Frequent yet unpredictable harvest failures were a notorious aspect of pre-modern agriculture, dependent as farming was on the vagaries of the climate. Cities were particularly vulnerable in such situations, as most urban inhabitants did not produce their own food. High food prices could rapidly endanger the livelihood of the urban poor. Economic malaise and social disruption was the result. Consequently, most pre-modern civic governments took measures to shield their populations from the effects of food price spikes. The Roman empire was a highly urbanised society, yet ancient historians have either mostly ignored or judged ineffective civic government and elite interventions in the urban food market in times of dearth. This project concerns an in-depth study of civic government and elite involvement in the urban food market in the cities of Roman imperial Asia Minor, where evidence is plentiful. Adopting the novel approach of studying both government market interventions and food-related elite benefactions (munificence) simultaneously, and employing important theoretical insights from the social sciences and comparative history on food markets and food distribution, we aim to move beyond the confines of old debates and present a new picture of the management of Roman urban food markets that will contribute to a better understanding of the functioning of Greco-Roman cities and pre-modern urbanism more generally.
Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2013-2016 PhD project Nicolas Solonakis, supervisor Arjan Zuiderhoek, co-supervisor Paul Erdkamp