The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • E. V. K. FitzGerald
Reference work entry


The latifundium first appears extensively during the later Roman empire as a type of large agricultural enterprise which obtained labour services from a resident workforce (coloni) in return for the temporary use of a plot of land, when the slaves on the estates created from the land of conquered communities became too costly. As the Empire declined, the latifundia also became local centres of economic and political power, absorbing the free peasantry into villein or ‘servile’ status, and providing the foundation for the manorial system of rural organization in the Middle Ages (Tuma 1965). Labour shortages and urban growth led to an abandonment of this form of direct exploitation of labour in Western Europe by the 15th century in favour of more flexible rental agreements in kind, and eventually in money; though serfdom persisted in Eastern Europe and Russia well into the 19th century, and became a central theme in the ‘agrarian question’ (Hussain and Tribe 1981).

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Authors and Affiliations

  • E. V. K. FitzGerald
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