Metrological Harmonization as a Contributing Factor to the Development of Commercial Exchange in the Mediterranean Towards the End of the 2nd Century B.C.: The Case of the Athenian Decree on Weights and Measures
15 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2015
Date Written: 2015
The athenian decree on weights an measures from the end of the second century B.C., IG II² 1013, is an often quoted, but rarely examined in more depth source of antique legal history. This is especially true from a legal and/or economic historian's point of view; the research conducted so far is predominantly epigraphic, metrological and numismatic. At the same time, analyzing economic aspects of antique history, particularly legal history, is becoming more and more prevalent. Douglass North's theory of New institutional economics has been of particular influence in this regard.
This paper examines § 3 of the decree, where the use of a new measure of volume is ordered, and especially § 4, where the market weight of the mna emporike is reformed, i.e. incremented by 8.7%, in an attempt to clarify its legal aim and purpose as well as its possible economic implications. So far, the introduction of these alterations has been viewed and discussed by some historians mainly as a question of confrontational economic policy, i.e. if the decree was enacted following political pressure from the increasingly dominant Rome, or rather a protective measure by Athens against presumably fraudulent roman businessmen.
Examining and recalculating the relation among the then prevalent weight units of the roman pound, the athenian mna and the roman and athenian talent before and after the enactment of the decree, it is argued that this law led to compatibility through an easy convertibility among these units, thereby facilitating commerce not only among Rome and Athens themselves, but between all territories familiar with either notation throughout the Mediterranean, reducing transaction costs as defined by North in the theory of New institutional economics. Taking into accounts Norths statement that "measurement costs [...] are the sources of social, political and economic institutions" the interpretation of the athenian decree on weights and measures in a protectionist manner of Rome against Athens is contrasted with the proposition that it might be better understood as a pragmatic and sound business regulation achieving early harmonization by standardization, which all parties involved were benefiting from.
Keywords: Weights and measures, IG II2 1013, New Institutional Economy, Transactions Cost, Measurement Cost, Metrological Harmonization, mna emporike, talenton emporikon, libra, talentum, choinix
JEL Classification: N00, N73, K00, K20
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation