Luxury and Its Regulation in Ancient Rome (the Second Part of the Republic – the Beginning of the Empire)

Sigita Kaikarienė


The article deals with socio-political processes in ancient Rome (the 2nd half of the Republic – the beginning of the Empire) and their consequences: wealth accumulation sources, reasons and consequences; the emphasis is put on constant attempts of the country to limit luxury; the results of these attempts are recorded. The evolution of the Roman legislative activity and the changes of the society’s opinion on luxury and the correspondingly perceived prestige are disclosed in the article based on historical and literary sources of antiquity and scientific literature dealing with similar subjects. The material is structured and it gives a chance to compare it to today’s topical issues. If no attention is paid to history lessons, the possibility to perceive the problems of contemporary society is lost. Significant attention was paid to fighting with corruption intentions of politicians and their attempts to bribe voters (since they used to obtain the responsibilities of Rome’s province vicars and at the same time the opportunities to become rich after becoming high-rank officials). The article presents the following conclusions:
With the expansion and the growing affluence of the Roman State, the increasing amount of money was circulating at the household level, which, without penetrating the depths of the society’s organism, contributed to a more significant development of consumption, rather than production. Clothing, food, celebrations and everyday life were becoming more and more luxurious, money demand was getting more evident, and public morality was getting subverted by dissipation, predatory ways of acquiring luxury items, ostentation of one’s riches and warped perception of prestige. All of that destroyed ancient simplicity and the patriarchal way of life, shattered and inner civitas focus.
The attempts to restore the values of the early Republic (the cult of serving the motherland, the sense of responsibility, the wish to have bono modo acquired property, etc.) were constant and persistent, as evidenced by systematically issued leges sumptuariae, i.e. laws against luxury.
Leges sumptuariae used to regulate: 1. Prodigitas (dissipation of wealth). 2. Immodest ostentation of one’s riches. 3. Organisation of funeral rites. 4. Women jewellery use. 5. The expenditure for public games. 6. Building heights and other deviations from the norms of that time.
In some cases these laws were observed, they were often amended and made more stringent, however at the beginning of the Empire they were becoming more and more soft, until they became almost meaningless.


spiritual values; prestige; leges sumptuariae; prodigitas; obligationes

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"Societal studies" ISSN online 2029-2244 / ISSN print 2029-2236