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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Edict of Diocletian

EDICT OF DIOCLETIAN ( De pretiis rerum venalium ), an imperial edict promulgated in A.D. 301, fixing a maximum price for provisions and other articles of commerce, and a maximum rate of wages. Incomplete copies of it have been discovered at various times in various places, the first (in Greek and Latin) in 170 9, at Stratonicea in Caria, by W. Sherard, British consul at Smyrna, containing the preamble and the beginning of the tables down to No. 403. This partial copy was completed by W. Bankes in 1817. A second fragment (now in the museum at Aix in Provence) was brought from Egypt in 1809; it supplements the preamble by specifying the titles of the emperors and Caesars and the number of times they had held them, whereby the date of publication can be accurately determined. For other fragments and their localities see Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (iii., 1873, pp. 801 and 1055; and supplement i., 1893, p. 1909); special mention may be made of those of Elatea, Plataea and Megalopolis. Latin being the official language all over the empire, there was no official Greek translation (except for Greece proper), as is shown by the variations in those portions of the text of which more than one Greek version is extant. Further, all the fragments come from the provinces which were under the jurisdiction of Diocletian, from which it is argued that the edict was only published in the eastern portion of the empire; certainly the phrase universo orbi in the preamble is against this, but the words may merely be an exaggerated description of Diocletian's special provinces, and if it had been published in the western portion as well, it is curious that no traces have been found of it. The articles mentioned in the edict, which is chiefly interesting as giving their relative values at the time, include cereals, wine, oil, meat, vegetables, fruits, skins, leather, furs, foot-gear, timber, carpets, articles of dress, and the wages range from the ordinary labourer to the professional advocate. The unit of money was the denarius, not the silver, but a copper coin introduced by Diocletian, of which the value has been fixed approximately at kth of a penny. The punishment for exceeding the prices fixed was death or deportation. The edict was a well-intended but abortive attempt, in great measure in the interests of the soldiers, to meet the distress caused by several bad harvests and commercial speculation. The actual effect was disastrous; the restrictions thus placed upon commercial freedom brought about a disturbance of the food supply in non-productive countries, many traders were ruined, and the edict soon fell into abeyance.

See Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, vii., a contemporary who, as a Christian, writes with natural bias against Diocletian; T. Mommsen, Das Edict Diocletians (1851); M. Leake, An Edict of Diocletian (1826); H. Waddington, L'Edit de Diocletien (1864), and E. Lepaulle, L'Edit de maximum (1886), both containing introductions and ample notes; J. C. Rolfe and F. B. Tarbell in Papers of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, v. (1892) (Plataea); W. Loring in Journal of Hellenic Studies, xi. (1890) (Megalopolis); P. Paris in Bulletin de correspondance hellenique, ix. (1885) (Elatea). There is an edition of the whole by Mommsen, with notes by H. Blumner (1893).

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Edict of Diocletian'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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