Depersonalization of Business in Ancient Rome

Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2011

Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics Working Paper No. 2009-14

28 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2009 Last revised: 6 Oct 2011

Barbara Abatino

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

Giuseppe Dari‐Mattiacci

Amsterdam Law School; Amsterdam Business School; Tinbergen Institute

Enrico C. Perotti

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

Date Written: December 22, 2009

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.

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

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

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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1526993

Barbara Abatino (Contact Author)

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

Roetersstraat 11
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci

Amsterdam Law School ( email )

Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://www.uva.nl/en/profile/d/a/g.darimattiacci/g.darimattiacci.html

Amsterdam Business School ( email )

Roetersstraat 18
Amsterdam, 1018WB
Netherlands

Tinbergen Institute

Gustav Mahlerplein 117
Amsterdam, 1082 MS
Netherlands

Enrico C. Perotti

University of Amsterdam - Finance Group ( email )

Plantage Muidergracht 12
Amsterdam, 1018 TV
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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