"Morality and the Marketplace: Aediles and Agoranomoi in the Roman World"

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-9289-9209
Woram, Kevin, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Meyer, Elizabeth, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia

This dissertation traces how provincial marketplaces scattered across the Roman provinces became a unified Mediterranean market in the early imperial period (1-250 CE). It demonstrates how shared norms and values created a common understanding of the ideal marketplace, both in the ways people conducted commerce and in the regulation of market spaces. The primary subjects are the marketplace overseers, called aediles in the Latin West and agoranomoi in the Greek East. They were tasked with balancing the various needs and desires of other commercial actors: sellers, buyers, bankers, money-changers, and the public at large. The overseers, despite enjoying magisterial powers of coercion and legal enforcement, turned marketplaces into environments where various groups sought recognition, in the form of public honors, for adhering to the ideals of fairness and honest business. Their actions, within the context of the Roman imperial system, created a Mediterranean market.
Chapter One traces the origins and development of the agoranomoi. They were, as their name suggests, tied to the agora, the Greek marketplace, a necessary but morally hazardous place for Greek cities. Agoranomoi regulated price and quality to ensure that markets functioned to provide goods without cheating customers. Chapter Two shows how aediles were originally overseers of public morality but came to take over marketplace regulation as merchants from across the Mediterranean sought oversight in Rome. Chapter Three discusses the Roman law of sale, turning to the aedilician edict on slave sales. The edict demanded that vendors disclose any latent defects or be liable to refund the buyer. The edict came to influence the general law of sale in the empire as vendors of any goods became liable for latent defects. Chapter Three, in short, goes through the development of the aedilician edict, how it came to be enforced, and how it changed the general law of sale. Chapters Four and Five continue to look at the edict, tracing its spread and use throughout the provinces. This occurred not because of imperial mandate or efficiency but because of the edict’s ability to generate trust through the expectation of enforcement. In addition, a network of merchants, scribes, and legal professionals circulated knowledge of the edict and how to enforce it. Lastly, Chapter Six demonstrates how the overseers served as models of honor in the marketplace and set standards of behavior for others to emulate. Overseers and groups in the marketplace sought honors from one another, which created a feedback system that kept parties in check. Through this system of honors, commercial norms that circulated throughout the provinces, such as the aedilician edict, were engrained into local custom. Through the overseers, the Roman empire, despite its light hand of governance, fostered the creation of a unified and successful Mediterranean market.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
aedile, agoranomos, marketplace, Roman world
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