This dissertation asks how and why the Roman emperors’ property was regularly sold, leased, and given away to private individuals. Throughout the imperial period, the emperors confiscated enormous amounts of property from their subjects. They sold much of it at auction, leased it to tenant farmers, or gave it away in displays of imperial largess. My analysis traces the development of these transactions during the first four centuries CE, particularly from the reign of Trajan (r. 98-117) through that of Theodosius I (r. 379-395). Drawing on legal, epigraphic, papyrological, and other textual evidence, I shed light on the social and political impact of imperial property alienation in the Roman world.
The emperors' ability to sell, lease, and give away confiscated property constituted a central pillar of their control. By asking for property that an emperor had confiscated, petitioners legitimized his right to do so. Even after obtaining property, the recipients continued to rely on the emperor to reaffirm their right of possession. Moreover, the availability of confiscated property incentivized private individuals to inform on their neighbors’ misdeeds to imperial officials. Some emperors used these processes to advance their other interests. Most significantly, property confiscation and alienation played a central role in the persecution and subsequent elevation of Christianity in the fourth century.
This process was not driven solely from the top. Private individuals often viewed the emperors' holdings as a resource from which they might financially benefit. Petitioners brought significant pressure on the emperors and their officials to grant them confiscated property. Moreover, the empire's inhabitants often judged an emperor's reign based on his practices of confiscation and alienation. These transactions were some of the most common instances of direct interaction between the Roman government and its subjects. The alienation of imperial property was a major source of socio-political cohesion in the Roman world.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations
Editions of Quoted Greek and Latin Texts
Chapter 1: Formations of the First Century
Chapter 2: Imperial Property Alienation in the Second and Third Centuries
Chapter 3: Petitioners, Emperors, and Officials
Chapter 4: The Constantinian Dynasty
Chapter 5: The Later Fourth Century
About this Dissertation
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