Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

The urban labour market of Roman Italy

This thesis analyses the existence and the functioning of the urban labour market in the early Roman empire by looking at the crucial influence of social structures, such as the family and non-familial labour collectives.

2010 - 2014

The labour market is a familiar concept today, but the presence of market forces for labour is not self-evident – especially in preindustrial societies with slavery, like that of the Romans. Looking at labour in the early Roman empire with an eye to market forces helps understanding the Roman labour market; conversely, the specific case of Rome adds to our knowledge of labour market principles today. My focus is on the cities of Roman Italy, the heart of the empire. The evidence illustrates the ways in which institutions, like family and associations, and cultural determinants such as gender ideals, were important determinants for individual labour opportunities.

This PhD project focuses on the urban labour market in the cities of Roman Italy. The existence of a laboru market is not self-evident in a society where forced labour was widespread, so part of the challenge is to justify the use of this concept. It appears that we are looking at local labour markets rather than an integrated whole. Within these boundaries, market forces are apparent. For a labour market to function, there needs to be a certain freedom to change jobs according to the laws of supply and demand. Market integration in the Roman empire, however, was restricted by individual characteristics such as legal status (notably slavery), gender, and human capital. What is more, social institutions such as the family (smaller families as well as large elite households including slaves and freedmen), and non-familial collectives (notably the collegia) jointly determined an individual’s position in the labour market. Because Roman society was a slave society, and because the Roman empire held what was arguably the most flourishing economy in preindustrial times, it provides a promising case study that might contribute to the more general debate among historians, sociologists and historians on theories of labour, the labour market and labour market segmentation. 

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