Sunday, May 9, 2010

CFP: Land and natural resources in the Roman world, Brussels, 26-28.05.2011

International conference

In comparison with other pre-modern empires, the economic performance of the Roman Empire (ca. 200 B.C. - A.D. 600) is impressive: not only were living standards raised for the population at large, but the empire also showed strong resilience and the ability to overcome economic crises. In order to explain this remarkable success, recent work in Roman economic history has placed particular stress on the analysis of economic performance. Yet the economic foundation of any pre-industrial society, namely agriculture and natural resource exploitation, has not yet received the attention it deserves, notwithstanding some important recent work by scholars such as Kehoe, Erdkamp, and Banaji. 

The conference 'Land and natural resources', to be held in Brussels on May 26th-Sat. 28th, aims at studying in detail the varied ways in which the Romans exploited their land and natural resources, how they reflected on these usages, and how this contributed to the economic development of the empire. We are interested not in performance per se, but in the structures that made this performance possible. 

'Exploitation of land and natural resources' should be understood in a broad sense, ranging from the exploitation of uncultivated lands (e.g. hunting and gathering), techniques to bring new land under cultivation, all types of farming, mining and quarrying, to the hamessing of the power of wind and water and techniques of irrigation. These cannot, however, be studied in isolation. Wider economic and ideological developments need to be included, in particular changes in agricultural structure (concentration of land, management of holdings, attitudes of landowners etc.), changes in the market (supply, demand, nature of trading channels) of agricultural goods and natural resources, and changes in state structures (local differences, the role of the tax system, the role of large landowners such as the church); it also needs to be asked how these impacted on the exploitation of the land and natural resources. In addition, ideological factors, such as the idealization of agricultural labor in Roman society, may have had a considerable impact on the exploitation of the land. The conference thus does not wish to study the exploitation, processing and distribution of various natural resources (agricultural and non-agricultural) in isolation from each other, but in their interaction with each other. We believe this integrative approach will greatly enhance our understanding of the foundations of the Roman economy. 

Keynote speakers include Dennis Kehoe, Elio Lo Cascio, Christer Bruun, Analisa Marzano e.a. 

We welcome proposals for 20 minute papers on any of the above topics. Abstracts of 500 words should be submitted to Paul Erdkamp ( or Koen Verboven ( by Sept. 1st, 2010.To enhance the coherence of the conference we ask you to choose one of the following themes. 

The availability of natural resources
Natural resources (arable land, ores, fishing grounds,...) are unevenly spread. Did access to natural resources matter in the long run ? Were regions rich in resources more likely to experience economic growth or not ? 

Ownership and Control
Who enjoyed 'rights of exploitation' of natural resources ? What were these rights based upon (property rights, political control, custom...). Did Roman ideas about social status influence definitions of rights of access to and exploitation of natural resources (for instance, were sacred properties, public lands, and private lands managed and exploited differently). 

Organisation and modes of exploitation
How was the exploitation of natural resources organized ? What is the implication of this for investment, productivity and the acquisition of expertise ? Is the State directly involved in the exploitation of mines, quarries, forests, salt pans etc. (for instance through the army), indirectly, or not at all ? How did all this develop over time ? 

Exploitation and processing of natural resources 
Natural resources are rarely 'ready at hand' or 'ready to use'. Their exploitation requires an amount of know-how and investment in extraction and processing facilities. We are not interested in technology per se, but in whether and how innovations occurred, how technology spread, and how skills were acquired. Who financed the necessary facilities ? How durable were they ? How much expertise and expense was needed for upkeep ?

The fruits thereof...
Who benefited from the exploitation of natural resources apart from the direct consumers ? Did the profits accrue into the hands of private entrepreneurs ? of middlemen or the state ? Did the latter profit through taxation or as owner farming out the natural riches ? What was the role of the market in this process ? 

Further details on the conference and the wider research project of the Roman society Research Centre can be found on