Ancient Rome's Real Population Revealed





The first century B.C. was one of the most culturally rich in the history of the Roman Empire — the age of Cicero, Caesar and Virgil. But as much as historians know about the great figures of this period of Ancient Rome, they know very little about some basic facts, such as the population size of the late Roman Empire.

Now, a group of historians has used caches of buried coins to provide an answer to this question.

During the Republican period of Rome (about the fifth to the first centuries B.C), adult male citizens of Rome could be taxed and conscribed into the army and were also given the right to vote. To keep track of this section of the population (and their taxable assets), the Roman state conducted periodic censuses...

... To help put an end to the debate, University of Connecticut theoretical biologist Peter Turchin and Stanford University ancient historian Walter Scheidel focused on the region's prevalence of coin hoards, those bundles of buried treasure that people hid to protect their savings during times of great violence and political strife. If the people who hid these bundles were killed or driven off, they wouldn't have been able to retrieve them, leaving them for archaeologists to find.

According to the researchers, mapping out the times when the coins were buried is a good indirect method for measuring the intensity of internal warfare and unrest, and therefore a key indicator of population demographics.


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