Migration of craftsmen and traders in search of labour was an endemic feature of the Roman world. Labour opportunities, both real and perceived, conditioned individuals’ decisions and abilities to move from one place to another. A unique feature of the late-antique world was the emergence of a fiscal regime, which impacted upon wage-labour migration. This paper offers a new account of the ways in which late imperial fiscality conditioned the mobility of craftsmen by considering how institutions were rearticulated to become mechanisms of fiscal integration and, in turn, how individual craftsmen responded to this institutional change in the late Roman west.
Scholars have often posited that the new fiscal regime of the later Roman empire attempted to increase constraints on individuals’ activities, which included a limitation on mobility between urban centers. This is particularly the case when considering the late-antique associative order. In the course of the third to fourth century, the responsibility for the completion and organization of public liturgies and the collection of a new urban trade tax devolved on to the empire’s professional associations—its collegia and corpora(e.g. Carrié 2002). A significant number of constitutions from our late-antique law codes have been read to suggest that as a result of this process members of these associations became increasing bound to their labour and, as a corollary, their cities. As a remedy to their systemic exploitation, the traditional narrative holds, that collegiatiresponded with the mass abandonment of their cities (e.g. Waltzing 1895-1900 and Cracco Ruggini 1976).
This paper maintains, however, that the juridical evidence, when considered alongside relevant epigraphic and literary material, suggests something altogether different. Fiscal policies did indeed affect mobility, but rather than acting as systems of constraint, the imperial legislation aimed to turn collegia and corporainto mechanisms for the integration of migrant craftsmen into the fiscal life of cities. Permanent residence in a city for labourers required attachment to a professional association and long-term membership granted some benefits, financial and legal. Yet, it was accompanied by individual fiscal obligation. This state of affairs generated a reaction from craftsmen, which I argue took the form of consistent, and perhaps more strategic, mobility.
Law and Society in Late Antiquity