The Economics of Empire: Housing Size and Per-Capita Wealth in Asia Minor

Jasper Fu


For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, classical researchers have sought to understand the political and military history of imperial Rome in far greater depth than the situation of its populace. In particular, scholarly inquiry into the Roman economy has tended to focus on extensive, or aggregate, economic growth at the imperial level. While these studies indicate that the scale of the Roman economy peaked roughly during the 1st century AD, the effects of this growth on the average person remain uncertain. Recently, scholars have attempted to answer this question using housing data from the western empire, arguing that house size can be a reasonable proxy for wealth. However, similar studies in the eastern empire have yet to be undertaken. This paper addresses the economic impact of Rome on the eastern empire, specifically in the region of Asia Minor. In order to do this, I have amassed and analyzed archaeological housing data from Anatolia. Specifically, I have observed trends in the distribution of house sizes. After compiling a corpus of housing data from Pre-Roman, Roman, and Post-Roman eras, I recorded the changing trends in median house size and the distribution of house sizes. The data reveal that though median house size decreases over time, the largest houses actually underwent significant growth. This suggests a corresponding rise in economic inequality. Essentially, while little changed for the majority of Romans, the richest segment of the population experienced disproportionate benefit. Understanding such trends in per-capita wealth is crucial in developing a more comprehensive view of the economic and material well-being of Roman citizens. As a result, it provides one contribution towards developing a more comprehensive understanding of the Roman Empire as a whole.


per-capita income, Roman imperialism, Asia Minor

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