Economic Power and the Wide-spread Application of Roman Technology
In our discussion of identifying the interrelation of power systems across ancient societies, we have often come to a block in understanding the significance of Economic power in Mann’s IEMP model and the role it played in the legitimization of power. This results from a variety of reasons but most significantly our tendency as scholars to assimilate the evidence of economic control into other facets of Mann’s model and the overall lack of evidence relating to the development of ancient economies. While there are records found across Egypt as well as parts of the Mediterranean pertaining to the complex role that accounting and recording systems played in the development of regional economies, we have (until fairly recently) been in the dark. In his chapter “The Imperial Economy,” David Mattingly redefines the roles that these systems and other technological developments played in our identification of the Roman economic body and the degree to which they impacted the legitimization of Roman Authority. By looking closely at the broader scope of technological developments across Roman territory before and after their assumption of control, we can better understand that these systems played crucial roles in the assimilation of distinct economic spheres and the reinforcement of Roman power.
Mattingly highlights that until fairly recently, it was commonly understood that technological developments stagnated under Roman authority. However, this disregards the degree of diffusion of these technologies across territories where they previously were unfounded. Thus economic growth can be understood as the increase in not only the spread of technological application but also the degree of influence carried with it. Mattingly notes that this most clearly observed in the use of water power. Previous opinion has held that the poor development and distribution of water mills is emblematic of larger economic and technological failings on the account of Roman power. But new archaeological evidence presents us with contrary points as water power has been observed not only in the development of mills across the arid south and east Mediterranean, but also in that of mining operations ranging from modern day Spain to Britain. This is further supported by the fact that there is a distinct increase in the application of existing technologies across a large expanse of Roman territory. Olive pressing, glass manufacturing, kiln and pottery technologies, and brewery production is noted to have become widely diffused with a greater degree of specialization (Mattingly 2006; 288).
In Kevin Greene’s technological analysis of Roman developments, he discusses the possibility and implications of wide-spread water power use citing that archaeological evidence presents that it was normative for towns, forts, and villages in Britain to be equipped with water powered millstones (Kevin Green 1990; 215). Similarly, Greene notes the commonplace of hydraulic powered mining operations across Roman territory further reinforcing that it was not the case that wide-spread technological application was minimal and limited.
It has been observed by Greene and Mattingly that technological achievements were being more readily employed following introduction of Roman authority and this is emblematic of the Roman’s ability to effectively integrate their subsidiaries into the culture. The allure of Roman culture is often referred to along with their colonization practices as one of the primary methods of integrating captured territories. While not directly relating to the development of new technologies such as the hydraulic mill, Tacitus’ Agricola is often cited as one of the definitive examples of this integration through technology. “Step by step they were led to things which dispose to vice, the portico, the bath, the elegance of banquets. All this in their ignorance they called civilization, when it part of their servitude.” (Tac. Ag. 21). The specific mention of distinctly Roman architectural models - namely the portico and bath house - speak greatly to the enticing nature of Roman technologies and their effectiveness at integrating societies into Roman command.
In all of these examples attention is payed to the magnitude of Rome’s impact on territories within her control. The rising commonplace of hydraulic power and specialized manufacturing technologies, such as the olive press, all lend themselves to the reinforcement of the fact that Roman technological development eased the integration of outside societies as a method of appeasement and cultural integration, and new archaeological evidence further debunks previous myths surrounding the decline of Roman technological influence.
David Mattingly, “The Imperial Economy”,Blackwell Companion to the Roman Empire (2006)
Kevin Green, “Perspectives on Roman Technology”, Oxford Journal of Archaeology. (1990)