Palimpsest Home

An American
Living in Italy

About the Project

Related Italy Links

Search the Site



Tour of Italy for the Financially Challenged - logo6.6k

Agriculture in the Roman Empire
(3 of 3)
The Patricians (groupname)
Ital333, Prof. Barbara Nucci, March 1999

A Chronology of
Events in Italy

60,000 BC - 1300 AD

1300 AD - 1998 AD




Baths of Baiae;
Observations and Inferences
The Casamari Abbey
The First 400 Years
Agriculture in the
Roman Empire
Pope Julius II

Eleonora Pimentel
The Parthenopean Republic

The Effect of Mussolini's 
Pronatalist View on Women


     Throughout the Roman Empire, the basis for survival was agriculture produced to feed the armies and the people.  In each town, loans became available to farmers at a rate of interest much lower than normal (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 256).  These loans were calculated based on a fraction of the total value of the land.  The land was used for collateral to guarantee the principal of the loan and came directly from the Emperor's privy purse (the fisc or the Emperor's personal funds) (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 255).  According to Christina Colyer, the principal of these loans was non-repayable (personal communication, Dec. 19, 1998).  These loans had a low interest rate usually five percent, but some as low as two-and-a-half percent.  These rates were considered affordable and reasonable (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 255; Stobart, 1961 p. 25 1).  The accrued interest paid by farmers was deposited into a special municipal fund, which was donated to the poor children of the Empire (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 255).  The net result was ready capital for farmers to produce crops and funds available to support needy children until they came of age (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 256).  The needy children as well as the farmer's own family benefited from these loans.  There is evidence of these loans recorded on bronze tablets found near Veleia in northern Italy and in Beneventum in southern Italy.  The following inscription was found in Veleia dated 109 -112 AD:

Liens on properties to the amount of 1,044,000 sesterces, so that through the indulgence of the best and greatest princeps, the Emperor Caesar Nerva TRAJAN Augustus Gennanicus Dacicus, boys and girls may receive support [as follows]: legitimate boys, 245 in number, at 16 sesterces each [per month], equals 47,040 sesterces; legitimate girls, 34 in number, at 12 sesterces each [per month], equals 4,896 sesterces; illegitimate boys, 1, 144 sesterces [per year]; illegitimate girls, 1, 120 sesterces [per year]; total, 52,200 sesterces, which equals 5 percent interest on the aforementioned principal (CIL Vol XI no. 1,147; cited in Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 256).

     The Imperial Child-Assistance System, known as alimenta, was maintained for over 200 years beginning with Emperor Trajan (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 255).  Alimenta, which meant food, was a system of loans paid to farmers with an overall goal of improving agriculture and stimulating the birth rate of Italians (Sinnigan & Boak, 1977 p. 309).  The system of alimenta, which was introduced in Italy, was eventually extended to the provinces of the Empire (Lewis & Reinhold, 1990 p. 255).  Evidence also exists on Roman coins commemorating the alimenta funding under Trajan.  The coins depict the Roman goddess Abundentia who stood for abundance of either grain or corn (Trajan, 1999).

     The management of the Empire's agriculture can be seen in Rome through the prefect of the city's grain supply and in the Empire's municipal towns.  The people of the Empire strove to produce what they needed as well as what they could produce for trade with others.  The evolution into tenant farming resulted from the inefficiency of slave labor.  Since the number of slaves throughout the Empire decreased resulting in the increase in the price of slaves.  The overall efforts in obtaining slaves became expensive and tenant farming was the solution to Rome's agricultural needs.  With the municipal expenditures on loans made to farmers, alimenta was an effort made to feed the poor children.  It allowed many farmers the chance to borrow money so that they could produce the agriculture that was needed and take care of his own family. 


Back to page 2                   Back to Palimpsest home


Italy Home | Palimpsest | Italy Links | The Project | Search