On the one hand, the Wikipedia page on Africa Proconsularis states, with no references, that it "produced one million tons of cereals each year, one-quarter of which was exported." On the other, the Wikipedia page on Aegyptus doesn't have any numbers concerning production, but from various academic works I could gather that it was the most productive province in the Roman Empire, even if these sources didn't give me any numbers.

I know there were differences in production from year to year, even within regions of these provinces, but there must exist some kind of mean value for their productivity. This is the number I am looking for, not specific annual examples, although if only annual examples survive I'll have to accept these.

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    Interesting question...Africa Proconsularis is actually easier to find statistics on now as it's studied in climate change (why did this region shift from heavily irrigated lands to nomadic herding? Was climate change the reason for the shift, or did Arabic culture shifting to nomadic herding cause the climate change?). I guess you already have this production info though...are you simply looking for mean production values for Roman Egypt to compare to these ones?
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 19:25
  • I actually don't have any trustworthy values for Africa Proconsularis' production, even if I know something here or there about its history. I am indeed curious about the mean production of both these provinces, and how they compare to each other.
    – James Cook
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 19:57
  • Proving to be a difficult research topic. I can find a number on Egypts agricultural export to rome being 20 million Modii (plural for Modius). Oddly, Modii is a volume measurement and this roughly hits 0.13 million metric tons of wheat sent from Egypt to just Rome (of course I can't even determine if the 1 million tons you give is metric, long, or short..short tons this become around 0.3 million)...and it's export to Rome only, so very hard to pick a production total from that
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 17:38
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    This might be of some interest. Average wheat yields per year in the 3rd decade of the century, sowing 135 kg/ha of seed, were around 1,200 kg/ha in Italy and Sicily, 1,710 kg/ha in Egypt, 269 kg/ha in Cyrenaica, Tunisia at 400 kg/ha, and Algeria at 540 kg/ha, Greece at 620 kg/ha.[12] This makes the Mediterranean very difficult to average over all. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_agriculture#cite_note-12 Of course the number comes with Africa Proconsularis broken into Tunisia and Cyrenaica. Might be able to extrapolate yield to land area?
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 17:38
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    @Twelfth Spent some time trying, but it doesn't seem that a number for the land area of Africa Proconsularis exists. I remember reading somewhere that we don't really know where its boundaries were in ancient times. This is interesting information, though, showing that the province was an important 'grain basket' because of its size, not necessarily because of larger production per unit of area.
    – James Cook
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 9:49

1 Answer 1


It seems the thought of Aegyptus out-producing Africa Proconsularis may be incorrect. We can find original ancient sources which indicate that it seems to have been the other way around, with North Africa providing 2/3 of Rome's grains. The reference providing this ratio, though lacking specific figures, can be found in Bellum Judaicum 2.383 by Josephus.

And besides the annual fruits of the earth, which maintain the multitude of the Romans for eight months in the year...

Another ancient source, the Roman historian Tacitus, when discussing the volatility of Roman food supplies in Annals, 12.43, mentions Africa before Egypt when mentioning the sources of Roman grains, which can be taken as corroboration of Josephus:

in the past, Italy exported supplies for the legions into remote provinces; nor is sterility the trouble now, but we cultivate Africa and Egypt by preference, and the life of the Roman nation has been staked upon cargo-boats and accidents.

The 1988 book The Economics of Agriculture on Roman Imperial Estates in North Africa By Dennis P. Kehoe, lists these sources (footnote 8 on page 4) and tosses a couple of figures in (and points out the possible exaggeration on the part of Josephus):

These passages cannot be pressed too closely, but they do indicate that Africa had become Rome's most important source of grain by the reign of Nero. If Rome consumed 30-40 million modii of grain anually, Africa would have supplied 20-27 million modii (130,000 - 180,000 metric tons).

Estimates based on the report of Egypt exporting 20 million modii, found in the fourth century work Epitome, if extrapolated out at the Josephus 1/3 ratio, would show a Roman consumption of 60 million modii, which has been argued as possibly too high. This discrepancy is mentioned in a wiki entry on the Cura Annonae:

Peter Garnsey combines the accounts of the author of the fourth-century Epitome that 20 million modii of wheat came from Egypt and Josephus' statement in the mid-first century AD that North Africa provided twice the export of Egypt and that it supplied Rome eight months of the year and Egypt supplied the other four, leaving a total of 60 million modii imported to Rome. Garnsey finds this number too high as this works out to 400,000 tons (800 million pounds) but only 200,000 tons was required for Augustus' first grain dole.4

The book Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World: Responses to Risk and Crisis,(1989) by Peter Garnsey is the source referred in the above entry.

So, as we can see, entire books can and have been written on the subject of Roman grains. Gleaning what information we can from historical sources from the first century, it seems that the North African region provided 2/3 of the grain consumed during the years of the early Roman Empire (the information may not reflect later times when Constantinople became an important part of the Empire) and can be summed up by the Kehoe statement from earlier:

Africa had become Rome's most important source of grain by the reign of Nero.

(all above emphasis mine)

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    "Tacitus, when discussing Roman food supplies [...], mentions Africa before Egypt as the sources of Roman grains" - There might be a caveat here. My admittedly superficial understanding of the Roman Empire's food logistic is that Egypt supplied grain to Constantinople and the East, plus some to Rome, while Africa supplied Rome and the West. In other words, it could be that what the source actually suggests is that Africa provided 2/3 of Rome's grain, rather than 2/3 of the total grain in the Empire. (Plus, there were lots of mouths to feed in Egypt.) Commented May 2, 2018 at 13:52
  • The information is scant, and only reflects a limited time frame, but its what I could find that compares the two locations. Both original sources do seem specific however: 'the multitude of the Romans' * and *'the life of the Roman nation' . Things may easily have changed over the span of the Empire, the author I quote is specific timewise: 'by the reign of Nero'. ( I swear we covered this in another question as well, but I can't seem to find it. I recall a 19th century author who used the grain imports and handouts to estimate the population...)
    – justCal
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 17:07
  • This is not a bad answer. But the Q is about productivity for which you provide the indirect info of exports. That is a nice perspective in itself – which has to consider Denis' additions – but I think your last sentence de-emphasises the part in brackets so much as to be incorrect in the end. Commented May 3, 2018 at 8:28
  • FYI I looked up the book that made me raise my last comment. C Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, Chap 1. The citations to back it up are listed on this page under p.23. Commented May 3, 2018 at 15:28
  • Also, the footnote of this book, p.4 has a reference to B Wart-Perkins (2005, 144) as a good source on agricultural productivity in the Empire. Commented May 3, 2018 at 16:21

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