The practice of large-scale sheep husbandry in Crau (Bouches-du-Rhône) during the Roman period, as testified by archaeological evidence, presupposes the development of long-distance transhumance. The historical record suggests that this is an exceptional phenomenon, quite distinct from economies based on localized movements of flocks. It requires the conjunction of a number of factors including significant demand for high-quality wool, the availability of capital (to cover the purchase of animals and the costs of pasturage and labour), the unrestricted movement of flocks (requiring political stability and effective policing), and the command of vast tracts of posture (whether depopulated naturally or as a result of warfare). Evidence for the emergence of such a phenomenon is rare in the antique world: for the Balkans, Africa and Iberian Peninsula it is tenuous or ambiguous, but a well-documented example can be cited from southern Italy in the second century BC that bears close comparison with the situation in the Narbonne region in the first century AD. Both are based on the specialized exploitation of flocks for wool, the importance of which must be acknowledged alongside other produce such as wine and oil. Wool must also be counted among the commodities involved in significant commercial exchange, for a high degree of integration within the Roman economy is implied by the evidence presented.
Transhumance, production of and trade in wool, Roman empire, economic integration, landed aristocracy, Gaul, Iberian Peninsula, Greece, Italy, North Africa.