Roman technological progress in comparative context: The Roman Empire, Medieval Europe and Imperial China

Research output: Contribution to journalShort survey


The Roman Empire experienced both extensive and intensive economic growth. This article first surveys the role of technology in that process, engaging with recent literature on intensive growth under Malthusian constraints. It goes on to investigate the difference in technological progress between the Roman Empire and medieval Europe. It argues that political fragmentation explains why medieval Europe was more innovative than the Roman world, invoking a comparison with imperial China to complement the analysis. The technological success of China under the Tang and Song shows that political fragmentation is not a precondition for progress. However, Roman emperors never invested in the practical application of useful knowledge, the way Chinese rulers did.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101300
JournalExplorations in Economic History
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020



  • China
  • Economic growth
  • Malthus
  • Middle Ages
  • Roman Empire
  • Technological progress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Economics and Econometrics

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