1 Will Peker 5842216 Joe Figliulo-Rossworm Thursday 8AM Diocletian’s Price Edict reveals that the Late Roman Empire’s economicsystem resembled that of market economy in that transactions are made for privategain. The Edict shows that many occupations were available in the Late RomanEmpire and that there was most likely a large wealth gap, which is expressed in theprices section of the Edict where it lists wages. Diocletian’s viewpoint towardsmerchants closely resembles that of the Literati in “Discourses on Salt and Iron” inthat they both believed merchants were innately evil and look only for personal gainwith no regard for others. Diocletian was a Roman Emperor in the Late Roman Empire. He came topower during the Crisis of the Third Century and quickly put an end to it. The Crisisleft the Roman economy in despair with extreme inflation. However this is not thereason Diocletian cites for why he created his “Edict on Maximum Prices”.Diocletian’s reasoning behind his Edict can be seen in his statement, “Thecontribution of the whole world to support the armies falls to the abominableprofits of thieves” (Reader 225). In this statement Diocletian expresses that becausethe merchants set such high prices, soldiers must use all of their salary in as little asone purchase and because of this, all the money raised for the armies is being givento the merchants therefore the merchants are taking more than they even know and
2driving prices constantly higher. Diocletian’s Edict set a maximum price for goods tostop merchants from overcharging and stealing the nation’s wealth. While the Edict gives no actual description of how the Roman economy wasset up, it hints at a complex economic structure that was very advanced for its time.The Edict specifically states that the Roman Empire had merchants who buy, sell,and trade goods for their own profit (Reader 224). An economy where people buyand sell for their own profit is known as a market economy. In the Roman’s marketeconomy merchants look only for their own profit while ignoring the needs ofothers and causing harm to the economy as a whole. Another characteristic of amarket economy that can be seen in the Edict is a form of currency. In the pricessection it specifically refers to using “denarii” as the main form of currency (Reader226). Having an accepted medium of exchange as opposed to trading goods andservices for other goods and services shows a more advanced economic structurethan most other nations during this period in time. One more characteristic of anation with an advanced economic structure is the use of taxation. The Edict doesnot use the word tax, however it hints towards taxation in the statement, “Thecontribution of the whole world to support the armies” (Reader 225). This showsthat the government collected money from the people to use for it’s military, whichis known as taxing. Many nations around the same time period as the Late Roman Empirefocused mostly on agriculture as their main occupation. However in an empire socomplex like the Roman Empire, many occupations existed. The Edict lists possibleoccupations in the prices section. Some occupations given are farm laborer, stone
3mason, wall painter, figure painter, blacksmith, baker, brickmaker, shepherd,notary, teacher, advocate, jurist, and soldier (Reader 226). The more education ortraining a job requires the more it paid. When comparing the workers wages withthe price of goods, it reveals that the Late Roman Empire’s social classes had a largewealth gap meaning that the poor are really poor and the rich are really rich. For anaverage worker the cost of basic supplies such as wheat and barley exceeded theirday’s wage and the cost of nice clothing could exceed a year of pay (Reader 226). Ifa single article of clothing exceeds an entire year of pay it is clearly out of thequestion for that worker to purchase it. So if an average worker can’t afford it, whocan? The only jobs specifically stated in the Edict that pay enough for them to affordthe more expensive products are teachers, advocates, and jurists (Reader 226).Because an average worker could barely afford necessities and very few couldafford accessories and there were few to no occupations in between, you can seethat there was a large wealth gap and clear division between the lower and upperclasses. Diocletian makes his view towards merchants excruciatingly obvious. Hethought of all merchants as extremely greedy and focused on no one but themselves.Diocletian exclaimed, “For who is so insensitive and so devoid of human feeling thathe cannot know, or rather, has not perceived, that in the commerce carried on in themarkets or involved in the daily life of cities immoderate prices are so widespreadthat the uncurbed passion for gain is lessened neither by abundant supplies nor byfruitful years” (Reader 224). Diocletian blamed the merchants for Rome’s economicproblems.
4 A few hundred years earlier in China a debate over a monopoly on salt andiron discussed pros and cons of merchants and trade. In “Discourses on Salt andIron” the Literati, or Chinese scholars, argued against a government createdmonopoly on salt and iron, a liquor excise, and a system of equable marketingbecause these things discourage people from rural occupations and encouragepeople to seek different occupations (Reader 227). The Literati supported peopleworking in a rural setting rather than seeking profits by other means such as being amerchant. The Literati viewed merchants poorly as they believed merchants andtrade led to greed and crime. His argument for this is that with everyone focused onrural pursuits there is no way for someone to get ahead of another but when peopleseek other occupations and are enticed with the opportunity for gain they willbecome vicious (Reader 228). The Literati and Diocletian’s views towardsmerchants are very similar. They were both against merchants. They both thoughtmerchants are extremely selfish and look out for no one but themselves. The onlydifference is that the Literati wanted to get rid of merchants and have everyonefarm and Diocletian realized the necessity of merchants even though he is stillagainst them. Diocletian’s Edict revealed that the Late Roman Empire’s economic systemresembled that of a market economy. It showed that there were diverse options forwork. It also showed that there was a clear division between the upper and lowerclasses. The Edict expresses Diocletian’s negative view towards merchants whichwas similar to the Literati’s view of merchants from “Discourses on Salt and Iron”. Word Count: 1114