To market, to market we go!

Markets, and their place in the Roman world, has been a subject of considerable interest, academically. Contributions by people like Paul Erdkamp and Peter Temin (a paper of his is here, another here) I find particularly interesting, and there is quite a developing bibliography moving ‘beyond the consumer city‘. My point here is not to deluge you with the bibliography of markets and Roman economics (though there are two by Erdkamp, below, that I’d like to get my hands on). No, for the first time ever, I went to a market not as a consumer, but as a trader.

Wow. It’s a lot of work, to make a buck. We took apples, sweet apple cider, and pies to the Chelsea Farmer’s Market (Chelsea Quebec, that is) on two Saturdays before Canadian Thanksgiving.  I think perhaps anyone who studies markets, ancient or otherwise, academically ought to at least participate as a trader once in a while. For instance, Forum Novum was an ancient market centre, with no housing to speak of. Much like the Chelsea market, it is just an open space, with some permanent market structures hither and yon. We blithely say, ‘the people would come here to trade’, but we don’t really imagine what that involves. Getting to Chelsea, I spent two days pressing and pasteurizing (UV light system; doesn’t affect taste!); my sister-in-law and mother baked solid for three days; and we were up before dawn to drive the 45 minutes to get to the market. Once we were set up, it was interesting, too, to observe how people interact. One of my interests as a boffin is how built space makes for particular kinds of interaction. The market space gets built up and taken down every week; every week, depending on the kinds of goods available, the configuration changes.

I haven’t really had time to digest all that I saw, from the other side of the table. We also opened our cider mill to the public this past weekend, and had over 500 people visit in a single afternoon. I spent two days pressing to get enough cider, and still we sold out!

Perhaps I should file all this under experimental archaeology. After all, if you make pots to better understand ancient ceramics technology, then maybe to understand markets, participating in the oldest form of marketing there is should be part of the study…?

At any rate, I’m knackered.

Paul Erdkamp. The grain market in the Roman Empire. A social, political and economic study, Cambridge 2005

Paul Erdkamp. ‘A starving mob has no respect. Urban markets and food riots in the Roman world, 100 BC-400 AD’, in: J. Rich and L. de Blois (eds.), Transformation of economic life under the Roman Empire, Amsterdam 2002, 93-115

Paul Erdkamp. ‘Beyond the limits of the consumer city. A model of the urban and rural economy in the Roman world’, Historia 50 (2001) 332-356