Ancient accounts of a financial crisis in the city of Rome in A.D. 33 seem to indicate the existence of quasi-capitalistic financial markets in the early Roman Empire. It appears that a busted real estate and lending bubble led to a sudden crash in asset prices. Land prices were only stabilized when the emperor Tiberius implemented a state-directed rescue package in the form of interest-free loans through an apparently robust banking system. However, a careful study of the historiography of the crisis and the language used to describe it shows that this narrative, with its unmistakable echoes of recent economic woes, is merely the latest in a series of innovative appropriations of the ancient sources. In reality, the crisis was less about finance and more about status and the reinforcement of social hierarchy. Keywords: Roman economy, Roman finance, Tiberius, Augustus, Crisis of A.D. 33, Roman banking, Tacitus As commentary upon the Great Recession multiplied from 2008 onwards, no small number of scholars, journalists, popular historians and even financial bloggers have been quick to observe that a supposedly similar crisis occurred under the emperor Tiberius in A.D. 33.1 The historian Tacitus has provided the most detailed account of the
Journal of Ancient History – de Gruyter
Published: Dec 1, 2015
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