Thank you very much to everyone who submitted an entry to Competition 1.1: Trade in Rome! Below you can read the winning entries, as selected by Georgy Kantor, author of the competition questions. You can find him on Twitter here, and you can read about more of his research on his blog as well.
1st place: Hudson B.
Trace the route of an Alexandrian grain ship to the Bay of Naples. How long would it take? What might that mean to a trader in Puteoli?
Assuming they could only travel during the day, the journey from Alexandria to Naples would take roughly 40 days! One of the things this would mean for a trader in Puteoli is that they would have to plan ahead to ensure their stock of grain would last the 40 days required for more grain to be delivered. If they did not watch their stock levels, they may run out of stock and have to wait up to 40 days, potentially causing financial problems for themselves and food problems for the area they trade in.
Was the price of grain in this contract high or low?
As grains were the staple of the Roman diet and make up about 70-80% of the calories, grains were used a lot. The average seed-yield of wheat was 10:1 meaning around 10 planted seeds would yield 1 piece of wheat. Therefore, based off of the grain measurement (1 grain = 0.065 grams) then the 11000 measures, or 61110 liters with 1 litre of mass 0.75kg, would have a mass of 45832.5kg, which is roughly 705115 grains of wheat and other crops. If they planted this grain and we put this into the ratio of 10:1 then those seeds would grow around 70512 pieces of wheat and other crops. It is estimated that each roman citizen consumed 200kg of grain a year, and this is likely to be more for a Roman legionary. Assuming a Roman legionary consumes 220kg of grain, as they would likely earn more money than the average citizen and would, therefore, eat more, it is estimated that a Roman legionary would spend about 50 Denarii (or 200 sesterces on food) and as earlier stated, 70-80% of their diet is grain, we can estimate that they spend around 150 sesterces on grain alone each year (about 17% of their annual salary). This total amount of grain from the loan would be enough to sustain one person for 208-229 years! Due to all this, I believe the grain price was fairly low.
What could it mean to be a freed slave of the emperor?
Freed slaves of powerful men, particularly the emperor, would often rise to wealth and power due to their proximity to the throne. Freed slaves also rose to power due to their unthreatening nature as they were not serious rivals to imperial power, this is due to the emperor having ownership over everything the slave owns once they die. For this reason, it is likely that Evenus Primianus amassed his wealth and powerful reputation due to having been so close with emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus. All of this means that Primianus is able to loan money at good rates and be in control of when it is paid back.
Notes from Georgy: In order to achieve the fastest possible arrival (14-18 days) the ship would have to (somewhat unrealistically) sail day and night without stop – possible for urgent delivery of important imperial messages, but very unlikely for the grain trade!
2nd place: Leonardo Z.
Due to the unpredictable and harsh weather between November and March, the
trading season is most likely to have taken place between early Spring and late
Summer.The fastest naval route from Alexandria to the Bay of Naples would have
been to go North, towards Greece, before turning West – this would take 19 days in Summer and 15 days in Spring. An alternative route – going towards modern-day
Tunisia before turning North – may have been used to avoid hazardous conditions but is likely to have been avoided as it increased the length of the journey by 10 days.
The journey back to Alexandria would take a similar length of time, and merchants
would need to buy resources and supplies from Puteoli’s traders, generating income for them. The length of the journey was not unreasonably long, meaning traders in
Puteoli could make this relatively quick journey frequently and fairly cheaply to export products. It is possible that Eunus, a grain trader himself, may have used Evenus’
loans in order to venture to Puteoli, demonstrating the commercial benefits of this
The price of the grain listed in the contract is considerably low. The contract states
that 7000 modii of wheat and 4000 modii of various other grains, such as chickpeas and lentils, will be used as security for the 10,000 sesterces loan. In 300 AD the price of wheat and grain was 400 sesterces per modius. At the time of this contract, this
would have been 24 sesterces per modius due to inflation. A total of 11,000 modii of grain and wheat was kept as security, which was worth 264,000 sesterces. Given
that a Roman legionary would receive 900 sesterces annually, Eunus’ loan of 10,000 sesterces was equal to 11 years of a legionary’s salary. Although this is a large sum of money, the amount of grain being kept as security was far greater at a value of
264,000 sesterces. Therefore, because the amount of money loaned is
disproportionately lower than that of the value of the grain, the price of the grain
appears to be immensely low in this contract. As Evenus was able to form such an advantageous contract, we can deduce that he had a significant amount of wealth
and power. This is further demonstrated by the fact that Evenus had enough money to be able to lend 10,000 sesterces, as well as owning slaves. Evenus’ bargaining
power in the contract may be largely attributed to him previously being the slave of the Emperor; the links and affiliations to powerful figures, possibly including the
Emperor himself, would have established him as a reliable businessman and lender. Eunus was also a freed slave, based on his Greek surname, but is likely to have
been a slave of someone of a lower status than the Emperor. This suggests that the links freed slaves had contributed to their social statuses.
We will also be posting the winning entries to Competitions 1.2 and 1.3 over the next few days! And don’t forget–the next competition deadline is 5pm on Monday 24 February.