Montesquieu

We have said that in repu­blics, where the wealth is equally sha­red, there can be no luxury ; and as this equa­lity of dis­tri­bu­tion cons­ti­tu­tes the excel­lence of a repu­blic, it fol­lows that the less luxury there is in a repu­blic, the more it approa­ches per­fec­tion. There was no luxury among the early Romans ; there was none among the Lacedæmonians ; and in repu­blics where equa­lity is not utterly lost, the spi­rit of com­merce, work and vir­tue make it so that eve­ryone can and desi­res to live on his own assets, and conse­quently there is lit­tle luxury.

The laws for a new divi­sion of the fields so insis­tently deman­ded in some repu­blics were by nature salu­tary. They are dan­ge­rous only as a sud­den action. By taking wealth away from some all at once, and simi­larly increa­sing that of the others, they cause a revo­lu­tion in every family, and must pro­duce a gene­ral one in the state.

As luxury esta­bli­shes itself in a repu­blic, the mind turns toward one’s pri­vate inte­rest. To per­sons who require nothing but neces­si­ties, the only things left to desire are the coun­try’s glory and one’s own. But a soul cor­rup­ted by luxury has many other desi­res. Soon it beco­mes the enemy of the laws that sha­ckle it. The luxury which the gar­ri­son of Rhegium began to know led them to slaugh­ter the inha­bi­tants.

As soon as the Romans were cor­rup­ted, their desi­res became immense. This we can gauge by the price they put on things. A pit­cher of Falernian wine1 sold for one hun­dred Roman denari ; a bar­rel of sal­ted meat from Pontus cost four hun­dred ; a good cook four talents ; young boys were pri­ce­less. When in the gene­ral impe­tuous­ness eve­ryone was moti­va­ted to sen­sua­lity, what became of vir­tue ?2

Fragment of the 36th book of Diodorus, related by Constantine Porphirogenitus, Extracts of Virtues and Vices.

Cum maximus omnium impetus ad luxuriam esset, ibid.