Ancient History/Rome/Late Republic Economy
Roman trade was the engine that drove the economy of the late Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. Fashions and trends in historiography and in popular culture have tended to neglect the economic basis of the empire in favour of the lingua franca of Latin and the exploits of the Roman legions. The language and the legions were supported by trade while being at the same time part of its backbone. Romans were businessmen — the longevity of their empire was due to their commercial trade. Whereas in theory members of the Roman Senate and their families were prohibited from engaging in trade, the members of the Equestrian order were involved in businesses, despite their upper class values that laid the emphasis on military pursuits and leisure activities. Plebeians and freedmen held shop or manned stalls at markets while vast quantities of slaves did most of the hard work. The slaves were themselves also the subject of commercial transactions, and given their high proportion in society (compared to that in Classical Greece), and the reality of runaways, the Roman Servile Wars and minor uprisings, they gave a distinct flavour to Roman commerce. The intricate, complex, and extensive accounting of Roman trade was conducted with counting boards and the Roman abacus. The abacus, using Roman numerals, was ideally suited to the counting of Roman currency and tallying of Roman measures.