Tableware trade in the Roman East: Exploring cultural and economic transmission with agent-based modelling and approximate Bayesian computation
PLoS ONE , Volume 15; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0240414
Abstract: The availability of reliable commercial information is considered a key feature of inter-regional trade if the Roman economy was highly integrated. However, the extent to which archaeological and historical sources of inter-regional trade reflect the degree of economic integration is still not fully understood, a question which lies at the heart of current debates in Roman Studies. Ceramic tableware offers one of the only comparable and quantifiable sources of information for Roman inter-regional trade over centuries-long time periods. The distribution patterns and stylistic features of tablewares from the East Mediterranean dated between 200 BC and AD 300 suggest a competitive market where buying decisions might have been influenced by access to reliable commercial information. We contribute to this debate by representing three competing hypotheses in an agent-based model: success-biased social learning of tableware buying strategies (requiring access to reliable commercial information from all traders), unbiased social learning (requiring limited access), and independent learning (requiring no access). We use approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) to evaluate which hypothesis best describes archaeologically observed tableware distribution patterns. Our results revealed success-bias is not a viable theory and we demonstrate instead that local innovation (independent learning) is a plausible driving factor in inter-regional tableware trade. We also suggest that tableware distribution should instead be explored as a small component of long-distance trade cargoes dominated by foodstuffs, metals, and building materials.
Keywords: Culture / economics / archaeology / ceramics / Algorithms / agent-based modeling / Simulation and modeling / economic agents
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