Tag Archives: Roman economic history

An institutional revolution? The early tabernae of Roman Italy (2022)

Alba Fucens: taberna along the Via dei Pilastri

How can we understand economic innovation in antiquity, and what does it mean for our understanding of ancient economic history? This paper studies the appearance of a very common urban feature in the cities of Roman Italy – the taberna. The paper develops around three arguments. At a very general level, it argues that commercial facilities as architectural concepts should be seen as historical phenomena, meaning that their emergence in some form or another represents a development in the history of markets, and that architectural change constitutes a logical focal point for discussions about the history of markets. Second, more specifically, this paper will argue that this is particularly true for the Roman taberna, which becomes visible in our archaeological and textual record only at a relatively late point in Roman urban history, suggesting there may have been a preceding period in which this phenomenon did not play a role in everyday economic practice; indeed, it will be suggested that this period ended more recently than has commonly been assumed. Thirdly, this paper will argue that the taberna did not have any direct predecessors in the Greek world, as has sometimes been suggested, but was an innovation of Middle Republican Central Italy that at some point was picked up and further spread by both the Roman authorities and private investors. This innovation, it is argued, was so fundamental for the history of retail in Roman Italy that it should count as an ‘institutional revolution’: it profoundly transformed the rules of the game in everyday economic practice.

Together, these arguments serve to make the point that, when discussing the economies of the market in the Greco-Roman World, ‘innovation’ should be a leading historical concept. That is to say, the subliminal message of this chapter is that debates about Greco-Roman economic history should not so much be primarily interested in how markets worked, and how this fits – or does not fit – with our conceptualizations about pre-modern or modern economies; rather, they should aim to explore how market institutions and market practices developed over time and adapted to changing economic realities. This position should be taken as opposing itself to approaches to the Roman economy that unduly privilege structural analysis over historical development, often in terms strongly opposing the Roman past to the modern world. As this paper will highlight, this obliterates many changes and developments within the Roman world.

Bibliographical details


Chapter in edited volume, 2022. Publication of a February 2019 conference organized in Kassel, where I gave an invited talk.


Flohr, M. (2022). ‘An institutional revolution? The early tabernae of Roman Italy’, in K. Ruffing and K. Droß-Krüpe (eds), Markt, Märkte und Marktgebäude in der antiken Welt. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 425–439.

Open Access

A PDF of this publication is available in Open Access via Leiden University (https://hdl.handle.net/1887/3561535).

Miko Flohr, 08/11/2022

Information Landscapes and Economic Practice in the Roman World (2021)

How did the Roman Empire transform the way in which people involved in longer-distance trade could get their information about local markets? How did economic information circulate within and between cities? What did the ‘information landscapes’ look like with which traders would have to familiarize themselves? This chapter was published in a 2021 volume on Managing Information in the Roman Economy, edited by Cristina Rosillo-López and Marta García Morcillo. It explores the reality of asymmetric information in Roman economic practice by analyzing the historical development of ‘information landscapes’ in the Roman world, and by assessing what these imply for the contexts in which asymmetric information could play a role in everyday transactions.

I started from the idea that space remains an underexplored issue in approaches to economic practice in the ancient world, even though it is clear that, particularly in the Hellenistic period and the early Roman Empire, the nature and the dynamics of space change drastically, within regions, they change as a consequence of political unification, economic integration, and urbanization and, within cities, they change because of developments in architectural practice and increasing monumentalization. The chapter discusses the nature and impact of these developments both at the regional level and the urban level.

On the regional level, it observes the emergence, within the Roman Empire, of a limited number of clusters with a rather dense pattern of urbanization, implying strongly integrated regional information networks, and large areas were cities were fewer and further in between, suggesting more dispersed information networks, and a less natural circulation of information. These differences matter for economic actors operating at a supra-local level, and they have implications for the information strategies they can and cannot develop.

Within cities, there is an increasing development toward the construction of permanently accessible public facilities in and around the urban center which suggests a more predictable communication landscape, and therefore a more stable circulation of information, while the increasing amounts of shops along urban thoroughfares particularly in Roman Italy increased the density of urban information landscapes. This means that more, and better information was available to more people. The final section of the chapter explores what this means for information asymmetries, contending that this transformed the role that information assymetries played in everyday economic praxis.

Bibliographical details


Chapter in edited volume, 2021. Peer reviewed. Publication of a 2018 conference organized in Sevilla, where I gave an invited talk.


Flohr, M. (2021). ‘Information landscapes and economic practice in the Roman World’, in C. Rosillo López and M. Garcia Morcillo (eds), Managing Information in the Roman Economy. Palgrave Studies in Ancient Economies. London: Palgrave, 205–228. ISBN: 9783030540999

Open Access

A PDF of this publication is available in Open Access via Leiden University (https://hdl.handle.net/1887/3216895).


Featured Image

Veleia. Augustan-era forum with plaza surrounded by porticus.

Key figure

This map of the Roman world shows the spread of evidence for urban culture in the Roman world. It combines epigraphic evidence – inscriptions referring to key urban processes – with architectural remains of public buildings such as baths, theatres and amphitheatres, and it is color-coded to highlight the regional density of this evidence.

Miko Flohr, 26/01/2021