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Gold Coinage











GOLD COINAGE of the Romans.- At the period when silver money was introduced into Rome, namely in the year U.C. 485 (269 B.C.). Roman power had already gained a great increase.  It extended itself still more and more as riches and the mass of the circulating medium augmented.  According to Pliny, gold was first coined at Rome in the year of that city 547 (206 B.C.). It has been supposed, that amongst the money issued from that epoch to the time of the first Triumvirate, some coins were minted, not in Rome but, in one or other of the Italian cities subject to Rome.  But on this point sufficiently positive data does not exist whence satisfactory inferences can be drawn.

When gold was first employed by the moneyers of Rome-namely at the date above mentioned, when the war with Hannibal was at its height, coins in that metal, which to abide by the statement of Pliny, "were struck like the silver ones, in such a manner, that the scruple [twenty grains of gold] was equivalent to twenty sestertii [of silver], which conform ably to the standard of sestertii then prevailing, gave 900 sestertii to the pound.- Subsequently it became the custom to strike 40 denarii to the pound of gold; and gradually the weight was diminished by successive emperors; by Nero so low as 45 to the pound."  And these coins are frequently called by Pliny denarii, as their half were called quinarii, a misapplication of the term, as they were neither of the weight, nor of the relative value, of the silver coins, though nearly the same in dimensions.- Arrian too mentions a gold and silver denarius, and Petronius says "instead of black and white counters, he used gold and silver denarii."

It is thus that the weight of the gold denarius has been calculated from the ascertained weight of the silver one.  From Pliny we know that 84 denarii were struck to the pound of silver.  Since each of these weighed 75 Parisian grains, the number of grains required to make up the monetary pound would be 6 300. But as we have already learned from the same authority, that 40 denarii were struck to the pound of gold, you will, by dividing 6 300 by 40, arrive at the number of grains which each gold piece weighed, 157.5- Hence it is clear that the gold denarius weighed more than two silver ones by 7.5 grains.  And thus it follows that from Nero's time, when 45 denarii were first struck to the pound of gold, the weight of the gold denarius was 140 grains.

The Roman aureus held the invariable value of 25 denarii, under such regulations, that any increase, or diminution, of weight in the aureus, should be attended by a corresponding alteration in the weight of the denarius.- The above mentioned weight of the aureus is confrimed by abundant testimony. Zonaras speaks clearly on this point. "Among the Romans twenty-five drachmae [rachm, 8th part of an ounce Troy weight] make one gold coin." Xiphilinus says the same.- According to Lucian, 30 aurei are equivalent to 750 drachmae, and consequently one aureus to 25 drachmae, or denarii.- Suetonius relates, that Otho gave an aureus to each of the soldiers composing his outlying cohort; and Plutarch, who records the same fact, says in Greek-               -distributing to each an aureus.  What these authors call an aureus, Tacitus describes as a sestertius-"that he might distribute 100 numi to each man of the cohort, which was keeping watch and ward."  But 100 sestertii are equal to 25 denarii.  Suetonius says of Domitian "He added a fourth aureus to the pay of the soldier, which was three aurei." Zonaras gives the same sum in drachms "Whereas 75 drachms were usually paid to each soldier, he ordered 100 to be paid to them."  This will enable us to understand the expression of Martial, when he desires that, to the 57 years which he had already lived, should be added twice nine more, that he might complete his tres aurei of life.  He would then have lived 75 years, the number of denarii contained in three aurei.

Most authors of modern times state the proportion of gold to silver, among the ancient Romans, as nearly 1 to 12, so that 12 pounds of silver were exchanged for one of gold.  Nor does investigation materially contradict this statement; since for the aureus, which was rather more then double the weight of the denarius,25 denarii were given in exchange.  To compare it, for example, with the modern coinage, an aureus of Julius Caesar, or Augustus, is worth 2 1/2 1/3 1/4 Hungarian or Dutch gold pieces [viz. ducats, 2 dwts. 5 3/4grs. 9s, 5 1/4d. English value], the weight decreasing gradually in successive periods.

The proportion or relation borne by Gold to Silver in the coinage of Rome, is a subject with the abstruse difficulties of which Eckhel has powerfully grappled, in his dissertation De Moneta Aurea Romanorum (v. c. iv. p. 28), whence the foregoing passages have been taken.  Referring the reader to that portion of his Doctrina, for other details to copious to be even alluded to within our limits, we hereto subjoin an extract from M. Hennin's Manuel (T. i. ix. p. 183, on "The Value and Weight of Ancient Money"), in which that scientific French numismatist has given an analysis of the opinions respectively entertained by Savot, Nauze, Bartbelemy, Letronne, and Eckhel, on the matter in question.

The proportion of gold to silver is more easy to establish by proofs, in the case of the Romans than of the Greeks, and we have, in that respect, certain aids, which fails us in investigating the monetary systems of other nations.  The passages in ancient authors which connect themselves with this subject are not entirely satisfactory; but in comparing these data with what we know respecting the value of the gold denarius, fixed at 25 silver denarii, and in making the calculation of weights, results are arrived at.  Moreover we find in the coins themselves sources of important information, which ought to serve us by way of guide, although they relate to only one epoch.

Three very rare pieces of gold money, which were in all probability struck in Campania, under Roman authority during the republic, are considered to have been issued, about the time when gold coins of Roman die began to be struck.  These three coins bear the following numeral marks: x. (sixty sestertii); xxxx. (forty sestertii); xx (twenty sestertii).  There is no doubt as to the accuracy of these interpretations.  After the examinations to which the weight of these pieces were submitted, with as much exactness as circumstances would allow, the coins being very rare, and few specimens of them extant, there appeared the following results, which nevertheless ought to be regarded only as approximations, for they were not exactly in agreement with each other:

Piece of 60 sestertii, weighing three scruples of the Roman pound...64 grains.

Piece of 40 sestertii, weighing two scruples of the Roman pound...43 grains

Piece of 20 sestertii, weighing one scruple of the Roman pound...21 1/3 grains

The following calculations were subsequently made:

The scruple of gold being the twenty-fourth part of the ounce, an ancient pound contained 288 scruples.  In multiplying 288 by 21 1/3 grains weight of the gold piece of 20 sestertii, which weighed a scruple, we have for the weight of the ancient pound 6 144 grains.  The gold scruple being worth 20 silver sestertii, or five denarii, the pound of gold, containing 288 scruples, was worth 1 440 silver denarii.

We know from Pliny, already quoted, that 84 silver denarii were made out of one pound of that metal.  Dividing 1 440 by 84, leaves 17 3/7. Therefore the proportion of gold to silver was then that of 1 to 17 1/7 pounds of silver, that is to say, one pound of gold was worth 17 1/7 pounds of silver.

It is necessary, however to observe that these calculations, and the bases on which they are founded, have not been generally accepted, and that the results have been given by diverse authors, in somewhat different ways.  The following are the principal of these valuations:

Savot fixed the weight of the Roman scruple at 21 grains, and that of the Roman pound at 6 048 grains

Nauze carries them to 21 grans 1/3, and to 6 144 grains.

Rome de l'Isle the same as Savot.

Eckhel the same as Nauze

M. Letronne fixed these weights at 21 888/1000 grains and 6 160 grains.

Be it as it may with regard to these differences, and some others which are not of much importance, the proportion of gold to silver was, under the adoption of this system, that of 1 to about 17, when gold was for the first time employed in coining by the Romans.

At this epoch, gold existed only in a small quantity.  It became by degrees less rare.  It has been sought to fix the diverse areas to which the relation of this metal with silver was progressively reduced.  The details on this subject would be too numerous for us to enter into them.  It must suffice here to point out what is the opinion most generally entertained on this point.  We subjoin therefore the indication of these proportions, according to the most universally adopted system:

1. From the year of Rome 547 (B.C. 206) to 560 (B.C. 193)...1 to 17 3/7

2. From the above epoch to the year 620 (B.C. 133)...1 to 14 2/7

3. From that epoch to 635 (B.C. 118)...1 to 13

4. From that epoch to 650 (B.C. 103)...1 to 12 1/2

5. From that epoch to 717 (B.C. 36) 1 to 11 10/21

6. From that epoch to 767 (A.D. 14) 1 to 11 69/86

7. From that epoch to 821 (A.D. 68) viz. from the death of Augustus to the last years of Nero..." "

 ["A reference to the scales (says Eckhel), proves the truth of Pliny's statement, that the emperors gradually diminished the weight of the aureus, 42, 43, and 44 aurei being now struck to the pound."]

8. From 821 (A.D. 60) to 970 (A.D. 217) viz. from the last years of Nero to the last of Caracalla, 45 aurei to the pound, each weighing 136 8/15 grains...1 to 12

["The coins themselves (says Eckhel) serve to confirm this rule; not, however, without exceptions.  For the coins of Domitian, Nerva, and Trajan (in the first two years of his reign) weigh140 grains and more, up to 145. From the period when 45 aurei were struck to the pound, 96 denarii were struck to the pound of silver.  If therefore, 45 be multiplied by 25 (the number of denarii equivalent to one aureus0, the result will be 1125, and this divided by 96, will give a quotient of 11 23/32, the proportion of gold to silver, ie. nearly 1 to 12."] D.N. Vet v. 33.

The scale variations in the proportion of gold to silver is shown by Eckhel to be far from certain.  He contends that the doctrine of Barthelemy and Nauze, which refers to the three aurei, exhibiting the arithmetical marks LX, XXXX and XX is at once refuted, if that be true which is now supposed by the majority of writers, viz. that those celebrated coins, which served as the basis of Barthelemy's calculations, are not to be reckoned as belonging to the Roman mint, but are rather to be regarded as the productions of Magna Graecia or Sicily.  In other respects he also differs from his learned contemporaries above-named, whose calculations on this matte he criticizes with great freedom and at considerable length, pronouncing them not to have been established in a clear and authentic manner, and viewing the experiments made on the coins themselves as having been neither sufficiently numerous nor sufficiently exact.

On the other hand, some passages of ancient writers (Livy l. 38 c. 11-Suetonius. J. Caesar, c. 54), point to data of a different kind.  It would seem, according to those passages, that the proportion in question would have been, at first, that of 1 to 15, afterwards 1 to 10, 1 to 9, and even less.  It is obvious then that these important points have not yet been cleared up in a satisfactory manner.  From the reign of S. Severus to the disorder which had introduced itself into the coinage, with regard to standards, renders the ideas relative to the connection of gold with silver still more obscure and more intricate; and almost goes to set at defiance any further endeavors to establish reasonable suppositions.  In the times of the lower empire this obscurity is still greater.

At the epoch of commencing a gold mint at Rome, there were, as we have seen, two effective gold coins introduced, viz. a gold denarius (worth 25 silver denarii), and a quinarius of gold (worth half the gold denarius), the gold denarius was also called an aureus.  In the third century of the Christian era, this money took the name of Solidus.  Under the lower empire the weights and dimensions of these coins varied greatly, in consequence of the disorder which then prevailed.

2. GOLD COINAGE OF ROME-Was it during the commonwealth, struck under the ordinary regulations (ex lege ordinaria)? This subject was discussed by Eckhel (vol. v. pp. 37-42), in a way so well calculated to assist in rescuing from obscurity, and even to render generally interesting, that recondite but still, from historical association, important branch of monetary research-the origin and progress of a gold currency in Free Rome-that, omitting those personal allusions with which his animadversions on the main question are mixed up in controversy by our great preceptor and guide, we shall not be prevented, merely on account of the extent to which they run, from inserting the principal passages of so fine a display of learned research, and acute argumentation.  They are to the following effect:

The remarkable paucity of coins struck in gold during the republic serves to suggest doubts. And to render the fact more evident, Eckhel has brought together, at one view, those pieces which are attributed to the time of the commonwealth down to the government of Julius Caesar. Of these there are two kinds, viz.:

First: Those which belong to Epoch I (547 to 560), inscribed with only the word ROMA, and bearing certain arithmetical marks (see p. 428), the type being a head of Mars.  And also those which belong to Epoch II (560 to 620), also with the sole inscription ROMA; the types being-head of Janus; soldiers touching a sow with their spears; and the Dioscuri.

Second: Those inscribed with the name of a family-ex. gr. Cornelius, Blasio, C. Servilius, Nerva, Furius Philus, and Gn. Lentulus; which are said to have been struck between the years 547 and 650.  After that time till the reign of Julius Caesar, the following: Cl. Clodius, Numonius, Arrins, Cestius, Metellus, Sulla and Fufius Calenus.

The above is the entire list of gold consular coins hitherto discovered. Nor is even this perfect; for from it must be taken two, namely, the first cited, as inscribed with the word ROMA only; and which more correctly are to be ascribed to a foreign mint, as stated in Section I on this subject of the Gold Coinage.  Also two, the date of which should be fixed at the time of Julius Caesar, or the Triumvirs; for that which Nauze assigns to them is often arbitrary, and founded merely on conjecture.  If then, all these be deducted from the scanty number of gold consular coins, scarcely a tenth part will remain of such as by universal consent are attributed to the age of the commonwealth. Since, therefore, gold coins of this class (acknowledged to have been certainly struck from the years 547 to the reign of Julius Caesar), are so rare, can these furnish any valid argument, that gold coins were struck, under the consuls, by the law ordinarily in force ( lege ordinaria?).  The point might readily be conceded, if abundant specimens were extant of the coins of this class, as is the case in the silver coinage; but the fact is, that all the gold coins, properly assigned to the times of the consuls, are either exceedingly rare, or unique; a paucity which so little favors the notion of their being regulated by the same laws as the ordinary coinage, especially under so vast an empire, that it would seem rather to be totally at variance with it."

The question then, as to whether there was no gold struck, under the Commonwealth, by any fixed law? the author of Doctrina meets by demanding, that a probable reason be first adduced, why during the glorious period of a mighty empire, extending over so long a time, scarcely even a few should have been left to us?

"It will be conjectured that they have perished through the injuries of time.  But why should time have directed his wrath so specially against this species of coins, when he has been so lenient to the gold coins of Philip II of Macedon, which proceeded by 150 years the alleged date of the introduction of a gold coinage into Rome-and again those of Alexander the Great and Lysimachus - that they have not even yet ceased to annoy us by their abundance and worthlessness?  But to pass over these more important kingdoms; there still remains numerous gold coins of Syracuse, Tarentum, and the remote Cyrene, all struck long prior to the period of the golden age in Rome; and yet how insignificant the territory of all these states together compared with the Roman Empire! And so, forsooth, the gold coins of Julius Caesar, Sextus Pompeius, Brutus, Cassius, the triumvirs, all could escape destruction, but those which immediately preceded them could not!  What more reasonable or appropriate juncture could there have been for striking gold coins, than when L. Scipio, after he conquered Antiochus the Great, or Cn. Pompey, victorious over Mithridates and Tigranes, poured into Rome the treasures of all Asia?

But silver coins of both those individuals are extant in abundance, while of gold not one has been discovered.  If any one is inclined to wonder, that, in a city of such power and wealth as Rome, gold was not employed in its coinage, let him extend his surprise to the fact, that so far as our present knowledge goes, the same custom prevailed among the Athenians, whose power and resources are well known, but of whom not a single gold coin has yet been found; and that it prevails at the present day in the powerful Empire of the Chinese.

With regard to the statement of Pliny, Eckhel asks, "if this illustrious writer had bestowed so much pains on determining the date of the introduction of a gold coinage into Rome, why did he abstain, in the gold coins alone, from noticing the types by which they were distinguished, or their division into parts, and the names of those parts, when he has not failed to describe all these particulars in the silver rand brass coinage?  How is it that Livy, who so learnedly recorded the first striking of silver at Rome, did not introduce the slightest allusion to stamped gold, when he arrived at that period of his history, when, according to Pliny, a gold coinage was introduced?  Why did no one of the ancient writers, whilst narrating the events of that age, make mention of Roman gold money?  Though, even if any testimony for it existed, it would prove nothing more than that the author might have spoken by anticipation, and thought only of an equivalent value?  Indeed, according to the accounts of ancient writers, and especially of Livy, the highest authority of all on this subject, it appears that, before the era stated by Pliny, or A.U.C. 547, the Romans, in making payments, used gold by weight instead of by the number of pieces (i.e. weighed instead of counting it.) Every one is aware, how they redeemed the capitol from the Gauls, viz. by gold weighed out.  In the year U.C. 544 (B.C. 210), when Hannibal was pressing them hard, and the treasury was bankrupt, wrought gold was liberally brought forward by the senators to defray the expenses of the war.  In the following year, U.C. 545, when the want of money was still more harassing, "it was determined to appropriate the gold raised by the tax of the twentieth part (aurum vicesimarium), which was reserved for emergencies in a more sacred treasury".  That, therefore, which supplied the place of money, would very naturally be called money, even subsequently to the period at which Pliny has fixed the introduction of coined gold into Rome.

"Lastly, it may be inquired, why we have not a single gold Consular coin restored by Trajan, when we possess several Imperial gold coins restored by that Emperor, who was in the habit of adhering not merely to the types but to the metal also of his restitutions.  From this fact a suspicion arises, that at the same time that many other privileges were conferred on Julius Caesar, there was granted to him also that of striking gold coins in the ordinary course of things (lege ordinaria), a privilege retained through the license of that age by those who immediately succeeded him, i.e. Sextus Pompeius, Brutus, the Triumvirs, and others; and that those few gold coins, which we have a right to reckon as consular, owe their existence to extraordinary occasions, which like many other points in history have escaped us; though we may readily account for the appearance of Sulla's aurei (and even they are extremely rare), when we reflect on that Dictator's power and extravagance.  It is needless to insist on the evidence afforded of the fact in question by the law which this very Sulla introduced.  "By the Lex Cornelia," says Ulpian, "it is enacted, that whomsoever shall mix any foreign ingredient with the gold, or stamp coins of adulterated silver, shall be convicted of fraud."  Now, if it was then struck in the ordinary course, why does this law use the word aurum simply, and not aureas, numos, just as, afterwards, numos argenteos?  If however anyone should consider such a practice to be incredible the commonwealth, and wish to have some more tangible reason assigned for it, he would be acting in the same manner as if he were to require to be informed why, on the other hand, from the time of Claudius Gothicus to that of Diocletian, the silver coinage was almost entirely stopped, whilst the gold money continued to be struck under its usual regulations and in abundance.  There are many knotty points in antiquarian research worthy enough of an elncidator, but no deity has as yet appeared to solve them.  And for myself, I undertook the discussion of these matters, not with a view to convict Pliny of falsehood or a hasty conclusion, but to challenge those who espouse the side of Pliny, to produce in greater abundance coins, which by indisputable signs are to be referred to consular times.

"I will not conceal the existence of other authorities favorable to the upholders of the consular gold coinage, namely, those of Pomponius and Cicero himself.  According to Pomponius "the Monetal Triumvirs" were constituted "strikers (coiners) of brass, silver and gold, about the year 465 (189 B.C.).  Cicero in his epistle to Trebatius, about the year 700 (54 B.C.), says: "I advise you to keep out of the way of the Treviri [the men of Treves-a play on the words Triumviri Monetales].  I hear that they are sharp fellows (capitales).  I would rather that they were charged with the striking of gold, silver, and brass."  And again, in his thir book De Legibus, chap. 3, a work which appears to have seen the light two years after Fabricus, he enunciates this law: "Let them publicly coin brass, silver, and gold."  The passage from Pomponius claims but little attention.That writer's statement, even if its truth be admitted, may certainly be modified in the interpretation.  But there is a weightier authority in both the passages of Cicero; for though the former of them be spoken in joke, and in the latter he be laying down a rule of his own, it is nevertheless evident that the writer is alluding to a recognized institution of his country.  This conflicting testimony however, does not give me much trouble since I am not denying that the gold was stamped under the consuls, but simply denying that it was stamped in the ordinary procedure of the mint.

Livy himself may give rise to a doubt on the question, when he tells us that M. Valerius Laevinus, consul, A.U.C. 544, on the failing of the treasury in consequence of the protracted war with Hannibal, thus addressed the Senators: "Let us Senators bring forward tomorrow, for the public benefit, all our gold, silver, and stamped brass,"- words which may appear to indicate, that even at that time the Romans were using stamped gold.  But I can easily prove, that in this passage of Livy the word signatum by no means refers to the gold but only to the brass, or perhaps also to the silver.  I have two reasons for saying this- First, if the word signatum refers also to the gold, it will follow that so early as the year 544, the Romans used a gold coinage universally; but on this supposition, we must throw over the authority of Pliny, who states that gold was not stamped at Rome till the year U.C. 547. And secondly, that the sense of Livy's words is such as I have stated it to be, will clearly appear from the succeeding context.  For, when Laevinus defines how much of these three metals might be reserved for the use of each of the Senators themselves, he specifies the brass only as stamped (signatum), and sums up the rest of the fund in wrought (factum) gold and silver: to each Senator he allows an ounce of gold for rings for himself and his wife and bulla for his son; a pound of silver for his horses caparison, his salt cellar, and the patella of the gods; but of stamped brass five thousand pieces (sestertii).  In another part of his writings, Livy explains his meaning more clearly, where, describing the same period of the war with Hannibal he introduces L. Valerius, the tribune of the people, thus speaking- "Care was taken that we should have no more wrought gold and silver, no more stamped silver and brass in our houses."  The purport of which words has been well rendered by Isidorus - "There are," he says "three kinds of silver, gold, and brass, the stamped, the wrought, and the unwrought.  The stamped is that which is coined; the wrought appears in vases and statues; the unwrought in masses."

"Though, however we may come to the conclusion, that the Romans at the period in question almost wholly abstained from coining gold, there was, notwithstanding, no deficiency of gold money in Rome, when we consider the abundance of it which flowed in from foreign countries.  I refer to the Philippei, or coins bearing the names of Philip II King of Macedon, the extraordinary number of which that found their way to Rome may be seen stated in Livy.  Quincetius, returning in triumph from Greece, brought with him 14 515 Philippei; Scipio Asiaticus, after the conquest of Antiochus the Great, 140 000; M. Fulvius, on his triumph over AEtolians, 12 422; Cn. Manlius, having reduced the Gallograeci, 16 320.  If so enormous a sum was thus transferred to the treasury of Rome by the rapine of war, as stated by Livy alone, and that in a part of his writings wretchedly mutilated, what must have been the amount produced by private speculation, and by the commercial intercourse between the Romans and the Greeks?  What I have advanced respecting this employment of foreign money in Rome, receives remarkable confirmation from the expressions of Pompeius Festus "For the Romans were in the habit, even from the time of Romulus, of using foreign (ultramarinis) coins of stamped gold and silver; a fact proved both by public and private memoranda."  Laetantius relates, that the Sibyl demanded of Tarquinius Priscus three hundred Philippei for her Nine Books of Prophecy.-  I shall not stop to consider the absurd anachronism by which Tarquin and Philip are made contemporaneous.- Thus much the author, who in other matters was well enough informed, intended to convey, that when the Romans had no gold coinage of their own, they availed themselves of that of a foreign nation.  Consequently, if at so remote a period of their history, the Romans were well supplied with foreign money, how much greater an abundance of it must they have had at their command in after times, when the treasures of so many vanquished Kingdoms rolled into their city!" D.N.V. v. 37-42

 


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