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A question about commerce in ancient times with "old money"


thenickelguy
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I got to wondering about these hoards we hear about.

Lets just use a hypothetical situation for example. There were no banks in days of old and I suppose people would bury coins in jars for a rainy day to keep them safe. Often times the coins in a ancient piggy bank were many of the same era and of a particular emperor. 

Were there instances where certain coins were not accepted because of who was on them or maybe because of weight and size differences?

What if somebody tried to buy something at market, or pay taxes with a hated or unfavorable emperors likeness from the past on a coin? Was this still acceptable or was the old money worthless? Would it be confiscated or melted down? Did it just continue to circulate and most didn't care who was on it?

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15 minutes ago, thenickelguy said:

Were there instances where certain coins were not accepted because of who was on them or maybe because of weight and size differences?

As far as I can tell, no, not in the market. Coins circulated for centuries if they contained enough precious metal to be worth something (and people weren't incentivised to melt them down). In the cases they were not accepted, it was because they were not silver and the authorities wouldn't allow or accept them - and they just had to demonetise them to achieve that. Magnentius's coins disappeared very quickly after he was defeated. Conversely, late Roman siliquae lasted well into Saxon times.

Edited by John Conduitt
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There are believed to have been several demonetizations of the Roman bronze coinage in the course of the 4th century. Here is one example, a law preserved in the Codex Theodosianus (9:23:2):

"Emperors Arcadius and Honorius Augusti to Dexter, Praetorian Prefect. We command that the centenionalis shall be the only coin handled in public use and that the minting of larger money shall be abolished. No person, therefore, shall dare to exchange the decargyrus for another coin, and he shall know that the aforesaid money, which can be seized if found in public use, will be vindicated to the fisc. Given on the day before the ides of April at Milan in the year of the consulship of Olybrius and Probinus (April 12, 395)."

Note that the decargyrus is not exchangeable, it is simply prohibited from the date of the edict and liable to confiscation. Here centenionalis refers to the Theodosian AE4 and decargyrus to the contemporary AE2.

 

 

Edited by DLTcoins
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I think that the centenionalis of 395+ was actually the AE3. While AE2s were discontinued and confiscated by the state (when they got hold of them) in 395, the AE3 was minted in different types to the 400s.

Another adjacent discussion that touched upon on another thread last week is the fact that in some areas the citizens were fond of the AE2 and continued to use it after 395, and when by the 400s the official AE2 became scarce and/or got hoarded, local ad-hoc mints filled the gap with the preferred module. 

That was in the West and possibly on the Rhine, while in the East there would be no new AE2 until the local Cherson issues after 425.

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To quote Vespasian, 'Money doesn't stink'. As long as the coin is gold or silver with good purity, it will transcend empires and cultures. Take these gold Aureus of Augustus, Caligula, and Nero found in Pudukottai (Pandya kingdom) of the Tamil region from trading with the Romans, now reside at the British museum. They could've made the test cut anywhere on the coin, but the consistent placement of the slash right across the face definitely denote that these emperors did not have any control over the land that the coins were used for local trade.

roman.png.df9cea8a9ca8b1666c49e35486fd1828.png

This coin from the same region was one step ahead in that they copied Roman coins, the coin itself probably melted from Roman denarii, but placed the name of their own king. I don't own this coin, as it's one of two types known. This one shows the Chera king, Kuttuvan Kotai.

chera.jpg.676b9ca1b84e0598cb010c46ccade1ef.jpg

However I do own this example, an imitative of late Roman bronze from Sri Lanka, the reverse was probably copied from a cross, however we see a Swastika, an auspicious symbol for the Hindu/Buddhist religions. Here we see the locals taking in the Roman culture, however they knew to separate the religion! It weighs 0.82 g, on the right is the official Theodosius coin. 

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So unlike modern age where we have to trust the government issued fiat tokens, ancient people believed in the inherent value of the metal, so it didn't matter to them who the coin portrays. 

Edited by JayAg47
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Interesting question. I think after the time of Theodosius, who may have ceased minting AE2s of the emperor on galley type, note that Arcadius and Honorius resumed minting them in the 5 gram to 6 gram range. However after their reigns only AE3/AE4's were struck.

Arcadius, A.D. 395-408

AE22, 5.7 grams, Antioch mint

Obverse: D N ARCADI-VS P F AVG
Rosette-diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Reverse: GLORIA ROMANORVM
Emperor standing facing, head right, holding standard and globe

Mintmark: ANT

Reference: RIC IX Antioch 68C, pg. 294



[IMG]

[IMG]

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The GLORIA ROMANORVM AE2 ends soon after the death of Theodosius in 395. There is in fact only one issue known to be post-Theodosius, and that is a Honorius with a break in the obverse legend (marking him as a senior emperor). The rarity of indicates a very brief issue and soon after that same year the AE2 is discontinued and recalled from use.

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Great question!  I need answers nearly as much as you do, but I do have a few unrelated, but I hope fascinating, tidbits for you.

1. On my bookshelf I have John Melville-Jones's A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins; I do not have any such resource yet for the Roman side, so hopefully others can fill in the gap there.

Here is the entry for "demonetize":

Quote

To declare a currency no longer legal tender.  Since most ancient Greek coins in the precious metals were, we believe, tariffed at or about their metallic value, the demonetising of coinage was a rare phenomenon. The best known example of its occurring is at Athens where, after the Peloponnesian War, the emergency coinage of bronze[-]plated silver, which had been issued in 406 BC was declared no longer current.  This, of course, must have been tariffed at a figure well above its value as metal.

2. On the Bactrian and Indo-Greek side of things, the Pleripus of the Erythraean Sea mentions the longevity and acceptance of Indo-Greek coins in the city of Barygaza in India nearly two centuries after the death of Menander I Soter:

Quote

To the present day ancient drachmae are current in Barygaza, coming from this country, bearing inscriptions in Greek letters, and the devices of those who reigned after Alexander, Apollodorus [sic] and Menander.

3. After years of searching, I lucked out a few weeks ago and found the only copy advertised anywhere in the world--as far as I can see, of John Melville-Jones's Testimonia Numaria, Vol. 1: Texts and Translations, which now joins its much more common companion volume 2 on my shelf.  Well, technically, it's on my lap as write this!  Anyway, on page 37, he cites Aristotle, who wrote in his Economics, II, ii, 4:

Quote

He [i.e. Hippias, tyrant of Athens] also made the coinage existing among the Athenians no longer current, and after fixing a price ordered them to bring it to him; and after they had come together for the purpose of striking another charakter (?type[sic]), he gave out the same silver.

4. In one of my all-time favourite passages relating to numismatics, Aristophanes in his work Frogs has his chorus complain:

Quote

We have often thought that the same thing has happened

to the city, in respect of the good and fine men among its citizens,

as happened with the old coinage and the new gold.

We do not make use of these coins, not counterfeit

but the fairest, as it seems, of all, and the only ones

struck well and ringing true among the Greeks

and the barbarians everywhere, but (we use)

these wicked little bronzes, struck yesterday

and the day before with the worst possible striking.

Somebody wasn't happy about the newfangled, low-quality, fiat currency! 

I have always wondered what he was complaining about since I've never heard of Athenian bronze coins from this time.  However, in his commentary volume, Melville-Jones indicates that the most likely interpretation of these lines is in regards to the emergency silver-plated bronze coins mentioned above.

5. Aristophanes has more to say in his play Ecclesiazusae, which references the demonetization of the emergency issue coins:

Quote

[Citizen A: ]Do you remember when we voted for those

bronzes? [Citizen B:] Yes, and that striking was

a bad one for me. I was selling grapes, 

and had gone off with my mouth full of bronzes,

and went to the market for barley meal.

Then, just as I was holding my bag out,

the herald bellowed that no one was to use 

bronze in future; 'For now we use silver.'

6. There is also an apocryphal story related by Plutarch regarding the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus, who was said to have prohibited the use of coinage in precious metals, substituting in their place a currency of iron.  Melville-Jones speculates that this might be referring to roasting-spits.  However, he also says that "the tone of these excerpts is moralising, and the story should be regarded as an invention."

If it was a story rather than history, it was certainly a well-known one, since Justin and others also bear witness to it (from The Epitome of Pompeius Trogus):

Quote

[Lycurgus] ordered single purchases to be made by exchange of goods, not money.  He abolished the use of gold and silver, as being the root of all evils.

--

I hope someone will fill us in on the Roman side of things--especially in regards to whether ordinary bronze coins were ever demonetized (in addition to DLTcoins's excellent example).

Edited by NathanB
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