Defying a reputation for deceit and greed, Roman merchants strategized to present their good traits and successes

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
            Roman Reputation
            Reputation and New Institutional Economics
            Roman Perceptions of Trade
Chapter One: Merchants and the Roman Empire
The Pluralism of Roman Law
Legal Enforcement and Corruption
Controlling Roman Merchants
Chapter Two: The Nature of Reputation
            Regularity, Consistency, and Predictability: The Foundations of Reputation
            A Comparative Endeavor
Chapter Three: Developing a Reputation, Managing a Good Name
            Making a Name for Yourself
            Living Reputation
            Reputation of the Dead
Chapter Four: Defying the Stereotype and Using Reputation
            Stereotyping the Roman Merchant
            Trust, Honesty, and New Institutional Economics
            Social Capital and the Benefit of the Doubt
Chapter Five: Institutionalizing Reputation, or Information and What to Do with It
            The Spread of Reputation
            Prevention, Policing, and Punishment


Roman merchants, artisans, and service providers faced substantial prejudice. Contemporary authors labeled them greedy, while the Roman on the street accused merchants of lying and cheating. Legally and socially, merchants were kept at arm’s length from respectable society. Yet merchants were common figures in daily life, populating densely packed cities and traveling around the Mediterranean. The Reputation of the Roman Merchant focuses on the strategies retailers, craftsmen, and many other workers used to succeed, examining how they developed good reputations despite the stigma associated with their work. In a novel approach, blending social and economic history, The Reputation of the Roman Merchant considers how reputation worked as an informal institution, establishing and reinforcing traditional Roman norms while lowering the cost of doing business for individual workers. From histories and novels to inscriptions and art, this volume identifies common reputation strategies, explores how points of pride and personal accomplishments were shared with others, and explains responses to merchant activities on the small-scale. The book concludes that merchants invested heavily in their reputations as a way to set themselves apart from common, negative stereotypes without admitting that there was anything shameful about the work they did.

Jane Sancinito is Assistant Professor of History, University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

“What is the impact of rumor? What is the worth of a sterling reputation? And exactly how do you get people to trust you? These are all questions we continue to ask in the business world today, but were perhaps even more important to merchants in Roman antiquity. In new and important ways, Jane Sancinito’s The Reputation of the Roman Merchant explores the concept of reputation in the Roman Mediterranean, analyzing the stigma, the strictures, and the structural biases endured by many Roman merchants as well as the ways in which merchants themselves enforced strict social expectations. Sancinito reconstructs how but also why these merchants built networks of trust, the ways in which information flowed in Roman society, and the sheer power of social capital. The Reputation of the Roman Merchant considers the concept of reputation as institution. By reconstructing this institution and the patterns of behavior therein, Sancinito shows how we can employ the idea of reputation as a new tool with which to parse the actions, the exchanges, the business associations, and the enforcement of social norms within Roman economic networks. The Reputation of the Roman Merchant recreates the ancient agony and ecstasy of maintaining a good name in antiquity—and in the process provides new insights into the daily life of one of Rome’s most important agents.”

- Sarah Bond, University of Iowa