XXIV[24arg] On the ancient frugality; and on early sumptuary laws.
FRUGALITY among the early Romans, and moderation in food and entertainments were secured not only by observance and training at home, but also by public penalties and the inviolable provisions of numerous laws. Only recently I read in the Miscellanies 1 of Ateius Capito an old decree of the senate, passed in the consulship of Gaius Fannius and Marcus Valerius Messala, 2 which provides that the leading citizens, who according to ancient usage “interchanged” at the Melagesian games 3 (that is, acted as host to one another in rotation), should take oath before the consuls in set terms, that they would not spend on each dinner more than one hundred and twenty asses in addition to vegetables, bread and wine; that they would not serve foreign, but only native, wine, nor use at table more than one hundred pounds' weight of silverware. But subsequent to that decree of the senate the law of Fannius was passed, which allowed the expenditure of one hundred asses a day at the Roman and the plebeian games, 4 at the Saturnalia, 5 and on certain other days; of thirty asses on ten additional days each month; but on all other days of only ten. This is the law to which the poet Lucilius alludes when he says: 6
The paltry hundred pence of Fannius.[p. 205] In regard to this some of the commentators on Lucilius have been mistaken in thinking that Fannius' law authorized a regular expenditure of a hundred asses on every kind of day. For, as I have stated above, Fannius authorized one hundred asses on certain holidays which he expressly named, but for all other days he limited the daily outlay to thirty asses for some days and to ten for others. Next the Licinian law was passed 7 which, while allowing the outlay of one hundred asses on designated days, as did the law of Fannius, conceded two hundred asses for weddings and set a limit of thirty for other days; however, after naming a fixed weight of dried meat and salted provisions for each day, it granted the indiscriminate and unlimited use of the products of the earth, vine and orchard. This law the poet Laevius mentions in his Erotopaegnia. 8 These are the words of Laevius, by which he means that a kid that had been brought for a feast was sent away and the dinner served with fruit and vegetables, as the Licinian law had provided:
The Licinian law is introduced,Lucilius also has the said law in mind in these words:
The liquid light to the kid restored.
Let us evade the law of Licinius. 9Afterwards, when these laws were illegible from the rust of age and forgotten, when many men of abundant means were gormandizing, and recklessly [p. 207] pouring their family and fortune into an abyss of dinners and banquets, Lucius Sulla in his dictatorship proposed a law to the people, which provided that on the Kalends, Ides and Nones, on days of games, and on certain regular festivals, it should be proper and lawful to spend three hundred sesterces on a dinner, but on all other days no more than thirty. Besides these laws we find also an Aemilian law, 10 setting a limit not on the expense of dinners, but on the kind and quantity of food. Then the law of Antius, 11 besides curtailing outlay, contained the additional provision, that no magistrate or magistrate elect should dine out anywhere, except at the house of stipulated persons. Lastly, the Julian law came before the people during the principate of Caesar Augustus, 12 by which on working days two hundred sesterces is the limit, on the Kalends, Ides and Nones and some other holidays, three hundred, but at weddings and the banquets following them, a thousand. Ateius Capito says 13 that there is still another Edict—but whether of the deified Augustus or of Tiberius Caesar I do not exactly remember—by which the outlay for dinners on various festal days was increased from three hundred sesterces to two thousand, to the end that the rising tide of luxury night be restrained at least within those limits.