Was there ever a case when Rome conquered a territory solely for the purpose of gaining control of a specific resource (spice, ore, timber, etc....)?

I'm looking for something backed up by historical evidence - e.g. a document from a military/civilian leader, a public speach etc... admitting to such motivation.

Please note that I'm only including extractable natural resources here as understood today - e.g things like slaves, extra economy, markets, waterways or strategic territory are NOT in scope.

  • 10
    Have you been playing Sid Meier's Civilization recently?
    – Carmi
    Commented Feb 26, 2012 at 19:54
  • 4
    Colonization, to be more specific ;-)
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 26, 2012 at 20:35
  • 3
    Caesar and the whole Egypt campaign could be argued to stem for a need to assure grain exports to Rome but since it was not the stated reason, it does not really fit as an answer. Britain had a lot of tin as well so that could have been a major reason to invade. Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 7:24
  • 6
    Have you considered that your viewpoint taken literally may be anachronistic? Such a sharp distinction between different resources are unlikely, on the other hand attacking another country for being rich is a pretty common. Considering ancient economy, rich practically means rich in primarily resources (agriculture: Egypt, Libya etc, mining: British Isles, Iberia).
    – Greg
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 1:57
  • 4
    I'm not sure you can rule out slavery as a co-dependent natural resource; as the wealthy who controlled Rome had plantations and mines that used slaves extensively. So any farmland or minerals that Rome wanted to conquer elsewhere still expected slaves; often part-and-parcel of what to do with the conquered locals. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 5:19

5 Answers 5


At one point, the Romans extended the frontier in central Germania to swallow up a modest bit of land that was rich in silver mines. IIRC this was around the time of the Emperor Domitian.

Sources: The primary source was from The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire by Edward Luttwak. It discusses the annexation and mentions the region as securing some fertile land and supporting a friendly tribe, as well as pressing on the hostile Chatti. It also provided a buffer for Maintz and the flank of the annexation of the Agri Decumantes to the south.

However I did find a supporting remark from Tacitus' Annals Book XI, 20, from the time of Claudius:

Nor was it long before the same distinction was gained by Curtius Rufus, who had opened a mine, in search of silver-lodes, in the district of Mattium. The profits were slender and short-lived, but the legions lost heavily in the work of digging out water-courses and constructing underground workings which would have been difficult enough in the open. Worn out by the strain — and also because similar hardships were being endured in a number of provinces — the men drew up a private letter in the name of the armies, begging the emperor, when he thought of entrusting an army to a general, to assign him triumphal honours in advance.

Here Curtius Rufus gets triumphal ornaments by sending his troops over the border to do some quick work Silver Mining in Germany. This is the same area that the lines would later extend out to encompass a generation or so later.


Whele senators and ordinary civilians could justify a war with such considerations, the official pretexts for the wars were always different. All wars Rome conducted were officially motivated by international law. Particular motivations being:

  • Defending the allies (first and second Punic wars, Gallic war)

  • Breach of a treaty by the other party (second Punic war)

  • Invitation by a foreign pretender to the throne to help him against his adversary (invasion of Judea)

  • Pacification of warlike tribes (Caesar's invasions of Britain and Germany)

and so on.

It should be noted that "we just will conquer you" statements are quite rare in world's history. This is because if you use such arguments, you will experience problems in the future with concluding any treaties with other peoples, thus diplomatically unwise.

The most close possibly being Islamic conquests which were based on theological arguments.

  • 4
    While I agree with the premise that publicaly there is always some sort of plausible (or implausible) excuse, I mean there may be internal, private letters or speaches stating real reasons.
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 9:42
  • Even the Islamic conquest just as Crusades are based largely on imperialistic/economical motivations. We should distinguish real motifs from official recorded propaganda.
    – Greg
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 1:59

The only (to my knowledge) province that Rome brought under its control primarily based on a resource need was Egypt. Egypt, and to a lesser extent, north Africa, were the so-called "granary of Rome". Egypt was a necessary supplier of grains in a time where Rome (the city) and the standing army were growing, and an increasing number of citizens was relying on handouts by politicians or the state - the so-called "plebs frumentaria". At its apex Rome imported approximately 350000 tonnes of grains each year and 200-300 thousand citizens were living off handouts. Egypt also offered good connections to Asian trade routes. But if trade is considered a resource, then the Punic wars and the Hellenic wars might also be considered a resource driven assessment.

As user357320 already mentioned, the annexation of Dacia and Iberia also had some economic agendas, but that was not the main reason given at the time.

Also, here is a picture of where you find what resources:

Resources in the Roman Empire

  • I know you guys are into sources and you won't probably take history class as a source, so i found two wiki articles that i can link. I know it's not much better (Wikipedia is unpopular, i get it) and i know they are not in English, but i only found them in Italian. So if you know Italian, feel free to read about roman history! it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economia_dell%27Impero_romano and it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storia_dell%27Egitto_greco_e_romano
    – Matthaeus
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 0:28
  • A bit of cart before the horse here. While Africa and Egyptian grain was a staple for the later Empire, the takeover of both was based on other, political motives entirely.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 0:33
  • @Oldcat yes there was the whole Octavian vs. Mark Anthony business, and Cleopatra supporting him militarily. That was the reason why they marched, or rather, shipped troops there. However the reason for annexing it was its value. You might say they conquered it on a "well, since we're already here, so lets just conquer it"-logic, but that's not how roman conquests worked. There are plenty of punitive expeditions that didn't end in conquest but just did what they started out to do: punish some action or neutralize some threat. Conquest were motivated by strategical decisions...
    – Matthaeus
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 0:42
  • That value was primarily just cash, not grain. It was too rich to allow anyone to take. That's why senators were not even allowed to visit Egypt by law in the Empire without permission. Still not an economic motive until later.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 0:44
  • ...be it to expand the territory to a natural border, or to obtain some advantage (tributes, access to trade routes, keeping regional powers down, access to resources, access to land for veterans). Especially during late imperial rule, they were very much aware of the difficulties to support further expansion, and weighed usefulness against costs of garrisoning and administering the territory.
    – Matthaeus
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 0:46

Several Roman authors criticised Roman imperialism. Two that I am aware of include:

• Sallust, De bello Iugurthino. The book however traces Rome’s warlikeness back to inner politics, not acquisition of resources.

• Caesar, De bello Gallico, 7th book. Caesar negotiates with Vincengetorix. In the book, Caesar criticises Roman imperialism via Vincengetorix’ speech during that negotiation.

  • 1
    +1: Not really pertinent to the question, but very interesting point! Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 0:04
  • 2
    Perhaps interesting, but has nothing to do with the question.
    – pipe
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 8:57

It was always my understanding that the Roman conquests in Spain and Dacia were motivated by their respective gold and silver mines.

  • 5
    Source please??
    – DVK
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 13:26
  • 1
    @DVK I also heard this in the documentary series "Rome: Rise and fall of an empire"
    – Ovi
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 7:38
  • 3
    (Accesible) sources are still lacking.... Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 20:36
  • 1
    i heard that too. Learned it in class, back in middle school.
    – Matthaeus
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 23:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.