Peter Jones

For real globalisation, look at Ancient Rome

Peter Jones says the Romans made things work by keeping it simple. Gordon Brown could learn from this world in which complexity was an ill to be avoided not embraced

In South Shields there is a Roman funerary monument dedicated to 30-year-old Regina (‘Queenie’). It is dated around ad 200, at the height of the Roman occupation of Britain. It tells us that she was originally a slave from St Albans, freed by and married to one Barates from Palmyra in Syria. What on earth was Barates doing in South Shields, for pity’s sake, over 4,000 miles from home, in the frozen north of England? Why, doing business with the Roman army, of course, in the global world of the Roman empire.

So there is nothing new about a global world. We were living in one 2,000 years ago. As Lionel Casson says:

The Roman man in the street ate bread baked with wheat grown in North Africa or Egypt, and fish that had been caught and dried near Gibraltar. He cooked with North African oil in pots and pans of copper mined in Spain, ate off dishes fired in French kilns, drank wine from Spain or France… The Roman of wealth dressed in garments of wool from Miletus or linen from Egypt; his wife wore silks from China, adorned herself with diamonds and pearls from India, and made up with cosmetics from South Arabia… He lived in a house whose walls were covered with coloured marble veneer quarried in Asia Minor; his furniture was of Indian ebony or teak inlaid with African ivory…

Even more striking is how uncomplicated this global world was. Romans governed their provinces with a small bureaucracy co-operating with the local hierarchy to run the place as usual. Rome demanded its annual tax take, and the right to station legions there if needed, but apart from that they imposed no monetary system, no education system, no rules and regulations, and except in a limited number of cases, no laws either (so the Archbishop of Canterbury was right: legal systems can happily exist alongside each other).

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