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p172 Auctio

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on p172 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

AUCTIO signifies generally "an increasing, an enhancement," and hence the name is applied to a public sale of goods, at which persons bid against one another. The term auctio is general, and comprehends the species auctio, bonorum emtio and sectio. As a species, auctio signifies a public sale of goods by the owner or his agent, or a sale of goods of a deceased person for the purpose of dividing the money among those entitled to it, which was called auctio hereditaria (Cic. Pro Caecin. 5). The sale was sometimes conducted by an argentarius, or by a magister auctionis; and the time, place, and conditions of sale, were announced either by a public notice (tabula, album, &c.), or by a crier (praeco).

The usual phrases to express the giving notice of a sale are auctionem proscribere, praedicare; and to determine on a sale, auctionem constituere. The purchasers (emtores), when assembled, were sometimes said ad tabulam adesse. The phrases signifying to bid are, liceri, licitari, which was done either by word of mouth, or by such significant hints as are known to all people who have attended an auction. The property was said to be knocked down (addici) to the purchaser who either entered into an engagement to pay the money to the argentarius or magister, or it was sometimes a condition of sale that there should be no delivery of the thing before payment (Gaius, IV.126; Actio, pp9, 10). An entry was made in the books of the argentarius of the sale and the money due, and credit was given in the same books to the purchaser when he paid the money (expensa pecunia lata, accepta relata). Thus the book of the argentarius might be used as evidence for the purchaser, both of his having made a purchase, and having paid for the thing purchased. If the money was not paid according to the conditions of sale, the argentarius could sue for it.

The praeco, or crier, seems to have acted the part of the modern auctioneer, so far as calling out the biddings (Cic. De Offic. II.23), and amusing the company. Slaves, when sold by auction, were placed on a stone, or other elevated thing, as is sometimes the case when slaves are sold in the United States of North America; and hence the phrase homo de lapide emtus. It was usual to put up a spear, hasta, in auctions, a symbol derived, it is said, from the ancient practice of selling under a spear the booty acquired in war. Hence the phrase "sub hasta vendere" (Cic. De Off. II.8) signified an auction. The expression "asta publica" is now used in Italy to signify an auction: the expression is "vendere all' asta publica," or "vendere per subasta." By the auctio, the Quiritarian ownership in the thing sold was transferred to the purchaser. [Bonorum Emtio; Sectio.]


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Page updated: 9 Jun 10