We defer to the article PONDERA
an account of the Roman libra
or pound as a weight, and will deal in the present
article only with the pound of copper, the pound as applied to money, the
In the earliest times in Italy, as
elsewhere, cattle were the medium of exchange, one ox reckoning as ten sheep
(Mommsen, Röm. Münzwesen,
p. 169). To
cattle in Rome and N. Italy succeeded the pound of copper, which in these
regions occupied the place held by the silver drachm in Greece and the
shekel of gold in the East. There was a period of transition, during which
the as was not coined, but measured by weight. Small formless pieces of
copper or bronze passed from hand to hand, and were accepted in payments.
Such are found in considerable numbers in votive wells, such as that at
Vicarello, whither they were thrown as offerings. It would even appear that
in later times when money was in use this aes
was still fashioned for religious purposes and cast into the
treasuries of deities.
Gradually these lumps of metal acquired fixed shape and design. At Vicarello
were found among them cubes marked with rude types--an ox, a trident, and so
forth, and weighing from an ounce to a pound; also certain elliptical pieces
without types, but of the uniform weight of a sextans.
At what period the regular Roman as, with its divisions, superseded this rude
coinage, it is impossible to determine with certainty. A
probability would indicate that the Decemviri (B.C.
451) would, among their other [p. 1.202]
introduced the use of coined money, which was in their day well known in
Greece, Southern Italy, and Sicily. And it is noteworthy that in the Lex
Menenia Sestia of the year of Rome 302 (B.C. 452) fines are reckoned in
oxen, while in the Lex Julia Papiria of 324 (B.C. 430) they are expressed in
asses,--a substitution explained by Festus as arising from the introduction
between those dates of copper money (Mommsen, p. 175). It seems therefore
safe to assert that copper took the place of oxen as the standard of value
at Rome between the years 450 and 430 before our era.
Mommsen considers these grounds sufficient to justify his assertion that it
was the Decemviri who introduced a regular copper coinage at Rome.
Nevertheless it is by no means certain that the currency introduced by them
was not aes rude,
which passed current by
weight. It is not likely that in any country a currency of coin would
immediately supersede a currency of cattle. Another stage would be sure to
intervene, during which metal would be accepted by weight, not tale. If
cattle were the measure of value in B.C. 450, it is not likely that twenty
years later would see the Romans in possession of a complete system of
money. Further, it seems impossible to allow that any of the Roman coins,
which have come down to us in such quantities, can possibly date from the
5th century B.C. In style, in relief, in type they seem to bear evidence of
first appearing towards the middle of the 4th century. The prototypes from
which they are copied are Greek coins of fully-developed art. Once more: if
we assume that Rome began to issue money in the middle of the 5th century,
we must assume that she was quite alone in doing so among all the states of
Central Italy for at least a century. There is extant no aes grave
of Southern Etruria, which was absorbed by the
Roman state about B.C. 350. The aes grave
Luceria, Venusia, Hatria, and other cities certainly belongs to the period
after 320, when those cities were Roman colonies. Even the silver coins of
Etruria are now only in very rare instances attributed to a period earlier
than that of Dionysius of Syracuse. For all these reasons, and others which
space forbids us to mention, it seems probable that the copper which was the
standard of value at Rome after the time of the Decemviri passed for quite a
century by weight; and that the coinage of Rome properly so called does not
begin until the middle of the 4th century. The pieces of silver with the
name Valentia and the type of a sow which were formerly ascribed to the Rome
of Servius Tullius, and other coins of the same style once accepted as
ancient, are beyond question mere modern forgeries.
The early Roman coinage consists of large round heavy lumps of cast metal.
The type of reverse alike of the as and of all its divisions is the prow of
a galley, but each denomination has a different type on the obverse,
together with an appropriate mark of value.
The normal weight of the Roman pound was 327<*>5 grammes, or
5050 English grains. The as would therefore originally have been of this
weight, and a few specimens exist of nearly full weight. But it is
noteworthy that extant specimens rarely weigh more than 285 grammes, which
is the weight of ten Roman ounces, and the lower denominations are commonly
light in the same proportion. This fact indicates that the standard of
weight for money underwent a somewhat rapid reduction in the latter part of
the 4th century.
Subjoined is an engraving of a Roman libral as of the earliest period: the
diameter of the cut is half that of the coin itself.
As of the earliest period. (British Museum.)
The types of these coins merit a passing notice. The prow which is the
leading type belongs to a sea-going vessel of war. It must have been first
placed on the coin at a time when the Romans were beginning to pay great
attention to naval affairs, probably the time when Rome had acquired the
Latin sea-board, and the second treaty was concluded with Carthage.
“On the other side” (Mommsen, Röm.
p. 184) “are the heads of various
deities: Janus on the as--penes Janum
Jupiter on the semis--penes Jovem summa;
Minerva as discoverer of numbers twice, on triens and uncia, unless
indeed one of these helmeted female heads belongs to Roma ; Hercules on
the quadrans as preserver and augmenter of wealth; Mercurius on the
sextans as patron of commerce and voyages.” In the choice of all
these types, however, save the head of Janus, Greek influence is very
manifest. The heads of the various deities are like those to be found on the
Greek coins of South Italy in the 4th century.
||Mark of Value.
||Head of Janus
||Head of Jupiter
||Head of Minerva
||Head of Hercules
||Head of Mercurius
||Head of Roma (or Minerva)
It was scarcely earlier than B.C. 300 when the other cities of Latium
followed the example of Rome and issued copper money of libral weight. Many
series have come down to us: some, as that of Hatria (Adria) and that of
Tuder, bear the name of the mint-city at length; others have merely an
initial, or even no indication to show us where they were issued. A list of
them will be found in Mommsen. It is noteworthy that whereas the asses of
Rome seldom exceed the weight of 300 grammes, some [p. 1.203]
of the pieces issued by Latin cities and Roman colonies are of
considerably higher standard. One reason of this may be that, whereas the
money bearing the legal type of the Roman people went by tale and was legal
tender, all other money, at all events in government payments and receipts,
went by weight only (Lex Rubria, 100.21-2). Pieces of two asses (dupondius
) and of five asses (quincussis
) were also issued by Roman authority, although not
probably in Rome itself.
We add engravings of a triens and a sextans of some state in Central Italy:
in both cases the diameter is half that of the coins.
Triens and Sextans. (British Museum.)
Before arriving at the vexed question of the reductions of the Roman as, we
must briefly indicate the relations which existed between the earlier
coinage of Rome and those of other parts of Italy during the period B.C.
To the north of Rome the Etruscans had adopted the art of coinage, as might
have been expected, at a far earlier period than the Latin race. Deecke
part ii.) has devoted a careful
investigation to the systems of coinage in use in Etruria before the Roman
conquest. He shows that there are among the Etruscan coins some in silver of
||Mark of Value.
WEIGHT IN GRAINS.
early date, the relation of which to the monetary standards of the
ancient world is somewhat doubtful. But at some period not later than about
B.C. 360 this system of coinage was replaced and supplanted by that in use
in Sicily. The unit of this coinage is the litra
pound of copper (which was in weight just two-thirds of the Roman as), or
its equivalent in silver of 13<*> 5 English grains. In
Etruria, gold, silver, and copper were all minted on this standard, and all
bear marks of value. In Sicily copper was but a money of account, but in
Etruria pounds or librae of copper of full weight were issued. The chief
mint cities were--for silver Populonia, and for copper Volaterrae.
Hence it will appear that the proportionate value of gold to silver was 15 to
1, and that of silver to copper 250 to 1. These proportions we shall find to
be the usual ones in all parts of Italy, at this early period.
But the coinage of Etruria was not brought so constantly into contact with
that of Rome as was the coinage of the Greek cities of Southern Italy. The
mediator between the Greek silver and the Roman copper was the nummus. The
equivalent in silver at Rome of the as, which was as above mentioned
practically issued of the weight of 10 ounces, was the scruple of silver
weighing 17<*>5 grains. This was at first a money of account
merely, and not actually minted until it appeared in the shape of the
sestertius. But its place had been previously taken, to some extent at
least, by the diobol of Tarentum, Nola, and the cities of Campania, which
was in value one-sixth of the local didrachm, and very nearly equal in
weight to the Roman scrupulus. Thus the Campanian didrachm was reckoned as
equivalent to 6 asses of 10 ounces, or one of the quincusses of full weight
(60 ounces). The diobol was both in Rome and South Italy called the nummus
(from the Greek νόμος
); and in both places it was divided decimally, being
considered as containing 10 libellae. The silver libella, which was a money
of account, was reckoned as equivalent to the ounce in copper, being in fact
equal to 1 1/3 ounces.
At Rome the phrase heres ex libella,
an heir who inherited the tenth of a property, survived to a late time to
testify to the early Roman acceptance of the libella as one-tenth of the
scruple or the sestertius. In Southern and Eastern Italy the whole coinage
was based upon nummi and libellae. N for nummus occurs as mark of value on
copper coins of Capua, and in all the region the quincunx takes the place of
the semis, which is entirely wanting, thus giving proof of a decimal system
of reckoning. It is further to be observed that if we take the copper
equivalent of the libella, 437<*>5 grains, as an uncia and
multiply by 12, we shall reach 5250 grains, nearly amounting to an as of 14
Roman ounces; and it is remarkable that an as of this very weight was issued
at Hatria and other cities of Eastern Italy.
Soon after the Roman conquest of Capua (B.C. 338), there began to issue from
the mint of that city the earliest gold and silver coins struck by authority
of Rome, and marked with the name of that city; at first in the form ROMANO,
and afterwards in that of ROMA. These gold and silver pieces, which
circulated in all the southern parts of the Roman dominion,were suggested by
the coins of Campania. But their weight is regulated by that of the Roman
scrupulus. The gold coins are of the weight of [p. 1.204]
4, and 3 scrupuli; the silver coins of 4 and 2 scrupuli. There are also
copper pieces of small weight--struck, and not cast--which belong to this
series, and which prove that even after the Roman conquest the circulation
of Campania continued to consist of the precious metals, and copper was used
only for money of account. One of the gold pieces of this series, weighing 6
scrupuli, offers us the mark of value ΧΧΧ,
which shows that it passed as the equivalent of 30 Roman
asses, which was in fact a good deal below its market-value, as it reckons
the value of gold as only ten times that of silver.
First Reduction of the As.
--One of the most difficult problems
in ancient numismatics is the determination of the course of depreciation
followed by the Roman as.
To determine what
successive reductions it underwent in weight, the date of those reductions
and their object, is almost impossible in the midst of the defective and
inconclusive testimony with which we are surrounded. We may borrow our
arguments from three sources: (1) ancient writers; (2) the coins themselves;
(3) the Roman laws on money matters.
(1) The writers.
--Verrius Flaccus (Festus, p. 347, ed. Muller)
asserts that in the Second Punic War, when Hannibal was in the field, the
Senate decreed that the weight of the as, which had hitherto been a pound,
should be reduced to I of a pound. Thus new asses were issued of the same
weight as the sextantes of the earlier issue. This was done, says Flaccus,
with a view to relieve debtors, both private persons and the state. Pliny,
however (33.44), states that in the First Punic War, the Roman exchequer
being bankrupt, the weight of an as was reduced to 1/6 of what it had been,
having previously been of full weight. Afterwards, in the Hannibalic war,
during the dictatorship of Fabius Maximus, the value was again reduced by a
half, and asses issued of only an ounce weight. It will be observed that
Pliny and Flaccus (who was one of Pliny's authorities) are inconsistent one
with the other; the one assigning the first reduction to the time of the
First, the other to that of the Second Punic War.
(2) The coins.
--As already stated, the as seldom much exceeds
in weight 10 Roman ounces (285 grammes). Asses of 290-250 grammes are
extremely common (cf. D'Ailly, Monnaie Romaine,
They are seldom found between 240 and 150 grammes. From 150 to 55 grammes
the descent seems quite gradual; asses of all intermediate weights
occurring, but not being common. Thus in the list of D'Ailly there are 216
asses weighing from 270 to 260 grammes, and only 3 between 150 and 140, and
8 between 120 and 110 grs. But the semis is occasionally found between 170/2
and 150/2 grammes; 5 such occurring in D'Ailly's Lists. In the more recent
list of weights drawn up by Dr. Samwer, there are 17 asses exceeding 11
Roman ounces in weight, 826 between 8 and 11 ounces, 15 between 5 and 8
ounces, 140 between 2 and 4 ounces, and 18 under 2 ounces.
(3) The laws.
--Mommsen (p. 302) maintains that in the wording
of several laws, for instance the Lex Voconia of B.C. 169 and the Lex Fannia
of B.C. 161, the terms as
are used interchangeably. This proves that an as
of one, no doubt an earlier, issue was equal in value to a sestertius (2 1/2
asses) of a later issue.
Accepting this testimony of the Laws, Mommsen maintains that the first
reduction of the Roman standard was in the ratio of 10:4. As the earlier
asses were practically minted on the standard of 10 ounces, the asses of
this reduction would be on the triental scale, i. e. weigh 4 ounces. Other
considerations point in the same direction. Thus, the silver denarii issued
in B.C. 269 or 268 were equivalent to 10 of the copper asses then in
circulation. These denarii weigh about 70 grains. Multiplying this by 250,
according to the proportion which seems to have held at this time between
silver and copper, we find the value of the denarius, in copper, to be
17,500 grains. which gives 10 asses of 1750 grains or 113<*>4
grammes. These asses would be very nearly on the triental scale. It will be
seen that the evidence we have collected under head (2) seems also to
indicate a sudden change. from a 10-ounce to a 4-ounce scale.
A remarkable piece of evidence as to the date and extent of the first
reduction of the as is offered by the fact that, in the Roman colonies
established at Hatria in B.C. 289 and in Ariminum in B.C. 268, a coinage was
at first started on the libral scale. But in the colony of Brundisium,
founded in 244, we find coins of the 4-ounce standard from the first. This
fact seems to prove to demonstration that a reduction of the as to the
extent described took place between 268 and 244 B.C.
Taking the theory of Mommsen, thus based, we may compare it with our other
data. With the statements of Verrius and Pliny it cannot be reconciled, but
then neither can their testimony be reconciled with that offered by existing
coins. We must suppose that these writers omitted mention of the first
reduction of the coin, and have the less hesitation in doing so because
Verrius and Pliny, as we have seen, contradict one another.
But the evidence of existing coins must not be cavalierly treated; and it
seems to prove unequivocally that the fall in weight of Roman asses, when it
once began, proceeded gradually, and that afterwards every few years
witnessed a lowering of standard. The regulations of the Senate in fixing
the weight of successive issues, whatever those regulations may have been,
must be regarded rather as attempts to put a stop to the gradual decline
than as deliberate debasement of the standard. The coins prove that an
effort was made to stay the decline of weight when the as had fallen to 5
ounces, about half its original bulk. At the time of the first issue of
denarii the as must, as we have seen, have been of 1/3 of full weight. But
it very soon sank much lower: the asses issued on the triental scale are so
rare as to show that they were not issued for a long period together.
We find traces of the triental scale elsewhere than at Rome. Apulia, with the
great mint cities of Venusia and Luceria, adopted, no doubt
contemporaneously, the same scale. So did Tuder in Umbria. It would appear
that Latium and Picenum did not, but continued issuing money of full weight.
In the case of Etruria we have very full evidence that a scale was adopted
very closely [p. 1.205]
corresponding to the triental of
Rome. But, as has been above stated, the libra of Etruria was only equal in
weight to 2/3 of the Roman libra or 8 ounces: the reduction in that district
therefore amounted to 50 per cent. and not to 60 per cent. as at Rome. We
have an extensive series of Etruscan copper coins minted on this foot, and a
series of silver coins of which the marks of value show them to be
contemporary with copper of this issue, the relative value of silver and
copper remaining unchanged. The pieces weigh exactly half as much as those
above cited; for instance:--
|No. of Librae.
||Mark of Value.
||Weight in grs.
The piece of ten librae bears a close resemblance in weight to the Roman
denarius, of which it was probably the contemporary equivalent and rival in
First Issue of Silver Coin.
--It was, according to Pliny (33.44
), in the year B.C. 269, live years
before the First Punic War, that denarii of silver were first issued. The
annalists put the event one year later. The denominations issued were as
||Mark of Value.
||Weight in grs.
|Denarius, 10 asses
|Quinarius, 5 asses
|Sestertius, 2 1/2 asses
The sestertius was apparently of the weight of 1 scrupulus of silver, and
equivalent in value to 1 as of the old issue, weighing 10 ounces, or 2 1/2
asses of the new weight of 4 ounces. The denarius was of the weight of 4
scrupuli, or 1/72 of the Roman libra.
All of these silver coins are of the same types: on the obverse the head of
Roma in winged helmet, on the reverse the Dioscuri. The Dioscuri were in a
special degree the patrons of the Equites of Rome, the moneyed class, who
probably had most to do with the issue of the coin, and used it most when
issued. In the place of the Dioscuri we find at a somewhat later period
Diana in a biga, then Victory in a biga, and, lastly, Jupiter himself in a
quadriga. It is not until the last century B.C. that these early types give
way to a great variety of new types, originating in the caprice of monetary
magistrates, and often recording events in the legendary history of their
families. At the same period the inscription ROMA, which marks all the early
issues in silver, disappears, and in its place is substituted the name of
one or more magistrates.
Changes in the Coinage during the Hannibalic War.
seen that according to Pliny great changes took place in the coinage during
the Hannibalic war. His words are, “Hannibale urgente Q. Fabio Maximo
Dictatore asses unciales facti, placuitque denarium sedecim assibus
permutari.” We have reason to believe that, besides the changes
mentioned by Pliny, others took place, which we must mention in order. The
changes were in all four.
(1) Reduction in the Weight of the As.
--This had doubtless not
remained at the standard of 4 ounces, as it was probably fixed at the time
of the first issue of denarii, but had continually fallen. What point it had
reached at the outbreak of the Second Punic War we cannot say, but it is
probable that the law which fixed it at 1 ounce (gr. 421) involved a
considerable reduction, because the measure was one which was adopted at a
period of great pressure, and which had for its professed object the easing
of state obligations. As to the exact date of the measure we are in some
uncertainty, as Verrius (Festus, p. 347 b) says that it was ordained by a
Lex Flaminia, and so must have been ordered before the death of Flaminius in
the battle at the Trasimene Lake, while Pliny ascribes the law to the
dictatorship of Fabius Maximus, which followed that battle.
(2) Reduction in the Weight of the Denarius.
--For this we have
no ancient authority. But we find by induction that the weight of Roman
denarii, except the very early specimens, does not exceed about 60 grains,
and a denarius of that weight contains just 1/84 of a Roman libra of silver,
which Pliny mentions as the normal weight of a denarius (33.132). The
denarius as reduced would correspond nearly in weight with the Attic drachm,
then the standard of currency in Macedon, Syria, and Sicily. That this
reduction took place exactly at the same time as the reduction of the as
cannot be proved, but is intrinsically probable. It could at all events
scarcely have taken place later. Samwer produces some arguments to prove
that it may be fixed to about the year 241.
(3) Alteration in the relation of Silver and Copper.
measure which decreed the reduction of the weight of the as ordained that in
future 16 asses should go to the denarius in the place of 10. And so it
continued to be reckoned ever after, except, we are told, in the case of
military pay. The pay of the soldier had been hitherto reckoned in asses,
and he was allowed still to receive a denarius for every 10 asses due to
him. He therefore suffered in a less degree by the depreciation of the
currency than all other creditors or people in receipt of a fixed pay. And
thus the mark of value Χ
was retained on
the denarius, though for nearly all the people it had become incorrect.
These disproportioned changes in the weights of as and denarius necessarily
produced a change in the relations of the silver and copper in circulation.
Hitherto a denarius had really been equal in value to 10 current asses, but
in future the denarius was reckoned as equal only to 16 asses of 1 ounce, or
6736 grains of copper, which gives as the new proportion of value of silver
and copper 1:112; that is to say, in future asses circulated at twice their
real value. And serious results might have followed from this, but that it
henceforth became more and more the custom to reckon in silver, and to
consider copper asses as mere money of account. After the Macedonian wars
this method of reckoning indeed became universal. [p. 1.206]
(4.) Issue of Gold Coin.
--Until the invasion of Hannibal, gold
had passed among the Romans either in the form of bars, or in that of the
Campanian coins, of which mention has already been made. But Hannibal cut
the Romans off from Campania, the source of their wealth, and more
especially of their supplies of the precious metals. It was probably the
dearth of silver which caused the issue at Rome at this time of gold pieces
of a new type. These bear national designs: on the obverse the head of Mars;
on the reverse the Roman eagle bearing a thunderbolt, and the name ROMA.
They are of the weight of 3, 2, and 1 Roman scruples, and bear respectively
the marks of value ↓ Χ, ΧΧΧΧ,
They were thus equivalent to 60, 40, and 20 asses of the
early standard or
Gold coin of 60 asses. (British Museum.)
sestertii of silver. The ratio of value between gold and silver
exhibited by them is about 1:17, which shows that which shows that they
circulated at a higher than intrinsic value. Mommsen maintains that they
were really coins of necessity, issued at a severe crisis to ease
circulation. The issue of them was not long continued.
Roman Money from Hannibal to Caesar:
--The weight of the as was still further reduced
by the Lex Papiria, passed 89 B.C. (Plin. Nat.
), to half an ounce. But as at this period copper had ceased
to be the important medium of exchange, and all reckonings were made in
silver, this regulation can have had but little effect. Far more importance
in reality attaches to the Lex Valeria minus solvendi, passed in B.C. 86,
which was a real measure of bankruptcy (Mommsen, Röm.
p. 383). Hitherto there had been two methods of
reckoning: (1) in large transactions by the sestertius or old libral as; (2)
in small traffic by the reduced as of 1/16 denarius. The Lex Valeria
suddenly abolished the former of these modes of reckoning; so that debtors
could discharge obligations contracted under it with 1/4 of the sum really
--The sestertius was issued for but a short
period, and the quinarius was not used for very long. But beside the
denarius there came into circulation the frequently discussed pieces called
Victoriati. These exist in three denominations--the double, the unit, and
the half. The type of all is the same: on the obverse, a head of Jupiter; on
the reverse, Victory crowning a trophy, and the inscription ROMA. The
Victoriatus was originally of the weight of 3 scrupuli or 3/4 of a denarius;
in certain parts of the Roman dominions it was so plentiful that reckonings
were commonly made in it; and even Cato (de W. R.
sometimes uses it as the standard of value. With regard to the origin of the
Victoriatus, there is some doubt. Mommsen accepted Pliny's statement (33.46)
that the coin came originally from Illyria, but M. Zobel has since shown
that the converse is the truth: the people of the cities of Illyria copied
in their issues the weight of the Victoriatus, which had long been in
circulation, more especially in Spain and Gaul, in which countries we should
rather seek for its origin. At a later period the weight of the Victoriatus
sank, and towards the end of the 2nd century pieces were issued of the type
of the Victoriatus, but with the mark Q, which shows clearly that they were
intended to pass as Quinarii. There is little doubt that the Victoriati owed
their temporary popularity and abundance to reasons of commercial
convenience; their weight being nearly that of contemporary drachms of
Rhodes, Corinth, and Massilia.
One peculiarity marks all the silver coin of this period,--the frequent
occurrence in it of plated pieces. These plated pieces are not in most cases
to be set down as forgeries, but are due to the dishonesty of the Roman
mint, which regularly, in many of its issues, mixed plated with solid pieces
in a fixed proportion, which was sometimes even regulated by authority. It
is to Caesar's credit that he called in most of this worthless currency,
which must have caused continual losses to innocent persons.
--The issue of gold coin during the Second Punic War
was a temporary expedient. Both before and after that period treasure was
laid up at Rome in the form of gold bars, probably of fixed weight, but not
issued as coin. Laws of the middle of the 2nd century show that then a pound
of gold was reckoned as equivalent to 1000 denarii, which gives the
proportionate value of gold to silver as 12 to 1. This treatment of the
pound of gold as the unit governs the issue of gold coins, which took place
at intervals during the last century B.C. Thus Sulla, for his own purposes,
struck gold coins of 30 and 36 to the pound, and Pompey coins of 36 to the
pound, while Caesar chose the weight of 40 to the pound for his aurei.
Reckoning according to the above--mentioned proportion of 12 to 1, we get
the following equations:--1/30 lb. of gold = 400/3 sesterces.
of gold = 1000/9 sesterces.
1/40 lb. of gold = 100 sesterces.
All these coins were of a military character, struck not for the use of
commerce, but to facilitate the distribution of booty.
Authority to issue Money.
--According to the early Roman
constitution, supreme power rested with the people with regard to money as
with regard to other things. We have already mentioned several laws passed
by them in regard to the weight of the as and similar matters. The regular
issue of coin of course went on without continual interference of the
Legislature, under the general control of the magistrates entrusted with the
Imperium, such as Consuls and Praetors, who did not however put on it any
mark or symbol of their own. With Mommsen (pp. 363-378) we would divide all
coins issued within Roman dominions into three classes:--
(1.) The normal State Coinage.
--It appears that before the
Social War special magistrates. were appointed to strike coin, or, as it was
expressed in Roman phrase, auro argento aeri flando
In B.C. 100 we find the two quaestors Piso and
Caepio issuing denarii. The coin issued in the name of Sulla shows great [p. 1.207]
irregularities, and gives us no indication of a
settled magistracy. In the censorship of Crassus and Domitius, 92 B.C., there seems to have been a board of five
moneyers working under control of the Censors. But at a comparatively early
period the board of moneyers consisted of three members as the rule. We
first find the IIIVIRI Monetales mentioned as regular magistrates after B.C.
92. After the Social War these officers were regularly and continuously
appointed. For a time Caesar raised their number to four, but Augustus
restored the triumvirate. The office disappears in the first century of our
era. If any one beside the Monetales had occasion to issue money, he did it
by special commission of the Senate, and usually placed on each piece the
letters S C (Senatus Consulto).
(2.) Money issued by Roman authority in subject States.
this head will come the coins of Capua already spoken of, the Victoriati
issued with the mint-mark of Corcyra and Croton, and other series. All these
bear the name of Rome; nevertheless the coins were probably issued by
inferior magistrates appointed by the mint city, the resident Roman
magistrate exercising only a general oversight and control.
(3.) Money issued by Generals in the Field.
Imperium carried with it in the eyes of the Romans all such inferior
privileges as the minting of money and the like. The gold coins issued by
Sulla and Caesar are good instances in the Roman series of military money;
there is also a great deal of silver minted by Caesar, Lentulus, Pompey, and
Roman Money from Augustus to Caracalla.
--During the civil wars
there was considerable irregularity in the issue of coin. Each of the
contending generals issued money as suited himself, and meantime the Senate
was also coining in the precious metals. When Augustus was settled in
supreme power, he made an arrangement with the Senate whereby the right of
minting gold and silver was reserved to himself, but the issue of copper was
conceded to them. Henceforth all copper coin bears the letters S C to show
that it appeared by authority of the Senate. We will-mention in order the
denominations issued in all three metals.
--Like the early kings of Persia, the Caesar of Rome
claimed the sole right in all the world to issue gold coin; and it is a
remarkable fact that no gold money of the Parthians is known, and that Roman
aurei are frequently found in regions so remote from Italy as India.
Augustus issued gold of three denominations:--
||weight 1/40 libra or Eng. gr.
||weight 1/10 libra or Eng. gr.
||weight 1/40 libra or Eng. gr.
The aureus was also termed the gold sestertius, and its half the gold
Aureus of Augustus. (British Museum.)
aureus was evidently modelled as to weight on the gold staters of
Philip and Alexander of Macedon, which weigh about 130 to 133 grains, and
had long been the standard of value in all civilized countries. It was
reckoned as equivalent in value to 25 silver denarii or 100 sesterces, which
gives the ratio of value of gold to silver as about 12 to 1. But as the
silver issued by the successors of Augustus became rapidly alloyed, the gold
coin became the real standard of value, and the silver sank into the
position of a mere money of account, so that when people incurred a debt of
100 denarii, what was really meant was 4 aurei. In fact the denarii assumed
exactly the same position as is occupied in England by shillings and other
silver money. With a few exceptions, all gold and silver coin of the Romans
from Augustus onwards bears the image and superscription of an emperor. In
the reign of Nero (Pliny, Plin. Nat.
), the weight of the aureus had sunk to 1/45 of a libra, and in
that of Caracalla still further to 1/50 of a libra.
--Under the Empire the issue of quinarii and
sestertii was for a time renewed, though for the latter a copper coin was
soon substituted. The weight of the denarius was at first maintained at its
old standard of 1/84 libra, and its fineness was likewise for a time
preserved almost perfect. But Nero lowered the weight of the denarius to
1/96 libra or 52 English grains, at the same time mixing 1/10 of alloy with
the pure metal. After this the quality of the coin went on deteriorating,
and we cannot be surprised that as Tacitus tells us (Germ.
v.) the old Serrati and Bigati [q. v.
] of the
Republic passed more easily in Germany than the Imperial denarii. Indeed the
discovery of hoards has furnished us with evidence that much of the currency
of Rome during the 1st and 2nd centuries consisted of consular denarii: of
these most of the heavier specimens disappeared during the reign of Trajan;
the lighter were not melted down until the time of the Antonines. Caracalla
introduced beside the denarius, a new coin weighing about 1/60 libra,
bearing on the obverse his head radiate. These were called argentei
and became common under following emperors. Their
distinguishing mark is always that the emperor's head on them wears a
--The Senate, in virtue of the privilege allowed
them by Augustus to issue copper coin, struck in several denominations. The
largest coin they issued was the sestertius or piece of four asses. This was
made of a fine yellow metal composed 4/5 of copper and 1/5 of zinc, and was
a Roman ounce in weight. The dupondius was in the same metal, but of smaller
size, weighing about half an ounce. From the time of Nero onward it was the
custom to place on dupondii the head of the emperor with radiate crown, in
order to distinguish these pieces from the asses on which the head was
laureate. For in size the as and dupondius were closely alike, only the
former was made of inferior metal,--copper alloyed with about 30 per cent.
of tin and lead. Of this metal were also made semisses and occasionally
quadrantes. What are now called by collectors large
coins are sestertii, the middle brass are dupondii and asses, the
small brass are semisses and quadrantes. What [p. 1.208]
now called “medallions” are not coins at all, but medals issued
by imperial authority to commemorate historical events.
Roman Money from Caracalla to Constantine.
presents us with a continually increasing adulteration of coin in all
metals, ending in utter bankruptcy, and a collapse for which Diocletian and
Constantine endeavoured to find a remedy.
--After the time of Caracalla various multiples of the
aureus were struck. The metal whereof these and the aureus itself were
formed was not at any time much adulterated, but the weight of the pieces
sinks and varies in a remarkable degree. The result of this want of
commercial honesty soon became apparent. Gold money, as we have seen, had
become the measure of value. But when this became no longer trustworthy,
people fell back on the only measure which underwent no change, the Roman
pound. The pound or libra of gold remained the base of the system of credit,
and gold coins circulated by weight only, just as if they had been small
unstamped ingots of metal. It was reserved for Constantine to put an end to
this state of things. He introduced a solidus of gold weighing 1/72 of a
libra, as its marks of value ΛΧΧΙΙ
O B sufficiently signify; as well as a semis and a triens of the same piece.
This latter held its ground for a long time, and its lineal descendant the
Bezant became the prototype of all later systems of gold coinage in East and
--The deterioration in the metal of the Antoniniani was
very rapid, until in the time of Gallienus and Claudius II. they were little
better than plated money of copper. The denarius meantime had declined both
in weight and purity, and was in a shameful condition when Diocletian and
his colleagues re-introduced the Neronian denarius and quinarius. Some of
the former when first minted bore the mark of value ΧΞϜΙ,
to indicate that their weight should be 1/96 of a
libra, though as a matter of fact they are sometimes heavier. Diocletian
also struck pieces of much heavier denomination. Constantine added new
denominations, striking silver pieces of the same weight as his gold
solidus, and of half that weight.
--Not even the money of bronze escaped the tendency to
deterioration during this age. The sestertii of fine brass fall to a half
and even a third of their original weight of an ounce, and the metal becomes
poorer. Finally with Florianus they become extinct. The coins of Decius,
which weigh an ounce, are supposed to be quinarii in bronze. Diocletian
issued copper money in two denominations, of which the heavier weighed about
150, the lighter some 35 grains; but as these pieces are washed with silver,
they can scarcely have been intended to pass as mere copper. If we overlook
a few temporary irregularities, these pieces continued to be part of Roman
currency until the death of Theodosius I. The larger of them is mentioned by
ancient writers under the name follis
or pecunia major,
and seems intended to succeed the
degenerate Antoninianus. The smaller is called nummus
By this time the denarius of account had sunk into a
value too small to be coined, and was worth but a small proportion of the
NORMAL WEIGHTS OF ROMAN COINS IN ENGLISH GRAINS.
The values of these coins in modern money varies of course with the weight.
of Augustus was a little heavier
than the English sovereign, and three denarii
nearly of the same weight as a florin. The as
first rather more valuable than an English pound of copper.