Ancient Rome was an agrarian and slave-based economy whose main concern was feeding the vast number of citizens and legionaries who populated the Mediterranean region. The staple crops were grains, olives, and grapes. Olive oil and wine led Italy's exports. Romans used a form of two-tier crop rotation, but crop production yielded low output and required a vast number of slaves to operate.
Farmers could donate surplus crops to the government to pay their taxes. The need to secure grain led to the expansion and conquests of the Roman State. Grain was shipped directly to Ostia, the official port of Rome. At Ostia the grain was weighed, checked for quality, and then sent up the Tiber River on barges to Rome, where it would be repacked for distribution throughout the Empire.
There was also a vast exchange of other goods from all parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The prosperity of the Empire and many of its citizens generated a need for luxurious and exotic imports. Silks from China and the Far East, cotton and spices from India, Ivory and wild animals from Africa, vast amounts of mined metals from Spain and Britain, fossilized amber gems from Germany and slaves from all over the world discovered that all roads did indeed "lead to Rome."
Industry and manufacturing were secondary to agriculture. Mining provided the stones for enormous building projects and metals for tools and the weapons that conquered the western world. Greece and northern Italy provided marble for the buildings. Gold and silver were mined in Spain to mint coins and create jewelry, while mines in Britain produced iron, lead, and tin for weapons. Cities and towns throughout the empire established small-scale manufacturing plants that produced hand-made pottery, glassware, weapons, tools, jewelry and textiles.
Extensive trade routes were established on land and sea. Many Roman roads are still in use today. The large network of roads allowed the transport of goods, but their most significant purpose was the fast mobilization of the legions. Trade by land was only profitable if goods were going short distances or if the cargo was small, expensive luxury items. Most large-volume goods were shipped by sea.
Romans used one of the world's most developed coinage systems. Coins of brass, bronze, copper, silver, and gold in the Imperial system were minted and circulated under strict rules for weights, sizes, value and metal composition.
Source: Ancient Roman Economy
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