In the Roman Republic, for centuries, families’ wealth was absolutely limited. When that limit became hard to enforce from globalization, the Republic fell to plutocrats.

How come?

Why did the Romans limit wealth absolutely?

Wealth is power. Democracy means, literally, “People Power”. If only a few have most of the wealth, a few have most of the power, and the People are left with an insignificant amount of power. This is exactly what Rome’s fate demonstrated. That brings two questions: who is the “People”, what is “Power”?

The Roman Republic’s first answer was that, instead, a poorly defined the “Thing Public”, the “RES PVBLICA” would be the instrument of the “Senate And People of Rome”, the SENATUS POPULUS QUE ROMANUS (“SPQR”).

Tropaeum Alpium: Trophée des Alpes. People Power Built That

Tropaeum Alpium: Trophée des Alpes. People Power Built That

The Senate was reserved to Patricians (the Nobles). “Patricians” came from “father” (Pater), and Senatus from senex (old man; one had to be old enough to become a Senator). Rome started with seven kings, chosen by the Senate, elected by the People. In 509 BCE, after a revolution and war of liberation, the kings were replaced by two elected Consuls. Elected magistrates became automatically  senators.

The Senate gave “consulta” “counsels” (advices, French conseils) to magistrates, including the Consuls.

Around 400 BCE, Rome had increasing problems keeping the Celts in check. Rome ended occupied, and had to pay a ransom to get the Celts out, after being rescued, in the nick of time, by a flock of geese on the Capitol. After this humiliation, the Romans no doubt discovered that the cause came from too much power in too few hands.

In any case, laws were passed to prevent wealth to exponentiate, as wealth tends to do. The Romans had the intelligence to not be too subtle.

The main idea of the Roman (unwritten) constitution was that not one single individual ought to have power beyond some limits of duration and law. Consuls exerted power one month at a time; and the law was supposed to spare no one, as the empress (“Augusta”) Galla Placidia reminded all in the Fifth Century: this was the principle of the “State of Law”.

Limiting power implies the limitation of wealth. Because unlimited wealth is unlimited power.  

SPQR Inscribed At The Bottom; La Turbie, France

SPQR Inscribed At The Bottom; La Turbie, France

Accordingly, after the insolent Celts had been dispatched, the same authorities who had succeeded in this war, passed laws limiting wealth absolutely.

This worked fine, until the Roman Republic won, after decades of harrowing total war, the Second Punic war. It set on fire the entire Mediterranean world: Carthage, a hellish, imaginative, creative plutocracy naturally allied herself to all the other plutocracies she could find (such as the Hellenistic kingdoms). The Republic won, and won a world.

This New World gave a new opportunity for the plutocratic phenomenon to blossom. All the more as many of the best and brightest of Rome had perished on the battlefields. At the Battle of Cannae alone 60 officers of senatorial rank or higher were died in combat, along with 300 Nobles and 80,000 Roman soldiers and allies, when the Roman army got annihilated by Hannibal commanding his smaller Carthaginian  and Celtic army.

The landlords and greedsters had made a lot of money during the years Hannibal roam the countryside, renting to the peasants who had fled to the fortified cities (the walls of Rome were of cyclopean proportions). That profiteering fostered an increasing mood of profit and greed with the systems of thoughts and practices to go with it. Globalization allowed to hide capital, and escape the law.

Notice that the same phenomenon happened when Middle Age and Renaissance Europe globalized, and established colonies worldwide. Colonies tended to escape the law, blossom plutocracy, and all the evil to go with it, such as slavery.

Let’s not just whine: plutocracy can be efficient. Carthage demonstrated this by creating a gigantic empire and trade zone that brought a lot to everybody.

The USA, and Russia are living demonstration that a ferocious extermination of the natives, in conjunction with an apartheid mechanism can be most efficient to create wealth (the Russian Orthodox Church for Russia, racism and racial slavery for the USA, were the instruments of this apartheid).

Roman democrats and progressives noticed that the limit to wealth had been removed: plutocratic power was in their face. They fought to re-establish the law. The plutocrats reacted with their private armies.

Rome sank in civil wars that lasted a century. Plutocracy, that all devouring principle, won. Plutocracy stays in power best, by making the People unemployed, stupid, terrorized, and small minded. Rome slowly sank.

Far sighted Roman generals endowed the Franks with the power to constitute a second foundation. The rest is history.

Nowadays plutocracy is rising again. To block it, the best way is to use the Roman method: cap wealth. Some will sneer that the Franks did not need to cap wealth. However, that’s just because those who sneer don’t know history. The Franks not only capped wealth, but they even extinguished it periodically in nationalizations.

The first one occurred in the 720s. Invading Muslim armies attacked Francia. Charles Martel nationalized all the wealth he could find, and that was the church. With the wealth so acquired, he constituted the largest army since the Battle of Cannae.

But this time, civilization won.

Patrice Aymé

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  1. red Says:

    The rich-poor gap got real ugly recently (last ~20 yrs ???) , its mind boggling. And everybody pretends its nothing 🙂 I guess its just sheeple being sheep. They get fed some beliefs, and they get accustomed. Infact it could be called modern day slavery.

    I am all for people working hard and earning their riches, but system got rigged and unfair, Financial industry is the poster child, the whole industry got obscene (“fees”, leverage, churn rate). There is no other industry where you see this problem more pronounced.

    Though, I do not think wealth is the boogeyman. Its the broken, unfair system. The total wealth in the system is doing something(invested) all the time, no matter who “has it”. The more total human wealth, the better it is. We just need to mold human society to be fair.

    A good start would be to provide free education (college, all the way up). Basically anything to level the playing field. Technology can play crucial role in making the system fair.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Zuckenberg, the facebook/NSA operator, and his “pediatrician” wife, just threw 120 millions “at schools” in the Bay Area, to calm the slowly simmering people, Roman plutocrat style. Are we supposed to be impressed because he self impose a .05% tax????

      Yet the ferocity of the repression against the “Occupy Wall Street” organizers (stronger, and much more efficient than ever that Putin clown could muster!) shows what’s really going on. I personally came across protesters who got threatened with termination from authority figures in uniform, and believed it.

      Free education USED TO BE THE RULE IN THE USA, up and including universities. (Except for the Ivy league, Chicago, Stanford, and oil supported Rice U.)

      What I say, that wealth ought to be absolutely limited is the evidence. Even a 99% tax margin cannot achieve that in the worst case. Wealth of We The People is good, too much wealth for Mr. Z, an absolute evil.

      Anyway here we are. after years of pseudo progress that was only regress. Having helped to get Obama elected shall stay one of the great ironies of my life.


      • red Says:

        lets say zuck gives ALL his billions to government, will that money be better or efficiently spent ? I am not so sure. It is a drop in defense spending, for example.

        you cant trust a broken system with dumping more money (taxes) on it.

        You need to change (slowly) entire frame of mind of the society. Similar to global warming, liberals need to start talking about rich-poor gap, or unfairness in general. Or like they dealt with polio or AIDS. Entire society (“all sheeple”) needs to feel the unfairness of the system to the bone. See the bad for all its glory.

        You see lot of companies trying to go “green”. .It would be nice if they first try to go “fair society”

        wealth shouldnlt have to be a problem. It can bring greater good, faster.


  2. Dominique Deux Says:

    Rome is indeed unique in its wealth of anti-wealth laws, even though Greek cities implemented similar rules, in a more haphazard way.

    However, as far as I know, these laws targeted the use of wealth, not its amount. You could be as filthy rich as you wanted, but you were supposed to keep within specific standards when spending your loot. In addition to decency issues (female clothing and jewelry) the great many constraints on feasting probably were more political, and aimed at curbing the habit of wealthy patricians of coddling the plebe with lavish meals – same for circus games.

    That these laws were renewed fairly frequently seems to point out they were best observed in blissful ignorance. Petronius, an old school patrician, ridiculed Trimalchio for his nouveau-riche bad taste, but nowhere did he allude to his behavior being against the law.

    I wonder if you could point to specific laws which capped wealth per se?

    An interesting link:


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Rome had a block: Fabian laws if I remember. I wrote entire essays on them before. Anyway that was the central drive of the Gracchi: implanting that absolute wealth limit. Around 363 BCE. Or 383 BCE. And it makes sense. In these prior essays, the specific references are found. Got to run now, so no time.


  3. Search Engines Censorship & Defamation | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] How did I find this? To help my reader, I did a search under the key words “Rome Absolute Wealth Limit”. (As can be seen in two places, up and down, on the screen.) It produced thousands of hits all of them headed by my own […]


  4. Midas do Tietê Says:

    Boa dica!


  5. SDM Says:

    no serious efforts are seen to be combatting plutocracy. US cannot even see how its own president falling in with dictators is a bad sign. The Education system has clouded the minds of the people, they worship the wealthy blindly.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Agreed 100%, SDM. The cancer starts with not learning any history. A famous US historian, McCullough (I think that’s his name, I sped read through the book) just wrote a book on the importance of history. Once in a college he gave a lecture, and he was asked what US presidents besides John Adams and Jefferson he had interviewed…

      Not learning history seriously at school stunts even the inclination of finding pleasure in figuring out how mentalities arise.


  6. NO LIMIT ON WEALTH, NO DEMOCRACY. Roman Limit: $22 Million (Why Rome Collapsed, Part III) | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] […]


  7. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Limiting wealth absolutely made the Roman Republic possible. The Republic fell because the wealth limit failed from Roman globalization. The republic of Florence fell to the bankers, the Medicis, because wealth was not limited absolutely in Florence:


  8. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [To Facebook Philosophy Group]
    “Capitalism” per se, is a fake debate: we humans all have capital. It could only be the love bestowed on a baby by dad. In democratic macroeconomics, though, a must should be to limit wealth absolutely, the way the Roman Republic had it. And that’s why it lasted 5 centuries:


  9. Adam J. Monroe Jr. Says:

    “Latifundia [real estate speculation] ruined Rome.” – Pliny, the elder (principal historian of the era).

    Monarchy had the same problem. That is why Adam Smith and the “laissez faire” economists were telling the aristocracy to eliminate every tax except on land value ownership.

    Is that the system we are using? No. It is the opposite. Our “education” system has taught us this is freedom, but, it is free range feudalism based on the deception of the public regarding the science of economics.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Indeed Adam!
      In France the aristocracy of the 17C was NOT getting taxed (I don’t know about England). meanwhile small people were taxed, for example by the salt tax, the “Gabelle”. Similarly French people nowadays get taxed by a gabelle on electricity, fuel, freeways…
      It’s a question of who rules.
      Right now the world wealthiest people are not getting taxed. Same old, same old…


  10. Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević Says:

    Latifundia were provincial farms. They ruined Rome because, they employed (cheaper) slave labour which lead to greater production value than free populace owned and ran farms and the latter could not compete economically, throwing many “free” citizens into debt and causing a rise in unemployment.

    Thus “panem et circenses” was born, “bread and circuses”, promise the unemployed wretches quality entertainment and enough to keep their bellies half-full for the day and they voted you all the way to some Pannonian province. Just to clarify


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Indeed. So what evolved in late Republican Rome was a system where the wealthiest undermine free men’s livelihood by employing slaves. The wealthiest had also another trick to gather ever more power and get ever wealthier: escape taxation by going global, where Roman taxes didn’t apply, but the land was still under Roman military control.
      Both features are reproduced nowadays:
      1) Global plutocracy employs slaves often far-away (transportation is cheap, thanks to lack of taxation on that activity), thus undermining the employment of free citizens in the most developed countries.
      2) Global plutocracy escapes taxation by making deals with local potentates… (Say Steve Jobs getting Irish politicos to tax Apple Inc. worldwide for only 1%… Or one reason why I don’t use an Apple computer…)


  11. Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević Says:

    There are two arguments.

    1. The people should pay for public services, through taxes, if they want them provided. The wealthy are wealthy through their own or ancestors’ efforts and it is not their responsibility to provide for the less capable(fortunate in politically correct terms). That is the rational argument.

    2. The wealthy as they have the means should also have the desire and take the initiative to pay for the less wealthy by deducting a portion from their tall paychecks to finance public services. This is the sentimental argument.

    Argument 2 is only espoused by the less wealthy, whereas argument 1 is espoused by the dispassionate and the wealthy.

    The problem here is the very notion of “expectations”, an irrational leftover from the evolution of man.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      My own argument for limiting wealth absolutely is that wealth is power. And, in democracy, the power of single families can’t be higher than a threshold. That people became rich through their efforts is, in general, only part of the truth. The other part is that they may have got lucky or venal enough….


  12. Adam J. Monroe Jr. Says:

    Adam J. Monroe Jr. to Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević, latifundia ruined Rome the same way it ruins every “free” country. If the government does not tax land exclusively, speculation will be profitable, creating sprawl and homelessness.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      What’s at work here is exponential growth. Neolithic societies found it concentrated wealth in a few hands. That’s why the thousands of horses a Native American chief owned, would be redistributed at his death, or the Vikings had these gory rituals, etc.


  13. Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević Says:

    Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević to Adam J. Monroe Jr. Latifundia was not real estate speculation. Latifundiæ were provincial farms. “Exclusively”, state-owned lands included?


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Wealth above the absolute limit was agricultural land, and would go back to the AGER PUBLICUS. However, after the Second Punic war wealth of non-land nature became overwhelming… and then globalization made it worse, tax exempt…


  14. Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević Says:

    Patrice, might I add that horses were introduced to the Americas by Europeans? This being the case, you’re looking at an entirely different landscape. Colonial and post-colonial America(all of the Americas), far past the Neolithic stage and influenced by Christianity and Europe. Also, there are many native tribes with even more cultures and tribes, genetically, there are some marked differences as well. Anthropologists are of the opinion that there were multiple emigrations to the Americas from Asia(Siberia) undertook by diverse peoples, this is the trending theory. Just an interesting detail

    Tax exemptions are only given to profitable organisations in some jurisdictions to ease their ability to pay fair wages and in recompense for their social service.


  15. Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević Says:

    “Society” itself is to blame here, if all land was not the state’s but the people’s, then all people could take whatever land they wished to their satisfaction. If a system of private ownership is to be maintained, itself derived from the claim of all lands belonging to the state, then, there shall be further and perpetuating conflicts. The state is to blame here, at least with regard to the claim it lays to all lands in its assumed dominion.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      One should learn about Republican Rome. In real democracy, the state is the people. In Republican Rome, if the land of a family was larger than a (fixed, considerable) area, it returned to the state to be redistributed to those (typically soldiers) that the state found meritorious, and in need for land to exploit. That system broke down when Rome went global, and tax evasion enabled latifundia, and cheap imports from distant slave labor…


  16. Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević Says:

    Ideally, constitutionally, judicially. In practice, however, the wealthy often confounded the legal precepts of Rome for a hefty fee. Rome was a mercantile state after all, Republican Rome(towards the middle and the end) was in a state of moral and legal turpitude. In the early days(when there were less people who were therefore easier to manage) these precepts were applied quite vigorously, I admit


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Moral turpitude went up in Rome because of the Second Punic war. Several factors related to the war, which made the richest wealthier from renting inside fortified cities. That got worse from globalization bringing tax and legal evasion


      • Dragoslav Zeuxippus Aksentijević Says:

        The belligerent party is historically notable, his reasons justifiable, to end Roman hegemony in the Mediterranean, his methods, questionable, his tactics, sound, his strategy, perspicacious. For there to be sudden and systemic moral turpitude in an otherwise law-abiding population, there had to have already been a germ of ill conduct, the flames? Licence, with laxity in application of judiciary principles, the fuel? Poverty. The combustive substance? Dissatisfaction with the state. The outcome? War(for survival) and ensuing degradation, in the name of the failed system. The justification? They’re not being policed. I think you can see why the Romans weren’t half as pious or upright or moral as they pretended to be during the Early Republic.


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