The Economics of Roman Trade Through the Lens of Virgil’s Georgics

Rebekah Lajoie

The Economics of Roman Trade Through the Lens of Virgil’s Georgics

Nominated by Professor Nancy Evans, Classics

For my Latin senior capstone project, I am currently researching The Economics of Roman Trade Through the Lens of Virgil’s Georgics.  I have read thoroughly Books One and Two of Virgil’s Georgics, which is a collection of poems that praise Italy’s most beautiful natural resources.  The Georgics were written in the first century B.C.E., as a tool for promoting an agricultural lifestyle to the Roman people after the civil wars had ended.  At the time, Augustus Caesar desired to restore Italy to its former self by preserving long-held cultural traditions.  Augustus used his power to restore peace and stability in the Roman world, while also generating a sense of devotion to and nationalism for Italy.  As a countryman who deeply valued his homeland, Virgil wrote the Georgics to help restore deep Italian traditions and emphasize the beauty of Italy.  Virgil’s Georgics influenced much of the post-civil war agricultural spur, which helped to strengthen the Roman economy.

In my essay, I analyze how trade at the time of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire aided Rome’s expansion and sustenance of power throughout areas surrounding the Mediterranean.  My analysis is completed through the application of David Ricardo’s theory of Comparative Advantage to economic transactions in Roman antiquity.  I examined data and literary accounts of commodities such as wine, wheat, garum (fish oil), and domestic agricultural produce, which helped to explain the manner in which Rome traded domestically and abroad.  These commodities were shipped around the Mediterranean Sea by way of maritime trade routes.

The analysis of Roman trade is enhanced and colorized through Virgil’s Georgics.  Throughout his poems, he alludes to the exchange of goods by explaining to his readers what regions produced the best and most luxurious products.  Virgil highlights the very meaning of the Roman lifestyle, which was the achievement of happiness for all.  The goal of Roman society, in the area of economic engagements, was an increase in happiness for all parties involved in each transaction.

The transactions studied in this project very much parallel the economic transactions in today’s time.  This is one of the most interesting parts of my research, in my opinion.  I believe there is much knowledge that can be taken from ancient Roman society, especially in terms of its economy.  During the first century B.C.E., Rome was one of the most advanced and elaborate economies, if not the most advanced.  Agriculture and trade dominated the Roman economy.  (These were a large part of most successful economies up to the recent age of industrialization.)  There is much about ancient Roman trade that could be applied to trade today.  This has helped me to better understand the roots of our modern economy.

I am currently a senior Economics and Latin double-major, with a minor in Business Management.  For this project, I wanted to be able to combine my love for all three subjects and research a topic that would showcase everything I have learned in my four years at Wheaton.  Wheaton’s collection of books on ancient Roman society and economy are unmatched, and I was truly lucky to have had such incredible resources at my fingertips.  In all my Latin and Economics courses, my professors have prepared me to share this type of in-depth research with the public.  I would like to thank them for passing on their knowledge, especially Professor Evans in the Classics department, who has helped me to organize every thought, fact, and opinion throughout the process of this capstone project.