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XXI

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-The Euro-

And its Origins in Ancient History

 

By Max Paschall

 

The Euro, introduced on January 1st, 2002, is currently the main denomination of coinage in Europe.  During the beginning of 2001 shops started to mark their items in Euros and that country’s regular currency.  Then people started converting their bank-accounts and holdings in other places into Euros.  But in fact, despite the different age which the Euro exists in, it is an amazingly close relative to another denomination.  Although these two denominations are over 2000 years apart, they are almost exactly alike.  In this article I will be talking about the modern dominant currency in Europe, and dominant currency in the ancient world.

 

In the years during the second Punic war (218-202 B.C.), the Roman Republic was in the second major conflict with its enemy, the Carthaginians.  Rome and its populace had been using less than 10 different denominations of coinage, all of which were bronze on the exception of one.  The didrachm (or quadrigatus as commonly called) had its origins in Greece.  When Rome adopted this coin they changed it dramatically in design.  In Greece, every different state or country would have its own unique design for each denomination.  Tarentum would put Taras riding a dolphin on the reverse and a horseman on the obverse.  In Attica, they would put the famous owl of Athena on the reverse and the goddess herself on the other side.  But in Rome, it was completely different.  The eternal city had celators less skilled than those in Greece, yet the style can be beautiful, especially on the coins minted during the republic.  The Roman didrachm had the head of Janus (the two-faced god of doorways which you may often see on mutual fund commercials) on the obverse.  And on the reverse there was a quadriga (four-horse drawn chariot) being driven by Jupiter, and the inscription of “ROMA” below, in exergue.

 

But the didrachm was not the only denomination of coinage.  There were many different bronze denominations.  This series of bronze coinage is known as Aes Grave.  Aes Grave was cast; instead of being struck with was the normal coining method.  There were many different denominations of Aes Grave, they included:

 

  1. Decussis = 10 asses

  2. Quincussis = 5 asses

  3. Tressis = 3 asses

  4. Dupondius = 2 asses

  5. As = 12 unciae, 1/10 decussis

  6. Semis = 6 unciae

  7. Triens = 4 unciae

  8. Quadrans = 3 unciae

  9. Sextans = 2 unciae

  10. Uncia = 2 semiunciae

  11. Semiuncia = ½ uncial

This method was used from circa 255 B.C. – 217 B.C., when the first struck coins in Roman history first appeared.  This series of Republican struck coinage is known as Post-Reform bronzes.  The list of denominations has all of the above, plus many more.  One of the first struck bronzes was the smallest denomination of Roman coinage in history.  This coin was the quartuncia.  The quartuncia was essentially a test.  It continued for two years; from 217-215 B.C., and is rare.  Its production was put to a halt because of its minute value, for it could buy practically nothing.

 

But in 211 B.C., the Romans finally introduced a silver coin of Roman origin.  They called it the denarius.  It was a small coin, only about 3 grams of silver.  On the obverse was the head of Roma (the personification of the city) facing right with the letter X behind (X represents the value, X=10 thus the denarius was worth 10 asses), and on the reverse the two dioscuri (Castor and Pollux, sons of Jupiter) rode side by side on horseback with, once again, the inscription of “ROMA” beneath.  The denarius evolved many times over the years and remained in use for 500 years, from 211 B.C. to the late 3rd century A.D. when it was debased into bronze.  It was the main currency of ancient Rome.  It was circulated all over the empire, and all over Europe.  It was accepted everywhere at the same exact value.

 

As you can see, the Euro has the exact same concept as the denarius.  The concept of a single currency being accepted everywhere with the same value everywhere.  But in ancient times it was a lot easier to do so because the Roman Empire was unified, not a continent where there are more than 30 countries, all with different agendas. 

 

            

Look similar?  Despite rather obvious physical differences, they are exactly alike in concept. 

 

The USD (United States Dollar) is actually not only used in America, but in Europe as well, along with in the middle-east.  In fact, it is transacted side by side with the country’s normal currency.  And 85% of all imports and exports to and from the United States are paid in dollars, while only a meager 15% is paid in world currencies.  The US practically controls the market here and in Europe because the dollar is much stronger than most native European denominations.

 

Then Europe banned together and formed the EU (European Union) to produce the Euro, and in the balance, create a competitive currency to the USD.  Now that the Euro has been introduced it has stayed mostly in the range of being worth about 80-90% of the dollar.  The introduction of the Euro has been discussed since 1958.

 

Depending on which country a certain Euro is minted in, it will have a design unique to that country only.  People who live in a country which circulates had to convert their banking and checking accounts into Euros by December 30th, 2001.  Many countries have joined the EU and are circulating the Euro today.  The list below states the countries, and how much of their currency is equal to 1 Euro:

 

COUNTRY                                                                 VALUE TO 1 EURO

USA                                                                            0.88 USD

FINLAND                                                                      5.94573 MARKKAA

PORTUGAL                                                                200.482 ESCUDOS

AUSTRIA                                                                    13.7603 SCHILLINGS

THE NETHERLANDS                                                        2.20371 GUILDERS

LUXEMBOURG                                                              40.3399 FRANCS

ITALY                                                                     1936.27 LIRE

IRELAND                                                                       0.787564 POUNDS

FRANCE                                                                        6.55957 FRANCS

SPAIN                                                                       166.386 PESETAS

GREECE                                                                     340.750 DRACHMAI

GERMANY                                                                      1.95583 MARKS

BELGIUM                                                                      40.3399 FRANCS

 

Of course, the values of the different currencies to the Euro will change.  I just put the chart up to give a general sense of what the value is.

 

Just like the denarius, the Euro has fractions and multiples.  For instance, a 2 Euro coin is an antoninianus, for this denomination was worth two denarii.  The antoninianus was first introduced by the emperor Caracalla in 214 A.D.  Although the original name of the antoninianus is unknown, we have named it after CaracallaHis real name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus; he was called Caracalla for the Gallic cape he wore.  He introduced the antoninianus because he had debased the silver content in the denarius to a minute 40%, which is VERY low for a coin which is supposed to be 100% silver.  The public was bothered by the emperor’s incompetence; so the emperor introduced a new currency to get his PR back.  Yet he was still cheating the public out of their money because the antoninianus, which was worth 2 denarii, only had 150% of the denarius’s weight.  Initially the new antoninianus and older denarius were both minted and circulated, but far more denarii were minted.  Twenty-five years after the antoninianus was introduce, Gordian III (known as the “Boy Emperor”, since he was only 13 when he ascended the throne) replaced the denarius with the antoninianus and made it the main currency of the Roman Empire.  Thus denarii of Gordian III are fairly scarce, as apposed to his antoninianii which are some of the most common Roman silver.

 

Gordian III denarius, c 3.2g, c. 19.5 mm

Note the laureate bust right, laurel = denarius

Gordian III antoninianus, c. 3.8g, c. 21.5 mm
Note the Radiate bust right, radiate = antoninianus

 

As you can tell, the only two physical differences of antoninianii is size (which should not be used to differentiate between them), and head wear.  If the emperor is wearing a laurel wreath, the denomination is a denarius.  If the head wear is a radiate crown, the denomination is an antoninianus.  You will often see dealers list the antoninianus as a double-denarius.  They do this because an antoninianus was worth 2 denarii in ancient times.

 

Modern culture is completely modeled on the past.  In everything we do, there is at least some part of it deriving in Antiquity.  Whether seeing a movie, or driving a car; you can find hundreds of ancestors in ancient history.  Especially in our modern monetary system, not only the Euro but most culture’s currencies.  The eagle on the back of a quarter is almost identical to eagles on Roman provincials from Alexandria, and the Greek drachma also has many images from their monetary past.  But the Euro probably has the largest roots in ancient history, for it is exact in concept and purpose; to be the single currency that will be accepted everywhere.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.     http://europa.eu.int/euro/html/dossiers/00232/html/index-EN.html

2.     Roman Coins and Their Values, by David R. Sear, Millennium Edition, Vol. I, Spink

3.     Leigh B. Paschall, VP of the European Division at Chase Manhattan

4.     www.forumancientcoins.com