Roman Business Associations

51 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2014 Last revised: 8 Sep 2020

See all articles by Andreas Martin Fleckner

Andreas Martin Fleckner

Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Law; Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law


There were no large capital associations in Ancient Rome, let alone business corporations with publicly traded shares. The high level of instability is one of the key explanations: under Roman law, it was virtually impossible to commit capital for the long term and finance capital-intensive enterprises. The societas was inevitably liquidated following numerous dissolution events. The peculium came to an end when the commonly held slave died. While the societas publicanorum developed into a more stable institution over time, during the same period, its business almost disappeared. How can a modern reader make sense of these facts as they emerge from the sources? The present chapter suggests that reservations in the social and political setting, rather than economic factors or oddities of Roman legal doctrine, caused business associations to remain small. This is an important lesson from history, both for the theory of the firm and for the role that law plays in it.

Keywords: societas, societas publicanorum, peculium, theory of the firm, company law, corporate law, Roman law, dissolution, asset partitioning, entity shielding

JEL Classification: D23, K11, K12, K22, L22, N40

Suggested Citation

Fleckner, Andreas Martin, Roman Business Associations. Oxford University Press, Roman Law and Economics, vol. I, pp. 233–272, 2020, Working Paper of the Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance No. 2015-10, Max Planck Private Law Research Paper No. 16/10, Available at SSRN:

Andreas Martin Fleckner (Contact Author)

Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Law ( email )

Unter den Linden 6
Berlin, D-10099

Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law ( email )

Mittelweg 187
Hamburg, 20148

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