The collapse of a complex economy

Here’s a brief but very good article about the collapse of Britain in the fifth century, after Rome was obliged to withdraw in order to defend the home front. The resulting post-Roman “recession” lasted for 600-700 years. Why?

The reason the Romano-British economy collapsed so dramatically should give us pause for thought. Almost certainly the suddenness and the catastrophic scale of the crash were caused by the levels of sophistication and specialisation reached by the economy in Roman times.

The Romano-British population had grown used to buying their pottery, nails, and other basic goods from specialist producers, based often many miles away, and these producers in their turn relied on widespread markets to sustain their specialised production. When insecurity came in the fifth century, this impressive house of cards collapsed, leaving a population without the goods they wanted and without the skills and infrastructure needed to produce them locally. It took centuries to reconstruct networks of specialisation and exchange comparable to those of the Roman period.

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2 thoughts on “The collapse of a complex economy

  1. I can understand how they could be without a currency-based economy for so long. Mining and smelting silver and minting coins are relatively difficult things to do. And just having the coins doesn’t automatically make them widely accepted enough to function as a currency for trade.

    But how does it take 250 years to regain the ability to make pottery on a pottery wheel?

    Very interesting article. Thanks for posting it.

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