Celebrating National Auctioneers Week – A Condensed History

People often joke that society has created a holiday for everything from National Bacon Day, to National Puppy Day, to Punch Your Neighbor Day (yes, it’s a real thing). We humans just love to party down for any ol’ reason, even punching Jim from the awful, goldenrod-yellow raised ranch on the corner—sigh, one can dream. All that celebrating aside, auctioneers don’t have a day… They have a WHOLE week—which begins today. To honor National Auctioneers Week, here is a brief look at the origin of the industry.

Let’s start at the beginning with the Brides of Babylon. While auctions could have, and likely, did occur before 500 B.C., these auctions are the first in recorded history. In Herodotus’s The Histories, his writings mention Babylonian women being brought to auction once a year to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Boy are we glad that is over, not a great place to start, but the industry has come a long way.

Babylon Ruins


Fast forward to Ancient Rome and the industry starts to look a little more like it does today! We can start as simple as the word “auction” itself, which comes from Latin, meaning ‘to increase’. Rome was also the first empire to regulate auctioneers and even required licensing. These professional auctioneers, named the “Magister Auctionarium,” commenced each auction by driving a spear into the ground, which could have something to do with the use of gavels today.

The Romans sold the spoils of war at auction to fund their paid military. When the Marcomanni War overstretched the Roman budget, Emperor Marcus Aurelius refused to raise taxes on the provinces. He instead sold his estate at auction. After the Roman’s success in the war, Aurelius offered to refund the money those who had bought pieces of his estate, or allowed people to keep the items they had purchased.

Bust of Marcus Aurelius


It is a bit funny to think the some of the items sold from that estate have likely seen auctions multiple times since then. With weapons, armor, and coins as thriving auction categories, maybe some of those items from Aurelius’ estate have been auctioned in our Marketplace!

Find this look back interesting or at the very least entertaining? Check back later for more celebration of National Auctioneers Week. Impress your friends with your near sage knowledge of the auction industry.