Been There, Done That
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Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote about a financial crisis that was afflicting Rome during the 1st century BCE.
In his essay, he described the crisis as one where “the coinage was being tossed around so that no one was able to know what he had.”
Historians questioned what Cicero was referring to but a new study found that Rome was experiencing a devaluing of its currency at the time, Heritage Daily reported.
Researchers conducted a metallurgical analysis on ancient Roman coins as part of a five-year project that looked into Mediterranean states’ economies between 200 BCE and 64 CE.
Their findings revealed a monetary devaluation in which pure silver coins from before 90 BCE were chopped with up to 10 percent copper only five years later. During this period, Rome was about to go bankrupt due to wars in Italy that led to a debt crisis.
The research team noted that financial difficulties during this period resulted in the relaxation of standards at the mint. The silver content of the coins fell in two stages so that by 87 BCE, the coinage was mixed with five to 10 percent copper.
“The Romans had been used to an extremely fine silver coinage, so they may well have lost confidence in the denarius when it ceased to be pure,” said co-researcher Matthew Ponting. “The precise level of debasement might have been less important to contemporaries than the mere realization that the coin was adulterated and no longer made of true ‘silver.’”