The Economy of Ancient Rome

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Ancient Rome was perhaps the most significant ancient civilization to have existed throughout history, the empire lived for over 1000 years and in that time, it gave us the foundations for our modern society. Democracy, a court-based legal system, Latin languages and alphabet, three-course meals, and perhaps it was one of the first modern economies to move beyond a simple agrarian empire and develop things like modern banking, lending, taxation and yes even financial crisis as we know them today.
In the same way that scholars study a dead language like Latin to discerned the foundation of meaning in our modern dialects economists can study the histories of ancient civilizations like Rome to determine basic economic functions in a time before modern financial systems could skew results and Rome was perhaps the most developed case study we could look at.
📚 Want to learn more about the economics of ancient Rome? We recommend reading "Roman Coins and Their Values, Vol. 1: The Republic and the Twelve Caesars 280 BC-AD 96", by David Sear
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Sources & Citations -
Morley, N., 2002. Metropolis and hinterland: the city of Rome and the Italian economy, 200 BC-AD 200. Cambridge University Press.
Temin, P., 2006. The economy of the early Roman Empire. Journal of Economic Perspectives
Temin, P., 2017. The Roman market economy. Princeton University Press.
Garnsey, P., Hopkins, K. and Whittaker, C.R. eds., 1983. Trade in the ancient economy
Brown, P., 2012. Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Princeton University Press.
Braund, D.C., 1983. Gabinius, Caesar, and the publicani of Judaea. Klio
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  1. Economics Explained
    Economics Explained
    Jaar geleden

    Thanks for watching EE nation! ❤️ If you enjoyed, please consider supporting the show on Patreon! 😎 See new videos early, participate in exclusive Q&As, and more! ➡️

    1. Josh Knoxville
      Josh Knoxville
      8 uur geleden

      I feel like the story was just stopped half way thru. Right when you compared Rome's crisis to us you then ended it before Rome annexed Egypt and grew almost 3 times its size in wealth. Is there a part 2 and what will by our Egypt substitute saving grace?

    2. GhostOfOnyx
      2 maanden geleden

      Rome lasted 2000* years

    3. Morgan Howard
      Morgan Howard
      7 maanden geleden

      Thank you Economics Explained Team for this video. I found this video very educational and entertaining with your graphics and history. I am interested to learn more about Economics. Thank you, thank you thank you Economics Explained Team, Morgan

    4. transkryption
      9 maanden geleden

      woo yeah Electrical Engineering nation 😋

    5. Livingvapour
      10 maanden geleden

      Hey around 12:40 you mention Canada not having much farmland but America has the most "usable" farmland at 1.6 million Km2 of land Canada is using 700,000 km2 of their land for farmland. canada ranks 7th in this list I want to ask what source did you use for the statement made around the 12:30-12:45 mark? thanks

  2. abhra ghosh
    abhra ghosh
    Dag geleden

    Please dont judge India and China just by saying Rome was more advanced than ancient India or China. Do your research on India and China before giving such a direct comment. It would interesting to see an apple to apple comparison between Rome India and China

  3. vv bbibbi
    vv bbibbi
    2 dagen geleden

    But did they have a Central Bank to print FIAT currency though?

  4. blue diamond gem
    blue diamond gem
    3 dagen geleden

    Democrats love taxes

  5. Whipped Breen
    Whipped Breen
    3 dagen geleden

    14:02 That's Greece

  6. John Karounis
    John Karounis
    4 dagen geleden

    Basically Ancient Rome died because of lack of innovation.

  7. bladewolf VII
    bladewolf VII
    5 dagen geleden

    This is honestly one of the most helpful videos i've found for my fictional worldbuilding. So thx a lot.

  8. Ally Soobratty
    Ally Soobratty
    5 dagen geleden

    ROME an Empire built upon Wars and Conquests.....

  9. Saint Arj
    Saint Arj
    5 dagen geleden

    over printing currency, a classic technique

  10. First Last
    First Last
    14 dagen geleden

    Canada has limited farmland? How many drugs have u taken?

  11. Mr. Coffee
    Mr. Coffee
    21 dag geleden

    Canada has more farmland than ALL of Europe combined in terms of surface area. You should check your facts.

  12. Eric Guier
    Eric Guier
    21 dag geleden

    9:00 - The British empire brought all the benefits of the Roman, plus economic modernisation if you were lucky. If you weren't lucky your population will grow so fast from the better food supply (due to more advanced farming methods) that living standards would crash due to the Malthusian trap.

  13. Andy 8583
    Andy 8583
    21 dag geleden

    6:10 It would be more accurate to say that it was an empire spanning across the whole Meditteranean. A lot of people in modern times get really hung up on Rome as a 'European' Empire, due in large part to the Holy Roman Empire which came around in the early middle ages and existed in northern Italy and Germany. In reality the Roman Empire was bounded to the coasts of the Meditteranean sea, and all of Northern Africa and a fair bit of Asia Minor. Gaul (France) mostly existed to secure the Rhine from Germanic Tribes (who would go on to make an exodus into the Roman Empire and cause the collapse of the Western Roman Empire after the Hunnic Empire basically pushed them out.) And Brittania was literally just a vanity project taken for political reasons because it could be taken, and was abandoned very quickly and with little hassle once it became untenable.

  14. Hayder Batista
    Hayder Batista
    21 dag geleden

    Hard to not notice the striking bias towards Rome. Albeit saying that it's expansionist structure was more related to franchise, due to said reasons, than to colonialism, you left aside why couldn't the same comparison be made between colonialism and franchises. It really looks not much different from saying British Empire = Bad vs Roman Empire = Good. You also left aside that during conquest much of the population was enslaved. And that after the conquest they would be enforced to send their forces to fight the enemies of the empire. And that although the local government sent by Rome COULD build some degree of infrastructure, as they did, there was no reason to have any sense of proportion between the amount extracted and the amount used in that infrastructure. And that it was due to this system that Rome's politicians became so wealthy that they could privately fund armies themselves, which much said about the disparity of the resources returns to the locals in the form of infrastructure and the resources they extracted. And that even after conquests the conquered people would be treated as of inferior breed and would not have the full rights of a citizen even if they were lucky enough to not be enslaved. And so on and so forth... Hard to call it a "fair price" in my perspective.

  15. Michael Murphy
    Michael Murphy
    21 dag geleden

    Says its not quite British calonialism, goes on to describe the British Empire.

  16. Drum Ape
    Drum Ape
    22 dagen geleden

    Fascinating stuff! It would be awesome if you can do another video or maybe even a series that go more in-depth, especially now that the new Rome Total War Remastered is coming out soon. The economy of the Roman Empire is even more interesting than I thought!

  17. Some Guy
    Some Guy
    24 dagen geleden

    China and India were not wealthier

  18. Some Guy
    Some Guy
    24 dagen geleden

    To be fair, for the large majority of Times history, the land owners who were paying the taxes were also the same people who either made up the army itself(during most of the Republic) or the ones in charge of the army

  19. doug dimmadome
    doug dimmadome
    25 dagen geleden

    calling Rome poor? How do you think the Roman Empire after the Marian reforms funded huge military campaigns? Built huge civil projects like aqueducts, chariot races, and roads?

  20. BiH Robotics
    BiH Robotics
    27 dagen geleden

    Rome was also a Republic for quiet some time just a FYI.

  21. Delta Beta
    Delta Beta
    28 dagen geleden

    So, in a nutshell Modern China operates exactly like the Roman empire

  22. Graham X
    Graham X
    28 dagen geleden

    Missed the opportunity to say that Goldman Sachs doesn't have to rely on gold in sacks nowadays.

  23. GWS
    28 dagen geleden

    Rome's economy was nothing like today's economy. Today's economy is based largely on investment and cooperation, even though there are some slave like components left over. Rome's economy was based entirely on the spoils of war. When they were taking over territory, they were great. When they weren't, their economy stagnated or went into decline. The only exception was maybe Hadrian, but he consolidated gains made in war so even his was based on previous conquests. What allowed society to flourish back then was slavery. For every Roman bath there were dozens of slaves working in oppressive conditions to keep them up. Slaves slept in the most disgusting conditions and they would work jobs that would kill them extremely quickly. So no, Rome was not a modern economy.

  24. Austin
    28 dagen geleden

    the roman empire didn't last 1000 years. the kingdom of rome lasted from romulus to tarquinius superbus the republic of rome lasted until the civil war between caesar and pompeius the empire of rome lasted until 384 until it split into the byzantine and western roman empires the western empire lasted until 476 ad and the eastern half lasted 1000 more years until 1453

  25. santiago Alcantara
    santiago Alcantara
    28 dagen geleden

    7:33 more than privatized is federalized the taxes.

  26. Seriously You jest?
    Seriously You jest?
    28 dagen geleden

    I would have paid that tax, and another share to Caesar.

  27. Louis-Alexandre Simard
    Louis-Alexandre Simard
    28 dagen geleden

    Canada is the 7th in the world for total farmland. I fail to see how that is small

  28. Tockee
    28 dagen geleden

    melb vs sydney when? :D

  29. James Thomas
    James Thomas
    29 dagen geleden

    Say cool whip..... Assume, no h in there..... lol

  30. Kushranada IoI
    Kushranada IoI
    Maand geleden

    I am disappointed that you dont mention the debasement of their gold and silver coins until it was worthless and it's usage enforced by the death penalty. This was a big factor in the decline of the Roman empire.

  31. gabrielbap1
    Maand geleden

    "Pay as this taxes or we will take your land away because we are the ones with the huge army" - basically explaining how taxation is theft.

  32. Fedor Galkin
    Fedor Galkin
    Maand geleden

    Eugh... You may want to revisit that Tiberius incident. Its not really what happened

  33. Eric Powell
    Eric Powell
    Maand geleden

    EE: "The most significant ancient civilization ..." Bro, please expand your knowledge of world history.

  34. Jim Harrigan
    Jim Harrigan
    Maand geleden

    The Rome that proliferated built roads everywhere it could. The Constantinople that last fell built walls that only lasted until the opposition invented algebra and giant cannons.

  35. Tarik Aljarboa
    Tarik Aljarboa
    Maand geleden

    I really liked some of your videos. But the introduction to this video, especially your first few sentences, were not true, and clearly were influenced by ignorance and European superiority (even though Rome was not purley European an dominated none European regions). I really, appreciated the knowledge conveyed in your videos. However such an overstatement “Rome is the greatest ancient empire” makes me question everything the publisher has uttered.

  36. Josh McDonald
    Josh McDonald
    Maand geleden

    There's only 3 sure things; death, taxes, and nurses.

  37. Marty R
    Marty R
    Maand geleden

    Rome lasted for 2000 years, not 1000. The eastern half of the empire that didn't fall in the 5th century was still the Roman Empire, and it continued to be a major power through most of the middle ages. It was centuries after it finally fell in the 1400s that the modern fiction called the Byzantine Empire was invented. We need to stop perpetuating this myth that Byzantine and Roman were somehow separate things.

  38. paincult
    Maand geleden

    This is the most neoliberal youtube video out there.

  39. Wyatt Sunkel
    Wyatt Sunkel
    Maand geleden

    Can I get a gif of Tiberius cranking the money printer?

  40. Mark Voelker
    Mark Voelker
    Maand geleden

    Well, the roads go without saying.

  41. Dominic Ng
    Dominic Ng
    Maand geleden

    Always thought democracy originated in Athens, not Rome

  42. Gabe H
    Gabe H
    Maand geleden

    No one: Ronald at 10:39: 👁👄👁

  43. The Marquez Family
    The Marquez Family
    Maand geleden

    We are still slaves and we are still assests, no change thre.

  44. Chris Fox
    Chris Fox
    Maand geleden

    Thank you for a very clear and interesting exploration of the economy of Rome.

  45. Pablo C
    Pablo C
    Maand geleden

    Again: Rome was not more "advanced" than other contemporaneous civilizations. That´s just another eurocentric historic bias (from number of studies to plane racism).

  46. Simon S
    Simon S
    Maand geleden

    They were "poor" in terms of GDP per capita, but what about purchasing power or "happiness"

  47. Drew Steeves
    Drew Steeves
    Maand geleden

    All economics for a society are ultimately based on primary industries like agriculture. How effective (efficient) at pulling calories out of soil translates into how many non farmers are available for other tasks. Those non farmers allow people to specialize and create non primary wealth like banking or government or collective security forces. A society that can focus on being productive will become rich. Effective government creates the environment that allows that production to flourish while maintaining security and stability. Security and stability are tricky. You can easily over do either or both and create a repressive environment suppressing productivity and wealth. The US economy is a great example of an economy losing its way , becoming a police state with an army of empire,. A repressed society ripe for revolt because the elite class will not share the wealth that society created, forcing citizens into increasing desperate situations where the benefits of society are questionable vs the harsh realities of every day living.

  48. Ava
    Maand geleden

    This is the worst nd so boring

    1. Gabriel Nguyen
      Gabriel Nguyen
      Maand geleden


  49. Richard H
    Richard H
    Maand geleden

    Good video

  50. Richard H
    Richard H
    Maand geleden

    Italy did not have terrible soil. What is the author saying

    1. Gabriel Nguyen
      Gabriel Nguyen
      Maand geleden

      but yeah that seems weird

    2. Gabriel Nguyen
      Gabriel Nguyen
      Maand geleden

      im asssuming in comparision to north africa at this point

  51. Jacob Cantrell
    Jacob Cantrell
    Maand geleden

    It should also be noted that from the time the Romans took control of the Mediterranean to the 1600s Italy was the wealthiest area per capita in the entire world.

  52. Sihle Magubane
    Sihle Magubane
    Maand geleden

    "a dead language lie latin" final year student here gasping for air. I can promise you in countries practicing common law, latin is not dead haha!

  53. Bryan
    Maand geleden

    What about ancient China's economy? Would be interesting given that China first developed a paper based currency

  54. TheRomaduce
    Maand geleden

    I am a lawyer from argentina (yes that economic powerhouse hhahahhaa) i loved rome when i was a kid because of it's military history, but when i went to lawschool during my first year i had a subject that was called roman law, and it blew my mind, that moment i understood why rome was an empire so advanced, to put it simply the modern law system (specially civil) is still being used today. and from what i got from your video the empire was atrue powerhouse because of it's economic system that allowed them to blow up when it comes to construction, not only that but the used the greek philosophy as their own and even used the gods. they were so practical. i know there are a lot of fascinating ancient cultures but rome was the best one by far

  55. Brandon RH
    Brandon RH
    2 maanden geleden

    12:45 Pirates!

  56. Jak świat się kręci.
    Jak świat się kręci.
    2 maanden geleden

    Oh, they invented taxation.. that explains why everyone hates them.

  57. Vanalovan
    2 maanden geleden

    ‘Scuse me, I think I’m gonna watch some Historia Civiliz now

  58. J strap
    J strap
    2 maanden geleden

    They had Caligula. We have Trump

  59. Michael Silver
    Michael Silver
    2 maanden geleden

    Rome: my empire lasted for a thousand years! China: cool story bro

  60. Pavle Pavlovic
    Pavle Pavlovic
    2 maanden geleden

    Do you know where was the Capital of Roman empire at its Hight , its not Rome . Its Sirmium , how do i know that , well im from around there . Usually not mentioned but improtant to know . That is where the Emperor was , he was not in Rome . Do you know why is this , because Power goes with the Emperor , so you send the Emperor where you need the most power , and that is modern day Serbia. Another question , where is the Biggest USA Military's base outside USA, you have one try .; Yes Serbia . ITs most important place in the world , why Because Aqueducts come from there , you cant have Rome without Aqueducts . And what cant you live without in USA , POWER , Electricity isnt it . And where that comes from , Serbia, Austria . If we look in to the Future and ask our selves what will be next Empire , it will be China . So we can Ask where did china get the Tech to Rival USA. You have one try . Serbia , in 1999 USA took all their High Tech Weapons and 25 more NATO countries to attack Serbia , because they couldn't leave it to China . We took down their "Stealth Airplanes " and waht have you that they said are Invisible and cant be taken down , wrong , and sent it to China and now USA cant attack China for China has the Tech . This is Huge . Ppl dont know about that at all

  61. Ray Lopez
    Ray Lopez
    2 maanden geleden

    @13:20 mark--Roman Empire $500 per capita is not poorer than any country in today's modern world, since Mozambique has a GDP / capita of $483 in 2019

  62. rideausheep
    2 maanden geleden

    I'm a history buff, this was very informative and answered some question I was wondering about. Thanks

  63. Toledo
    2 maanden geleden

    So you're telling me Rome was basically an ancient Habbo Hotel.

  64. UnCubicle
    2 maanden geleden

    4:37 imagine paying 1% of your net worth even in the greatest Republic of ancient times!

  65. Oundrey
    2 maanden geleden

    The Roman Republic became an Empire. The Kingdom ended around 500 years prior

  66. Jimmy Johnson
    Jimmy Johnson
    2 maanden geleden

    17:00 you are wrong. it will be lost "at sea" much as it has in the past. this time of course is metaphorical. but much more dangerous.

  67. JRocka114
    2 maanden geleden

    Bro his opening statement is inaccurate. Ancient Babylon or Egypt were EASILY more important than Rome as an ancient society.

  68. Elijah Marshall
    Elijah Marshall
    2 maanden geleden

    you should do economy of ancient Greece, economy of ancient Israel, and economy of ancient Mesopotamia/Babylon.

  69. Junaid
    2 maanden geleden

    How can "India" be compared with the Roman Empire? It was a geographical region back then.(Atleast China was politically united throughtout it's history). It's like saying, that the economy of Europe is larger than China which technically is true except that it's a false equivalence. Apples and Oranges.

    1. Daksh Jhamb
      Daksh Jhamb
      28 dagen geleden

      Time stamp of this statement

  70. H. H.
    H. H.
    2 maanden geleden

    17:35 That really looks like a painting.

  71. H. H.
    H. H.
    2 maanden geleden

    15:50 So that's where I Claudius got it from.

  72. H. H.
    H. H.
    2 maanden geleden

    Those advantages you listed for territories conquered by the Romans also existed in more modern colonialism, didn't they? Colonizers built roads and infrastructure, which opened them up to trade with other parts of the empire. They got to fly the flag of the colonizer to warn off invaders because the colonizing power would fight off others who tried to conquer the land. Sounds like colonialism to me.

    1. Matthew Hemmings
      Matthew Hemmings
      2 maanden geleden

      You’re right, it’s practically the same thing. Although, it can differ in form and shape, as Colonialism of the 17th to 20th century was more about the extraction of ressources and wealth in order to funnel it back to the mainland. While this aspect is less obvious in Rome. Technically, if you look at the Roman territory, they stopped expansion when they reach the most defensive positions around the Mediterranean Sea. So the Empire was more focused on its internal consolidation rather than a purely colonial ambition.

  73. TheMatissV
    2 maanden geleden

    Er, Latin's not dead. The Catholic church uses it.

  74. Pietje Bel
    Pietje Bel
    2 maanden geleden

    13:22 poorer then the rest of the world? we in the west live on debt every born person in the Nederlands has a debt of €50000 in the US it is even worst

    1. Matthew Hemmings
      Matthew Hemmings
      2 maanden geleden

      Debt is only the transfer of wealth from one person to an other in the exchange of interests. Unless you’re an idiot bank lending to an idiot, debt is good.

  75. Nicolas Mancheno
    Nicolas Mancheno
    2 maanden geleden

    I really enjoy your content. Maybe you can do a video about the económic impact ir the haber-bosch process. Maybe the most important factor in the advanced specialized economy we have today.

  76. Derek Meyer
    Derek Meyer
    2 maanden geleden

    Further more, the majority of agriculture in the Roman Empire was supplied by Egypt, most Roman citizens in the city of Rome didn’t farmer much themselves as it was a highly densely populated city and they relied largely on the agricultural resources of the provinces of the empire out side the city of Rome, and Italy is one of the most fetal regions in the world for many crops.

  77. Derek Meyer
    Derek Meyer
    2 maanden geleden

    The average Roman citizen had much more writes, social mobility, and quality of life, at the time of Trajan, free citizens in the city of Rome had access to public baths, clean water from the aqueducts, and access to goods from Portugal to Iraq to Scotland to Egypt. Han dynasty China and Indian residents didn’t have any of the above avalible, expecaly to the average citizens

  78. Joshua Waite
    Joshua Waite
    2 maanden geleden

    considering many ealry americans likened the country to rome... they had a goal and achieved it, corruption, imperialism and all.

  79. George Doughty
    George Doughty
    2 maanden geleden

    1: taxes enable war. 2: war requires taxes. Repeat until your civilization collapses.

  80. xMercurex
    2 maanden geleden

    It is a bit late, but nothing about trade with India? I heard it was a big deal since Rome trading away gold for exotic goods from India. It bring a lot of tax revenue to the emperor. It also made the province of Egypt particularly important for the Empire.

  81. marco borghi
    marco borghi
    2 maanden geleden

    Rome ..democracy? What?

  82. Comred1
    2 maanden geleden

    'It was a protection racket' Isn't all tax a protection racket? I mean, paying it protects you from going to jail for example. But it also funds the police and army.

  83. [invalid string ID]
    [invalid string ID]
    2 maanden geleden

    Economics of the spice route.

  84. CleverCat
    2 maanden geleden

    Hi, I was interested in your comparison with European colonialism. Do you think the way in which Roman and British empires would make income by taxing farmers but instead taking to back home to the Treasury (to an extent) would be accurate enough to say that this element is similar. And what differences further were there ?

  85. Cadam2019
    2 maanden geleden

    Great video, to add to the issue with a reliance on grain in Rome, they also generated the bulk of their grain from Egypt, this grain was then sent to Italy over the Med, the relationship with the Egyptian province was volatile which didn't help in maintaining a balanced economy in the empire.

  86. Michael
    2 maanden geleden


  87. Krusey 55
    Krusey 55
    2 maanden geleden

    I wonder how much longer it would have taken Rome to become a modern civilization like we have today. Electricity and so on

  88. Anouyz
    2 maanden geleden

    Canada has limited farmland you say. In 2018, Canada was the world's largest producer of rapeseed (20.3 million tonnes), dry pea (3.5 million tonnes) and lentil (2 million tons), the 2nd largest producer of oats in the world (3.4 million tons), the 6th largest world producer of wheat (31.7 million tons) and barley (8.3 million tons), the 7th largest world producer of soy (7.2 million tons), the 10th largest world producer of maize (13.8 million tons) and the 12th largest world producer of potato (5.7 million tonnes)

  89. Marzuk Azar
    Marzuk Azar
    2 maanden geleden


  90. Brokkenpiloot IngressAccount
    Brokkenpiloot IngressAccount
    2 maanden geleden

    ancient rome empire 1000 years? The egyptians are laughing at that! Make one on the egyptians! I think the economics, especially the tax system of building the pyramids seems very interesting, even though I understand there will be less known.

  91. Thomas Hellberg
    Thomas Hellberg
    2 maanden geleden

    Do a video on countries without direct taxation.

  92. antoshahorosha
    2 maanden geleden

    All of which were really borrowed from either the Greeks, the Etruscans, of which we can trace these developments through to the Sumerians, so the premise is invalid to wholly assume they were the inventions of the Romans, more likely refined by the Romans than invented.

  93. Petrus Invictus
    Petrus Invictus
    3 maanden geleden

    Troy War , was about people to have free good business at Black Sea. Make a story. Hey, Homer did!

  94. snurk agurk
    snurk agurk
    3 maanden geleden

    The secret ingredient is Slavery

  95. MR FlackAttack
    MR FlackAttack
    3 maanden geleden

    Fact Check: Three course meals are actually a Russian innovation.

  96. Lester V
    Lester V
    3 maanden geleden

    Very shocked

  97. Gaudia Certaminis
    Gaudia Certaminis
    3 maanden geleden

    Historically illiterate. Shame.

  98. Ryan Alex
    Ryan Alex
    3 maanden geleden

    So financial crisis was always cause by government

  99. James Wakefield
    James Wakefield
    3 maanden geleden

    British colonialism had the exact same benefits of infrastructure, trade and protection, except in its later form, the colonies were expected to eventually leave the empire and become independent. Maybe we too, need a thousand years before we say that colonialism probably wasn't as simplistically evil as its currently political convenient to claim.

  100. Simon Romijn
    Simon Romijn
    3 maanden geleden

    Enjoyed your video. I think it is also worth mentioning that one of the great strengths of Rome was the manner in which the Roman republic and empire successfully coopted administrative and trading practices of conquered peoples. In the east the conquered Hellenic provinces had themselves successfully coopted administrative practices pioneered by the Achaemenid Persians and in the west the conquered Carthaginian provinces propelled Roman power especially in terms of the control Iberian mineral resources.