Oxford Roman Economy Project University of Oxford

Rice: Supply, Demand and the Maritime Economy of Lycia


Supply, Demand and the Maritime Economy of Lycia in the Roman Period
Candace Rice, University of Oxford.
2012 AIA Annual Meeting (Philadelphia)
Session 7A, January 8, 2012, 8:30 EST

The Lycian landscape is striking. Described by Strabo as rugged and hard to travel, the province is largely unfertile. Yet during the Roman period, particularly from the second century C.E. onward, the region witnessed increased prosperity and urbanization. This paper addresses the reasons behind this success, hinted at by the remainder of Strabo’s description that the region was exceedingly well supplied with harbors (14.3.2).

While agriculture is typically heralded as the primary basis of the ancient economy, ever increasing research is highlighting the importance of non-agricultural factors in the Roman economy. Lycia, an area with a very small percentage of arable land, provides an informative case study into the diversity of the Roman economy. In this landscape, a dense network of ports provided the necessary interface for the supply of the region, from essential commodities such as grain and oil to luxury items, and for the exportation of locally produced goods on both a regional and interregional level.

This paper examines the archaeological evidence along the coastline of Lycia to elucidate the various economic factors involved not only in the subsistence of the province but also in its wealth. Combining various fields of evidence, such as soil conditions, harbor infrastructure, urban production, imports, monumental building, and imperial benefaction, this paper argues that Lycia looked to the sea for its wealth. In doing so, this paper addresses a number of related questions: To what extent were various ports along this coastline integrated into the trading network of the Roman Mediterranean? Did integration vary based on the size of the port, its facilities, or the productive capabilities of its hinterland? Did certain ports become more successful at the expense of neighboring ports, or did increased trade facilitate a more general, widespread prosperity? To what degree was trade focused internally toward the hinterland vs. externally across the Mediterranean? In exploring these questions, this paper presents a nuanced view of how supply and demand both required and facilitated a largely maritime-based economy in Lycia.

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