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Emporium Aegyptium: Egypt as a Global Marketplace

Irene Soto Marín

University of Michigan

It is a curiosity of ancient historical studies that Egypt has played only a marginal role in much of the high-level debate about the Roman and Late Antique economy (McCormick 2002; Horden and Purcell 2000), though it has much quantified evidence to offer which has been the subject of a lot of scholarly investigation (Bowman and Wilson 2009; de Callataÿ 2014). Even legal sources point to the high level of Imperial attention given to the Egyptian merchants in charge of transporting grain from Alexandria to Constantinople (C. Th. XIII, 5,7).

Therefore, in order to give Egypt a role in discussions of the Roman economy more consonant with its wealth and productivity, this paper presents an analysis of the economic integration between Egypt and the rest of the Roman Empire during the fourth century, by means of quantified case studies in the papyrological, numismatic, and archaeological record. The papyrological texts attest to robust long-distance trading of textiles, while the numismatic evidence, compiled of a database of over 35,000 coins, proves a positive balance of trade for the province during Late Antiquity. Amphorae from over 15 Late Antique sites in Egypt also show that the province was very much au courantwith the Roman wine market.

Egypt acted both as a nexus for long-distance trade and as a producer of staple goods, such as grain, which fed the Roman population around the Mediterranean, and linen, used for trading with India and Sub-Saharan Africa and for clothing the Roman army. Therefore, the economic integration of the province should be somewhat expected, but this analysis allows us to quantify the extent to which its economy was linked to the rest of the Empire and assess the degree of connectivity between the actors of this trade. Textiles and wine, and other goods, were sold and paid for with coins (though not only) and thus these sets of evidence speak to the interconnection between merchants and buyers in Late Antiquity.

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Merchants and Markets in Late Antiquity

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