3 – He Introduced Food Reform
One of Aurelian’s most important domestic reforms was his total overhaul of the urban food ration system. The problem with such a vast empire was that even the city of Rome hadn’t been able to support its food requirements from Italian agriculture. Once Emperor Augustus had annexed Egypt, the empire was able to take enormous quantities of grain grown in the fertile flood plains of the Nile. The city also continued to receive huge supplies of grain from North Africa.
A portion of this grain was given to a sector of the population for free (the dole) and the rest was milled and sold to bakers who then sold their freshly baked bread at controlled prices. Although emperors such as Severus Alexander and Septimius Severus had made some changes to the dole, no previous ruler of Rome attempted such a wholesale change. While Aurelian probably eliminated the alimenta (introduced by Trajan) to help the children of Italy, he had bigger plans for a reform of the food dole.
Ever since the days of Alexander Severus, the supply of grain to the people of Rome was unpredictable, so Aurelian decided to distribute bread to the people instead of grain. He levied the grain that came from Egypt and made it part of Rome’s taxation system. The grain was delivered to the bakers for free, and they created loaves of bread at a fixed weight of two pounds; much larger than they were previously.
Emperor Aurelian went one step further by adding pork, salt, and oil to the rations. There was even a brief period where the citizens of Rome received free wine. It was a clever move because it revitalized the winemaking industry in Italy and ensured abandoned land was used once again. Alas, he did not stick to his guns for very long. Eventually, Aurelian ordered the wine to be sold, albeit it at a reduced cost.
Aurelian didn’t stop there. He also instituted new arrangements for the collection and transport of all goods to the city. There were new jobs for officials on the Tiber and Nile, and they were charged with overseeing the projects. Shipping was reorganized to make the transportation of goods more efficient. There is also evidence to suggest that Aurelian helped other cities in the Empire. For example, he reportedly helped a city named Cremna after it suffered from a terrible famine.
Admittedly, Aurelian’s food reforms were not entirely derived from his love of his fellow man. He loved bringing order to things and enjoyed rooting out fraud. Like his other domestic reforms, Aurelian changed the way food was distributed and transported because the existing system was chaotic. In 271, at the start of his reign, there were severe urban riots, and the emperor did not want a repeat. As a result, he knew that reform was necessary to keep the peace and ensure his armies were well paid, well fed and ready to fight when needed. During Aurelian’s reign, the soldiers of the Roman Empire certainly earned their money.