Rome’s economic revolution

11th February 2014

News, Student news, Alumni news

A new book by Wadham alumnus Dr Philip Kay (Classics, 1975) examines economic change in Rome and Italy between the Second Punic War and the middle of the first century BC.

  • Philip Kay

    Philip Kay (Classics, 1975)

Philip, a past President of the Wadham Society, is a Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College and runs his own investment management business.

In his book, Rome’s Economic Revolution (Oxford University Press), Kay argues that increased inflows of bullion, in particular silver, combined with an expansion of the availability of credit to produce significant growth in monetary liquidity. This, in turn, stimulated market developments, such as investment farming, trade, construction, and manufacturing, and radically changed the composition and scale of the Roman economy.

The book explains the importance of banks and their role in expanding the money supply, even in an ancient economy, helping students of ancient history to understand how and why an ancient economy could have achieved real per capita growth.

Using a wide range of evidence and scholarly investigation, Kay demonstrates how Rome, in the second and first centuries BC, became a coherent economic entity experiencing real per capita economic growth. Without an understanding of this economic revolution, the contemporaneous political and cultural changes in Roman society cannot be fully comprehended or explained.

Philip explains how the book came about: “I love Classics and Ancient History in particular. After leaving Wadham, where I read Greats in the 1970s, the subject continued to fascinate me. Over the succeeding twenty-five years I earned my living in the financial world, dealing principally with Japan, but I frequently surprised colleagues by pulling out a copy of Thucydides or Polybius on business trips.  By 2003, the attractions of working in an investment bank were diminishing and I felt that what I really wanted to do was to go back to studying Ancient History in a more formal environment. My old friend and former Ancient History tutor at Wadham, the late Peter Derow, persuaded me to return to Wadham to do a MPhil and I subsequently moved to Wolfson to do a DPhil which formed the basis of Rome’s Economic Revolution.”

The book is aimed at students and scholars interested in classical studies, ancient history, especially history of the Roman Empire, the history of economics, and classical archaeology.