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Depersonalization of Business in Ancient Rome


Barbara Abatino


University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics (ACLE)

Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci


University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam Center for Law and Economics (ACLE); Tinbergen Institute

Enrico C. Perotti


University of Amsterdam - Finance Group; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); Tinbergen Institute

December 22, 2009

Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2011
Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics Working Paper No. 2009-14

Abstract:     
A crucial step in economic development is the depersonalization of business, which enables an enterprise to operate as a separate entity from its owners and managers. Until the emergence of a de iure depersonalization of business in the 19th century, business activities were eminently personal, with managing partners bearing unlimited liability. Roman law even restricted agency. Yet, the Roman legal system developed a form of de facto depersonalized business entity, where depersonalization was achieved by making the fulcrum of the business a non-person: the slave. Although radically different from a legal perspective, this format exhibited all the distinctive features of modern corporations, thereby providing for a functional equivalent of the modern corporate form. The development of the de iure format was hindered by strong cultural, technological and institutional constraints. In contrast, slave-run businesses exhibited features that were largely compatible with these constraints and emerged along the path of least resistance to legal change. The end of slavery and the fall of the Roman Empire closed off this alternative path of legal evolution; consequently, the modern corporate form could only appear once these constraints had been overcome.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: depersonalization, limited liability, entity shielding, Roman law, slave

JEL Classification: D23, G30, K12, K22, N00

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Date posted: December 27, 2009 ; Last revised: October 6, 2011

Suggested Citation

Abatino, Barbara and Dari-Mattiacci, Giuseppe and Perotti, Enrico C., Depersonalization of Business in Ancient Rome (December 22, 2009). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2011; Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics Working Paper No. 2009-14. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1526993

Contact Information

Barbara Abatino (Contact Author)
University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics (ACLE) ( email )
Roetersstraat 11
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands
Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci
University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam Center for Law and Economics (ACLE) ( email )
Roeterstraat 11
Amsterdam, 1018WB
Netherlands
HOME PAGE: http://darimattiacci.acle.nl
Tinbergen Institute
Roetersstraat 31
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands
HOME PAGE: http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=AuUfjxUAAAAJ&hl=en
Enrico C. Perotti
University of Amsterdam - Finance Group ( email )
Roetersstraat 18
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands
+31 20 525 4159 (Phone)
+31 20 525 5285 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.fee.uva.nl/fm/people/pero.htm
Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom
Tinbergen Institute ( email )
Gustav Mahlerplein 117
Amsterdam, 1082 MS
Netherlands
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