CURRENCY
IN THE AGE OF DIOCLETIAN AND CONSTANTINE
In 215 Caracalla introduced an antoninianus
or double denarius minted at 64 to the Roman pound (5.10 grs.) and only 52%
fine so that it contained 80% of the silver of two denarii. Debasements in 238-270
reduced the antoninianus to a billon piece minted at 124 to Roman pound (2.6
grs.) and 2% fine. The ensuing
inflation ruined imperial currency and price stability that had endured for
three centuries. Aurelian in 274
and Diocletian in 293-296 reformed imperial money based on a
billon coin, the nummus, which was tariffed in notational denarii
communes ("common denarii" or d.c.).
Diocletian fixed the standard of the aureus,
the principal gold coin, at 60 to the Roman pound (5.34 grs.) struck from
almost pure gold (99-99.5% fine).
An equally pure silver argenteus was struck at 96 to the pound
and exchanged at 24 to the aureus so that each argenteus represented a carat
(siliqua) or the equivalent weight of 1/24 of the aureus. The principal coin for daily transactions
was a silver-clad nummus, struck at 32 to the pound (11.00 grs.)
and coated with silver wash so that it was 5% fine. The nummus was tariffed at 5 d.c. in 293, but inflation forced
Diocletian to revalue his currency twice, in 300 and again in 301, so that
imperial currency was officially tariffed in in 293-307 as follows:
OFFICIAL VALUES OF IMPERIAL MONEY, 293-307
A.D.
Exchange Value
Denomination 293-300
300-301 301-307
Gold Aureus
600 d.c. 1,200.0 d.c.
2,400 d.c.
Silver Argenteus 25
d.c. 50.0 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.
Bronze Laureate 1 d.c. 1.0
d.c. 1 d.c.
Within eight years official values of
imperial money were inflated by five times, but prices and wages cited in units
of account or "ghost currencies" of d.c. are deceptive, because the
number of nummi officially exchanged to the aureus declined from 120 nummi in
293 to only 96 nummi in 300-301.
Civil wars in 306-324 ruined
Diocletian's currency. In 309 Constantine
reduced the weight of the aureus, henceforth called the solidus (slang
for "solid bit") struck at 72 to the Roman pound (4.48 grs.), the
standard down to the eleventh century.
Silver coins, minted as fractions of the pound, were issued as
ceremonial gifts and so disappeared from general use. The nummus was drastically reduced in weight and fineness,
falling to a coin of 3.00 grs. and 2% fine by 313 and exchanged at 240 nummi
to the Constantinian solidus, representing an inflation of 200% over the
official rate of exchange in 307. In
the East, 288 nummi were exchanged against the aureus, but the rate was
doubled to 576 nummi by the reform of Licinius in 321.
DEBASEMENT OF NUMMUS, 305-348
Average
Silver Official
Date Module
Weight Content Value
305-307
AE1 10.75
grs. 4.0% 25 d.c.
Apr. 307 AE2 8.00 grs.
4.0% 25 d.c.
Nov. 307 AE2
6.70 grs.
4.0% 25 d.c.
310-313 AE2
4.50 grs.
1.5% 25 d.c.
313-318 AE3
3.36 grs.
1.4% 25 d.c.
318-324 AE3
3.00 grs. 2.0-4.0% 25 d.c.
321-324* AE3 2.40 grs.
0.1% 12.5 d.c.
324-330 AE3 3.05 grs.
1.9% 25 d.c.
330-335 AE3 2.48 grs.
1.0% 25 d.c.
336-337 AE4 1.61 grs.
1.3% 25 d.c.
337-341 AE4 1.64 grs.
1.1% 25 d.c.
341-348 AE4 1.65 grs.
0.4% 25 d.c.
*Eastern nummi of Licinius
Module is classified by descending order of diameter of the nummus so that
AE1 = 32-26 mm.; AE2 = 25-21 mm.; AE3 = 20-17 mm.; and AE4 =
below 17 mm.
Subsequent efforts to revive a billon
currency based on multiples of the nummus, in 348-354 and 362-367,
failed. In 371 Valentinian I and
Valens demonetized and recoined all billon cons (aes diochonetum
or "alloyed bronze") into token bronze coins and pure silver
fractions of the solidus.
In 320, Constantine resumed minting
pure silver coins on the Tetrarchic standard, based on an argenteus
struck at 96 to the Roman pound (3.36 grs.) and tariffed at 1 carat (siliqua)
of the gold solidus. The
official exchange was 1 gold solidus = silver 24 argentei = 288 billon
nummi. Multiple denominations were
minted as ceremonial gifts to officials and soldiers:
CONSTANTINIAN
SILVER COINS, 320-355
Denomination |
Average Weight |
Number of Carats |
Number per Solidus |
Triple Miliarensia |
13.44 grams |
4.00 |
6 |
Heavy Miliarense |
5.34 grams |
1.60 |
15 |
Light Miliarense |
4.48 grams |
1.25 |
18 |
Argenteus |
3.36 grams |
1.00 |
24 |
In 355 Constantius II reduced the
weight of argenteus by 50% to 144 to the Roman pound (2.25 grs.); the
weights of the higher denominations were lowered accordingly.
WAGES
AND PRICES IN THE AGE OF DIOCLETIAN
In early 301 Diocletian
issued the Edict of Maximum Prices to halt rising prices, but on
September 1, 301 he withdrew the edict and issued a Monetary Edict that doubled
the official tariffing of all coins.
WAGES. Military archives from Panopolis in Upper
Egypt in 299-300 reveal that a legionary received an annual salary of
1,800 d.c. (= 144 nummi), an allotment of 600 d.c. (= 48 nummi) for grain
purchases (annona) and 30 modii (62.5% of his annual needs), and four
annual donatives of 2,500 d.c. each (= 200 nummi) for a total payment of 12,400
d.c. The money was paid as 992 silver-clad
nummi at the exchange rate of 12.5 d.c. per nummus. In 293 base pay of the legionary was probably reckoned at 1
nummus per day for an annual pay of 360 nummi.
The price of wheat was perhaps officially 1 nummus per modius castrensis
(= 1.5 modius) so that a soldier's annual minimum of 32 modii castrenses cost
32 nummi or 9% of his annual pay of 360 nummi. Wages in the Price Edict
suggests that in 293 a laborer received 1 nummus per day whereas skilled
craftsmen received daily wages ranging between 3 and 6 nummi.
PRICES. Inflation in 293-301 cut the buying
power of the nummus and drove up prices of all commodities. The scourge of inflation is best seen by
converting official grain prices of the Price Edict cited in d.c. into actual
coins according to exchange rates in 300-301 (at 12.5 d.c per nummus) and
in the Monetary Edict of September 1, 301 (at 25 d.c. per nummus):
Official
Grain Prices, 300-305 A.D.
Commodity (modius castrensis) |
Official Price |
300-301 Price in Actual Coins |
301-305 Price in Actual Coins |
1 modius, wheat |
100 d.c. |
8 nummi |
4 nummi |
1 modius, millet |
100 d.c. |
8 nummi |
4 nummi |
1 modius, barley |
60
d.c. |
4 nummi & 10 d.c.* |
2 nummi & 10 d.c.** |
1 modius, rye |
60
d.c. |
4 nummi & 10 d.c.* |
2 nummi & 10 d.c.** |
1 modius, rice |
200 d.c. |
16 nummi |
8 nummi |
*Sum represented by 4 radiate
denominations
**Sum represented by 2 radiate denominations
In 301, a legionary bought 32 modii
castrenses of wheat officially priced at 256 nummi so that his annual purchase
was over 175% his base pay of 144 nummi!
Donatives and money supplements for grain purchase reduced this ruinous
cost to 26% of his base pay. In 293,
his allotment had purchase 2.5 times his minimum needs. The retariffing ordered by the Monetary
Edict of 301 immediately halved the actual number of coins paid in purchases
and wages but imperial officials and vendors simply recalculated salaries and
prices at higher rates of d.c.
In the Price Edict, a farm laborer received daily wages of 2 nummi so
that he earned an annual subsistence wage of 720 nummi. His family of four
required annually 120 modii of wheat, 120 sextarii of olive oil, and perhaps
720 sextarii of wine. According to the Price Edict, such a family, if it
purchased its food needs, spent nearly 1,250 nummi so that the annual
subsistence wage would have only defrayed 60% of total costs. Poorer families could lower costs to 1,000 nummi
by substituting barley for wheat and radish oil for olive oil.
GRAIN PRICES IN CONSTANTINIAN EGYPT:
Market prices of wheat from Egypt (where prices were often half of those
elsewhere in the Roman world) reveal steep rises after 305. The price of 2 nummi per modius in 305 doubled
to 4 nummi per modius in 312.
Debasement and inflation drove up the price to 18 nummi per modius in
314, 40 nummi per modius by 327, 185 nummi per modius by 335, and possibly 320
nummi per modius by 338.