AbstractLarge-scale land acquisitions have been a recurrent historical phenomenon since ancient times. This article analyses four of these historical processes: the latifundia of ancient Rome, enclosures in Britain, latifundia in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of the Americas, and Soviet collectivisation. The article then compares these historical occurrences with the current wave of acquisitions in order to better understand the latter and to shed light on certain important debates in the areas of public policy and research that have once again come to the fore. Both the historical and current experiences share a set of economic and social characteristics: a small number of beneficiaries and a large number of dispossessed, exploitation of all or part of the land and the labour of those dispossessed of their land—some of them being excluded in certain cases—resistance, armed violence, laws favouring acquisitions, the decisive role of governments, and legitimising discourse. At the same time, the current wave of acquisitions has some specific characteristics of its own: its global scale, the context of public policy liberalisation, the facilitating role played by governments and international organisations, and the risk of wholesale exclusion. All of these features run counter to the main economic and social objectives of sustained development, namely, to reduce poverty, generate jobs and livelihoods for the greatest possible number, promote growth, ensure food security for all, and narrow income disparities.