chapter  9
13 Pages

Mules and muleteers: the scale of the transport economy

The dominance of land transport over river transport in terms of its avail­ ability was discussed in the previous two chapters. We now need to turn our attention to the scale of land transport in Italy and to assess the contribution of transportation to the overall economic structure of Rome and Italy. Nowhere do we find information on the level of transport needs or how frequently goods were transported from place to place. The way I have chosen to approach the subject is to focus on a specific transport animal - the mule — rather than use economic theories derived from other situations, many culturally created in the twentieth century (see, for example, Morley 1997). The mule is an animal that is well documented in the ancient sources (Adams 1993, 1995 on linguistic usage), which causes the following dis­ cussion of scale and the economy to be firmly rooted in antiquity. The nature of the mule causes it to be an object that lends itself to analysis. The mule is a hybrid produced by crossing an ass with a horse and its appearance reveals this crossing. Its extremities, ears, legs, feet and tail, appear ass-like, whereas its body resembles that of a horse (Figures 9-1 and 9-2). In terms of size, it varies according to the nature of its parents. In nineteenth-century France mules tended to reach 15-16 hands and weighed 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. To produce a mule hybrid for sale in Britain, the crossing of male asses with either shire-horses or Clydesdales was considered. The result of such breeding was to produce an animal larger than its parents. Moreover, the animal would tend to be stronger than its parents through size and strength from the physical characteristics introduced from the ass, particu­ larly its sturdy legs and large feet. Mules were bred for pulling loads or dragging ploughs (Tegetmeier and Sutherland 1895: 84-94). Further, the working life of a nineteenth-century mule was twenty-five years; consider­ ably longer than the horse’s ten to twelve years (Tegetmeier and Sutherland 1895: 76). In the nineteenth century smaller mules were bred as pack animals; their size facilitated the loading of pack saddles (Tegetmeier and Sutherland 1895: 138-51 for details). Therefore, as an improved breed or economic product, the mule has an additional analytical value that points to

Ancient production

reared on mare’s milk). Such animals were bred for the purpose and could have been sold for considerable sums. Varro (R.R.2.8.3) records two exam­ ples of Reate breeding asses selling for 300,000 and even 400,000 sesterces. This would suggest that, like nineteenth-century breeders, the Reatines were reluctant to supply others with breeding asses and the capability to compete with their own production (cf Tegetmeier and Sutherland 1895: 94-106).