Edict on Maximum Prices

From Academic Kids

The Edict on Maximum Prices (also known as the Edict on Prices or the Edict of Diocletian; in Latin Edictum De Pretiis Rerum Venalium) was issued in 301 by Roman Emperor Diocletian.

During the Crisis of the Third Century, Roman coinage had been greatly devalued due to the numerous emperors and usurpers minting their own coins to bribe soldiers and officials. Earlier in his reign, as well as in 301 around the same time as the Edict on Prices, Diocletian issued Currency Decrees, which attempted to reform the system of taxation and to stabilize the coinage. It is difficult to know exactly how the coinage was changed, as the values and even the names of coins are often unknown.

All coins in the Decress and the Edict were valued according to the denarius, which Diocletian hoped to replace with a new system based on the silver argenteus and its fractions. The argenteus seems to have been set at 100 denarii, the silver-washed nummus at 25 denarii, and the bronze radiate at 4 or 5 denarii. The copper laureate was raised from 1 denarius to 2 denarii. The gold aureus, which by this time had risen to 833 denarii, was replaced with a solidus, worth 1000 denarii (this was different from the solidus introduced by Constantine a few years later). These coins held their value during Diocletian's reign, but aside from the bronze and copper coins, which were mass produced, they were minted only very rarely and had little effect on the economy.

These new coins actually added to the inflation, and in an attempt to combat this he issued his Edict on Maximum Prices in 301. The first two-thirds of the Edict doubled the value of the copper and bronze coins, and set the death penalty for profiteers and speculators, who were blamed for the inflation and who were compared to the barbarian tribes attacking the empire. Merchants were forbidden to take their goods elsewhere and charge a higher price, and transport costs could not be used as an excuse to raise prices.

The last third of the Edict, divided into 32 sections, set a limit on prices for over a thousand products. It did not fix prices, but instead set maxima, prices over which certain goods could not be sold. These goods included various food items (beef, grain, wine, beer, sausages, etc), clothing (shoes, cloaks, etc), freight charges for sea travel, and weekly wages. The highest limit was on one pound of purple-dyed silk, which was set at 150 000 denarii (the price of a lion was set at the same price).

However, the Edict did not solve the problem, as his mass minting of coins continued to increase inflation, and the maximum prices that were set were apparently too low. Merchants either stopped producing goods, sold their goods illegally, or used a barter system instead. The Edict tended to disrupt trade and commerce, especially among merchants and sometimes entire towns who could no longer afford to produce trade goods. Because the Edict also set limits on wages, those who had fixed salaries (especially soldiers) found that their money was increasingly worthless as the artificial prices did not reflect actual costs.

The Edict was probably issued from Antioch or Alexandria and was set up in inscriptions in Greek and Latin. It now exists only in fragments found mainly in the eastern part of the empire, where Diocletian ruled, although it is still the longest surviving piece of legislation from the period of the Tetrarchy. The Edict was criticized by Lactantius, a rhetorician from Nicomedia, who blamed the emperors for the inflation and told of fighting and bloodshed that erupted from price tampering. By the end of Diocletian's reign in 305 the Edict was virtually ignored, and the economy was not stabilized until Constantine's coinage reform.

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