ABSTRACT

Many Romans took pride in what they grew themselves, just as people do today, and occasionally they mocked those who bought things they could have produced for themselves. As the preceding chapters demonstrate, this does not mean they were actually pursuing self-sufficiency. Some certainly advocated in favor of the efficient use of available resources, which could lead a farmer to be self-sufficient in a particular good or goods, and there were compelling reasons to engage in polyculture, but a host of factors led Roman farmers to rely, to varying degrees, on markets, reciprocal relationships, and (in some cases) the redistributive power of government to meet their needs. In light of this fact, it makes far more sense, when discussing the economic behavior of Roman farmers, to think in terms of degrees of dependency. The use of the word ‘self-sufficient,’ even in a limited sense, leads us to ignore or underestimate the relationship between Roman farmers and the economy. 1 In this final chapter I want to consider this relationship by first asking what levels of dependency various kinds of farmers had and then what the implications of that dependency might be. If smallholders were highly dependent on the market, then changes in the market could have a serious effect on them. Dependency is best considered in three dimensions in that there is dependence on the market but also, as discussed in Chapter 5, dependence on reciprocal relationships and redistributive channels. While ample evidence shows the Roman elite engaging in all sorts of reciprocal relationships, we can only guess that it was also an important facet of the economic lives of poorer Romans and Italians. 2 With respect to redistribution, prior to the alimenta there is little evidence for sustained efforts in support of agriculture. 3 Roman farmers tended not to be direct victims or beneficiaries of redistributive wealth transfers except at the beginning or end of their agricultural careers (i.e., when receiving land as part of a colony or viritane settlement or when their lands were confiscated). 4 Thus, in the following section, I will concentrate on market dependency.