Roman Agents: Simulating Ancient Economy

A popular hypothesis is that Ancient Rome, once it had a population of about a million people, could not grow anymore. This hypothesis seems to be strengthened by the fact that the population of Rome stayed stable around this number for an extended period of time.

Imagine of a Roman coin by CGNAs the hypothesis goes, the limiting factor for Rome was the production of energy – which in the days of the Roman Empire meant wood, coal, olive oil, and oxen. It is well known that olive oil got shipped from far away to feed the capital's need of energy. However, because overland transport capacities were limited, other sources of energy such as oxen and to a lesser degree wood, needed to be produced in the relative vicinity of the city. Moreover, a larger population would mean more food supply and transportation, which would further increase the energy requirements of the city.

This project will simulate the ancient Roman energy economy using agent-based models, to determine an upper bound on the maximum population of the city of Rome.

For this project, we will work together with Paul Erdkamp from the history department, for specifying the dynamics of ancient economy. The student who is to take up this challenge will thus have two daily supervisors.

Contact: Diederik M. Roijers ( , Paul Erdkamp (, Ann Nowé (

Relevant literature:

  • Graham, Shawn, ‘ Counting bricks and stacking wood: providing the physical fabric’, in: Paul Erdkamp (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Rome, Cambridge 2013, 278-296.
  • Macal, Charles M., and Michael J. North. 'Tutorial on agent-based modelling and simulation', Journal of simulation 4.3 (2010): 151-162.

Image by CNG from (Creative Commons ASA 2.5 license).