Money History
The Roman World

Like in most ancient civilizations, barter system was the mode of trade in primeval Rome where cattle and sheep were treated as wealth. In fact, sheep and cattle were money for the early Romans. Hence, it is little surprising to know that 'pecunia', the Latin term for money, was derived from the term 'pecus' denoting cattle. According to historians, although it is possible that like in other parts of the world, the ancient Romans too expressed the worth of certain things with regards to cattle head count, but they do not think that the Romans used the cattle and sheep for recompensing for products or services. In fact, there is enough proof of the fact that the ancient Romans as well as the natives of Italy together with the Etruscans used bronze ingots weighed by their mass as money. As bronze was a comparatively inexpensive metal, large quantities of it were required during any transaction or making any payments.

According to records maintained by Livy, a historian who lived during the first century B.C., during the initial days of the Roman Republic, senators carrying cartloads of bronze or wealth for any transaction or making payments was a very common sight - in fact it was a convention. Actually, the initial roughcast bronze chunks presently known as aes rude or 'crude bronze' and the bronze/ iron casting called 'ramo secco' bocks or the 'dry branch' bar bearing crude designs that look like a branch dates back to this period of Roman history. However, neither the 'aes rude' or 'ramo secco' were original Roman currency. While the 'ramo secco' was used as a currency in the extreme northern regions of Italy, for the Romans the 'ramo secco' was a precious type of bullion. Nevertheless, the early Romans made no effort whatsoever to produce these bronze blocks in regular and specific weights, but simply hacked them into lesser portions while carrying out any transaction.

Many would wonder that if the crude bronze blocks were not made into standardized weights, how the early Romans could have actually used such large bullions. We come to learn from the pieces of the ancient legal codes framed around 450 B.C. known as the 'Twelve Tables' and still in existence that the punishment or penalty for different offences were evaluated and paid in terms of bronze weighed by scales. Historians are of the view that it was around the same time that the early Roman society was divided into classes based on the wealth (bronze ingots) possessed by individuals and it was calculated by weight. Some time between the period 400 B.C. and 340 B.C., the Romans introduced the system of paying 'stipendium' denoting 'a specific amount in weight' to their army. It is assumed that the Romans used different measures of bronze and possibly bronze itself to pay their soldiers. Here, it may be presumed that if the state authorities made payments in bronze, they must have also earned or collected the metal in some form or the other. Hence, it is very likely that the taxes or 'tributum' were also evaluated and collected in terms of different bronze measures.

It may be mentioned here that the most primeval Roman coins belonging to approximately 300 B.C. comprised of two very dissimilar and actually distinct factors - bronze and silver. While a part of the Roman coinage of the period was in the form of bronze ingots and weighty discs manufactured in 47 indigenous Italian conventions, the other part constituted of coins struck in bronze and silver. The coins that were struck in bronze and silver were directly based on the prototypes of the Greek coinage manufactured in the southern regions of Italy. Historians are of the opinion that some of the Roman coins of the era may have even been manufactured in a Greek city, most possibly Neapolis now known as Naples. Although the coins have been manufactured in the Greek city, it is possible to identity them as Roman owing to the Latin note 'Romano' denoting 'of the Romans' inscribed on them. Apart from the Latin inscription, the Roman coins manufactured in Greece are precise replica of the contemporary Greek coins - so much so that their pattern, standard of weight, the degree of immaculacy of the silver used and even the manufacturing procedure were all identical. The Romans not only borrowed concept of the silver and bronze coins from the Greeks, but even the heavy bronze ingots and discs used by them as coinage owed much to the figurative concepts of the Greeks. In fact, the Romans directly copied the figurines of dolphins or tripods on the bronze ingots and discs from the Greek coins of that era.

All the developments in the Roman coinage - replicating Greek coins, espousing the Greek concept of coinage as well as Hellenisation or transforming an Italian variety of money into Greek style - happened during the same period when Rome was fast emerging as a major force in the Mediterranean region. The Romans virtually dominated the entire region when they were triumphant in fending off the forays of the powerful Greek king called Pyrrhus who ruled between 280 B.C. and 275 B.C. They emerged more powerful and began controlling the vast areas in western Mediterranean following their triumph over Carthage in two prolonged wars - one lasting from 264 B.C. to 241 B.C. and the second one, also well known as the war against Hannibal from 218 B.C. to 201 B.C. That the Romans adopted the Greek concepts in their coinage does not come as a surprise considering the fact that during that period everything of the Romans, including their art, culture, architecture and even religion, was influenced by numerous foreign powers, especially the Greeks. Hence, when the Romans stepped into the 'developed' world with the Greek way of life, it was considered to be the extreme Hellenisation or spread of the Greek culture. So much so, that the Romans even copied the Greek coinage.

Almost a hundred years after these developments took place, the Romans were rather compelled to undertake a restructuring of their fiscal system around 212 B.C. The reform was basically forced upon the Romans owing to extraordinary pecuniary requirements faced by the state in the wake of the prolonged wars against the Carthaginians during the regime of Hannibal. As a result of the new demands, the state abandoned the use of the heavy bronze ingots and discs as money and founded a new coinage system that only comprised of silver and bronze coins modeled on the Greek prototype. Following the reform of the monetary system, bronze coins called 'as' and silver coins known as 'denarius' - named so as it possessed the value of 10 asses. The authorities maintained a permanent link between the asses and denarius for nearly four centuries until the value of the denarius was hiked to be equal to 16 asses around 140 B.C.

Currency in the Roman world

With the passage of time, usage of coins had become a regular aspect in most of the areas under the possession or subjugation of the Romans, particularly the regions in the Mediterranean. However, this did not mean that there was a uniform monetary system in all the provinces ruled by the Romans or under their domination. As the Romans conquered newer regions and expanded their power and influence, the denarius, the first silver coin following the reform of the Roman monetary system, came to exist as one among the several silver coins prevailing in the provinces ruled or dominated by them. Different types of silver coins were already in circulation in the new regions conquered by the Romans and adopting a very practical stand, permitting them to continue with the usage of their existing coins even after subjugating those provinces. In fact, it had been a feature of the Romans' outlook to allow the existence of a multi-cultural system. Their attitude was to not interfere with the existing cultures and traditions of the regions they subjugated or annexed to their empire. There have been several instances when the Romans have integrated the cultures and traditions of the regions conquered by them, rather than enforcing their own systems on the subjugated or acquired provinces.

The attitude of the Romans was the same when it came to government and fiscal matters. Hence, it is little surprising that even after conquering a province, the Romans allowed the continuation of the prevailing monetary system, including the taxation arrangement, in those lands along with the co-existence of the local coinage along with the Roman currency. There are at least two specific instances when the Romans not only maintained, but brought into circulation gainful monetary systems that were closed and used by the former rulers of the provinces they had conquered. In this case a profitable monetary system or coinage denotes striking coins with less silver content than that was usual in the Roman fiscal arrangement. For instance, Pergamum, an Asian kingdom conquered by the Romans in 133 B.C., and the territory of Egypt subjugated during the reign of Octavian, better known in history as Augustus, in 30 B.C. continued minting coins that contained less silver proportion than that was prevalent during the Roman monetary system. In fact, in both these instances, the silver coins contained lesser amount of the metal compared to other silver coins in circulation in the neighbouring areas. Since this proved to be gainful, the Romans allowed the system to continue even after acquiring the regions.

It is interesting to note that prior to the Roman subjugation, the rulers of Pergamum and Egypt made it specific that their coins were only meant to be circulated within their respective territories and these coins were not circulated outside their kingdoms as they were very light and contained less quantity of silver. Nevertheless, the governments in both the provinces made substantial profits as it was mandatory for all traders to change their coins with the coins of Pergamum and Egypt when they entered or left these kingdoms. Being very pragmatic people, the Romans did not make any endeavour to alter this profitable arrangement even after they acquired these provinces on the pretext of establishing a superficial uniformity of coins throughout their empire. Maintaining the existing state of affairs vis-à-vis the monetary systems in the territories conquered by them is only one aspect of the ancient Roman rulers. At times or in acute situations, the Romans have also been found to be vigorously involved in implementing their own systems in the acquired provinces. For instance, following their victory in the third and final war against Carthage in 146 B.C., the  Roman ruler raised a popular catchphrase 'delenda est Carthago' denoting 'Destroy Carthage'. Provoked by such a stimulating slogan, the Romans vigorously flattened the city and eliminated their coinage system not only by taking the Carthage coins out of circulation, but also melting down the coins representing the authority and prosperity of the Carthaginians that has been a major basis for the Romans' problems and miseries for more than a hundred years.

Prosperity and fraud

Although initially an extensive variety of currencies prevailed in various regions of the Roman Empire, after a stage they ultimately disintegrated leaving only a few monetary systems in circulation. Interestingly, the erosion of the majority of the monetary systems was not a fall-out of any government move, but a result of massive drainage of precious metals from the newly conquered or subjugated regions to Rome. Initially, the victorious Romans carried huge amounts of booty in the form of precious metals from the acquired provinces; afterwards they collected massive amounts of money by imposing heavy taxes. For instance, following their major victories in prolonged wars in the second and first centuries B.C., the Romans hauled out massive and unprecedented amounts of booty from the provinces acquired in the eastern parts of Greece. In fact, the pillage was of such great extent that Romans had never ever witnessed something like this.

After the Romans conquered the Samnites following a key war in Italy in 293 B.C., the Romans collected booty to the tune of 1,830 pounds (approximately 830 kg) of silver, which was considered to be a huge amount in those early days. However, this booty was peanuts compared to the pillage accumulated by the Romans when they conquered the Macedonian kingdom around 120 years later. This is because following the acquisition of Macedon in 167 B.C., the Romans gained booty worth 75 million denarii that was approximately around a million pounds or 453,000 kg of silver! Although the booty acquired from Macedon was enormous by any account, two things need to be mentioned in this connection. While Macedon was not among the richest kingdoms in the Greek world, the Romans had conquered even more prosperous lands later. By the turn of the second century B.C., the Romans' wealth had multiplied several times primarily owing to accumulation of vast riches gained as booty after winning different wars. On the other hand, the flood of riches from the provinces to Rome had virtually ruined the fiscal systems of these regions. This was especially regarding the drainage of the precious metals and consequently soon there was a time when silver became a scarce metal, so much so that there was not sufficient supply of the metal to even strike coins.

As a consequence, apart from the capital city of Rome, silver coins virtually vanished from all the provinces under the subjugation of the Romans. Although Athens managed to protect its abundant silver currency during the Romans' conquest of Greece in 146 B.C., these coinages too progressively faded away sometime around the middle of the first century B.C. When Julius Caesar conquered Gaul around 50s B.C., this prosperous Greek province was not only completely deprived of all its gold stockpiles, but even the circulation of gold coins in the region was put to an end. Although silver coinage managed to endure the onslaught of the Roman conquest, it too became extinct after another generation. On a whole even the prosperous Greek cities in Asia Minor or Anatolia (south-western Asia that forms the Asian part of Turkey now) under the Roman subjugation put an end to manufacturing silver coins. On the other hand, numerous regions carried on circulating bronze coins till the third century B.C. Most of these bronze coins carried stamps or engravings that illustrated the local community's distinctiveness.

It is interesting to note that from time to time some Roman rulers passed laws with a view to restrict the amount of currency that one could spend on extravagance or plush livelihood. However, such regulations seldom yielded the desired results as people never adhered by them. According to records maintained by Pliny, the Romans were spending more than 25 million denarii annually to acquire luxurious items from far away lands such as India, China and Arabia. Although it is difficult to ascertain how far such observations are true, but it is a fact that Roman coinage from the era have been found in many parts of India. In fact, a recently found tax receipt from a ship that plied between India and the Mediterranean region through the Red Sea carrying commodities during the Roman era hints that the Romans' expenditure on luxurious living could be much higher that what has been recorded by Pliny.

In addition to recording the lavish expenditures made by the Roman aristocracy, Pliny has also written on several other issues. In one such writing, Pliny mentions that Marcus Crassus, a contemporary as well as a rival to Julius Caesar and Pompey often articulated that a person could not be called rich enough unless he could sustain a multitude with his or her personal earnings. The utterances of Marcus Crassus are said to be significant as he seems to have made an oblique reference to the connection between possessing money and military authority. In fact, this is said to have had a remarkable consequence on the Roman Republic's history in the first century B.C. History shows that the Romans were extremely erroneous when they endeavoured to advocate a picture that their forefathers had lead a simple and economical life. Nevertheless, the Romans were right in recognizing the effect of the newly acquired riches on their community's social and political way of life. Money had corrupted the Romans' life to such an extent that the politicians of the Republic borrowed large amounts to assume public posts with the hope that they will make even more money if they could hold the position of a magistrate for a year.

Records from the ancient Roman era enable us to learn that only Julius Caesar had a debt of more than 25 million denarii around 61 B.C. The debt was enormous, but Julius Caesar managed to make up for it with the booty he collected after conquering Gaul in the 50s B.C. The huge inflow of money into Rome and large-scale borrowings by the politicians and aristocracy were the primary reasons for the banking and money-lending businesses to flourish in the ancient Republic. In fact, money lending was believed to have been of great political significance in Rome of this era. History of Rome of this period clearly states that money had the capacity to acquire political power as well as sustain the expenses of an army that could help in taking hold of complete authority. Hence, it is not surprising to find that emperor Augustus, who emerged as the ultimate vanquisher in the civil wars that brought the downfall of the Roman Republic between the period 40s B.C. and 50s B.C., turned out to the unrivalled wealthiest person in the empire and was competent of doling out economic support and charities anywhere in the Roman territory.

We come to learn from emperor Augustus' biography that has been found inscribed on plaques that the total amount he has spent through donations to the government treasury, to the Roman public as well as recompense the soldiers relieved of their duty adds up to a whopping 600 million denarii. This indeed was a enormous amount that emperor Augustus could not have spent if he did not have access to the riches of the entire Roman Empire. In fact, Emperor Augustus set a new trend in Rome whereby no one else could match up with the riches of the Roman emperors and this is supposed to be the key to the successive emperors' supremacy. Now, the amount of wealth accessible to the aristocracy in Rome augmented manifold so much so that unless someone succeeded in accumulating money equal to the proportions of an emperor and convert the free Roman Republic into a kingdom.

The Empire

The new currency issued in the Roman Empire demonstrated a fresh regal approach vis-à-vis the coinage system. Unlike in the late Roman Republic, coins no longer carried the name of the elected financial magistrates, but each coin had either the emperor's portrait or that of any of his close family member. The new measure conveyed a blatant note to everyone who came in contact with the coins and they were constantly reminded that they belonged to the Roman Empire. A story contained in St. Mark's Gospel provides us with some idea regarding the influence created by the introduction of the new monetary system in the Roman Empire. According to the story, when some Pharisees want to know from Jesus the identities of the people trying to trap him and whether it was lawful for the Jews, who had never acknowledged the authority of the Roman rule, to do so, Jesus asked them to bring him a coin to have a look at it. When the Pharisees brought him one coin, Jesus asked them whose head portrait was marked on the coin and also inquired about the inscriptions on it. When the Pharisees pointed out that the head portrait on the coin belonged to Julius Caesar, Jesus is said to have told them that attribute all things that belong to Caesar to him, and deliver everything to God that belongs to God!

Although the coinage system underwent an elementary transformation under imperial Rome, it needs to be mentioned that the basic principles of the coinage patterns more or less remained unchanged from what was prevalent during the Republic era. While the Romans carried on striking their main coin, the silver denarius, in the original shape, size and weight, the bronze coins that were taken off from circulation during the first century B.C. were now renewed in a new variety. As far as the use of metals to strike coins is concerned, the coinage system also underwent another significant change during this period. While the asses were now manufactured with copper, and sestertii that was earlier made from silver, was now produced in brass. On the other hand, gold coins had already become an integral part of the Roman Empire and the new form gold coins were known as aureus and they were levied at denarii.

According to historians, production of the new high worth coins during imperial Rome perhaps suggests the beginning of Emperor Augustus' golden era of harmony, affluence and the rule of the law. In addition, with the striking of the new coins, more quantity of currency came into circulation throughout the Roman Empire. Some of the coins of the imperial Roman era belonging to the Pompeii city that was obliterated by a flare-up of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that were discovered recently prove that the gold coins in use during the period were more than twice the weight of the silver coins and the base metal together. And if you consider the value of the coins belonging to Pompeii, they were equivalent to 2,312 sestertii in base metal, 22,302 sestertii in silver and 54,800 sestertii in gold.

Along with the augmentation in the range of the Roman financial system and currency manufacture, the area of the circulation of the coins too increased. Even before the rise of the Romans, the use of coins was regular in the Mediterranean region primarily owing to the authority of the Greeks and the Carthaginians. In fact, inhabitants of northern Europe, especially Britain, also used coins much before these lands were conquered by the Romans. Notwithstanding this, the use of coins increased extensively across the Roman Empire, especially the continental areas, and the Roman army was the chief facilitating factor in this regard. According to a letter inscribed on wood piece dating back to the initial period of the second century A.D. recently discovered from the Vindolanda fort adjacent to the Hadrian's Wall along the boundary of the Roman Empire, offers a stunning account of how the soldiers of the Roman army were engaged in a lucrative business with the coins of the era. It can easily be guessed that the business dealing carried on by the Roman soldiers included the exchange of substantial quantity of the Roman coins.

The use of coins had become so essential and extensive in the functioning of the regional financial systems in Gaul as well as Britain that the provinces suffered a spate of forgeries whenever there was an acute shortage of the coins issued officially during the rule of Claudius between 41 A.D. and 54 A.D. and several times again during the 270s A.D., the 340s A.D. and the 350s A.D. In fact, it is possible that such counterfeit usually of coins of lesser denominations have duped several people. People forging currency took advantage of the situation arising out of the inadequate supply of coins from the government mints and in a way helped to fulfill the increasing demand for coins in the regional financial systems of the Roman Empire.

Currency and inflation

Around the middle of the third century A.D., Britain witnessed a surge in the circulation of coins and this was to some extent made possible owing to a profound augmentation in coin manufacture during that period. The increase in coin production was also associated as well as assisted by a drastic decrease in the quality of the period's silver coinage. It may be mentioned here that the coinage system founded on the silver denarius had been consistent for over four hundred years. However, the quantity of silver in the coinage had deteriorated regularly, but progressively and all the time from the sovereignty of Nero, who ruled between 54 A.D. and 68 A.D., and afterwards. The trend continued till the middle of 260s A.D. when the Roman Empire introduced a new silver coin known as the radiate that substituted the denarius. While the radiate was worth double the value of the denarius, it included only a maximum of two to three per cent silver. During the reign of emperor Tetricus, who ruled in Britain and France from 271 A.D. to 274 A.D., the value as well as the metal content of the radiate touched its nadir. During this period the radiate hardly contained 0.5 per cent of silver and was cheap to manufacture. As a result of these factors, the radiate was manufactured in huge amount during this period.

It may be mentioned here that the diminished silver supply was to a large extent responsible for the remarkable degradation of the silver coins during the third century A.D. It is possible that the diminishing reserves in some of the silver mines in Spain were to some extent responsible for the decline in supply of the metal. It is believed that one aggravating issues for the deterioration in the standard of the silver coins of the era could have been the mounting pressure on the resources of the empire owing to the relentless wars along the frontiers. Earlier, the Romans perpetuated wars on the neighboring as well as far away kingdoms with a view to acquire booty and also subjugation. Now, several nomadic and uncivilized groups attacked and attempted to conquer several affluent and bordering regions of the Roman Empire. Hence, the Romans were now in constant wars, this drained huge resources from the state's coffers.

As a result of these wars, the already dilapidated stock of silver diminished further with the increase in coin production. Eventually, these led to a fall in the value of the Roman coinage and escalating costs. In other word, the rapid drainage of the state reserves and scarcity of supply of silver led to an inflation throughout the Roman Empire. Owing to the rising inflation, producing bronze coins of lesser denominations became too expensive and soon the state stopped producing them during the rule of Gallienus sometime between 253 A.D. and 68 A.D. much like the British doing away with the farthing and half-penny from their monetary system around the second half of the twentieth century. While the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire followed the same process and removed all bronze coinage from their fiscal system, even the gold coinage was knocked off balance. Henceforth, the gold coins produced by the Romans were not only found in inconsistent weights as well as inferior quality metal. Moreover, the previous link between the gold and silver coinage, like in the instance of the denarius and the sestertii, seemed to have collapsed during this period.

It is important to note that the scarcity of resources and the unvarying hostilities not only had an impact on the Roman monetary system, but also tore the Roman social and political fabric apart. Soon, several provinces of the vast Roman Empire, which were annexed through conquests at different periods of time, fell apart or declared their independence. For instance, Britain, Spain and Gaul in the western part of the Roman Empire came under the subjugation of the dissenting 'Romano-Gallic' rulers for almost 15 years between 260 A.D. and 274 A.D. On the other hand, the Palmyrene monarchs such as Odenathus, Vabalathus and Zenobia captured entire areas of Egypt and Syria between the period 261 A.D. and 271 A.D. in the eastern part of the erstwhile Roman Empire.

Finally, the Roman Empire was salvaged by the dynamic ruler Aurelian, who ruled between 270 A.D. and 275 A.D. Nevertheless, the fundamental predicaments of the Roman Empire were so much that it was not possible for an individual to administer the affairs efficiently and hence, Diocletian, who reigned from 284 A.D. to 305 A.D., established the concept of introducing a panel of co-emperors. In effect, Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into two regions - the eastern and western regions. In addition, he set up a hypothetical arrangement whereby each half of the empire would have two superior monarchs and they would be assisted by two second-in-commands who would eventually succeed the senior rulers. As expected, this concept of 'joint administration' floated by Diocletian was not officially successful till he quit from power. The concept even failed when Constantine the Great proved himself to be the supreme ruler of the Roman Empire following a series of civil wars between 306 A.D. and 337 A.D. It is interesting to note, that concept of having several co-administrators finally became a firm reality with the splitting up of the empire into two halves in 395 A.D.

In their effort to salvage the empire from disintegration, two Roman emperors Aurelian and Diocletian not only made an effort to streamline the problems confronted on the military front, but also made attempts to tackle with the financial and administrative issues of the state. While Emperor Diocletian persisted with the re-organization of the different provinces of the empire, a process that had started in the third century A.D. itself, together both the emperors tried their best to transform the existing coinage system. Although history does not mention in detail how these rulers ventured to accomplish their task, it can well be assumed that they had decided to liberate the value of the gold coins from the inferior quality as well as devalued silver coins. As mentioned earlier, at some point in time during the third century A.D., perhaps during reign of Gallienus or Aurelian, the preset correlation between the gold coins with other currencies of the Roman Empire came to an end. Instead, the gold coins of the era were valued according to their weight or the metal content in the currency.

In fact, such a system existed even during the reign of Diocletian, who had issued a Price Edict that specified that the price or value of gold should be considered the same whether the metal is in coin form or ingots. Thus, the 'inconsistency' of the gold coins proved to have extensive results vis-à-vis the use of money in the Roman Empire because eventually the gold currency lost its face value and was used as bullion. We learn from the still surviving records maintained on papyri in Egypt of the fourth century A.D. that the value or price of the gold as well as their relationship with the other base-metal coins of the Roman Empire changed frequently - so much so that every month there was a new valuation.

The later Roman Empire

As gold in any form - coinage or bullion - virtually came to possess the same value on the basis of their weight, we find that even gold and other precious plates and jewellery were used to a greater extent as a form of money in Rome from around the middle of the third century A.D. It is interesting to note that henceforth gold coins came to be treated as any other precious metal since the worth of gold coins was now determined only by their weight and the prevailing price of the metal in the market. In brief, like gold, now all other precious metals too had monetary functions. Apart from written records from the period, some of the objects made of precious metals that possessed monetary functions even exist to this day. One such object, a silver plate bearing a message celebrating the completion of ten years of being in power by emperor Licinius, who ruled from 308 A.D. to 324 A.D., can still be found in the British Museum. This silver plate was possibly gifted to a senior official of the Roman Empire of that era on that event. Moreover, stockpiles of precious-metal coins of the era unearthed later include jewellery and plates, which hint that in addition to the original gold coins, such precious items were commonly used as money. It is interesting to note that even gold and silver medals possibly presented by the emperors on occasions of their anniversary or for valiancy in wars were another aspect of the Roman coinage, especially during the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.

The gold coins in circulation in the Roman Empire were subject to inflation from the period their worth became reliant on the cost of bullion. As the gold coins were now dependent on bullion, their prices could also rise and fall in the market and they lost their fixed valuation. This process gathered momentum sometime during the concluding part of the fourth century A.D. and continued in the fourth century A.D. as well. It may be presumed from the prevailing circumstances that the widespread inflation led to substantial financial and social miseries throughout the Roman Empire.

From the records available from the ancient Roman era, it is evident that the inflation had a two-fold impact on the region's economy. While the inflation was caused partially owing to the modifications in the character of the currency system, the inflation also had grave repercussions on the coinage system. The gold coinage, however, did not come under its purview owing to its suspending worth depending on the bullion. Nevertheless, the state continued producing gold coins as before, but their worth vis-à-vis the denarii and also in context of the numbers of coins made from metals of inferior value increased a great deal. It may be noted here that during this period, the denarii was no more the name of an actual currency, but had become an element of computation.

The Roman rulers of the era adopted numerous measures to salvage the coinage made from base-metal, but almost all these efforts proved to be futile. From the pieces of inscriptions from 301 A.D., we learn that efforts were made to save the base-metal coinage by decreasing their weight and enhancing the value, but none of these approaches proved to be effective for over a year. During the fourth century A.D., the Roman rulers undertook basic reforms of their monetary system too often primarily with a view to salvage their financial set-up. Some of these reforms included withdrawing all base-metal coinage from circulation and then introducing a new coinage system in its place. However, these efforts and experiments with the coinage system failed to yield the desired results as every time a new coinage system was introduced, it gave in to inflation.

All these notwithstanding, the later period of the Roman Empire also witnessed the most extensive and forceful use of coins in comparison to the entire Roman history. However, the coins did not have any significant function in the western regions of Europe till the nineteenth century. In the meantime, the Roman financial system had internally become sharply divided incapacitating the state from preserving a connection between the vastly prized gold coins and the nominal coins made with base-metal. It is presumed that in the Roman Empire the circulation of gold coins was limited among the more affluent class of people. This signifies that there was a severe lack of internal consistency in the essential part of the regal government.

Continuity and change

There was an absolute absence of any unity between the affluent and the deprived sections of populace in the western regions of the Roman Empire and this aspect resulted to the erosion of the state's authority and the collapse of the empire in the western part. On the other hand, the Greek provinces in the eastern part of the Roman Empire were more established both economically and in the social context and were able to endure the Roman rule that later came to be recognized as the Byzantine Empire. The reform of the base-metal coins following the pandemonium prevailing during the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. by Emperor Anastasius, who reigned between 491 A.D. and 518 A.D., is considered to be a significant defining moment in the history of the Roman coinage history. Emperor Anastasius' thorough monetary management helped him to leave behind an additional 320,000 Roman pounds of gold in the imperial treasury before at the time of his death. In fact, to a great extent, Emperor Anastasius was responsible for setting up a concrete base for the security of the empire's future.

Contrarily, the arrangement of the social order in the western part of the Roman Empire had undergone a fundamental transformation during the third and fourth centuries A.D. While the status of the towns and cities deteriorated rapidly owing to scarcity of resources and inflation, the rich and aristocracy withdrew to their country houses and estates in the countryside. The aristocracy had by now completely shunned the public life as well as the security of the empire. By this time, money was available only to a privileged few and even the Christian Church carried off a chunk of the existing wealth from the society. Unfortunately, the affluent members of the Christian community chose to invest their money in churches, abbeys and monasteries rather than spending on buildings for public utility or offer charities to their poor country men. It is pertinent to mention here that the desertion of the civilian traditions of the Romans in the kingdoms that emerged after the fall of the Roman Empire in the western part was foreseen much before the actual collapse of the empire in the west.

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