Luxury in Ancient Rome: Scope, Timing and Enforcement of Sumptuary Laws

27 Pages Posted: 28 May 2010 Last revised: 29 Feb 2012

Giuseppe Dari‐Mattiacci

Amsterdam Law School; Amsterdam Business School; Tinbergen Institute

Anna E. Plisecka

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

Date Written: November 22, 2010

Abstract

Between 182 BC and 18 BC, Roman lawmakers enacted a series of sumptuary laws regulating banquets (including the number of guests and the consumption of specific foods). Enforcement was hardly successful and these regulations had to be reiterated over time. Traditional explanations based on morals, protection of patrimonies and electoral competition do not fully account for the scope, timing and enforcement patterns of such laws. We advance and formalize a novel hypothesis holding that sumptuary legislation originated from the misalignment between political and economic power following the military and economic expansion of Rome in the last two centuries of the Republic. During this period, the senatorial class holding political power lost part of its economic power to the emerging class of the equestrians. This unbalance was resolved at the beginning of the Empire as the senatorial class also lost its political power to the princeps. This hypothesis is discussed against the historical and legal background and presented in a formal model.

Keywords: Luxury, Sumptuary Laws, Roman Law, Signaling

JEL Classification: D70, K00, N00

Suggested Citation

Dari‐Mattiacci, Giuseppe and Plisecka, Anna E., Luxury in Ancient Rome: Scope, Timing and Enforcement of Sumptuary Laws (November 22, 2010). Legal Roots, Vol. 1, 2012; Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics Working Paper No. 2010-03. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1616712 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1616712

Amsterdam Business School ( email )

Roetersstraat 18
Amsterdam, 1018WB
Netherlands

Tinbergen Institute

Gustav Mahlerplein 117
Amsterdam, 1082 MS
Netherlands

Anna E. Plisecka

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

Roetersstraat 11
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

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