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Edict on Maximum Prices

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Piece of the edict in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin
One of four pieces of the edict (in Greek) re-used in the door frame of the medieval Church of St. John Chrysostomos in Geraki

The Edict on Maximum Prices (Latin: Edictum de Pretiis Rerum Venalium, "Edict Concerning the Sale Price of Goods"; also known as the Edict on Prices or the Edict of Diocletian) was issued in 301 AD by Diocletian. The document denounces greed and sets maximum prices and wages for all important articles and services.

The Edict exists only in fragments found mainly in the eastern part of the empire, where Diocletian ruled. The reconstructed fragments have been sufficient to estimate many prices for goods and services for historical economists (although the Edict attempts to set maximum prices, not fixed ones). It was probably issued from Antioch or Alexandria and was set up in inscriptions in Greek and Latin.

The Edict on Maximum Prices 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 for all practical purposes ignored. The Roman economy as a whole was not substantively stabilized until Constantine's coinage reforms in the 310s.


During the Crisis of the Third Century, Roman coinage had been greatly debased by the numerous emperors and usurpers who minted their own coins, using base metals to reduce the underlying metallic value of coins used to pay soldiers and public 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 or have been lost in the historical record. [*Following a time of constant wars for power the reigning authorities looking for campaign resources made a series of changes; Diocletian set the value of coins for saving expenses altering the amount of silver contained in them from 50% and a weight of 5 grams per coin to 1% silver and 3 grams weight producing a huge rise in prices.*] Although the decree was nominally successful for a short time after it was imposed, market forces led to more and more of the decree being disregarded and reinterpreted over time.[citation needed]

In the edict of Diocletian, it was mentioned that the wine from Picenum was the most expensive wine, together with Falerno.[1] Vinum Hadrianum was produced in Picenum,[2] in the city of Hatria or Hadria, the old city of Atri.[3]


No complete copy of the decree has been found. The text has been reconstructed from fragments of Greek and Latin copies at a number of different sites, most of them in the eastern provinces of Roman empire: Phrygia and Caria in Asia Minor, mainland Greece, Crete, and Cyrenaica.[4] The version of the decree inscribed on the wall of the bouleuterion at Stratonikeia in Caria was the first to be discovered and copied, by William Sherard, the English consul at Smyrna, in 1709.[5] The first attempt at a composite text was made in 1826 by William Martin Leake, working from Sherard's copy of the Stratonikeia inscription and a fragment purchased in Alexandria and subsequently brought to Aix-en-Provence.[6] A comprehensive edition of all fragments known by the end of the 19th century was edited by Theodor Mommsen with commentary by Hugo Blümner;[7] this edition formed the basis for a new text and English translation published in 1940 by Elsa Graser, who also incorporated fragments found after the publication of Mommsen's edition.[8] Two further critical editions were published in the early 1970s,[9][10] and new fragments have continued to be discovered.[11][12][13]


Although incomplete, enough of the text is preserved to make the general structure and contents of the edict clear.

All coins in the Decrees 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 (although some modern writers call this the "denarius communis", this phrase is a modern invention, and is not found in any ancient text). 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 was revalued at at least 1,200 denarii (although one document calls it a "solidus" it was still heavier than the solidus introduced by Constantine a few years later).[citation needed]

During the previous decades the decreasing amount of silver in the billon coins had fuelled inflation. This inflation is understood to be the reason the decree was issued. Issues of economic system feedback were not well understood at the time.[citation needed]

The first two-thirds of the Edict doubled the value of the copper and billon 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, imposed a price ceiling – a list of maxima – for well over a thousand products. These products 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).


Each cell represents the ratio of the coin in the column to the coin in the row: thus 1000 denarii were worth 1 solidus.

Diocletian values (301–305 A.D.)
Solidus Argenteus Nummus Radiate Laureate Denarius
Solidus 1 10 40 200 500 1,000
Argenteus 1/10 1 4 20 50 100
Nummus 1/40 1/4 1 5 1212 25
Radiate 1/200 1/20 1/5 1 212 5
Laureate 1/500 1/50 2/25 2/5 1 2
Denarius 1/1,000 1/100 1/25 1/5 1/2 1


  1. ^ "The Common People of Ancient Rome, by Frank Frost Abbott". www.gutenberg.org. Retrieved 2020-03-17.
  2. ^ Dalby, Andrew (2013-04-15). Food in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge. p. 171. ISBN 978-1-135-95422-2.
  3. ^ Sandler, Merton; Pinder, Roger (2002-12-19). Wine: A Scientific Exploration. CRC Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-203-36138-2.
  4. ^ Crawford, Michael H.; Reynolds, Joyce (1975). "The Publication of the Prices Edict: A New Inscription from Aezani". Journal of Roman Studies. 65: 160–163. doi:10.2307/370069. ISSN 0075-4358. JSTOR 370069.
  5. ^ Corcoran, Simon (2008). "The Heading of Diocletian's Prices Edict at Stratonicea". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 166: 295–302. JSTOR 20476543.
  6. ^ Leake, William Martin (1826). An Edict of Diocletian Fixing a Maximum of Prices throughout the Roman Empire, A.D. 303. London: John Murray.
  7. ^ Mommsen, Theodor; Blümner, Hugo (1893). Der Maximaltarif des Diocletian. Berlin: Georg Reimer.
  8. ^ Graser, Elsa (1940). "The Edict of Diocletian on Maximum Prices". An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome, vol. 5: Rome and Italy of the Empire. By Frank, Tenney. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 304–421.
  9. ^ Lauffer, Siegfried (1971). Diokletians Preisedikt. Berlin: De Gruyter.
  10. ^ Giacchero, Marta (1974). Edictum Diocletiani et Collegarum de Pretiis Rerum Venalium in integrum fere restitutum e Latinis Graecisque Fragmentis. Genoa: Istituto di Storia Antica e Scienze Ausiliarie.
  11. ^ Erim, K. T.; Reynolds, Joyce (1973). "The Aphrodisias Copy of Diocletian's Edict on Maximum Prices". Journal of Roman Studies. 63: 99–110. doi:10.2307/299169. JSTOR 299169.
  12. ^ Doyle, E. J. (1976). "Two New Fragments of the Edict of Diocletian on Maximum Prices". Hesperia. 45 (1): 77–97. JSTOR 147719.
  13. ^ Isager, Jacob (2019). "Two New Halikarnassian Fragments of Diocletian's Price Edict, one with Additions to the Chapter De Pigmentis". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 209: 185–195. JSTOR 48632386.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Prices given in the price edict as compared with modern prices, at [1]