DOCUMENTS ON IMPERIAL DEBASEMENT

AND INFLATION, 161-512 A.D.

 

 

1. OFFICIAL EXCHANGE RATES IN SEVERAN AGE

Source: Dio LV. 12. 4.

 

Text

 

". . . I here use the name aureus, according to the Roman practice, for the coin worth one hundred sestertii. Some of the Greeks, also, whose books we read with the object of acquiring a pure Attic style, have given it this name."

 

Commentary

 

Cassius Dio confirms that the Augustan exchange of 1 gold aureus = 25 silver denarii = 100 brass sestertii = copper asses still obtained in the Severan age (193-235). See T. V. Buttrey, JRS 51 (1961), 40 and M. Crawford, ANRW II. ii., p. 566, and contra Bolin, State and Currency, p. 269, arguing for an exchange of 1 aureus = 50 denarii.

 

 

2. REGULATION OF EXCHANGE RATES BETWEEN IMPERIAL DENARIUS AND CIVIC BRONZE COINS

Source: Decree of Mylasa, Caria, c. 209-211 A.D. OGIS 515 = Abbott and Johnson, no. 133 = Lewis and Reinhold, II, pp. 441-42, no. 118

 

Text

 

"The council and assembly decree: If anyone, whether free or slave, other than the one who has leased and operates the bank, is apprehended exchanging or purchasing currency in any way whatsoever, he shall be brought before the banker upon information laid before the council by any of the citizens so desiring. If the transaction was without proper exchange (agio), the banker and the informer-prosecutor are entitled to bring an action for the money and the banker has the right to collect as guaranteed [in his contract]. If with agio, the perpetrator, if a free man, shall pay 500 denarii to the imperial fiscus of our lords the most divine emperors, 250 denarii to the city, 100 denarii to the informer-prosecutor, and the silver coin in the case shall be liable to confiscation by the banker. A slave, upon conviction of the aforesaid, shall be handed over by his master to the chief magistrates to be whipped with fifty lashes before the council and thrown into prison and kept in confinement for six months; if the master should fail so to treat the slave, he shall have to pay the specified penalties to the imperial fiscus (i.e. emperor's treasury) and the city and the informer-prosecutor.

 


Such information shall be received by the secretary of the chief magistrates, and for three days immediately after the sub­mission of the information a notice is to be posted in temples and public places, the notice expressly stating that the council is being summoned for this purpose. If the chief magistrates or their secretary omit any particular of what is here decreed or the councilmen fail to assemble though in town and able to, the chief magistrates and the secretary shall pay, each of them, 300 denarii to the imperial fiscus of the emperors, and the council­men . . . denarii.

 

This decree shall be inscribed on a stele to be erected in the marketplace in the most conspicuous place, as establishing a law for all time. For in truth the security of our city is shaken by evil doing and villainy of some few who take advantage of her and embezzle public property. By their agency an exchange crisis has invaded the marketplace, preventing the city from obtaining necessities, so that the people are without resources and the public is in want. For this reason also the provision of the tribute to our lords the emperors is delayed. . . [The rest is fragmentary.]"

 

Commentary

 

By this decree, the city of Mylasa, in Asia Minor, outlawed as illicit all private exchange rate between the local assarion (the Greek equivalent of the Roman copper as) and the imperial silver denarius (which was reckoned at 16 to 18 assaria). The moralizing language, comparable to that of the Prologue of the Price Edict in 301, reveals that civic officials considered regulation of rates of exchange as a source of revenue and as a means to ensure fair pricing in the markets. Moneychangers (trapezitai) or bankers leased the right to exchange silver and bronze coins in markets, paying a percentage of their profits to the city treasury.

 

 

3. ENFORCEMENT OF EXCHANGE RATES, 260 A.D.

Source: Edict of strategos, Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, November 24, 260 A.D. SP 230 = POxy. 1411 = Abbott and Johnson, no. 199 = Johnson and West, no. 5 = Lewis and Reinhold, II, p. 442, no. 118

 

Text

 

"Aurelius Ptolemaeus, also known as Nemesianus, strategos (i.e. district governor) of the Oxyrhynchite nome (issues the following proclamation). Whereas the officials of the nome have met together and brought accusations against the managers of the exchange banks on the ground of having closed them because of their unwillingness to accept the divine money of the emperors (to theion ton Sebaston nomisma), it has become necessary by proclamation to order all those who own these banks to open them and to accept all coinage except of course that which is counterfeit an spurious and to exchange it. The instructions are issued not only to the bankers but to all those who enter into contractual obligations in any form knowing that if they do not obey this proclamation they shall experience the penalties which the magnificence of the prefect has imposed upon them even before this. Hathyr 28, of the first year."

 


Commentary

 

By edict, the strategos of the nome compelled city bankers to accept the coins of the usurpers Macrianus and Quietus (260-261), declared emperors by the eastern army after Valerian I (253-260) was captured by Shah Shapur. Bankers and population were reluctant to accept their coins because the money of defeated rulers could be demonetized, recalled at a discount, and reminted by the legitimate emperor Gallienus (253-268). This cycle of recoining money during the third century ruined confidence in any of the values assigned to coins; see K. W. Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy 300 B.C. to A.D. 700 (Baltimore, 1996), pp. 126-136.

 

 

4. THE REFORM OF THE CURRENCY BY AURELIAN, 274 A.D.

Source: Zosimus I. 61. 3, dated to the fall of 274.

 

Text

 

But presently also he [i.e. Aurelian] gave to the fiscus fresh silver coin, preparing spurious silver to give back to the public and exchanging for this those coins of a mixed metallic value.

 

Commentary

 

Zosimus, writing in the early sixth century, reports what was a general recoinage of billon antoniniani conducted by Aurelian in 274. The new radiate aurelianianus was considerably improved, struck at 82 to the Roman pound (3.88 grs.), and it was increased in size and silver content (5% fine). Henceforth, coins carried their reverse the value mark XX.I or its Greek equivalent K.A., denoting 1 aurelianianus = 5 denarii communes (d.c.) = 20 sestertii. Tacitus (275-276) briefly doubled the silver content and halved the tariffing to 2.5 denarii at his eastern mints (and hence coins bear the mark X.I). Probus (276-282) returned to the standard of Aurelian which remained in force down to 293. See discussion in C. H. V. Sutherland, "Denarius and Sestertius in Diocletian's Currency Reforms," JRS 51 (1961), 94-95.

 

 

5. EDICT OF MAXIMUM PRICES, Spring 301 A.D.

Source: CIL III, pp. 801-404, 1909-53, 2208-11, 2328. Translation based on T. Frank, ed., ESAR V. 307-421 and Graser, TAPA 71 (1940), 157-74; selected passages are also translated in Lewis and Reinhold, II, pp. 464-72. Important new fragments from the copy found at Aezanis are edited and published by M. Crawford et al., ZPE 26 (1977), 125-51 and 34 (1979). 163-210.

 

Selections from Prologue

 


". . . That the fortune of our state--to which, after the immortal gods, as we recall the wars which we have successfully fought, we must be grateful for a world that is tranquil and reclining in the embrace of the most profound calm, and for the blessings of peace that was won with great effort--be faithfully disposed and suitably adorned, is the demand of public opinion and the dignity and majesty of Rome; therefore, we, who by the gracious favor the gods have repressed the former tide of ravages of barbarian nations by destroying them, must guard by due defenses of justice a peace which was established for eternity. If, indeed, any self-restraint might check the excesses with which limitless and furious avarice rages--avarice which with no thought for mankind hastens to its own gain and increase, not by years or months or days but by hours and even by minutes--or, if the general welfare could endure undisturbed the riotous license by which it, in its misfortune, is from day to day most grievously injured, there would perhaps be left some room for dissimulation and silence, since human forbearance might alleviate the detestable cruelty of a pitiable situation. Since, however, it is the sole desire of unrestrained madness to have no thought for the common need and since it is considered among the unscrupulous and immoderate almost the creed of avarice, swelling and rising with fiery passions, to desist from ravaging the wealth of all through necessity rather than its own wish; and since those whom extremes of need have brought to an appreciation of their most unfortunate situation can no longer close their eyes to it, we, the protectors of the human race, viewing the situation, have agreed that justice should intervene as arbiter, so that the long-hoped-for solution which mankind itself could not supply might, by the remedies of our foresight, be applied to the general betterment of all.

 


Common knowledge recognizes and the facts themselves proclaim how nearly too late our provision for this situation is, while we were laying plans or reserving remedies already devised, in the hope that--as was to be expected through the laws of nature--mankind apprehended in the most serious offenses, might reform itself, for we think it far better that the strains of intolerable depredation be removed from men's minds by the feeling and decision of the same men whom, as they daily plunged into more and more serious offenses and turned, in their blindness, to crimes against the state, their grievous iniquity had charged with most cruel inhumanity, the enemies of individual and state. We, therefore, hasten to apply the remedies long demanded by the situation, satisfied that there can be no complaints that the intervention of our remedy may be considered untimely or unnecessary, trivial or unimportant among the unscrupulous who, in spite of perceiving in our silence of so many years a lesson in restraint, have been unwilling to copy it. For who is so insensitive and so devoid of human feeling that he cannot know, or rather, has not perceived, that in the commerce carried on in the markets or involved in the daily life of cities immoderate prices are so widespread that the uncurbed passion for gain is lessened neither by abundant supplies nor by fruitful years; so that without a doubt men who are busied in these affairs constantly plan actually to control the very winds and weather of the movements of the stars, and, evil as they are, they cannot endure the watering of the fertile fields by rains from above which brings hope of future harvests, since they reckon it their own loss if abundance comes through the moderation of the weather. And men whose aim it always is to profit from the generosity of the gods, to restrain general prosperity, and furthermore to use a poor year to traffic in harvest losses and agents' service--men who, individually abounding in great riches which could completely satisfy whole nations, try to capture smaller fortunes and strive after ruinous percentages--concern for humanity in general persuades us to set a limit, our subjects, to the avarice of such men.

 

But even now we must detail facts whose urgency after long delay has finally driven our tolerance to action, in order that, although it is difficult for avarice which rages throughout the whole world to be described by specific illustration or, rather, fact, nevertheless, the establishment of a remedy may be considered more just when utterly unrestained men are force by some sign and token to recognize the untamed desires of their own minds. Who, therefore, does not know that insolence, covertly attacking the public welfare--wherever the public safety demands that our armies be directed, not in villages or towns only, but on the road--comes to the mind of the profiteer to extort prices for merchandise, not fourfold or eightfold, but such that human speech is incapable of describing either the price or the act; and finally that sometimes in a single purchase a soldier is deprived of his bonus (donativum) and salary, and that the contribution of the whole world to support the armies fall to the abominable profits of thieves, so that our soldiers seem with their own hands to offer the hopes of their service and their completed labors to the profiteers, with the result that the pillagers of the nation constantly seize

more than they know how to hold. Aroused justly and rightfully by all the facts which are detailed above, and with mankind itself now appearing to be praying for release, we have decreed that there be established, not the prices of articles for sale (for such an act would be unjust when many provinces occasionally rejoice in the good fortune of wished-for low prices, and, so to speak, the privilege of prosperity), but a maximum, so that when the violence of high prices appears everywhere--may the gods avert such a calamity!-- avarice which, as if in immense open areas, could not be restrained, might be checked by the limits of our statue or by the boundaries of a regulatory law.

 


It is our please, therefore, that the prices listed in the subjoined summary be observed in the whole of our empire in such fashion that every man may know that while permission to exceed them has been forbidden him, the blessing of low prices has in no case been restricted in those places where supplies are seen to abound, since special provisions is made for these when avarice is definitely quieted. Moreover, this universal decree should be a check so that, when they too know that in the time of high prices there is no possibility of transcending the determined price of commodities, such a reckoning of places, transportation, and the whole business may be made at the time of sale that the justice of our decree forbidding those who transport merchandise to sell anywhere at higher prices may be evident. Since, therefore, it is agreed that even in the time of our ancestors it was customary in passing laws to restrain the insolence by attaching a prescribed penalty--since it is indeed rare for a situation of tending to the good of humanity to be embraced spontaneously, and since as a guide, fear is always found the most influential preceptor in the performance of duty--it is our pleasure that anyone who shall have resisted the form of this statute shall for his daring be subject to a capital penalty. And let no one consider the penalty harsh since there is at hand a means of avoiding the danger by obser­vance of moderation. Nor is he exempt from the same penalty, who, although possessing necessities of life and business, believes that subsequent to this regulation he must withdraw them from the general market, since a penalty should be even more severe for him who introduces poverty than for him who harasses it against the law.

 

We, therefore, urge upon the loyalty of all our people that a law constituted for the public good may be observed with willing obedience and due care; especially since in such a statute provision has been made, not for single states and peoples and provinces, but for the whole world, to whose ruin very few are known to have raged excessively, whose avarice neither the fullness of time nor the riches for which they strive could lessen or satisfy."

 

Commentary

 

The moral tone of the Price Edict is typical of Tetrarchic proclamations. The emperors attributed inflation to the avarice of vendors, moneychangers, and profiteers rather than their own currency reform. The emperors expressed concern about protecting the buying power of the soldiers.

 

The Price Edict lists maximum prices for foodstuffs and clothing as well as wages for many occupations. The copy uncovered at Aezanis in Asia Minor preserves the official prices for one pound of pure gold and silver, as refined at the imperial mint. The price of gold was 72,000 denarii communes (d.c.) per pound and that of silver 6,000 d.c. The edict specifies gold prices in three forms: pure refined bullion (aurum obruza) in the form of certified ingots (in regulis), coins (in solidis pondum unum), and "spun gold" (auri neti, presumably used in imperial ceremonial plate). The values were pegged to official tariffing of gold and silver coins, whereas the market prices of gold and silver bullion preserved on later papyri were of inferior purity so that they do not correspond to the official value of the currency. See R. and F. Nauman, Der Rundbau in Aezani (Istanbul, 1973), p. 57 and M. H. Crawford and J. Reynolds, "The Aezani Copy of the Prices Edict," ZPE 34 [1979], 176 and 197).

 

In 301, the silver-clad nummus was valued at 12.5 d.c. so that the official exchange was 1 gold aureus = 24 silver argentei = 96 silver-clad nummi = 480 radiate denominations = 1,200 denarii communes. See Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, pp. 148-157 and cf. R. Bagnall, Currency and Inflation in Fourth Century Egypt (ASP, Supp. 5, 1985), pp. 20-25.

 

 

6. MONETARY EDICT OF SEPTEMBER 1, 301

Source: From Aphrodisias, Caria. See K. Erim et al., JRS 61 (1971), 173, frag. (b) = M. Crawford, ANRW II. 2 (Berlin, 1975), 578-579, with revisions offered by H. Jahn, JNG 25 (1975), 98, E. Ruschenbusch, ZPE 26 (1977), 22, and K. W. Harl, Phoenix 39 (1985), 264-65.

Text

 


". . . that the nummus argenteus be valued at 100 denarii communes (d.c.) and the nummus be strengthen with the force of 25 denarii communes. Furthermore, that it be communicated that you know that our fiscus is subject to the observance of this law, namely from the Kalends of September in the consulship of Titianus and Nepotianus.

 

Moreover, let those debtors, everyone of them who have become a new one, hand over to the fiscus the same amount of money retariffed at double its value and under the same legal conditions if usage is to determine and pay back the fiscus."

 

Commentary

 

The Monetary Edict of 301, which doubled tariffing of all denominations above the denarius communis (d.c.), was issued after Diocletian (284-305) withdrew the Price Edict. It is possible to reconstruct the official values of Diocletian's currency based on the coins themselves, military records from the Egyptian town of Panopolis, the Price Edict and Monetary Edict as follows:

Official Tariffing of Imperial Money, 293-307 A.D.

 

DENOMINATION 293-300 300-301 301-307

 

AU Aureus 600 d.c. 1,200 d.c. 2,400 d.c.

AR Argenteus 25 d.c.     50 d.c.    100 d.c.

Billon Nummus 5 d.c.     12.5 d.c.     25 d.c.

Billon Radiate 2 d.c.      2.5 d.c.      5 d.c.

AE Laureate 1 d.c.      1 d.c.      1 d.c.

 

In 286 Diocletian fixed the standard of the gold aureus at 60 to the Roman pound; some aurei carry on their reverse the Greek numeral for sixty). The aureus, officially called a solidus, was exchanged against 24 pure silver coins, argentei. Each argenteus, minted at 96 to the Roman pound and so marked on its reverse, was reckoned as equivalent to 1 gold carat of the aureus. See discussion in Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, pp. 149-52.

 

In early 293 Diocletian reformed the fractional currency by issuing a new silver-clad or billon nummus bearing a laureate imperial portrait and the reverse legend of GENIO POPVLI ROMANI. The nummus, struck at 32 to the Roman pound (11.00-10.75 grs.), contained a coating of 5% silver and was tariffed at 5 d.c. so that it replaced the radiate denomination in circulation which was devalued to 2 d.c. Nummi struck at Antioch (RIC VI, p. 620) and Alexandria (RIC VI, p. 665) are marked respectively K/V and XX/I, to denote 20 sestertii = 5 denarii and 20 sestertii = 1 nummus. In 299-300, the nummus was revalued from 5 d.c. to 12.5 d.c., presumably the official tariffing when the Price Edict was issued in 301. The Monetary Edict of 301 doubled this tariffing to 25 d.c., which was still officially in force as late as 324 in most of the Roman Empire.

 


In 308-309 Constantine struck nummi at Lugdunum (Lyons) the marks of 1 nummus = 100 sestertii (RIC VII, p. 263, nos. 286-303), but, as the nummus was debased, it was exchange in greater numbers against gold coins. By 313 the base nummi of AE3 module was exchanged at 288 to the aureus in the East and at 240 to the lighter Constantinian solidus in the West. See discussion in P. Bruun, ANSMN 24 [1979], 133-34 and K. Harl, Phoenix 39 (1985), 263-264.

 

 

7. DEBASEMENT OF NUMMUS IN EAST BY LICINIUS, 321-324.

Source: Letter in Archive of official Theophanes, c. 321 (P. Rylands IV. 607). Translation from L. C. West and A. C. Johnson, Currency in Roman Byzantine Egypt (Princeton, 1944), pp. 184-185, no. 7. See M. Hendy, SBME, pp. 463-64 and R. Bagnall, Inflation in Fourth Century Egypt, pp. 12-15, who redate the papyrus from earlier dates as argued by C. H. Robert and J. G. Milne in Trans. of Inter. Num. Congress, 1936 (London, 1938), pp. 246-249 and C. H. V. Sutherland, JRS 51 (1961), 94-97.

 

Text

 

"Dionysius to Apion, greeting. The divine Fortune of our masters has ordained that the Italian coinage be reduced to the half of a nummus. Make haste, therefore, to spend all the Italian silver that you have in purchases, on my behalf, of goods of every description at whatever prices you find them. For this purpose I have dispatched an officialis to you. But take notice that should you intend to indulge in any malpractices I shall not allows you to do so. I pray, my brother, that you may long be in health. (Verso) I received the letter from the officials on the eight of the month Pharmouthi."

 

Commentary

 

Two other fragmentary letters from the same archive (PSI 965 and P. Oslo III. 83) allude to the same reform. In 321 Licinius (308-324) reduced the silver content of his nummus (2.40 gs) and halved its official tariffing to 12.5 d.c. Eastern mints marked the reverses of the nummi with the value mark. The official rate of exchange was probably 1 aureus = 516 nummi sparked off a new wave of price rises until Constantine (306-337) reunited the empire and demonetized the Licinian nummus in 324. See Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, pp. 158-166.

 

8. REFORM OF GOLD SOLIDUS AND SILVER ARGENTEUS, 366 A.D.

Source: Law of September 17, 366 A.D. issued from Mantebrum, CTh XII. 6. 12, adapted from Pharr translation. For text and discussion, see Hendy, Byzantine Monetary Economy, pp. 387-88. The Emperors Valentinian I (364- 375) and Valens (364-375) to the Praetorian Prefect Rufinus.

 

Text

 


"There must be no argument but that, as We formerly decreed, when solidi are collected on any account, they must be reduced to a firm and solid mass of refined gold (obryza). All tax pay­ments shall be made in such a way that every avenue of fraud shall be barred for the representatives of the largitiones (= financial ministry), the official escorts (prosecutores), and the tax gathers (i.e. allecti agents of the office of tax receipts or allegationis officia). For the governor of the province shall easily vindicate from loss those persons who fulfill the neces­sary tax payments with two or three solidi each, if after the receivers have accepted the solidi of very many taxpayers, indi­vidually and by name, and solidi of that quality that is to be demanded, as We mentioned above, the tax payments of all shall be melted into a mass. Of course, if the governors should appre­hend the same disdain of tax receivers as formerly, when the supply of pure gold is brought and such payment cannot be unsat­isfactory, any receiver shall be smitten with suitable payment. The mass of rejected gold, however, shall first be sent to the imperial court (comitatus) of Our Clemency, in order that We may see on what grounds it was refused.

 

9. REFORM OF TAX COLLECTION, 367 A.D.

Source: Law of January 8, 367, issued from Rome, CTh XII. 6. 13, from the Pharr translation. Emperors Valentinian I and Valens to Germanicus Comes Sacarum Largitionum.

 

Text

 

"Whenever solidi must be paid to the account of the imperial largesses (largitiones), the actual solidi shall not be deliv­ered because adulterated coins are often substituted for such solidi, but either the solidi shall be reduced to a mass or if the taxpayer is able to have such material from any other sour­ce, the mass of fine gold shall be dispatched for that part of the tax, of course, which each person pays. This method shall be followed in order that the taxgathers, official escorts, and representatives of the largesses may no longer convert fiscal payments to their gain by substituting adulterated solidi.

 

We also add this provision, that whenever a definite sum of solidi is due under a title of any kind, and a mass of gold is transmitted, a pound of gold shall be credited for seventy-two solidi."

 

Commentary

 

By the laws of 366-367 Valentinian I and Valens reformed methods of collecting taxes and ordered melting down and reminting of solidi taken in tax. The solidi were weighed and melted into obryza or ingots of refined gold, some of which have survived; see Kent and Painter, Wealth in the Roman World, plates 533-536 and Hendy, Byzantine Monetary Economy, pl. 3. 9-10. The certified ingots were conveyed directly to the imperial residence (comitatus) where new solidi were then struck. From 368 A.D. solidi bear, along with the mintmark the abbreviation COMOB. The OB denotes obryziatum ("gold certified as pure") and the COM is interpreted as comitatus. Parallel measures, which do not survive, regulated silver coins because miliarensia and argentei carry the abbreviation PS = pusulatum or "certified pure silver."

 


The laws were issued to restore the fineness of solidus and argenteus which had suffered steady debasement since later years of Constantine. Henceforth, imperial coins were minted from virtually pure gold and silver; see P. Amandry, QT 11 (1982), 286-89. The reform did not mark, as usually argued, a shift in imperial policy to treating coins as privileged bullion or a change in collecting taxes in kind. Instead, the laws were passed in tandem with measures ending the minting of silver coated or billon fiduciary coins; see Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, pp. 172-174.

 

 

9. LAWS AGAINST CLIPPING AND COUNTERFEITING

Source: Law of February 18, 343 A.D., CTh IX. 22. 1, Pharr transla­tion. Emperor Constantius II (337-361) to the Praetorian Prefect Leontius. See discussion in P. Grierson, "The Roman Law of Counterfeiting," in ERCHM, pp. 248-61.

 

Text

 

"All solidi on which appear Our face (imago) an which have the same degree of veneration must be valued and sold at the same price, although the size of the image may vary. For a solidus that is extended with a greater appearance of the Emperor's face is not worth a greater price, nor must one that is compressed with a smaller image be supposed to be of a less value, when the weight is the same. But if anyone should do otherwise, he shall be capitally punished or be delivered to the flames or subjected to some other fatal punishment. That person also shall suffer this penalty who clips off a portion of the outer edge so that he diminishes the amount of the weight or who, when selling money, substitutes a debased counterfeit for a stamped solidus."

 

Commentary

 

The severe penalties on counterfeiters are self-explanatory, and reimposed in later legislation; see CTh IX. 21. 9 (389) and IX. 21. 10 (393). The law, which was periodically reissued down to the reign of Justinian (527-565), rules out the commonly held thesis that the imperial government reminted coins taken in taxation. Instead, solidi and argentei, provided they were of proper weight, were permitted to circulate.

 

 

10. LAW AGAINST "SWEATING" SILVER CLAD COINS

Source: Law of February 12, 349 A.D., CTh IX. 21. 6, adapted from Pharr translation and Hendy, Byzantine Monetary Economy, p. 470. The Emperor Constantius II (337-361) to the Praetorian Prefect Limenius.

 

Text

 


"We have learnt that many metalworkers (flaturarii) are pur­ging the maiorina coin (maiorina pecunia) no less criminally than frequently by separating off the silver the bronze. There­fore, if anyone is caught in this operation from now on let him know that he is to suffer capital punishment, and indeed those who own the house or land that they are to be punished by the confiscation of property to the largitiones: Our Clemency is naturally to be informed of the names."

 

 

11. RECALL OF MAIORINAE AND CENTENIONALES FROM CIRCULATION, 354 AND 356 A.D.

Source: Law of March 8, 356, issued at Constantia, CTh IX. 23. 1, ad­apted from Pharr translation and Hendy, Byzantine Monetary Economy, p. 470. The Emperor Constantius II (337-361) and Caesar Julian (355-361) to the Praetorian Prefect Rufinus.

 

Text

 

"If any person should be detected in melting down coins (pecuniae) to different regions for the purpose of selling them, he shall undergo the sentence for sacrilege and shall suffer cap­ital punishment. We decree that the harbors and various shores where there is customarily very easy access to ships and byroads of the highways must be guarded by suitable apparitors, and persons shall be placed in charge by the governors and by some of the dignitaries, so that when the truth has been learned, the governors of the provinces may punish the guilty according to the statutes. Their office staffs, also, shall be subject to extreme peril.

 

(1) No trader shall carry on his own animals more than a thousand folles of the money established in public use for the purpose of paying his expenses (note a follis = a seal bag of coins valued at 12,500 d.c. or 1,000 nummi in 300 A.D.). If any person should be discovered to convey a larger amount, his pro­perty shall be vindicated to the ownership of the fiscus, and he himself shall be punished by exile.

 

(2) For We judge that merchants must not export all kinds of money carried in their ships; in fact, We permit only money established in public use to be so conveyed. Likewise, We per­mit only those wares to be bought which are carried by merchants to different places in accordance with their ususal custom. But it shall be altogether illegal for any person to buy money or handle forbidden money, because the purchase price of things must be money established in public use, not merchandise.

 

(3) Finally, it is Our pleasure that, if any coin except that which continues in public use, should perchance be found in the possession of any merchant, it shall be vindicated to the ownership of the fiscus, together with all the property of the offender. If perchance ships should come to any provinces with merchandise, everything shall be sold with the customary freedom except the coins that are usually called maiorinae or centenion­ales communes or other coins which are known to be forbidden."

 

Commentary


The laws of 349 and 356 were measures taken to with regard to a set of three new billon denominations introduced by the emperors Constans and Constantius II in 348. The coins were multiples of the shrunken nummus of Constantine, which was struck on a tiny AE4 module and weighing 1.5 grs. This nummus was reckoned by the thousands to the solidus. The new denominations included a large AE2 denomination (5.26 grs.; 3% fine), probably called a maiorina, its half (4.25 grs.; 1.5 % fine), probably called a centenionalis, and a fractional nummus (2.42 grs. and 0.4% fine). Civil wars in 350-354 ruined this currency so that the two lower denominations were demonetized and the large maiorina was reduced to a miserable tiny nummus. The law of 349 was outlawed the abuse of removing the silver coating from the two largest denominations. By the law of 356, Constantius II demonetized the heavy reformed coins, called pecunia maiorina or "greater coin," (as well as those of the usurpers Magnentius and Decentius) in favor of miserable tiny nummi. See Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, pp. 167-169.

 

 

12. DEMONETIZATION OF SILVER CLAD COINS, 371 A.D.

Source: Law of April 7, 371 A.D., issued from Constantinople, CTh XI. 21. 1, adapted from Pharr translation and Hendy, Byzan­tine Monetary Economy, p. 472. The Emperors Valentinian I and Valens to the Praetorian Prefect Modestus.

 

Text

 

"The bronze currency (aes) called dichoneutum, not only shall be henceforth delivered to the largitiones, but even shall be entirely withdrawn from use and circulation and nobody shall be allowed to possess it publicly. Captial punishment shall overtake the melters of the coined bronze (conflatores figurati aeris) as well as the counterfeiters of coinage."

 

Commentary

 

The law demonetized billon denominations (aes dichoneutum or in Greek bicharcata; "twice smelted coins"), including the large sized maiorina introduced by Julian (360-363) as a revival of the Tetrarchic nummus. Thereafter minted bronze denominations were premised on a tiny nummus, but efforts to introduce large sized multiples of the nummus in 379-395 failed.

 

 

13. DEMONETIZATION OF DECARGYUS, 395 A.D.

Source: Law of April 12, 395, issued at Milan, CTh IX. 23. 2, adapt­ed from Pharr translation and Hendy, Byzantine Monetary Eco­nomy, p. 474. Emperors Arcadius (395-408) and Honorius (395­423) to the Praetorian Prefect Dexter.

 

Text

 


"We command that only the centenionalis nummus ("centenion­alis nummus") shall be handled in public use and that the coin­ing of larger coins (maior pecunia) shall be abolished. There­fore, let no person dare exchange the decargyrus nummus for an­other coin, knowing it to be forfeit to the fiscus if found in public circulation."

 

Commentary

 

The law demonetized the large bronze denomination introduced by a reform in 379 that reproduced in base metal the billon denominations of the 348 reform. The decargyrus ("silver piece of ten") was an AE2 denomination tariffed originally at 10 nummi, whereas the centenionalis nummus is likely a small AE3 module piece. Western mints suspended minting large sized bronze coins in 395, but in the East, palatine mints intermittently coined the decargyrus down to the reign of Leo I (457-473). See Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, pp. 177-179.

 

 

14.              REGULATION OF EXCHANGE OF SOLIDUS, 445 A.D.

Source: Law of January 14, 445, issued at Rome, Nov. Val. 16. 1, Pharr translation. The Emperors Valentinian III (425-455) and Theodosius III (408-450) to the Roman people.

 

Text

 

"(1) In accordance with this regulation, it is Our will that this rule shall be perpetually retained, namely that never shall a solidus be sold for less than 7,000 nummi; if it was bought from a moneychanger, then for 7,200 nummi. For uniformity of price shall protect both the welfare of the seller and the estab­lished prices of salable goods."

 

Commentary

 

The Novel of 445 established rates of exchange between the gold solidus and the tiny AE4 nummus (1.15 grs.). Since this bronze coin was the only fraction in circulation, it was exchanged in bags of the hundreds or thousands.

 

 

15. REFORMS OF THE COPPER CURRENCY BY ANASTASIUS I, 498 and 512

 

Texts

 

(a) "By means of the coins (nummi) call trenetiani by the Romans and follares by the Greeks, each being marked with its own name, the emperor Anastasius sold a rate of exchange that was pleasing to the people." (Marcellinus Comes, Chronicon s.a. 498 = MGH AA XI, p. 95; translation by Hendy, Byzantine Monetary Economy, p. 476)

 


(b) "Now this same emperor [Anastasius] appointed the honor­ary consul John the Paphlagonian, called Caiaphas, to be comes largitionum in Constantinopoles. And he [i.e. John] made all the current small change (kerma), the lepton, into follera, and ordered them to be current throughout the Roman empire there­after." (John Malalas, Chronographia XVI; Bonn ed. p. 400; translated by Hendy, Byzantine Monetary Economy, p. 476)

 

(c) "And the emperor [i.e. Anastasius] issued coinage of fourty, twenty, ten, and five nummi." (Anon., Chronicle, CSCO, Scriptores Syri III. 4 (2: Versio), at p. 115, s.a. 824 = 512/13 A.D., translated by Hendy, Byzantine Monetary Economy, p. 476).

 

Commentary

 

The first two authors describe one of the reform of 498, the third source discusses the reform of 512. Anastasius I (491-518) recoined the tiny bronze nummi (called lepta in Greek) into large sized bronze denominations, thereby providing the solidus with a chain of base metal fractions based on a notational unit, the nummia (Greek for nummus). The well struck and impressive bronze denominations carry Greek numerals as the major reverse type as clear marks of value: M = 40, K = 20, I = 10, and E = 5 nummiae. In 498, 16,800 nummiae were reckoned to the solidus. The largest bronze denomination was a follis (Greek follaris) or a 40 Nummia piece was exchanged at 420 to the solidus. In 512, size of all denominations was doubled and the follis was retariffed at 210 folles to the solidus. The older pieces of the 498 standard were circulated at half their state value so that a follis of 498 circulated as a twenty rather than a forty nummia piece. In 539 Justinian (527-565) increased the weight of the follis again (22.0 grs.) and retariffed the solidus at 180 folles or 7,200 nummiae--the tariffing of the law in 445.