The Romans have never been noted for jea­lousy over com­merce. It was as a rival nation and not as a tra­ding nation that they atta­cked Carthage. They favo­red the cities that enga­ged in com­merce although they were not sub­jects : thus they increa­sed the might of Marseille by ceding seve­ral areas. They fea­red eve­ry­thing from the bar­ba­rians, and nothing from a tra­ding peo­ple. Besides, their genius, their glory, their mili­tary edu­ca­tion, and the form of their govern­ment indis­po­sed them for com­merce.

In the city, the only concern was wars, elec­tions, intri­gues, and trials ; in the coun­try­side, only agri­culture ; and in the pro­vin­ces, a harsh and tyran­ni­cal govern­ment was incom­pa­ti­ble with com­merce.

If their poli­ti­cal cons­ti­tu­tion was oppo­sed to it, their law of nations was no less hos­tile. “The peo­ples with whom we have nei­ther friend­ship, nor hos­pi­ta­lity, nor alliance,” says the juris­consult Pomponius, “are not our ene­mies ; yet if some­thing which belongs to us falls into their hands, they own it ; free men become their sla­ves ; and they are on the same terms with res­pect to us.”1

Their civil law was no less oppres­sive. The law of Constantine, after decla­ring the chil­dren of mean rank who have mar­ried per­sons of high sta­tion to be bas­tards, confla­tes women who sell things in a shop with sla­ves, wives of tavern-kee­pers, women of the thea­tre, and daugh­ters of a man who runs a house of pros­ti­tu­tion or who has been sen­ten­ced to com­bat in the arena2 : this came down from the Romans’ ancient ins­ti­tu­tions.

I quite rea­lize that peo­ple full of these two thoughts, one, that com­merce is the sin­gle most use­ful thing in the world for a state, and the other that the Romans had the best public order in the world, have belie­ved that they had much encou­ra­ged and hono­red com­merce ; but the truth is that they rarely thought about it.

Law 5 following De captivis.

Quæ Mercimoniis publice præfuit, law 5, code De naturalibis liberis.