Fourth-Century Gothic Settlement and the Late Roman Economy
Mooney, John Steven
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Settlement and integration of non-Romans within Roman territory, political institutions, and culture were driving factors in the success of the Roman Empire since its foundation. This paper aims to examine the changing dynamics of settlement through the fourth century. One such group that were settled in the Roman empire, first recorded in 284 CE, were called the laeti. Laeti had the obligation to serve in the army in exchange for land – a situation that recalls idealized solider-farmer in Roman thought. The land they were settled on, however, some of which had been abandoned by aristocrats. This land was appropriated by the state and give to settlers. The phenomenon of agri deserti “(deserted land)”, was land not enrolled on the tax register, and became a source of conflict between the state and aristocrats, as well as the newly settled non-Romans and the aristocrats who still claimed the land. The aristocrats had to abandon the cultivation of this land due to labour shortages since their tenants had to serve in the army. Institutionalized settlement of non-Romans, such as the laeti, competed directly with the aristocratic economic aims. The institution of a new gold currency, the solidus, under Constantine, motivated the aristocrats to commute their in-kind taxation to gold (aderatio) due to the stability of the currency against inflation that the solidus brought. Landholders were willing to pay ten to twelve times the annual salary of a labourer in taxes to the state to retain these tenants. As less land was subsequently declared agri deserti, the state had large sums of money but few recruits. Furthermore, land that was traditionally given to non-Roman settlers was eliminated since tenants of large estates were not being recruited into the army. Thus, when the Gothic tribes sought asylum in the Roman Empire, the perfect source of manpower presented itself. However, after the almost complete destruction of the Roman army at the battle of Adrianople (378 CE) the process of aderatio was cemented as de facto state policy.