It must be said that Sim and Ridge's calculated figure of 80,000 tons of iron per year for the Roman Empire is largely a speculation projected from the estimate of British iron production and it is probably an absolute high end estimate.(Scholars gave different estimates of iron production in Weald alone, ranging from 250 tons to over 800 tons a year) Furthermore, even for Britain, archeologists still disagree whether some of the sites discovered were from Roman periods, and even here estimates still rests largely on assumptions of how much these private iron industries produced, a fact that cannot be completely varified by archeology.
We know from Strabo that Britain is one of the area with a high level of iron production and exported it to the other parts of the empire; "
Britain bears grain, cattle, gold, silver and iron, these things accordingly, are exported from the island."
We must realize that British iron production in around 1700 is roughly between 15,000-30,000 tons, which is 10 times higher than the amount estimated for Roman British iron production(2,250 tons). Yet Hartwell estimates early 18th century Europe to produce around 140,000 -180,000 tons of iron annually, which is only twice higher than the 80,000 tons given for the Roman Empire by Sim and Ridge. Roman Britain's population was around 2-4 million out of a population of 60-70 million people for the entire Roman Empire(unless of course Sim and Ridge assumes the high count of over 100 million people for the Roman Empire, which was very likely), over 3/4 of which are in Europe, while Britain's population in 1700 is around 5-6 million, out of near 120 million people in all of Europe. This means that Roman Britain probably had a higher percentage of Europe's population than 18th century Britain did yet produced a much lower percentage of iron. With roughly the same level of technology everywhere in Europe in both periods, its difficult to imagine that Roman Britain would only produce around 1/40 the amount of iron in the Roman Empire, while Britain in 1700 could produce near 1/6 of Europe's iron even though Roman Britain had a higher percentage of Europe's population compared to 18th century Britain. Clearly, the gap lies more with the different standard of estimates between the historian in question rather than any varifiable facts.
By comparing Sim and Ridge's esimate with Wagner's(and we must also take into consideration that Wagner's speculations also only pertains to the Western Han and not that of the Eastern Han, where iron production increased both per capita, due to increased use of water bellows, and in total, from more iron foundaries and population increases)we are saying that Roman Britain produced half as much iron as the entire Han Empire! This is despite the fact that over 100 major large scale iron foundry locations were found in Han times, each worked by at least hundreds of workers(some up to over 10,000) and each utilizing blast furnaces compared to only 113 small private bloomery furnace workshops found in Roman Weald, where the majority of Roman iron industries in Britain lay, manned by only a handful of unskilled workers.
By comparing the above qualitatively, we should see that Han iron industry should be at least tens of magnitudes higher than British iron production, but that was clearly not reflected in Tibet Libre's selective comparison of sources.
This is why qualitative analysis is far more reliable than quantitative analysis of any sort, if the later can be done at all, even to within ten times the amount of accuracy, for this early period.
According to Donald Wagner, the private production in Rome, although numerous, produced very small scales of iron and were usually in low quality:
"While there did exist large state ironworks run by the Roman army, most iron production occurred in thousands of tiny units scattered in villages throughout the Empire. There would have been no way at all of enforcing a monopoly, and it is also difficult to imagine what advantage the Roman state might have derived from such a monopoly.
The difference lay in the technology of iron production. Bloomery smelting, the only iron-smelting process known in Europe until Medieval times, lends itself well to small-scale production. It was used in early China to some (unknown) extent, but by the 3rd century B.C. it appears that most iron was being produced in blast furnaces, which provide very large economies of scale.
...In the Roman Empire, though iron production was rarely concentrated, there were other industries whose technology did encourage large-scale production. Rostovtzeff (1957, pp. 349352) notices a trend in the Imperial period away from 'house-economy' toward large-scale 'capitalist' industry and then back toward a smaller scale of industrial production. This course of development is loosely analogous to that seen in Han China, with the rise of blast furnace iron production, the establishment of large ironworks under the monopoly, and the later rise of illegal iron production, very likely on a smaller scale than the monopoly ironworks. Any detailed comparison is of course rendered pointless by two important differences in Han China: a technology which provides extremely large economies of scale and a powerful interventionist government.
Rostovtzeff, writing in the 1920's, discusses several possible explanations for the 'failure' of large-scale industry to develop further in Roman Europe. He concludes that a major factor was a failure of demand...The quotations above from the debate in Han China include arguments which are common today. Small-scale production can have important political, social, and ecological advantages; large-scale production can be technically superior, producing a better product, and can be more efficient in its consumption of scarce resources. "
In conclusion, Tibet Libre's quantitative datas have virtually no value in a comparative analysis of any sort because of the utter scarcity of information in regard to both periods. Yet, whatever the total output was, the Han appears to have led in the scale of production of iron through a qualitative analysis, and even if one cannot conclusively prove the fact, it seems that Han iron production were much better organized, concentrated, had a larger quantity of skilled labor, and produced greater amount of high quality iron. In another word, the Han iron industry was much more industrialized and "capitalized" since it was bounded by a large organization that gathered a large human resource of skilled labor for larger levels of production than the unorganized, scattered, small household-sized bloomery workshops that characterized the Roman iron industry.
Edited by Borjigin Ayurbarwada, 05 January 2011 - 09:07 AM.