chapter  3
17 Pages

The price of expansion

Agriculture, debt-dependency, and warfare during the rise of the Republic, c. 450–287 *
WithPeter VanDerPuy

The numerous notices of conflicts over debt that feature in the “Struggle of the Orders” reflect a deeper conflict which was part of the transition between two different societal structures: an earlier fifth-century fabric of agrarian dependency networks, where land use and forms of debt operated within a hierarchic relational structure, and a civic structure, emergent over the fourth century, in which larger numbers of the community began to participate in state-sponsored warfare and were increasingly required to orientate themselves within institutions designed to turn land, agriculture, and people into calculable entities. In the fourth century BC, the Roman state became increasingly occupied with management of landscape as a resource to generate a taxable base of citizens and soldiers. Conquest and the distribution of small allotments promoted different patterns of land use that, in turn, brought new types of debt and dangerously eroded landscapes. Consequently, the emerging fourth-century paradigm of conquest, annexation, and land distribution – and the rise of the individual, farmer-legionary – introduced agricultural and economic problems that drove the logic of Roman imperialism during this period.