frugality (frugalitas) and parsimony (parsimonia)
- Grant Nelsestuen
Arising from the agrarian and domestic contexts of classical antiquity, the notion of “frugality” (frugalitas) was a positive, desirable, and in many respects distinctively Roman concept that generally refers to a set of practices, ethical principles, and cultural and moral values pertaining to the production and consumption of resources. Closely related to this more general category is the concept of “parsimony” (parsimonia), which, as one type of frugalitas, is properly concerned with the prudent and judicious management of property and wealth. Both concepts tend to be associated with temperance and moderation (moderatio; cf. Gk. sophrosyne) and are often framed in opposition to “luxury” (luxuria) and “greed” (avaritia). Partly as a response to perceived increases in social ills and partly under the influence of Greek philosophy, the moral connotations of frugalitas and parsimonia become increasingly pronounced over time and are variously embraced by later Christian writers. Prominent historical exempla for these important Roman concepts include L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi, M.’ Curius Dentatus, and Cato the Elder.