Resource cost of cities
Peter Temin has published a fascinating article regarding economic conditions in the early Roman Empire. The story he tells describes the remarkable economic progress that the Romans had achieved.
Temin, Peter. 2006. “The Economy of the Early Roman Empire.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20: 1 (Winter): pp. 135-51.
One particular graph suggests another side to his story. It shows the price difference between grain in Rome and in other parts of the Mediterranean region on the vertical axis and the distance from Rome on the horizontal axis. The graph has an excellent fit. The closer to Rome, the higher the price.
The picture I get from the graph is one of Rome as a black hole, sucking in resources from the rest of the Empire. The closer to Rome, the stronger the demand. Temin, in effect, was confirming Lewis Mumford’s thesis that urban life depends upon the surrounding areas supplying its resource deficits. The provision of these resources often creates environmental havoc.