Trading Communities in the Roman World

A Micro-Economic and Institutional Perspective


Ancient Roman trade was severely hampered by slow transportation and by the absence of a state that helped traders enforce their contracts. In Trading Communities in the Roman World: A Micro-Economic and Institutional Perspective Taco Terpstra offers a new explanation of how traders in the Roman Empire overcame these difficulties.

Previous theories have focused heavily on dependent labor, arguing that transactions overseas were conducted through slaves and freedmen. Taco Terpstra shows that this approach is unsatisfactory. Employing economic theory, he convincingly argues that the key to understanding long-distance trade in the Roman Empire is not patron-client or master-slave relationships, but the social bonds between ethnic groups of foreign traders living overseas and the local communities they joined.

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Biographical Note

Taco Terpstra, Ph.D. (2011), Columbia University, specializes in Roman socio-economic history and classical archaeology. He has published articles on Roman long-distance trade and editions of Egyptian papyri, as well as articles resulting from his field work in ancient Stabiae.

Review Quotes

" In short, the essential parameters of Terpstra’s model provide a useful framework by which to explain certain evident successes of Roman trade. Contrasting his focused thematic volume with recent broader monographs by Bang and Temin, Terpstra declares “no such lofty aspirations” (pg. 7), and indeed the present work approaches a thinner slice of Roman trade. On these terms and more, it is undeniably successful, elucidating beautifully many details of one critical socioeconomic component of a broader model of Roman connectivity." Justin Leidwanger, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.05.30.


All interested in Roman long-distance trade, Roman law, ethnicity in the Roman world, and the archeology of Rome and Ostia, as well as economists interested in pre-industrial economic history.

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