published on 21 November 2011
In this paper I use a theoretical hierarchy of financial sources to evaluate the effectiveness of financial markets in the early Roman Empire. I first review the theory of financial intermediation to describe the hierarchy of financial sources and survey briefly the history of financial intermediation in pre-industrial Western Europe to provide a standard against which to evaluate the Roman evidence. I then describe the nature of financial arrangements in the early Roman Empire in terms of this hierarchy. The issue turns out to be not whether financial markets in Rome resembled those in other advanced agricultural economies, but rather which 18th century European economy did it resemble most closely. This exercise reveals the extent to which the Roman economy resembled more recent societies and sheds light on the prospects for economic growth in the Roman Empire, for good financial markets and institutions help people who have ideas for production get resources to implement those ideas.