We present an analysis of regulatory activities in historical commons offering a unique picture of their long-term institutional dynamics. The analysis took into account almost 3,800 regulatory activities in eighteen European commons in two countries across seven centuries. Despite differences in time and space, we found a shared pattern where an initial, highly-dynamic institutional-definition phase was followed by a relatively long period of stability and a final burst of activities, possibly in an attempt to respond to new challenges. In addition, most of the initial regulatory activities focused on resource use, while towards the end other activities prevailed. Our approach allows for a better understanding of institutional dynamics and our findings also provide important insights about how to regulate the use of current natural resources.