Roman conquest of Spain: the economic motive







Roman conquest of Spain: the economic motive

By Michael Lynn Houck

Master’s Thesis, Texas Tech University (1998)

Introduction: The evidence for economic activity in the Iberian peninsula before and during the Roman conquest, from 218 – 206 B.C., was considered inadequate by ancient historians such as T. Frank and M.I. Finley. The fragmentary sources led them and other scholars to discount economic motives as a reason for Roman involvement in the Iberian peninsula. Conversely, the evidence for the late Republic and the early empire is much more abundant and reveals thriving economic activity. There is evidence from the first century B.C. for trade in such diverse commodities as grain, wine, olive oil, timber, cattle, esparto grass, fish sauce, and precious metals. Exploitation of Spanish mining resources reached peak production levels by the reign of Augustus, and gradually tapered off from the end of the first century A.D. to the late second century. The Spanish provinces were, arguably, the most romanized regions of the Roman empire. During the early empire the Hispaniae were valued possessions of the emperors, nearly all of whom were either directly or indirectly in contact with their peninsular holdings. Some emperors had personal connections to the Spanish provinces, for example, the families of Trajan and Hadrian were both from Italica and Marcus Aurelius’ family was from Ucubi in the province of Saetica. Access to the Atlantic could be controlled from the southern peninsula, thus giving Rome dominion over trade routes to Britain, western Gaul, and the Rhine. There is little doubt that the Romans benefited from their efforts in Spain, especially in their systematic exploitation of its natural resources. Were the economic advantages of Spain only apparent after the first half century of Roman occupation? The evidence regarding the earliest date of Roman economic interest in and exploitation of the Iberian peninsula ought to be reassessed.



The works of Finley and Frank best represent the traditional debates concerning the economic situation of pre-Roman Spain. Finley and Frank meticulously studied quantitative evidence. Finley also employed literary evidence. Finley argued that there was no substantial Italian economic activity in Spain before the outbreak of the Second Punic War in 218 B.C.5 Frank was the first scholar to examine the connection between Rome and the Phoceaen colony of Massilia to explain early Roman interest in the west. Frank also edited the multi volume Economic Survey of the Ancient World, in which such scholars as V. M. Scramuzza and J. J. Van Nostrand provide detailed descriptions of economic activity in each of the Roman provinces. Van Nostrand’s contribution on Roman Spain echoed Frank’s position that a lack of markets and surplus precluded the possibility of trade opportunities for Italians in Spain before the arrival of On. Scipio in 218. Finally, M. Rostovtzeff argued that the great fortunes


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