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The Siliqua/Argentiolus denomination.

Magnus Maximus

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Although the name "Siliqua" as a coin denomination was documented in northern Italy in the 320s, there remains uncertainty about whether the silver coin commonly referred to in the latter half of the 4th century is indeed the same denomination. Indeed, there is not much known about the siliqua denomination at all, some internet sources state that the exchange rate was 24 siliqua to a solidus, however, was this a "pre-reform" or "post-reform" exchange rate?  The waters are even more murky by the fact that the copper coinage of the period seemed to fluctuate wildly in relation to the gold coinage, even in the same geographical area. Up until the 360's the prices seem to be noted in inflated denarius communis( a pound of meat in North Africa is reported to have sold for 175k D.C) and are of no value in helping to clear up the confusion. There is evidence to suggest that the value of silver coinage to the gold coinage was not fixed but fluctuated in relation to gold coinage, although these fluctuations were typically not as significant as those seen in copper coinage.

It appears that the possible name for the denomination from the later part of the 4th century was  "argentiolus." The term "argentiolus" can be traced back to 4th century Britain, with its earliest attestation found in a lead "curse" tablet.


We can infer from this that a solidus and six argentioli were considered a substantial amount as Muconius went to the trouble of buying a lead sheet to inscribe a curse aimed at the thief.

What we can definitively gather about this denomination is that it underwent devaluation in AD 357, dropping to a weight of 144 coins per Roman pound(2.25 grams), with a silver content ranging from 92% to 95%. Notably, Valentinian I and Valens took steps to boost the silver content in 368, raising it to approximately 97% to 98%. This change is denoted by the addition of "PS" on the reverse, signifying "pusulatum" or "refined."

The denomination doesn't seem to have been widely used in the economic system of the Eastern Roman Empire, as there are no large emissions after the reign of Valens; the coin seems to have functioned in a ceremonial role thereafter Valen's reign. In the West the denomination had more staying power, but was likely still relegated to payments/donatives to the army, payments to merchants supplying the state, and a store of value for the landed aristocracy. The last point can be deduced from the large amounts of silver coins in coin hoards from Roman estates in Britain in the early 5th century. 

In 387, the Italian mints, under Magnus Maximus's control, reduced the weight of the denomination to around 1.6 grams. Gresham's law would suggest that the lighter coins would outcompete the heavier ones, and the latter would be taken out of circulation. However, that is not what occurred, as we see hoard finds with a mixture of the weight standards decades after the weight reduction took place. This implies that the coins may have been traded for their silver bullion, with the light and heavy coins both used as specie.

The only time purchasing power is used for the denomination is in the works of Bury and Jones, where they deduced the payment of late Roman soldiers when compared to payment in kind, after taking into account the fluctuations between the gold and silver coinage. What they ultimately found was that a single siliqua or argentiolus was roughly equivalent to what it cost the state to support a late Roman soldier for half a day.

Regardless of what the proper name and place in the late Roman monetary system for the denomination was, they are readily plentiful for collectors to purchase today without breaking the bank.

Here is my latest purchase. 



Valens AR Siliqua/Argentiolus

2.25 grams

Trier mint

A.D. 364-378


And the coin in hand. 



Edited by Magnus Maximus
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This is the type of thread I like!  That's a very interesting new piece of information.  I'm going to bookmark this thread.

I've have very few Argentioli; one Magnus Maximus, one Arcadius (possibly issued by Eugenius), and a Valens. I think that's all.

I'm hoping to come across a decent, non-clipped Gratian or Valentinian II.

Oh, and Valentinian I.  His stock really went up in my book, after I learned about his pet bears.

Magnus Maximus is my favorite affordable issuer or Argentioli.

Edited by Nerosmyfavorite68
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1 hour ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

Majorian was pretty decent.  However, by then it was just too late to do anything.  The cumulative effects of Mursa, the Magnus Maximus war, and the Frigidus, in addition to systemic rot and the dominate, made the western empire pretty much doomed. 

As you said, Majorian was essentially trying to hold the Western Empire together with duct tape. The civil war of 388 was particularly bad as not only did the best units of the western Roman army get chewed up, but Theodosius I had the remainder of them transferred to the Eastern Roman Army after his victory. This coupled with the fact that the Western Empire simply couldn't replace it's losses meant that by the 5th century the Roman army was a shadow of it's former self. 

Edited by Magnus Maximus
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1 hour ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

Economic rot and the North Korean style police state also spelled doom.  Unless one has a great profession, who wants to have hereditary jobs?  Did the German tribes continue this practice?

Stuff like this does very much interest me.  I'm kind of pumped to know the possible real name of the Siliqua.

But we then run into the issue of the Eastern Roman empire being even more centralized and continuing to chug along just fine. A good theory I heard about why the West was disproportionately affected was due to it bearing the brunt of the Crisis of the 3rd century, and the trade routes of the West never really recovered. Just food for thought. 

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Thanks for all the information. If the term "argentiolus" ever becomes common, I'm afraid that it will be all too easy to confuse it with the (somewhat larger) AR argenteus. I don't know if that's a real ancient name for that denomination either.

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Etymologically, -ol- forms a diminutive. According to online lexicons argentiolus is an alternate spelling of argenteolus, the diminutive of the adjective argenteus. In context, (nummiargentioli would be "little silver (coins)".

Edited by DLTcoins
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What we normally call the (Diocletian) argenteus and the Constantinian siliqua were essentially the same denomination, at least the same weight at 1/96 lb (3.38g), with the argenteus tariffed at 1/24 aureus and the siliqua at 1/24 of Constantine's (lighter) solidus.

Constantine also introduce the miliarense at 1/72lb (4.51g), which circulated alongside his 1/96lb siliqua, so certainly during that time period it would have made sense to talk of the big and little silver coins, although the miliarense would be the big one (thus argenteus?) and the argenteus/siliqua would be the small ones (thus argentioli?). I guess bottom line is we really don't know what these were called at any given point in time!

Diocletian's aureus had changed in weight from introduction (1/70->1/60lb), as well as there being a heavy variant (1/50lb), so I wonder what the public perception of the aureus vs solidus was - did they really use different names for these during the time they co-circulated? (with Constantine's eastern co-emperors continuing to issue aureii alongside his solidii), or were these too more or less just "heavy and light gold coins" ?

I have to admit I'm still hazy on whether gold and silver coinage was always accepted at face value or treated as bullion and valued by weight. The weight control of the solidus was very tight, so it seems it would have been by face value, but nonetheless the high value and varying weights would have required weighing them. The weight control of the silver coinage was extremely sloppy, and there was a confusing array of denominations (light siiquae and heavy miliarense in addition to the "normal" ones), so one might guess (perhaps wrongly) that these would need to be treated as bullion (i.e. valued by weight).


Edited by Heliodromus
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Yes, the 4th century is a mess with regard to the names of the coin denominations and their place in the Roman economy. However, there seems to be sufficient evidence that silver did fluctuate in relation to the solidus. Interestingly, in the curse tablet, the man states the name of the solidus and argentiolus denominations, meaning that the official name for the denomination could have been "little silver coin", among the other names used. As weird as this may seem, there is evidence of the Roman state using such odd names in official documents. We also see this in an edict found in the Theodosian Code that states: "

We command that only the centenionalis 
nummus is to be handled in a public transaction, after the coining of the maior pecunia(bigger money)
has been discontinued. No one should therefore dare to exchange the decargyrus 
s for another coin, knowing that the coinage, if it can be detected in a private 
transaction, is to be vindicated to the fiscus.



Edited by Magnus Maximus
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