The Roman Empire Economic History
The Romans originated as an agrarian society: predominantly small farmers with a large regard for property rights. In their expansion, beginning in the 3rd century bce, the Romans hewed to the Greek influences they had absorbed.
While farming was revered, commerce was held in little esteem by the Romans; left in the hands of the lower classes, foreigners, and even slaves. Nonetheless, the Roman legal system extended the mind-set of property rights to commercial enterprise: providing enforcement of contracts and equitable settlement of disputes.
At least in economic terms, the apogee of early European civilization came in the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Christian era. Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”) was the first, and one of the few periods of stability in human civilization. It lasted less than 200 hundred years before turmoil overtook it, as Roman conquest took its toll.
Like most civilizations, the Roman Empire was rotten at the core. The privileged class devoted itself to conspicuous consumption, cultivating the arts and sciences, government, and war. The vast majority who did most of the work were slaves or servile peasants who were all but slaves in name.
Aristotle believed that the distinction between the upper and lower classes was biologically determined. This was also a Greek tradition that the Romans kept intact.