Edict on Maximum Prices
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 by Roman Emperor
The Edict was probably issued from
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. However, the reconstructed fragments have been sufficient to
estimate many prices for goods and services for historical economists
(although, it should be stressed, the Edict attempts to fix maximum
prices, not fixed ones).
Edict on Maximum Prices
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
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
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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. The Roman Empire was awash with other coins
from outside of the Empire – especially in the Mediterranean. The
implied coinage changeover time was at least a decade.
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.
The full mechanics of the decree have been lost. No full decree has
been found, as it exists only in fragments. However, enough of the
decree's text is known for the following to be understood to be true.
All coins in the Decrees and the Edict were valued according to the
Diocletian hoped to replace with a new system based on
the silver argenteus and its fractions (although some modern writers
call this the "denarius communist", 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
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.
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).
The Edict did not solve all of the problems in the economy.
Diocletian's mass minting of coins of low metallic value continued to
increase inflation, and the maximum prices in the Edict were
apparently too low.
Merchants either stopped producing goods, sold their goods illegally,
or used barter. The Edict tended to disrupt trade and commerce,
especially among merchants. It is safe to assume that a gray market
economy evolved out of the edict at least between merchants.
Sometimes entire towns 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.
Diocletian values[clarification needed]
Corcoran, Simon (2000). The Empire of the Tetrarchs, Imperial
Pronouncements and Government AD 284–324. Oxford University Press.
pp. 440 pages. ISBN 0-19-815304-X.
Graser, E.R. (1940), "A text and translation of the Edict of
Diocletian", in T. Frank, An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome Volume V:
Rome and Italy of the Empire (1st ed.), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
Press access-date= requires url= (help)
Diocletianus emperor (1826), William Martin Leake, ed., An edict ...
fixing a maximum of prices throughout the Roman empire.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Edictum_de_pretiis.
Corcoran, Simon. "The Prices Edict at Geraki, Greece" (video).
Retrieved 16 December 2009.
Erim, K.T.; Reynolds, Joyce; White, K.D.; Charlesworth, Dorothy. 1973,
'The Aphrodisias Copy of Diocletian's Edict on Maximum Prices,' in JRS
Kropff, Antony, 2016: New English translation of the Price Edict of