was successful because a large part of its State income came from taxing international commerce. During the Imperial period, Roman rule was structured around the military and the main expense incurred by the imperial government was the cost of the army. Most provinces paid very little tribute to central government and the expense of Empire was met by newly mined bullion and frontier customs taxes imposed on international trade. By the first century AD, the value of eastern imports entering the Empire via the Indian Ocean was more than 1,000 million sesterces per annum and this commerce raised more than 250 million sesterces in tax revenue for the Roman government.92 In the ancient world, merchants made money by trafficking distinct craft goods, or shipping unique regional products. The Mediterranean territories grew similar basic crops due to their comparable climate and this limited the prospects Revenue and the Roman Economy 15 for trade. As Pliny observes, ‘wine and roses, myrtle leaves and olive oil, are products that belong to almost all our countries in common’.93 But most spices and incense could not be grown productively in the Mediterranean. As Pliny explains, ‘the cinnamon shrub is not strong enough to be grown in Syria and delicate amomum and nard plants cannot survive travel out of India, even by sea to Arabia’. Some eastern plants could be grown in Italy, but they did not thrive or bear fruit. Pliny explains that ‘the climate is unrelenting. The pepper-vine will live in Italy, the cassia-plant can grow in northern climates and incense-trees have been known to survive in Lydia. But we do not have the sunshine to ripen their fruit or make their resin productive.’94 Eastern trade was significant because of the enormous quantity and variety of unique products that Africa, Arabia and Asia could supply to the Roman Empire. These were commodities grown in particular environments, or gathered from rare localised resources. Pliny confirms how Rome was dependent on eastern imports for its consumer fashions. He describes an expensive popular perfume called the ‘Royal Unguent’ because the recipe was taken from a formula used by Parthian kings. There were more than twenty eastern ingredients in this perfume including cinnamon, spikenard root and myrrh. Pliny observed that: ‘none of the components of this scent are grown in Italy, the world conqueror. None are even grown in the whole of Europe, with the exception of only two substances.’95 Rome imposed a quarter-rate customs tax on all foreign goods crossing the imperial frontiers known as the tetarte. In Egypt this meant that Alexandrian merchants paid the imperial government a costly dividend to transfer eastern merchandise from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. These goods were taxed as soon as they entered Roman authority, so merchants could not evade the high dues that government agents levied on this economic activity. Merchants paid the tax at the frontier, but they could recoup this expense with profits made by selling these goods at high prices to affluent consumers throughout the Mediterranean. During the Imperial period competitive spending on eastern goods became synonymous with fashion and status throughout Roman territory and people from across the Empire with surplus money to spend would willingly pay for attractive foreign commodities. Rome therefore presided over a system where people with wealth voluntarily paid high prices for the privilege of owning foreign products and this enriched the State. The income from international trade provided the first Emperor Augustus with the funds he required to instigate important reforms to the Roman military. At the start of his reign, Augustus needed to end the cycle of civil wars that had characterised Roman politics during the previous fifty years (88–30 BC). He believed that the best way to achieve this aim was to de-politicise the army by separating the mass of Roman citizens from the responsibility of military service. Dio explains the argument given by Agrippa, ‘if we permit all the men of military age to have weapons and to practise warfare, they will always be a source of sedition and civil wars’. The solution was to replace the citizen levies with a permanent army of full-time professional soldiers. These soldiers would be recruited ‘from the citizens, the subject nations, and the allies’.96 16 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean The new army was based around the existing Legions, but employed full-time soldiers who received regular pay and other financial benefits from the State. Each region of the Empire was assigned the forces required to maintain its security and the new army was planned accordingly. Agrippa explained, ‘the reason for a standing army is this: we are distant from the frontiers of our Empire and on every side enemies live near our borders. So, at critical times, we cannot depend upon expeditionary forces.’97 Dio describes how the Emperor assessed and set tribute levels in the established Roman provinces, ‘he instituted various required reforms, made donations of money to some regions, while at the same time commanding others to contribute an amount in excess of the previous tribute’.98 When Octavian (Augustus) defeated Antony in 30 BC, there were up to fifty Roman Legions in existence, constituting up to 500,000 troops. Augustus reduced this figure to just twenty-eight Legions consisting of about 300,000 fulltime soldiers with auxillary support.99 The size and pay of this army was planned according to set State revenues.100 Enormous sums were then spent demobilizing the surplus troops who expected land, or cash bonuses, to support their return to civilian life. There is good evidence for the size of the Roman Legions and the auxiliary units that gave them support on the battlefield. This information can be combined with evidence for military pay to suggest the overall cost of the Roman army. Modern scholars who have made these calculations suggest that during the Augustan era the Roman army cost the Empire about 640 million sesterces a year. In this period, total spending by the Roman State has been estimated at 1,000 million sesterces per annum, taking into consideration administration costs, building expenses and other outlays.101 As long as international commerce thrived, the Roman Empire could meet these high-level military costs. International commerce offered Roman government a way to indirectly tax the surplus wealth that was generated across their empire. Roman subjects did not pay this tax imposition unless they could afford to buy eastern goods, so impoverished people living on basic subsistence did not have tax forced upon them. Instead, affluent people paid highly for their consumerism and their spending contributed to the finances that the Roman government used to support a professional army. A secure and prosperous Mediterranean in turn bolstered international commerce and increased the trade revenues collected by the Roman government. In the Roman Empire, merchants performed a function that in other regimes was managed by a complex and costly range of tax officials and State agents. Firstly, traders who dealt in eastern goods sought out prosperous communities in the Roman Empire who had surplus disposable wealth. Merchants acquired this wealth by selling people commodities that had already been heavily taxed by the State. Secondly, by regularly paying its frontier legions with high-value coin, the Roman Empire incentivised the trade systems that furnished the army with many of the essential supplies they required for their operations. Merchants voluntarily took on this responsibility because of the profits that could be gained. In both Revenue and the Roman Economy 17 respects, private individuals operating commercial businesses provided much of the essential economic infrastructure that Rome required to manage its empire. This system also allowed Roman government to minimise the intrusive tax burdens it imposed on its provincial subjects. In many areas the Romans left the collection of local taxes to the indigenous elite who had been in power before the Roman conquest. These were exactly the class of people who, in places like Britain and Judea, would be most likely to organise any native opposition to Rome. This approach encouraged co-operation with Rome and undermined possible resistance against the Empire. Many conquered peoples might have felt humiliated by foreign interference in their countries, but by ancient standards the Roman Empire did not generally impose oppressive measures on those who willingly submitted to their authority. This incentive-based system had further benefits for Rome as it allowed the Empire to prosper with only a minimal level of State infrastructure. For example, control over several crucial custom points in Egypt and the Arabian frontier, with only a small investment of military personnel, provided the Empire with up to a third of its required revenues. Added to this were the millions of sesterces in bullion extracted from imperial mines and paid directly into the army as newly minted cash. Neither of these operations required large numbers of civilian State employees who needed to be paid substantial amounts to perform intricate, empire-wide, bureaucratic tasks. Rome could maintain a minimal bureaucracy and therefore ensure that its essential administrative expenses were focussed on an effective military infrastructure. By minimalizing its civilian bureaucracy, the Empire also reduced the potential for the corruption and tax abuses that these organisations could engender. The Roman State had therefore found a successful way to gain profit from international business through market consumerism. But this also made imperial Rome vulnerable to events that might occur far beyond the direct control of their Empire and its armies. For example, when Arab settlers in Somalia angered local people, the Africans started a forest fire that burned the cinnamon groves.102 The fall in cinnamon output would have caused a significant loss to tax-based Roman frontier revenues. The Romans tried to protect their foreign interests and expanded their control over the Indian Ocean trade networks by placing a military station at the Farasan Islands. This outpost in Yemen gave the Roman Empire command over traffic passing into and across the Red Sea. But Rome could not hope to control events in places such as India, the main source of the international commerce that financed their Empire. C H A PT E R T W O Roman Prosperity When Octavian (Augustus) defeated Queen Cleopatra he obtained an enormous fortune from the capture of Ptolemaic treasures. Dio confirms that ‘great quantities of treasure were found in Alexandria because Cleopatra had seized practically all the offerings from even the holiest shrines and this helped the Romans enlarge their spoils’. Furthermore, all the richest people in the conquered territory had two-thirds of their wealth confiscated.1As a consequence, unprecedented amounts of bullion were brought back to Rome and distributed amongst the citizen population. Augustus used these funds to supplement State spending and reward Roman citizens with generous grants, both as a way to meet political obligations and to buy popular support. The wealth greatly enriched Roman society and caused a sudden and unexpected increase in international commerce. Dio reports that in one of these pay-outs, ‘Augustus gave gifts to the soldiers and distributed 400 sesterces to every Roman citizen’.2 This was the equivalent of 100 silver denarii per citizen, which was more than a labourer could earn in three months. The money was considered to be a political privilege, so it reached Roman citizens from all classes and at all financial levels. The result was a consumer boom as many people spent their newly acquired bonus wealth on nonessential goods. Sellers also realised that they could ask for higher-prices now that consumers had greater available cash to spend on products. The economic effects of this distribution are well documented in the surviving sources. Paulus Orosius reports that ‘when Octavian conquered Alexandria, by far the richest and greatest of all cities, its wealth so enhanced Rome that the abundance of money raised the value of property and other saleable goods to double their previous levels’.3 Suetonius explains that ‘Augustus brought the treasures of the Ptolemies to Rome for his Alexandrian triumph and so much cash passed into private hands that the interest rate on loans dropped sharply, while real estate values soared’.4 Dio confirms, ‘such a vast an amount of money circulated through all parts of Rome that the price of goods rose and loans for which the borrower had been glad to pay 12 per cent, could now be had for one third that rate’.5 These higher prices attracted many foreign merchants to Rome in pursuit of profit as the increased wealth entering circulation made it easier to borrow money at lower interest rates. The profits funded ventures east to secure further unique products to sell to customers in the enriched imperial capital. All these events coincided with Rome gaining control over the Egyptian Red Sea ports and the sea-lanes that led to ancient India. When Strabo journeyed up the Nile with the Roman governor of Egypt, he heard direct reports about this dramatic increase in Roman Prosperity 19 eastern trade. After only a few years of Roman rule the number of ships sailing from Egypt to India had increased from less than 20 to at least 120 vessels.6 This was an unexpected development for the Empire and it provided important new revenues for the imperial regime. The Profits of Egypt During the Late Republic, Roman revenues were about 380 million sesterces per annum.7 By the Imperial period the Empire was divided into approximately forty provinces. This suggests that many provinces could generate about 10 million sesterces of revenue per annum.8 However, in most provinces after local expenses were paid less than a third of regional revenues were sent to Rome.9 A Roman legal document called the Muziris Papyrus confirms how imperial customs agents taxed incoming eastern cargoes. The document records how a ship called the Hermapollon returned from a trade venture to Tamil India carrying over 9 million sesterces worth of eastern goods. State-officials collected about 2.2 million sesterces worth of tax on this single cargo.10 The entire merchant fleet of 120 ships was probably importing over a billion sesterces of Indian cargo per annum.11 A quarter-rate tetarte tax on Indian imports worth 1,000 million sesterces would have raised annual revenues worth 250 million sesterces for the Roman regime. However, many of these goods would be taxed again when they were exported from Alexandria to Rome or other Mediterranean cities. A single Mediterranean portoria tax (one-fortieth) on goods worth 1,000 million sesterces would have produced further revenues worth perhaps 25 million sesterces per annum.12 This meant that Roman authorities imposed a double tax on Egypt’s trade with India. Strabo confirms that ‘large fleets are sent as far as India and the extremities of Africa and the most valuable cargoes are brought to Egypt. From Egypt they are sent forth again to all other regions and as a consequence, double duties are collected on both imports and exports’.13 Together the one-fortieth portoria and the quarter-rate tetarte tax could have raised 275 million sesterces for the Roman State.14 Added to this figure was the quarter-rate customs-tax collected on Roman goods exported to the distant east. Pliny reports that Rome exported over 100 million sesterces of bullion to India, Arabia and China, but this wealth probably passed through different customs stations in separate regions (Egypt: Coptos, Palestine: Gaza and Arabia: Leuke Kome).15 It is possible that total Roman exports from Egypt to India, including goods and bullion, were valued at more than 100 million sesterces and produced more than 25 million sesterces of revenue. This is because Han texts suggest a tenfold price difference between Roman exports to India (100 million sesterces) and Indian imports (1,000 million sesterces).16 By 20 BC, Augustus was receiving income from Egypt that was larger than the revenues that King Ptolemy XII Auletes had derived from the same region in 80 BC. Strabo explains: ‘even though Auletes administered his kingdom in a wasteful and careless way, he received annual revenues of 12,500 talents (300 million sesterces). So consider what the present revenues must be, now that 20 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean Egypt is under diligent management and commerce with India and Africa has been increased to such a great extent.’17 Revenues from the Republican Empire were about 380 million sesterces, so the restoration of Egypt increased the imperial income to more than 700 million sesterces per annum.18 Therefore, during the Augustan era, Egypt was providing up to half the income needed to finance the entire Roman Empire. Trade with India allowed the Romans to double the amount of revenue they received from Egypt and by the mid-first century AD the province was producing annual revenues worth 600 million sesterces.19 This is confirmed by Josephus who describes how King Herod Agrippa tried to discourage his people from rebelling against Rome (AD 66). Agrippa reminded the Jews how rich and powerful the Roman Empire had become after subduing Egypt. He reportedly said: ‘look at Roman power in our nearest neighbour Egypt. Egypt reaches to Ethiopia and Arabia Felix (Yemen) and it is the port for India.’ Agrippa told his people, ‘Egypt has a powerful incentive to revolt because of Alexandria, a city of great size, population and wealth. Alexandria is three-and-a-half miles long and over a mile wide. It pays Rome every month more tribute than you pay in a year and sends Rome enough grain for four months of the year.’20 Josephus reports that the Jewish Kingdom ruled by Herod Agrippa produced revenues of about 48 million sesterces per annum, so every year Egypt was probably sending more than 570 million sesterces to Rome.21 The growth in eastern trade explains how the Roman government received a sudden boost to its revenues during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius (AD 14–37). When Tiberius died he left 2,700 million (2.7 billion) sesterces in the imperial treasury, which is almost three times the amount the State required to pay its annual costs.22 To have obtained these funds, the Roman government must have been receiving a revenue surplus worth more than 110 million sesterces per annum.23 The early Empire operated with minimal surplus revenues and as a result Augustus warned his successors not to undertake further conquests.24 But by the time of Tiberius, trade had transformed Roman opportunities to expand their empire and in AD 43 Claudius could afford the conquest of Britain, adding another deficit region to the imperial domains. The Emperor Domitian (AD 81–96) raised army pay by a third and this increased Roman military spending by over 200 million sesterces a year.25 The initiative was possible because eastern trade was producing large amounts of new revenue for the Roman regime. By this period, Egypt was generating at least 600 million sesterces per annum, or about two-thirds of the revenue Rome needed to pay for its Empire. There were only two legions stationed in Egypt, so military costs in the region were low and most Egyptian revenue could be sent directly to Rome.26 The other provinces that comprised the Empire were generating at least 380 million sesterces a year, but most of these funds were being used locally on defence or other regional projects. This meant that Egypt gave Rome the funds it needed to balance the finance of its deficit regions. In effect, Egypt was paying for the Empire and Egyptian revenues were probably the only large scale transfer of provincial taxes directly to Rome. Roman Prosperity 21 Egypt had its own regional currency and Roman government transferred revenues from Alexandria to Rome in standard imperial coin. Alexandrian merchants brought imperial coin profits back to Egypt and this ensured that a sufficient store of money was available in Alexandria to pay future imperial revenues. Strabo describes the cargo imbalance between the two territories by reporting that ‘the exports from Alexandria are larger than the imports. Anyone can judge this by seeing the merchant vessels at either Alexandria or Puteoli (the port of Rome). Observe how the ships on arrival are heavy and vessels on departure are much lighter.’27 The Romans understood the connection between Egyptian trade revenues and imperial income. Tacitus describes an incident late in the life of Augustus when the Emperor’s ship was sailing past the bay of Puteoli. An Alexandrian freighter on its way to Rome approached the imperial vessel to salute the ageing Emperor. The merchant crew and passengers who had donned white garments and dressed in garlands began burning celebratory incense. Tacitus records that they ‘lavished good wishes and the highest praise on the Emperor, saying that he had given them their livelihood. They sailed the seas because of him and because of him they enjoyed their freedom and their fortunes.’ Augustus watched this display with pleasure and ‘gave forty gold pieces to each one of them. But he made them swear that they would spend their money on goods from Alexandria.’28 The Emperor appreciated that anyone who purchased incense and other eastern products was paying into a tax system that ultimately enriched the Roman government. During this period, custody of Egypt meant control over the bulk of imperial revenues and possession of a third of the grain dole needed to feed the city of Rome. Augustus and his successors realised the revenue potential of Egypt and understood that access to this powerful resource had to be restricted. The Emperors therefore placed severe political limitations on Alexandria and its local administrators. The governor of Egypt held equestrian rank and no senators were permitted to visit the province. No Alexandrian could become a senator and the leading citizens of the city were forbidden to convene any administrative council.29 The Emperor could not afford to have any challenger or separatist movement originate in Egypt to disturb imperial finances and threaten food shortages in Rome. During the Roman civil war of AD 69 Vespasian calculated that since he ‘held Egypt which controlled the grain supply of Italy and possessed the revenues of the richest provinces, the army of Vitellius could be forced to surrender by lack of pay and food’.30 His supporter Mucianus repeatedly asserted that money ‘was the sinews of war’.31Any permanent loss of Egypt and its eastern trade could ultimately mean the financial collapse of the entire Roman Empire. Surplus Income and the Grain Dole The Roman Empire was committed to large-scale schemes intended to reward and benefit its citizens. One example was the grain dole (annona) introduced by politicians in the Late Republic as a way of securing support from the citizen 22 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean assemblies who took the lead in electing officials and ratifying State policy. The annona was enacted for political reasons, but many Romans believed the practice was warranted; as Florus explains, ‘what could be more just than a people in need maintained from their own treasury?’32 The scheme was continued in the Imperial period when Augustus guaranteed that 200,000 adult male citizens in Rome received a regular grain dole from the State.33 Leading historians suggest the practice also benefited many wealthy Romans, as low-income people in the city could afford to purchase the wine and olive oil produced on large villa estates.34 Juvenal considered how the Roman people had once allocated military commands in overseas conflicts, but in his own time they were preoccupied with the issues of food costs and public entertainments, or ‘bread and circuses’.35 The Emperors were also committed to expensive public building programs in Rome and hired large numbers of unskilled workers. Pay from these schemes further subsidised the common people and allowed them to meet the cost of living in the capital. Suetonius reports an incident when an engineer offered Vespasian the use of a machine that could reduce the size of the city workforce needed to move heavy columns. The Emperor ‘gave the engineer a large reward for his invention, but refused to use it, saying: ‘‘I must feed my common poor’’’.36 Roman government paid private merchants to ship state-owned stocks of grain from the provinces to Rome. This incentivised commerce since the merchants who took these contacts were guaranteed earnings in Rome, even if market conditions proved unfavourable for other deals. Philostratus describes how many low-level merchants operated ships that ‘roamed the seas searching for some market that is badly stocked where they can sell and buy’.37 The grain-dole ensured that Rome was a destination visited on many of these ventures. By guaranteeing food supplies for those who lived in the capital, the dole system allowed Rome to develop a larger urban-population than any other ancient city. The Han Empire of ancient China had a population equivalent to the Roman Empire, but its capital Luoyang was home to approximately 500,000 people.38 By contrast, during the height of its Empire in the first century AD, Rome had up to a million inhabitants. This urban population was not equalled in Europe until the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the rapid growth of the city of London in the early nineteenth century.39 The grain dole was not a means-tested provision so even those with sufficient income were granted this benefit. Each citizen regularly received a grain parcel that could be made into a quantity of bread which was more than enough to feed an adult male throughout the year. Any surplus would have gone to feeding family members, or providing for other dependants, including household slaves. The grain allowance was offered to 200,000 male citizens, but it was so generous that it probably supplied enough bread to feed 400,000 people including women, children and slaves.40 For many households the money that would have been spent on basic grain could go towards affordable incense, spices and other minor luxuries. Therefore, by subsidising thousands of its citizens, the Roman State indirectly fostered centralised market commerce. Roman Prosperity 23 Modern scholars have calculated that the Roman Emperors needed at least 88,000 tons of grain a year to maintain the dole for approximately 200,000 male citizens in Rome.41 Most of the grain sent to the Roman capital came from estates in North Africa that were either owned by the State, or subject to a government tithe that seized a large share of their output for shipment to Rome.42 Egypt was an important grain producer because the floodwaters of the Nile carried rich soil deposits from the Sudan that replenished, as well as irrigated, the vast field systems lining the river. Ancient sources suggest that Egypt provided up to a third of the grain supply that fed Rome. Josephus reports that every year Alexandria ‘sends Rome enough grain for four months’.43 This represents at least 29,000 tons of grain shipped from Alexandria to Rome to sustain the government dole. In terms of monetary value, 29,000 tons of grain would have been worth at least 8 million sesterces in Egypt and 16 million sesterces in Rome, had the entire stock been bought and sold at market prices.44 The Roman State paid private merchants to ship the grain dole to the main ports that supplied Rome. The grain was then transferred into large government warehouses for safekeeping until distribution could be arranged. In the summer months it took only a few days to sail from North Africa to Italy and ships loaded with grain took advantage of predictable good weather.45 But the voyage from Alexandria to Rome was a more difficult crossing and would take several weeks to accomplish.46 There was also a possibility of bad weather during the voyage and several stopping-points might have to be made along the route if the ship encountered rough conditions. A passage from the Christian New Testament indicates the hazards involved when sailing from Egypt to Italy. In AD 60, the Apostle Paul was sent to stand trial in Rome and placed aboard an Alexandrian grain ship. The vessel was sailing in late summer or early autumn, and Paul warned his guards, ‘I can see that this voyage is going to end in hurt and damage to the cargo, the ship and our lives’.47 But the centurion in charge of the prisoners was convinced by the ship’s owner and captain that the voyage was safe. Paul was correct and the ship was wrecked by a storm off the island of Malta. The crew survived and when spring came they continued their voyage aboard another Alexandrian ship that had been forced to shelter at Malta during the winter season. This ship had also taken a chance on a late summer sailing, but had escaped destruction by finding a safe winter harbour on Malta. Paul was delivered to Rome where he was arrested and placed under armed guard. He continued his ministry by writing letters of encouragement to newly established Christian communities. Roman Government offered various incentives to guarantee grain shipments to the city of Rome, including exemption from certain civic taxes. Furthermore, anyone who would manage a transport vessel on the grain-run for six years was offered citizenship and social privileges.48 The Digest of Roman Law confirms that ‘exemption from public employments is granted to those who have constructed ships destined for the transport of provisions to the Roman people. These ships should have a capacity of at least 50,000 modii (350 tons), or several, each with a capacity at least than 10,000 modii (70 tons).’49 Mediterranean merchants had no 24 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean system to insure their cargoes against shipwreck, but the Emperor Claudius gave grain-shippers ‘the certainty of profit by assuming the expense of any loss that they might suffer from storms’.50 Ships that offloaded grain cargoes in Rome either took on ballast, or loaded wares that might fetch some profit back in eastern Mediterranean markets.51 Nonetheless, many people in Rome had to purchase grain from private merchants to feed themselves and their families.52 If market prices were considered too high, then Roman government could intervene by offering surplus State stocks at appropriate prices, or buying private supplies to re-sell at lower rates. Pliny the Younger explains that ‘longstanding obligations are met and provincials are not burdened by new impositions. The treasury buys what needs to be bought, with prices agreed between buyer and seller, so that there is plenty in Rome without causing starvation in other places.’53 When there were protests about grain prices in Rome, the Emperor Tiberius ‘fixed a definite price to be paid by the buyer and guaranteed the seller a subsidy of two sesterces per measure’.54 After the Great Fire of Rome (AD 64) the Emperor Nero lowered the grain price to 3 sesterces per modius to assist the population.55 These subsidies and interventions encouraged and ensured private grain shipments to the capital. Ships on the normal trade run from Alexandria to Rome could complete several voyages during the summer months and most of these ships probably ranged in size from 70 to 400 tons.56 An Egyptian papyrus provides a short register of nine ships arriving at Alexandria which belonged to a single businessman. The document records the tonnage of five ships at between 50 and 80 tons, a 230 ton vessel and an empty grain freighter from Ostia registered at 410 tons.57 A few specialist grain-freighters were equipped to carry more than 1,000 tons of cargo and Lucian describes one of these giant vessels which was named after the Egyptian goddess Isis. The captain of the Isis was forced to find winter harbour at the Athenian port of Piraeus when his ship was caught out by bad weather on a late voyage. Ships as large as the Isis could only dock at main harbours, whereas smaller vessels had more opportunities to stop and trade with intervening ports between Alexandria and Rome. The Isis became a temporary visitor attraction at Piraeus because of its extraordinary size and ornate design. Lucian reports that the ship was 180 feet long with a beam 45 feet wide. Its cargo hold was 44 feet deep which suggests a cargo capacity of up to 1,100 tons.58 Modern scholars have focused their studies on the grain supply to Rome because it is considered one of the largest economic processes that occurred in the Roman Empire. The grain trade also provides some basic evidence for the scale of the Roman economy. The grain dole delivered from Egypt to Rome can be conceptualised in many different ways, but the simplest approach is to visualise 100 vessels making two voyages per year, each with a grain cargo weighing 150 tons. This offers an important perspective to the scale and significance of Roman trade with the distant east. Another important point about trade within the Roman Empire is that internal customs taxes (portorium) were generally low. Merchants shipping cargo between Roman Prosperity 25 the provinces had to pay tax rates that were often set at about one-fortieth, or less than 3 per cent of the value of their goods. Furthermore, Italy was exempt from these port taxes as a special privilege designed to encourage incoming trade.59 This meant that merchants from Alexandria had to pay taxes to export goods from their home city, but paid nothing to offload this same cargo in Rome. The low rates set on portorium tax meant that the Roman government received relatively small revenues from internal commerce. Supposing the stocks of privately owned grain shipped from Alexandria to Rome matched the scale of the government grain dole (29,000 tons), this quantity of grain would be worth perhaps 8 million sesterces in Egypt, but would generate 200,000 sesterces for the government from the single low-rate export tax imposed at Alexandria. The grain dole ensured the provision of a basic, stable diet for the male citizens of Rome and their closest dependants. But it also enabled people to afford other, non-essential items that could be purchased with their surplus income, including eastern products available in new food flavourings, perfumes and remedies. In Rome many people began to spend their surplus wealth on eastern spices, incense, ivory, gems and pearls. Tacitus describes how ‘the consumption of edible luxuries reached substantial new levels in the century between the close of the Actium War and the struggle which placed Servius Galba on the throne’ (31 BC–AD 69).60 Other eastern commodities imported during this era created fashions for popular new forms of jewellery, ornaments and clothing. Pliny confirms that ‘pearls came into common use in Rome after Alexandria came under our power’ (30 BC).61 Throughout this era, the most fashionable, desirable and expensive items available to Roman consumers were the eastern goods delivered to Rome through the Red Sea trade. The Commercial Significance of Rome By the first century AD, Rome was a vital component in the Mediterranean economy. In the ancient world the long-distance transport of goods by sea was generally faster and more convenient than land haulage. Diocletian’s Price Edict suggests that shipment by sea was twenty-seven times cheaper than land transport and these figures are confirmed by the recorded haulage costs in eighteenth century Europe.62 The Roman Empire was structured around the Mediterranean Sea and Rome lay at the hub of a major maritime thoroughfare that could easily facilitate the mass movement of commodities between widely spaced regions. The city of Rome possessed the advantage of being close to the geographical centre of the Mediterranean Sea. It was therefore ideally placed to control the sea-lanes and attract cargoes from all regions enclosed by this seascape. From Italy, the Romans could exploit the passage of goods between three continents, Europe, Africa and the Asian Near East. As Pliny comments, ‘all benefits come to Italy from her situation – for the land juts out in the direction that is most advantageous to us, midway between the East and the West’.63 Rome performed an important function in the Mediterranean because in ancient times market information could only travel as fast as the movement of 26 The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean people, or commodities. It was therefore important to have a centrally placed city that could function as a nucleus for the regular exchange of goods. Over and above the normal transactions of local exchange, in any given year there would be seasonal food surpluses in many countries that bordered on the Mediterranean, while in other territories there would be shortages caused by unpredictable crop failures.64 In both circumstances Rome acted as a central marketplace where those with excess could be certain to sell their goods at a competitive price and those with shortages knew that they could acquire immediate provisions at an appropriate market cost. As there were no customs taxes imposed at the Italian ports, merchants favoured places like Rome for their transitional deals. Aristides calls Rome ‘the common trading centre of all mankind’ and declares that ‘whatever is grown, or made amongst every people, it is always to be found here in Rome at all times and in great abundance’.65 Rome, with its large population of up to a million inhabitants, provided unique opportunities for visiting merchants. Over 200,000 people in the city were eligible for the grain dole that enabled them to spend their earnings on prod