DP12745 Roman Roads to Prosperity: Persistence and Non-Persistence of Public Goods Provision

Author(s): Carl-Johan Dalgaard, Nicolai Kaarsen, Ola Olsson, Pablo Selaya
Publication Date: February 2018
Keyword(s): infrastructure, Persistence, Public Goods, Roman Empire, Roman roads
JEL(s): H41, O40
Programme Areas: Macroeconomics and Growth
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=12745

How persistent is public goods provision in a comparative perspective? We explore the link between infrastructure investments made during antiquity and the presence of infrastructure today, as well as the link between early infrastructure and economic activity both in the past and in the present, across the entire area under dominion of the Roman Empire at the zenith of its geographical extension. We find a remarkable pattern of persistence showing that greater Roman road density goes along with (a) greater modern road density, (b) greater settlement formation in 500 CE, and (c) greater economic activity in 2010. Interestingly, however, the degree of persistence in road density and the link between early road density and contemporary economic development is weakened to the point of insignificance in areas where the use of wheeled vehicles was abandoned from the first millennium CE until the late modern period. Taken at face value, our results suggest that infrastructure may be one important channel through which persistence in comparative development comes about.