"A city of shops, a nation of shopkeepers": Fixed-point retailing in the city of Rome, late 3rd c BCE to 2nd/3rd c CE
Vennarucci, Rhodora Grate
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Retailing in ancient Rome remains a neglected area of study on account of the traditional view among economic historians that the retail trades of pre-industrial societies were primitive and unsophisticated. In addition to addressing a lacuna in the scholarship of the ancient economy and challenging traditional models of retail history, this study offers a novel diachronic analysis of the development of the fixed-point retailing trade in the city of Rome between the late 3rd c BCE and the 2nd/3rd c CE. An interdisciplinary approach to the research is employed, combining the textual sources, epigraphic texts, archaeological data, art historical evidence, and comparative historical materials in order to arrive at a more holistic understanding of ancient Roman retailing. This study also introduces new approaches to the ancient evidence, adapting models from marketing and retailing such as retail change theory and retail atmospherics, as well as from social network analysis to advance our understanding of the Roman economy and urban culture. Economic growth in the mid-Republic triggered a major shift in the structure of distribution at Rome as permanent shops surpassed temporary markets as the dominant form of urban retailing. The establishment of a shop economy at Rome improved the social and economic status of shopkeepers, who emerged in the late Republic as a socially defined, politically active group capable of affecting grassroots change in the political system. By linking shops to Augustan ideology, Augustan urban reforms improved the social position of shopkeepers and increased the visibility of their shops in the commercial landscape. Shopkeepers capitalized on this by focusing their marketing strategies on the shop design, which became the primary method of advertising. For the everyday Roman, the fashions and information advertised in the design of Roman shops would have been highly visible and extremely pervasive, as shops formed the backdrop to the lived experience of urban inhabitants. On account of the development of the fixed-point retailing trade, the Roman shop became not only an essential unit in the urban distributive system and an important locus for sociability, but also a physical reflection of a local urban identity, emblematic of the power and prosperity of the Roman empire more generally. Consequently, Roman shopkeepers were as active in shaping the urban character of Rome from below through shop architecture as the emperors and elite with their more monumental building projects.