Roads to Rome

October 2015 to October 2016

As the Roman Empire spread across the Mediterranean, an increasing number of trade networks were established throughout the provinces. Imports consisted of both staple items, needed to sustain the population, and luxury goods, intended to satisfy the desires of the wealthy. Roads to Rome explores not only the types of imports, but also their place of origin. 

The need to feed Rome’s ever expanding population was a key motivation behind the massive grain trade networks to agricultural lands such as Egypt and Africa. By the first century AD, the city of Rome required at least 40 million modii of grain (between 340 and 400 tonnes) each year to feed its growing population. In addition to grain, the city also imported copious quantities of other staples including olive oil and wine from its foreign provinces such as Spain, Africa, and Gaul. 

Once these fertile provinces became part of the Roman world, the elite of Rome became increasingly interested in luxury goods. Luxury in the Roman Empire was seen as a sign of moral degradation and the Romans even passed laws, referred to as sumptuary laws, to limit the elite’s ability to showcase their wealth. Luxury items such as cosmetics, glassware and wild beasts were imported from every province via extensive trade routes, stretching as far as China and India.

Curated by Dr Janette McWilliam, Mr James Donaldson, Ms Sarah Dickinson, Ms Bethany Hawkins, Mr Lincoln Morse, and Mr Dominic Ragonesi