Peter Temin, THE ROMAN MARKET ECONOMY

Peter Temin, The Roman Market Economy. Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 2013.

I will confess that after I started reading this, it became the thing I read when I wanted something to help bore me to sleep. Temin is an economist, and despite his best efforts to make himself comprehensible to non-economists, the economist-specific jargon and calculations are impenetrable where they aren’t tedious. In many respects it is a useful examination/elucidation of Roman markets and the operation of a Roman business economy: in other respects, Temin falls prey to the perennial problem of economists, and stops seeing people as people. His background as an economist of the 20th century obtrudes itself noticeably at times, when he makes certain statements about society in antiquity that feel rather strange to me. It feels as though he isn’t using a wide enough variety of kinds of evidence to support his statements – the quantitative evidence is scanty, yes, but there is more contextual evidence that could be brought into play to illuminate his arguments.

But ultimately, for its discussion of trade, the Roman labour market, and of the constraints of Malthusian population theory versus economic growth, it is interesting and useful in sum, even if I decline to try to follow its mathematics.