Demography of the Roman Empire

Romans
Latin: Rōmānī
Julius Caesar
Augustus
Hadrian
Cicero
Constantine the Great
Nero
Germanicus
Domitian
Vespasian
Total population
49 million (2nd century CE)
Regions with significant populations
  Roman Empire 49 million (2nd century CE)
Languages
Languages:
Religion
Imperial cult (ancient Rome), ancient Roman religion, Hellenistic religion, Early Christianity, Second Temple Judaism
Related ethnic groups
other Mediterranean Sea peoples
The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, in the reign of Trajan, 117 CE

Demographically, the Roman Empire was an ordinary premodern state. It had high infant mortality, a low marriage age, and high fertility within marriage. Perhaps half of Roman subjects died by the age of 5. Of those still alive at age 10, half would die by the age of 50. Roman women could expect to bear on average 6 to 9 children.

At its peak, after the Antonine Plague of the 160s CE, it had a population of about 60–70 million and a population density of about 16 persons per square kilometer. In contrast to the European societies of the classical and medieval periods, Rome had unusually high urbanization rates. During the 2nd century CE, the city of Rome had more than one million inhabitants. No Western city would have as many again until the 19th century.

Background

For the lands around the Mediterranean Sea and their hinterlands, the period from the second millennium BCE to the early first millennium CE was one of substantial population growth. What would become the territory of the Roman Empire saw an average annual population growth of about 0.1 per cent from the 12th century BCE to the 3rd century CE, resulting in a quadrupling of the region's total population. Growth was slower around the eastern Mediterranean, which was already more developed at the beginning of the period, on the order of about 0.07 per cent per year. [1] This was stronger growth than that seen in the succeeding period; from about 200 CE to 1800 CE, the European half of the empire only saw about 0.06 to 0.07 per cent annual growth (Europe as a whole saw 0.1 per cent annual growth rates), and the north African and west Asian parts of the empire saw almost no growth at all. [2]

By comparison, what is now the territory of China experienced 0.1 per cent annual growth from 1 CE to 1800 CE. After population decline following the disintegration of the western half of the Roman state in the fifth and sixth centuries, Europe probably re-attained Roman-era population totals in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and, following another decline associated with the Black Death, consistently exceeded them after the mid-15th century. [2]

There are no reliable surviving records for the general demography of the Roman Empire. There are no detailed local records, such as underlie the demographic study of early modern Europe, either. Large numbers of impressionistic, moralizing, and anecdotal observations on demography survive from the literary sources. They are of little use in the study of Roman demography, which tends to rely instead on conjecture and comparison, rather than records and observations. [3]