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Booty is often cited as a potentially transformative element in the Roman Republic: it is connected with the increased wealth of Rome, public building programs (Wallace-Hadrill p. 356), the introduction of a silver coinage (Crawford p. 32) and has featured significantly in debates surrounding the motives for Roman expansion (Harris). But how exactly was a disparate collection of items arising from a military campaign converted into money, buildings or other items? The answer lies in the existence of a booty marketplace, whose operations reveal the commercial aspect of war in the Roman Republic.

This paper explores a neglected aspect of war in Republican Rome: the sale of booty by both individual soldiers and the state. Using theories of money and markets deriving from anthropology and ethnography, the accounts of Livy, Polybius and other writers are explored to demonstrate how war booty was converted into wealth in the Roman world. Booty could be sold by individual soldiers to merchants immediately after a battle, or else booty could be sold by the state in a public auction (called sub hasta, or ‘under the spear’). This dual system reflects the contested nature of war booty in the Republican period. The victorious general had great control over the use of booty and its distribution: the booty could be given to soldiers, dedicated to the gods, utilized by the general himself, or given to the treasury (Shatzman, Bradford Churchill). The importance of booty sales in Roman warfare is suggested by continued reference to the subject in the ancient sources, and is highlighted by a section of Polybius in which the general Glabrio rebuffs peace envoys until he has properly disposed of his booty (Polybius 20.9.4-5). Close analysis of the evidence suggests market forces were at work in this economy: an abundance of booty or over optimism on behalf of Roman soldiers could result in the merchants obtaining goods at a bargain (Polybius 14.7.1-3), and the Roman military appears to have held tactical sales in order to lure merchants to them (Livy 10.17.6). The market forces of this sideline economy could thus influence the profitability of Roman war and is an important consideration in our assessment of the motivations for Republican warfare and its material results.

Anthropological theory has demonstrated that commodities move in different spheres of exchange (everyday short-term transactions and longer term transactions normally associated with the divine, see Parry & Bloch). Ethnography has also demonstrated that the source of wealth often influences the way it is spent (Znoj). Such perspectives are useful in understanding the use of wealth arising from the sale of booty. Money from booty sales deposited in the Roman treasury appears to have been used for very specific purposes: the erection of public buildings and the celebration of games and festivals. This money was not used to build roads, or even to pay the soldiers (Livy 10.46.6-7), but instead funds for these purposes were obtained from taxes and fines. Using this ethnological framework, this paper goes on to explore how the proceeds from the sale of booty entered the wider economy of the Republic. To what extent was booty sold privately by soldiers to merchants to increase private wealth and provide compensation for military service (essentially remaining in a private sphere), and to what extent did the proceeds enter the Roman treasury to re-emerge as official Roman coinage? The answer is more complex than previously thought. Considering that Rome did not have a major silver currency until the introduction of the denarius in c. 211, we need to consider what the Romans traded their booty for and how they spent the proceeds. This paper offers a close consideration of how booty came to be transformed into money or other items, as well as the institutions that influenced this conversion. From a better understanding of this process, we can better understand the influence booty had on Roman Republican economy and society.


  • Bradford Churchill, J. (1999). 'Ex qua quod vellent facerent: Roman Magistrates' Authority over Praeda and Manubiae.' Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 129: 85-116.
  • Crawford, M. (1985). Coinage and Money under the Roman Republic. London.
  • Harris, W. V. (1979). War and Imperialism in Republican Rome. Oxford.
  • Parry, J. and M. Bloch (1989). Eds. Money and the Morality of Exchange. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Shatzman, I. (1972). 'The Roman General's Authority over Booty.' Historia 21: 177-205.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, A. (2008). Rome's Cultural Revolution. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Znoj, H. (1998). 'Hot Money and War Debts: Transactional Regimes in Southwestern Sumatra.' Society for Comparative Studies in Society and History 40: 193-222.

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