In the Roman Empire, GDP per capita was lower than in any modern country.


How much has changed in 2000 years. The map above shows GDP per capita in the 14th year of our era in various provinces of the Roman Empire in international dollars of 1990 . On average, GDP per capita throughout the Empire was only $ 570.

This makes the average Roman in the 14th year poorer than the average resident of any country in the world in 2015. How is this possible?

According to the World Bank , the Democratic Republic of the Congo is by far the poorest nation, and its per capita GDP in international dollars of 1990 was $ 766 in 2012. It turns out that today's average resident of Congo is 34% richer than the average resident of the Roman Empire in '14.

However, as the map shows, per capita GDP varied greatly across the Empire. In Italy, the former heart of the Empire in 14, the average GDP per capita is estimated at $ 857, which is more than in modern Congo. This, in particular, was due to the fact that taxes flowed from the periphery to the center, as well as the concentration of the elite who lived in Rome or nearby.

The poorest provinces of the Empire were two times poorer, leading to a decrease in the average. Interestingly, this comparative inequality in the incomes of the Roman provinces is also observed in the modern states of the USA.

According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis , Delaware has the highest GDP per capita, $ 61,183 in 2012, and in Mississippi less than half of this value, $ 28,944. And Washington DC has that number equal to $ 145,663 - five times more than Mississippi. [The author for some reason writes about the state of Delaware, although in the table to which he refers, Alaska ranks first; $ 73,478 in 2012, or 2.3 times more than in Mississippi. The average GDP per capita in the United States for 2012 is $ 48,173 / approx. transl.]

How is it that the inhabitants of today's poorest countries are on average richer than the inhabitants of one of the greatest empires in history?

From a political point of view, several changes have occurred since the existence of the Roman Empire:

Independence : most of the countries / states that were part of the Empire turned from colonies into legally independent countries, which means that they no longer need to make deductions to foreign invaders. However, debt for many countries remains one of the main problems.

Note Translation: for example, according to the World Bank data for 2016, Italy is in 27th place in terms of foreign debt per capita, debt is $ 35,724; The USA is on 21st place, the debt is $ 56,561. Russia is not included in the list of the largest debtors, for it the amount of debt per capita is $ 3,649. Luxembourg is in the first place, the debt is $ 6,603,743; however, this is due to the nature of this dwarf state as an offshore EU engaged in financial services. In the second place is Ireland, with debt per capita of $ 441,302.

The end of slavery : although slavery is too common in the world today, it is considered illegal in all countries of the world. Conversely, the Roman Empire was a slave state, and slavery played an important role in the economy . [ There is an opinion that slavery still exists today, just in other, veiled forms. trans. ] But this is still not enough to explain the difference in income between today's people and the inhabitants of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. More important are two other changes.

Science and technology : the first factor is serious breakthroughs in science and technology over the past 2,000 years. Although the Romans were able to build such engineering wonders as roads and aqueducts, they would not know what to do with a mobile phone. And the speed of propagation of technology increases.

For example, in Zimbabwe (second on the list of the poorest countries) there are more mobile phones than people. Combine this with the huge improvements in agriculture that have occurred over the past 2000 years, and even the world's poorest economies will seem more productive than Rome.

Health : life expectancy in the Roman Empire was approximately 25 years, in particular, because of the high infant mortality, reaching 15-35%. Today, the minimum life expectancy, 38 years, exists in Sierra Leone, and the maximum infant mortality , 14–19%, in Afghanistan. [The maximum life expectancy, as of 2015, is more than 83 years in Japan, Switzerland and Singapore; in Italy, by the way, is also considerable - 82.7 years / approx. trans. ]

So even people living in countries with the poorest health outcomes are likely to live longer and see more of their children living to maturity than the Roman in 14. However, this does not mean that we cannot do more by donating to such humanitarian organizations as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders .


You may be interested in how to calculate and compare GDP per capita for a country that existed 2,000 years ago. The figures on the map are taken from the historian Angus Maddison , who used the records of Sesterce to calculate equivalent values.

He also assumed that the population of the Empire in the year 14 was 44 million people (according to other estimates, it could reach as much as 60 million) - so all this, at best, is a guess based on data. On the page about the Roman economy in Wikipedia there is more information on this subject.

It is interesting to note that, apart from Italy, Egypt was the richest province of the Empire, and those regions that today belong to France were among the poorest. But given the GDP per capita of these three regions, France turned out to be the richest ($ 40,375), followed by Italy ($ 35,486), while Egypt has only $ 10,877, about four times less than France (and 16 times more). than it was 2,000 years ago).

Those who read to the end of the article are entitled to a premium in the form of a map with various trade routes in the Roman Empire of the 180th year, which describes the types of goods and resources produced in different parts of the empire. She can explain why some regions were richer than others.

Books on the subject:

Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in the Macro-Economic History (including the basis for the map in the article)
The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy
The Roman Market Economy


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