Pastoralism in the Roman Empire: A comparative approach
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Pastoralism in the ancient world is a subject that has recently received much attention. This is fitting for it forms, along with agriculture, the core of the ancient economy. This is especially true for ancient North Africa, the highlands of North Britain, and the Rhine Delta region, where pastoralism in its various manifestations and its relationship to the both the urban and rural landscape constituted a vital feature of the Roman market, not least in the Roman and Late Antique periods. However, all studies of pastoralism under Roman hegemony have been local and somewhat short-sighted. Because of the provincial nature of the scholarship, each Roman province tends to have its own strengths and weaknesses when dealing with this subject. An overall examination of pastoralism and how the Roman state interacted with the indigenous pastoral tribes which has integrated archaeological, ethnographic, and literary sources has, until now, not been carried out. This paper will attempt to compare three very different provinces (North Africa, North Britain, and the Rhine Delta) and highlight the similarities between each area. As a result, a general picture emerges of how the Roman state influenced the pre-existing indigenous economy. The paper will stress the strong similarities in each province, like the specialization of the pastoral mode of production in the Roman hinterland, the use of pastoral tribes in auxiliary legions, and the role of the frontiers to supervise and tax the products of pastoralism. Hopefully, the differences in each province will shed light on the nature of the provinces, themselves and how the Romans interacted with the Roman countryside in considerably different geographical areas and shed light on an often neglected facet of the Roman economy.