BMCR 2004.03.50

Baetica Felix. People and Prosperity in Southern Spain from Caesar to Septimius Severus

, Baetica felix : people and prosperity in southern Spain from Caesar to Septimius Severus. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003. 1 online resource (xviii, 277 pages) : map. ISBN0292797796 $45.00.

When in 2 B.C. Augustus was awarded the title of a pater patriae, Baetica presented him with a personification of the province — a statue of pure gold weighing one hundred pounds. It adorned the Forum Augustum in Rome, recalling, on its marble base, the reason for the dedication: Imp(eratori) Caesari Augusto p(atri) p(atriae) Hispania ulterior Baetica quod beneficio eius et perpetua cura provincia pacata est auri p(ondo) C(entum).1 The statue is a sign of appreciation cast in gold for benefactions which, over the previous few decades, had enabled the province to “be at peace”. The cost of the material alone (32.74 kg) may well have amounted to 400,000 sesterces. Therefore the gold may be an indication of the wealth of Baetica, thanks to its natural resources, and especially to Augustus’ perpetua cura — as it was only the saeculum Augustum which enabled the resources of the province to be profitably exploited.

Baetica, of course, was not alone in expressing its gratitude towards Augustus: other provinces and peoples incorporated into the empire through military campaigns or administrative reforms of the first Princeps are also represented on the Forum Augustum with statues and their tituli.2 But it was only the small, mountainous Baetica, characterized by fertile marshes and meadows, which was praised by its contemporaries. Thus Plinius the Elder stated that, with its rich agriculture and its “peculiar brilliance of vegetation”, Baetica surpassed all the other provinces.3 Silius Italicus praised Corduba as decus auriferae terrae — because of its lead, copper, silver and gold mines that can be found in the mountain ridges of the mons Marianus, and its fertile estates.4 Martial refers to these resources when he depicts the head of the river god decorated with a crown of olive twigs, or when he speaks of the fleeces which the Baetis coloured golden with its gleaming waters. The quality of Baetica’s olive oil and its sheep wool is proverbial.5

However, the sources do not reveal who exactly made commercial use of these resources and how Baetica fits into the broader economy of the empire. Evan W. Haley has tried to answer this question, based on the epigraphic evidence and the archaeological remains, by writing a social and economic history of the region, covering the period of approximately two and a half centuries which passed between Caesar und Septimius Severus. He approaches the problem on a regional and empire-wide level, since conferring municipal and colonial status on the oppida of Baetica advanced its economic growth, growth that was due, not least to the extraordinary financial demands burdened on the local elite. One of Haley’s concerns is Rome’s “material impact” on the province as a physical manifestation of the growth of the Baetican economy, i.e., the question of who built the new production sites and who profited from them. His answer is that it was the members of the “middle stratum”. This social group, which Haley constructs for heuristic reasons, is made up of freeborn and freedmen with an income of between 5,000 and 200,000 sesterces, i.e., around 25% of the population. In this regard he speaks of viri honesti who did not become decurions and who did not hold positions as local magistrates. These would have exceeded the estimated minimum subsistence income during the first two centuries A.D. by 2.6 times, with an average expectation of 6% return on capital. Thus, the winners of the economic growth are known, they merely have to be identified on a prosopographical level. However, Haley’s question, “how typical was Trimalchio?”, and his claim that his conclusions also apply to other regions of the empire, demonstrate that he intends to offer more than the title of his book suggests: he intends to contribute to the discussion about the particular nature of the Roman economy.

After laying out the thesis in an introduction (p. 1-13), Haley divides the circa 230 pages of his book into eight chapters, supplemented by an useful glossary of technical terms, an index of places, people and subjects, as well as an extensive bibliography. The first four chapters give a description of the archaeological findings in chronological sequence; the last four chapters consist of an analysis plus a prosopography and a summarising appraisal.

The chapters of the first part hardly differ in structure. Haley gives a short and precise introduction to the period, refers to important administrative measures, and outlines the different types of settlements. He lists, in detail, under the generic term “production and trade” the produce of the countryside, i.e., cereals, olive oil, wine, fish sauce and wool, as well as livestock and the products of the mines, and he tries to determine their market share and their increase of production. Therefore, the first chapter, entitled “Rural Settlement and Production in Baetica, c. 50 B.C.-27 B.C.” (p. 15-31), can have only an introductory character: with narrow historiographic and not exactly meaningful archaeological sources, Haley places emphasis on the Hispania ulterior as a military province in republican times, as a scene for the conflicts of the civil war between 80 and 45 B.C., as a country in which the population — acculturated Hispani and Italian immigrants — probably lived in fortified oppida and produced goods to meet their own needs. However, the beginning of the era of Augustus — well documented by sources of all types — meant “Baetica Pacata” was permeated with rural settlements, a process which began in the valley of the Baetis (p. 32-45). This was due to the river’s navigability and to the fertile nature of its meadows, precisely where a substantial increase in cereal cultivation can be detected. In the first decades of the first century A.D., a cargo of Dressel 20 amphorae of a ship that came to grief on Capo Graziano is as much an indicator of the beginnings of trade in olive oil as Haltern 70 amphorae in shipwrecks are indicators of the export of wine. However, it is not possible to quantify the increase of production of oil, wine and other products since the beginning of the republican era. Furthermore, there is the question of what factors were responsible for triggering this hypothetical growth: Haley mentions the pax Augusta with all its implications, the bestowal of legal status on the municipalities and the creation of the office of praefectus annonae; the first to hold this office was a certain C. Turranius Gracilis, of Gades, who seems to have been in office in 8 A.D. Throughout the following decades, called “The Julio-Claudian Experience” (p. 46-68), these tendencies increase (as do the relevant sources, both in terms of quantity and quality): surveys reveal that amongst the Roman-style aedificia, the Vitruvian single-story farmhouse became the dominant type; the far-reaching implantation of the villa system corresponded with a surplus in agricultural production. This was as evident with olive oil as it was with wine — especially from Claudius onwards — but also applied to fish sauce, livestock, wool and metals. Haley is able to name the first mercenarii, such as fish sauce dealer L. Sempronius Fuscus, as proved by a Dressel 9 of this era, found in Augst. Under the Flavians — Haley actually takes this period up to around 150 A.D. — Baetica underwent an unprecedented boom (“The Flavian Impact: The Evidence Surveyed”, p. 69-108). This was a result not only of Flavian municipalization policy, which called upon the local elite as had already happened under Augustus, but also of an increased demand for products from this region, and not just within the context of the annona. There was an increase of investments in municipal building projects (e.g. use of marble) as well as in country estates (mosaic adornments), and the trade in olive oil became the major source of income for the members of the local elite as well as for these of the “middle stratum”.

The second part of the book, contrary to the heading of the fifth chapter “The Flavian Impact: An Analysis” (p. 109-134), starts as the first part ends, with a detailed description of archaeological remains. Haley identifies the owners of villae, with the help of herms — around the middle of the first century the Cortijo de Chirino from the Écija district calls a certain Cacia his domina, whilst the Cortijo de Vieco from the south of Cañete de las Torres calls a certain Rufus his master — and analyzes the subject of Baetica as the “garden of cities”, using the municipium Flavium (?) Obulculense (La Monclova) as an example. An inner city site of 2.6 hectares may have served as a monumental setting for the council meetings or for the provision of services but not as a residential quarter. This is why the significant part of the population is said to have been living on the surrounding ager, possibly extending to 300 km2. Who, then, were the “Wealthy Baetici” (p. 135-170); were the owners or tenants of the land, the true beneficiaries of this economic upturn? The prosopography lists those who owned property in this region: from a total of approximately 90 Baetican senators, 30 meet this criterion, as do 6 of around 40 equestrians. Thus, based on amphora stamps of the figlina Virginensia — PORTPAH, PORPA, POR.P.A.H., and PORPAHS — P(ublius) A(elius) H(adrianus) can be considered the owner of the fundus of the same name, and thus an oil producer. The list also includes Seneca the Elder, who is purported to have had ownership of an unspecified number of properties,6 and Sextus Marius, who, under Tiberius, was deemed to be the richest man in Hispania, until the emperor confiscated his mines.7 It is not easy to make precise statements about the viri honesti, but some of them can be named, such as the MM. Iulii of Astigi, a family involved in the olive oil trade for more than three generations. For M. Iulius Hermesianus, a diffusor olearius or diffusor olei ad annonam urbis of the Antonine period, a pedestal was placed by his son and grandson; M. Iulius Hermes Frontinianus as well as his son, M. Iulius Hermesianus, are featured on tituli picti from Monte Testaccio. They are mentioned under “beta” of the tituli, i.e., they could have been either traders or producers; Haley pragmatically judges that ” … the persons represented by the stamps profited in some fashion from olive oil” (p. 146).

Neither the following section (The Nature of Economic Growth in Roman Imperial Baetica: A Theoretical Perspective, p. 171-185) nor the last section (Conclusions, p. 186-190) lives up to what they promise: not only does the reader miss any theoretical or conceptual approach, but Haley does not even offer an analysis. His results remain on the level of a summary and not surprisingly he concludes that more than just a voyage of seven days separates a Trimalchio from the Baetican vir honestus.8 Haley wants too much and, in the end, offers too little: simply creating a “middle stratum” does not actually mean that such a social group existed. The period up to Septimius Severus is by no means entirely covered; the second half of the second century is merely glimpsed at or indirectly referred to through details of the lives of those investigated. The introductory parts of each section make reference to laws concerning the province but fails to present satisfactorily the current state of research in each case. If, for example, Haley on page 109 dates, contrary to the communis opinio,9 the promulgation of the ius Latii to 73/74 A.D., he should have mentioned on page 70sqq. — where he discusses the ius Latii — how he reached that conclusion. A definition of the word “trade” is necessary, or at least a differentiation as regards to the annona. But the discussion concerning the nature of the Roman economy, characterised as a “subsidized market economy” in the introduction (p. 12), is not picked up again. Regarding the annona, Haley remains undecided: he attributes the heyday of Baetica to obligations stemming from the annona as well as to the activities of private mercatores. Baetica’s oil is said not to have constituted part of the tribute, which was paid in coin since the days of Vespasian (p. 90). If the question of the “type” of Trimalchio is raised at all, Haley ought answer it and not simply state the unsuitability of the paradigm (p. 147 and 182). This shows the disadvantage of this kind of suggestive question, which creates the uncomfortable impression that Haley has insufficient meaningful sources to underpin his arguments. This impression is reinforced by chapter 6, where he presents his prosopography of a “middle stratum” but actually devotes one third of the chapter to senators and equestrians.

Wherein lies the value of this book? Haley presents archaeological remains in detail, with the latest excavation reports. He appears to have missed no survey or section. This editing is even more commendable given that publication of the findings almost entirely occurs in magazines difficult to obtain outside Spain. Anyone who would like to know the latest about the production of the figlinae Malacitanae or the building phases of Villa “El Ruedo” (Almedinilla, province of Córdoba), will find it here. Haley pleasantly surprises the reader who accepts amassed details as being the basis of a reconstruction of the socio-economic conditions, and who is inquisitive about the — in the truest sense of the word — population of this particular place and time, with wealthy Baeticans who were neither senators nor equestrians nor decurions, but instead freedmeen or freeborn, and about whom the sources appeared to say nothing. He succeeds in showing the importance of amphora stamps and tituli picti in reconstructing the socio-economic structure of Baetica during the days of the Principate. No more, but also no less. If Haley had concentrated on investigating this probable social group, the “middle stratum”, and their estates, and on their importance to the annona, trade and the economy, then less would have been more.


1. CIL VI 8,2 31267 (= ILS 103); see G. Alföldy, “Zu den Monumenten der römischen Provinzen auf dem Augustusforum”, in H.-J. Drexhage and J. Sünskes (edd.), Migratio et Commutatio. Studien zur Alten Geschichte und deren Nachleben. Festschrift T. Pekáry, St. Katharinen 1989, 226-235.

2. Vell. 2,38,1; 2,39,2.

3. Plin. nat. 3,7 (Transl. H. Rackham).

4. Sil. 3,401; 16,468-470.

5. Mart. epigr. 12,98,1-2; 9,61,3; 14,133.

6. Sen. dial. 12,14,3.

7. Plin. nat. 34,4; Tac. ann. 6,19; Dio 58,22,2-3.

8. Plin. nat. 19,4.

9. Thus, for example A.B. Bosworth: Vespasian and the Provinces. Some Problems of the Early 70’s A.D., in: Athenaeum 51 (1973), 49-78, see 51-55; G. Zecchini: Plinio il vecchio e la lex Flavia municipalis, in: ZPE 84 (1990), 139-146; A.T. Fear: Rome and Baetica. Urbanization in Southern Spain c. 50 BC-AD 150, Oxford 1996, 131-169, especially 144-146.