Debating Roman Demography (Mnemosyne Supplements) by Walter Scheidel

By Walter Scheidel

In conjection with an intensive severe survey of modern advances and controversies in Roman demography, the 4 case-studies during this quantity illustrate various various techniques to the examine of old inhabitants historical past. The contributions deal with a few the most important concerns in Roman demography from the evolution of the tutorial box to seasonal styles of fertility, the variety of Roman voters, inhabitants strain within the early Roman empire, and the top of classical urbanism in overdue antiquity. this is often the 1st collaborative quantity of its sort. it really is designed to introduce old historians and classicists to demographic, comparative and interdisciplinary views, and to situate and contextualize Roman inhabitants stories within the wider ambit of historic demography.

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King (1998) 132-56 adds an incisive discussion of the nature and ideology of some of the ancient sources on which Riddle's claims are based: see below, n. 169. See now also Frier in this volume. 160 Using epigraphic evidence, Wierschowski has launched a similarly unconvincing attempt to demonstrate a ie<) At this point, the most egregious instances will have to suffice. Riddle (1997) 17, in order to cast doubt on the (incontrovertible: see above, at n. 87) claim by Bagnall and Frier (1994) that the Total Fertility Rate in Roman Egypt was close to six children, refers to 'other ancient records' which 'albeit scant, support a hypothesis for smaller family size long before the Roman censuses were taken'.

In this scenario, the development of the birth rate with increasing age is determined by fecundity, the physiological capacity to bear children. 140 In this regard, the population of Roman Egypt resembles early modern European populations prior to the fertility transition. The Egyptian census returns have become the oldest quantifiable evidence of natural fertility in world history. Frier's inevitably exclusive focus on Roman Egypt raises the already familiar question of general applicability. Since the reproductive strategies of Egyptian couples is consistent with those in other pre-transitional populations, the most economical conclusion is clearly that similar conditions prevailed in other parts of the Roman world as well.

125 Zinsser (1935) 138-41; Salmon (1977) 140. m Russell (1968); Biraben and Le Goff(1969); Dols (1974); Biraben (1975) 25-48; Patlagean (1977) 87-91; Allen (1979); Bratton (1981); Conrad (1981); Biraben (1989); Durliat(1989); Congourdeau (1993); Conrad (1994). On earlier evidence of plague in classical antiquity, see Thiiry (1977); Marasco (1998) 46-7 (misguided). 127 See Alston's paper in this volume. 128 Garnsey (1988), with Scheidel in Garnsey (1998) 291-2. 131 For this reason, modern estimates of Roman fertility are a function of modern estimates of mean life expectancy at birth derived from matches between ancient distributions and model life tables, as discussed in the previous section.

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