1) Who, or what, is the fiscus?

2) Why and how did barbers and shoemakers, of all the professions, acquire state-sanctioned economic monopolies on the
implements and skills of their trade?

3) Why were the public baths so heavily regulated, and what were the historical and social circumstances surrounding the place of the
baths in Roman public life?

4) Mines were obviously heavily regulated during this time period. What can we tell about the Roman economy, and perhaps even its
intersections with the Roman legal system, from the ways in which the mining industry faced state interference?

5) What is the nature of the Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae as a historical source? What does it look like? Who wrote it? And what
were the primary features of the place and time in which it was authored?

6) How much would 4,000 sesterces buy today?

7) What was the role of the procurator of the mines, and how important was he in the broader Roman economic and legal system?

8) How can we best conceptualize the relationship between the Roman state and the Roman economy? Where did the Romans draw
the line between properly private and properly public spheres of economic life, and why did they draw it there?

  • Some of these questions, as should be evident, were primarily factual in nature, and were thus quite easily (and definitively) answered. Others lent themselves to a great deal of substantive research and analysis, and their answers were generally much more complex. You, the reader, will thus typically find the former of these types of inquiries answered with a simple link to an explanatory entry in an encyclopedia, a map, or perhaps a photograph. The latter type, by contrast, generally required interpretation or exegesis of my own, and you will generally find such questions answered via textual notes, interspersed at appropriate points throughout the body of the document. I shall also frequently interpose my own versions and interpretations (in blue) of particularly complicated sections of the document in an attempt to clarify archaic or complex language for the reader. If you prefer to view the text of the bronzes uninterrupted and without my commentary, please feel free to do so at any time here.

  • The Document

  • Table of Contents | Context and Document Background | Questions for Research | The Document | Significance and Broader Insights | Connections and Interrelations | Comments and Suggestions | Works Cited

  • Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 6891 (lex Metalli Vipascensis) Vipasca, Portugal, 2nd century CE)

  • To Ulpianus Aelianus, greeting

  • In accordance with the will of the liberal and most sacred Imperator Hadrian Augustus, he shall make immediate payment. If anyone does not do so and is convicted of having smelted ore before paying the price as specified above, his share as occupier shall be confiscated and the entire diggings shall be sold by the procurator of mines. Anyone who proves that the tenant has smelted ore before paying the price of the half share belonging to the fiscus shall receive one fourth.

  • In this case, the "tenant" or "occupier" appears to simply be the private investor who has raised sufficient capital - here, 4,000 sesterces - to purchase a share in the mine from the imperial treasury. After remunerating the state, he was evidently free to begin smelting ore (and deriving the profits) immediately. Overly eager tenants, however, faced a stiff fine; anyone who began carrying out ore from the mines before paying the state for the right to do so apparently had his entire share taken and redistributed to new investors without compensation.

  • Silver diggings must be worked in accordance with the details contained in the regulations. Their prices will be kept in accordance with the liberality of the most sacred emperor Hadrian Augustus, whereby the ownership of the share belonging to the fiscus belongs to the first person to offer the price for the diggings and pay down to the fiscus the sum of 4,000 sesterces.

  • While these laws can often seem daunting and complex, they frequently boil down to a basic set of principles and regulations derived from broader Roman views about the state and the economy. For an analysis of these views as they apply to the lex Metallis, click here.

  • If anyone strikes ore in one out of five diggings he shall, as stated above, carry out the work in the others without interruption. If he does not do so, another shall have a legal right to take possession. If anyone after the 25 days granted for raising working capital actually begins regular operations but then stops operations for ten consecutive days, another shall have the right to take possession. If the diggings sold by the fiscus is idle for 6 consecutive months, another shall have a legal right to take possession, on the condition that when the ore is extracted therefrom one half shall be, according to customary practice, reserved to the fiscus.

  • Unlike us, the Romans at Vipasca were not free to do whatever they liked with their own private property, once purchased from the state. A purchase of diggings belonging to the imperial treasury came with strings attached: tenants had to begin (and continue) producing ore immediately. Idleness was not an option, and partners who failed to hire sufficient labor to work the diggings faced a confiscation of their property by the state, which would promptly distribute it to someone more capable of extracting the mine's resources. For the Roman state, private property was not an end in itself; it was merely the most efficient means to the state's end of injecting maximal amounts of productive resources into the imperial economy.

  • The occupier of diggings shall have the right to have any partners he wishes on the condition that each partner contribute his proportionate share of the expenses. If anyone does not do so, then the one who covers the expenses should have an account of the expenses covered by himself posted on three consecutive days in a most frequented place in the forum, and shall demand from his partners through the public crier that each contribute his proportionate share of the expenses. If anyone does not thus contribute or does anything with malice aforethought to avoid contributing or to deceive one or more of his partners, he shall not have his share of such diggings, and that share shall belong to the partner or partners who cover the expenses.

  • Investors regularly banded together with partners, or socii, to collectively purchase shares in particularly lucrative projects (like the mines). The above regulation is clearly intended to ensure that individual members of the societas contributed their fair share to the group enterprise; freeloaders and those who failed to keep up their end of the group expenses were liable to have their share taken and reallocated to the law-abiding partners in his society. (Source: 3)

  • Alternatively, tenants who cover expenses in such diggings in which there are many partners shall have a legal right to recover from their partners anything that is shown to have been expended in good faith. Tenants shall have the right to sell among themselves at as high a price as they can, even shares of diggings purchased from the fiscus and paid for. Anyone who wishes to sell his share or buy shall submit a declaration for the procurator who is in charge of the mines; otherwise he shall not be allowed to buy or sell. Anyone who is a debtor of the fiscus shall not be allowed to give away his share.

Ore extracted and lying at the diggings must be conveyed to by those to whom it belongs between sunrise and sunset; those accused of having removed ore from the diggings after sunset in the night shall have to pay to the fiscus the sum of 1,000 sesterces. A stealer of ore, if he is a slave, shall be whipped by the procurator and sold on this condition: that he shall be kept perpetually in chains and not tarry in any mine or mining district; the price of the slave shall belong to the owner. If the stealer is a free man, the procurator shall confiscate his property and debar him forever from the mining district.

Believe it or not, chains and whips may not have been much worse than working in the mines in the first place. Feel free to find out a little more about working conditions in Roman mines (and workers' attitudes toward their jobs) here. It might just make you want to keep your day job after all.

All diggings shall be carefully propped and reinforced, and the tenant of each diggings shall provide new and suitable replacements for rotten materials. It shall be forbidden to touch or damage pillars or props left for reinforcement, or to do anything with malice aforethought to render the said pillars or props unsafe ... If anyone is convicted of having injured, weakened, or damaged a diggings, or of having done anything with malice aforethought to render such diggings unsafe, if he is a slave he shall be whipped at the discretion of the procurator and sold by his master on this condition,: he shall not tarry in any mine or mining district; if he is a free man the procurator shall appropriate his property to the fiscus and debar him forever from the mining district.

Anyone who operates copper diggings shall avoid the ditch that drains water from the mines and leave a space of not less than 15 feet on either side. It shall be forbidden to damage the ditch. The procurator shall permit the driving of a drift from the ditch for the purpose of discovering new mines on condition that the drift be not more than 4 feet in width and depth. It shall be forbidden to look for or chop out ore within 15 feet on either side of the ditch. If anyone is convicted of having done anything different in the drifts, if he is a slave he shall be whipped at the discretion of the procurator and sold by his master on the condition that he shall not tarry in any mine or mining district; if he is a free man, the procurator shall appropriate his property to the fiscus and debar him forever from the mining district ...

OF THE MANAGEMENT OF THE BATHS. The lessee of the baths or his partner shall, in accordance with the terms of his lease running to June 30 next, be required to heat the baths and keep them open for use entirely at his own expense every day from daybreak to the seventh hour for women, and from the eighth hour to the second hour in the evening for men, at the discretion of the procurator in charge of the mines. He shall be required to provide a proper supply of running water for the heated rooms, to the bath tub up to the highest level and to the basin, for women as well as for men. The lessee shall charge men one half an as each. Imperial freedmen or slaves in the service of the procurator or on his payroll are admitted free; likewise miners and soldiers.

As with the mines, the Roman state subcontracted out maintenance of the baths, this time to a "lessee." Public-private contracts appear as a recurring theme in the Vipasca bronzes (and in Roman society at large - think the hated publicani about whom we learned so much earlier in the quarter).

At the expiration of the lease the lessee, or his partner or agent, shall be required to return in good condition all the bath equipment consigned to him, excepting any rendered unusable due to age. He shall be duly required to wash, dry, and coat with fresh grease every thirty days the bronze implements that he uses. If any needed repair prevents the proper operation of the baths, the lessee shall be entitled to prorate the rental for that period; beyond this, whatever else he may do for the purpose of operating the said baths, he shall be entitled to no reduction of rental. The lessee shall not be allowed to sell wood except for branch trimmings unsuited for fuel; if he does anything in violation of this, he shall have to pay to the fiscus 100 sesterces for each sale. If these baths are not properly kept open for use, then the procurator of the mines shall have the right to fine the lessee up to 200 sesterces every time they are not kept open properly. The lessee shall at all times have on hand a supply of wood sufficient for ... days.

So why was it really necessary to promulgate a law regulating how high the bathwater can be, or how much it should cost to clean yourself off after a hard day at work? How complicated could it have been to take a bath? And most confusingly of all, why was any of this the state's business?

Let's see if we can tackle some of these questions here.

THE SHOEMAKING TRADE. Anyone who makes any of the shoes or thongs that shoemakers customarily handle, or who drives or sells shoemakers'
nails, or who is convicted of selling within the district anything that shoemakers are entitled to sell, shall have to pay double to the concessionaire, or to his partner or agent. The concessionaire shall sell nails accordance with the regulations of the iron mines. The concessionaire, or his partner or agent, shall have the right to obtain security. No one will be allowed to repair shoes, except to mend or repair his own or his master's. The concessionaire shall be required to offer all types of shoes for sale; if he does not, everyone shall have the legal right to purchase wherever he wishes.

Note that this particular regulation in effect grants shoemakers (or perhaps even a single shoemaker) the sole right to practice his trade in the Vipasca mining district. This would have been a highly profitable contract, and in all likelihood a much-coveted one. Note also the exception to the rule: masters frequently had their shoes mended and their hair cut by their own personal slaves, and the law here appears to shy away from interfering with proper master-slave relations - at least as conceived of by the Roman state.

OF THE BARBERING TRADE. The concessionaire shall be entitled to operate with the assurance that no one else in the village of the Vipasca mines or within the district thereof shall practise barbering for profit. Anyone who so practises barbering shall have to pay the concessionaire, or his partner or agent ... denarii for each use of the razors, and the said razors shall be forfeit to the concessionaire. Slaves attending to their masters or their fellow slaves are excepted. Itinerant barbers not sent by the concessionaire shall not have the right of obtaining security; anyone who hinders his receiving security shall have to pay 5 denarii for each such act. The concessionaire shall engage one or more skilled workers in proportion to the need.

While I was unable to find sufficient information on Roman shoemakers to answer my initial inquiry about their special treatment in mining law - one of the several unanswered questions I had after the conclusion of my research - information on barbers is relatively plentiful. If you're wondering how exactly haircutters might have wrangled a state-sponsored license-based monopoly out of the Roman government, or why you might have been in significantly more danger visiting a Roman barber than an American one, read on!

SCHOOLTEACHERS. It is decreed that schoolteachers are exempt from taxation at the hands of the procurator of the mines.

This last regulation, as David Elkington notes in "Roman Mining Law," most likely entered the statute book as an incentive for the town's citizens - or at least those of elevated social bearing - to educate their children, and an incentive for schoolteachers of particular prowess to move there. (Similar policies abound throughout the industrialized world today: state and national governments frequently enact corporate tax breaks to attract investment from large companies, for example.) Lillian's spectacular piece on Roman education may be of interest here, especially as regards the possible shortage of qualified teachers throughout the metropolitan centers of the Empire.

Trans: T. Parkin and A. Pomeroy, Roman Social History: A Sourcebook. (Routledge, 2007).

Significance and Broader Insights

Table of Contents | Context and Document Background | Questions for Research | The Document | Significance and Broader Insights | Connections and Interrelations | Comments and Suggestions | Works Cited

So what can the Vipasca tablets tell us, if anything, about the broader Roman legal and economic system during the glorious years of the High Empire? Can it perhaps provide insights into the ways in which the Romans conceptualized the relationship between the state and the economy? What about the labor market and Roman methods of enlisting the workforce?

First, it seems clear from the Vipasca bronzes that Roman legal institutions were generally highly concerned with facilitating economic growth and development. From the regulations establishing rationalized procedures to incentivize investors to operate potentially profitable state-owned enterprises, to ordinances mandating basic safety standards for workers, to laws providing a large (if often coerced) labor force to fill labor-intensive areas of the economy, Roman law seems to have been geared toward moving the levers of enterprise in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

At the same time, the bronzes lend us a keener vision of the way in which state-economy relations were structured and envisaged during the imperial period, and the ways Roman perceptions of the economy both differed from, and sound eerily similar to, our own views today. The methods by which the state disposed of government-owned property to societies of private investors, for instance, rings of private capitalism and presages, in some respects, the modern limited-liability corporation; a legal regime that grants state-enforced monopolies to barbers and shoemakers, on the other hand, seems alien and retrograde by Smithian standards (though it may have been understandable given the very different technological context of the ancient period).

Finally, the document gives us a brief glimpse into the ways in which the Romans may have escaped for a little while from the law and the economy. Much as we might plop down on the couch to watch the news after work, or socialize over a cup of coffee in the morning, the Romans had their rituals too - rituals tinged with a peculiarly Roman flavor of civic republicanism and public interaction, made manifest most clearly in the system of public baths.

Ultimately, these two bronze tablets from what was once a mining town in second-century Portugal hint at a world we can often understand only in fragmented pieces and incomplete glimpses - the wide and colorful world of ancient imperial Rome at its zenith.

Connections and Interrelations

Table of Contents | Context and Document Background | Questions for Research | The Document | Significance and Broader Insights | Connections and Interrelations | Comments and Suggestions | Works Cited

Leander's excellent piece on Pregnancy Disputes might highlight, for the interested reader, the centrality of private property (and its protection) to the Roman legal system. As she percipiently points out, her very interesting document "reveals a deep and almost ubiquitous concern for property in Roman society" - a concern we saw reflected in the Vipasca mining laws, which delineated between private and public property and provided for a just and productive allocation of economic resources.

Ellie's painstakingly researched foray into Roman military law shares with my document a focus on judicial enforcement and interpretation of relevant statutes. More specifically, however, it deals even more extensively than the Vipasca tablets with the provision of special services and favors to certain segments of society: soldiers in her document's case, barbers, shoemakers, men, and soldiers in mine.

Lastly, Dylan's exploration of the nexus between the Roman economy and the Roman legal system provides what I consider a helpful and highly illustrative counterpoint to the broader contours of my analysis above. As he quite perceptively notes, "Traffic Regulations" "deals with the government preventing residents from business wagons, even though it could hurt the economy." Dylan's research seems to demonstrate that when confronted with potential trade-offs between economic prosperity and development and religious or social pressure, the Roman state didn't always come down on the side of the economy.

Comments and Suggestions

Table of Contents | Context and Document Background | Questions for Research | The Document | Significance and Broader Insights | Connections and Interrelations | Comments and Suggestions | Works Cited
AKS: This issue of state regulation of the economy is really fascinating here - check out Scheidel's latest works on the subject of ancient economies. And you raise great questions about barbers, shoemakers, and baths - what makes these professions special? As you'll see when you do more research on 5, the ILS is just a collection of different inscriptions from around the Empire - the particularly interesting one.

This article is very interesting, and you do a good just of cross referencing with many different sources. Is there any possible reference to the need for slavery in this article? Also, how about the distinction between the lowest class of Roman and slaves? Additionally, the difference colors of text in your analysis are a big confusing. I like the links to the different headings! Definitely keep those. If you can though, I would suggest using a different way of distinguishing between Vipasca I and Vipasca II...possibly bold and italics? -Lillian McBee
The background information was very helpful and I am glad that you worded the analysis in such a simple, concise manner. However, I would like it if you could somehow incorporate parts of the documents into your analysis. I agree with Lillian. The formatting of the document was very confusing. Also, I like the extension that you added to the analysis (Broader Insights portion). Perhaps you could write a few sentences on the slaves and owners of these mining districts as you could talk about the general economy of the Roman Empire.
One last note is regarding breaks in your documents like this:
"A little confused about what's going on here? Don't worry, I was too. Let's hope this page on the relationship between the Roman state and the ancient economy helps clear things up a bit."
Although I find it extremely helpful and it clears a lot of the questions up, I would try to format it and reword the sentence to make it more professional.-Dennis Chan

Your analysis was not only sound, but quite a pleasure to read. Some points you might want to consider are why miners - who's job was so terrible that it could warrant going to war - were among the few allowed free bathing. As the miner would otherwise pay the cost of 1/2 as themselves, why was it so important that they receive free bathing privileges? When was this law at Vispasca put in place and for what reasons (possibly a consistent problem with revolting miners?)
Another point you might want to consider is why shoemaking and barbering were fined unless practiced by a direct business partner of the concessionaire. Was the concessionaire also the procurator of the mines of the town, and if so how would this monopoly affect work in the area? Because these taxes are placed on service-based occupations, would most non-miners in the town have been traders?
Very great job on the analysis.
-Joseph Masri

Works Cited

Works Cited