Currency Reform In Ancient Rome

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Peter Earle via The Adam Smith Institute

Currency Reform In Ancient Rome

In the Western world, modern civilizations are often thought of in comparison to those of the ancient world. The Roman Empire is typically the first considered, and arguably the most natural reference point owing to its many achievements, complexity and durability. It stands in history, widely considered the high water mark of the ancient world; one against which contemporary political, economic and social questions can be posed. Much of the world is still living with the consequences of Roman policy choices in a very real sense, in matters ranging from the location of cities to commercial and legal practices to customs.

The global economic downturn of 2008, in particular its monetary facet, readily invites comparison between the troubles of the modern world and those of the Roman Empire; just as Western currencies have declined precipitously in value since their commodity backing was removed in stages starting roughly a century ago, Roman currencies were also troubled, and present a cautionary tale.

The Roman coin in use through most of the empire was the denarius, which demonstrated a persistent decline in value, starting from the time of transition from Republic to Empire, and continuing until its decimation during the Crisis of the Third Century AD. Although efforts by Diocletian taken after the monetary collapse are commonly associated with Roman economic reform, there were other efforts by earlier, lesser known emperors that suddenly and unexpectedly improved the silver content and value of the denarius. Firsthand accounts and archeological findings provide sufficient detail to allow examination of these short, if noteworthy, periods of voluntary restorative policies – and their architects.

While popular interest typically fixes on such well known emperors as Julius Caesar, Nero, and Augustus, I seek to direct attention toward four lesser known emperors who undertook the improvement of the denarius.  These initiatives essentially constitute rare, temporary episodes of qualitative tightening, in contrast to the more common – and, in recent history, ubiquitous – policy of quantitative easing. The reformers were Domitian, Pertinax, Macrinus, and Severus Alexander. A necessarily concise summary of each one’s initiatives follows, with a brief review of the circumstances surrounding their administration and decisions.

Domitian (September 81 AD – September 96 AD)

The first noteworthy Roman currency reformer was Domitian, son of Vespasian and brother of Titus. He ascended in 81 AD, inheriting the problems associated with his forbear’s costly projects. Vespasian had undertaken large scale construction projects he thought necessary to repair the damage to many structures during the civil wars that raged throughout the late Republic.  In addition, he paid lofty financial incentives to regime-supporting historical writers and awarded pensions of up to 1,000 gold coins annually to a coterie of court intellectuals. Titus, his son and successor, was known for the initiation of lavish and elaborate games as well as for recompensing individuals struck by unexpected natural disasters, including the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius, the Great Fire of Rome, and those affected by the outbreak of war in Britannia. Together, Titus and Vespasian committed vast resources to the construction of the Coliseum; and, consequently, during the 12 years of their emperorship, the silver content of the denarius was reduced from roughly 94% to 90% purity.

Despite that precedent, “Domitian was apparently very sensitive to the importance of capital and the benefits of stability derived from a credible and dependable money supply.”[1] Thus early in his reign, in a “dramatic and entirely unexpected” move that coincided with the end of hostilities in Britain and Chatti (Germany), he fired the Empire’s financial secretary. Historians speculate that this was either because the secretary considered Domitian’s plans to improve the currency quality “unwise” or because he’d allowed such “slackness to permeate the mint” in the first place.[2] Shortly thereafter, “in 82 – 84 AD Domitian improved the silver standard, and older coins averaging 88 to 92 percent silver were reminted into purer denarii (98 percent fine)”.[3]

However, Domitian’s currency improvement effort was short-lived due to renewed foreign warfare. Between 85 and 89, fighting in Africa, Dacia (Eastern Europe), and Chatti again broke out, such that the “purer coins had scarcely entered the marketplace when [he], in mid-85, pressed for money to pay war bills, again changed the standard, reducing it to 93 percent fine”.[4]

Domitian’s reign eventually devolved into tyranny and massive building projects echoing those of his brother and father, and culminated in a wealth confiscation edict so brutal that “it [became] fatal at th[e] time … to own a spacious house or an attractive property”.[5] In 96 AD, he was assassinated.

Pertinax (January 193 AD – March 193 AD)

For nearly a century after Domitian’s fall, the debasement of the denarius continued apace, and by 148 AD devaluations became ritually associated not only with the start of wars and public projects but with inaugural events and holidays as well.[6]

At the beginning of Domitian’s reign, money supply was 60% of what it had been in 40 [AD], and about 70% of this level at the end of his reign, a range maintained throughout the reigns of the Antonines, until, under Commodus, money supply reached 700-800% above [that] initial level.[7]

Commodus, whose twelve year regime saw among other things the re-introduction of Plebian Games – a pricey, nearly month-long festival of religion, art and sports – and an incredible expenditure of state funds in a massive, megalomaniacal campaign of self-indulgent iconography, was succeeded by Pertinax – a man of “propriety [and] economy” – whose 86-day rule starkly depicts the considerable risk that currency reformers undertook – and perhaps still do.

[O]n the day of his accession, he resigned over to his wife and son his whole private fortune, that they might have no pretense to solicit favors at the expense of the state. He refused to flatter the former with the title of Augusta, or to corrupt the inexperienced youth … by the rank of Caesar … g[iving] him no assured prospect of the throne[.][8]

In addition,

[h]e forbad his name to be inscribed on any part of the imperial domains, insisting that they belonged not to him, but to the public. He melted the silver statues which had been raised to Commodus … s[elling] all his concubines, horses, arms, and other instruments of pleasure. With the money thus raised, he abolished all the taxes which Commodus had imposed.[9]

On the heels of that, Pertinax “carried out an extraordinary … coinage reform that returned the denarius to the standard of Vespasian.”[10] It revalued the denarius from 74 to 87% silver by weight on new coins, several mintings of which were emblazoned with the motto “MENTI LAVDANDAE” (“noteworthy good sense”), and most significantly featured not his or another emperor’s visage but Ops, the Roman personification of wealth. In addition to this, Pertinax simultaneously embarked upon a fiscal rehabilitation program, the centerpiece of which were large budget cuts targeting the Roman military; he began by cancelling the customary bonus paid to soldiers by newly-seated emperors.

In a remarkably short of time, Pertinax gained “the love and esteem of his people.”[11] But his cuts to the military were deep and far reaching, and his urge to settle disputes with enemies rather than fight them out enraged the soldiery. “A hasty zeal to reform the corrupted state … proved fatal” for him. [12]. On the 86th day of his rule, his personal guard betrayed him and mutinied, gathering at the imperial domicile. Though other guards urged him to safety, “instead of flying, he boldly addressed them” – and fell beneath their swords.[13] Rome’s “Age of Inflation” had thus begun.

Macrinus (April 217AD – June 218AD)

Gibbons describes Caracalla, who ruled for 19 years, as “the common enemy of mankind” for the incredible number of massacres and persecutions, as well as economic destruction, which occurred during his tenure.[14] He devalued the denarii from 1.81 grams of silver to 1.66 and introduced a new coin, the antoninianus: ostensibly a “double denarius” but actually weighing 2.6 grams of silver instead of the implied 3.3 grams. Additionally, he increased tax revenue by making all freemen in the Empire citizens and commissioned the construction of a number of massive, exorbitant bathhouses. And, most unsurprisingly, he raised the pay of the military, granted them new and expanded benefits, and launched a war against the Parthian Empire.

Macrinus, a member of Caracalla’s staff, became emperor after his assassination – to which, by some accounts, he was a co-conspirator. From the start, he made clear his concern with “prioritiz[ing] public faith over the generation of a sufficient amount of cash” for the Roman state.[15] During his short reign, he made the conscious choice to raise the purity rate of silver from Caracalla’s debased 1.66 grams of silver to above the level extant when Caracalla was installed – 1.82 grams – and demonstrated an inclination toward diplomacy versus combat. When the Persians challenged the Roman army, Macrinus “tried to make peace with the Persian king” and “s[ent] back [their] prisoners of war voluntarily.”[16] Consequently, he incurred the resentment of soldiers and further enraged them by introducing a pay system which paid them according to their rank and time-in-service.

In summary,

[t]he increased silver content was clearly beneficial for the state, as it would instill more confidence among its recipients and presumably still inflation … [but] the major problem, of course, was Macrinus’ attempt at military reform … [T]he army would not stand for a curtailment of privileges, even among new recruits. So while Macrinus’ plan was … fiscal responsibility in the state, the strength of the army was too great to allow for it … [and] paved the way for Macrinus’ downfall.[17]

Dissent soon erupted within the ranks and military forces, in a coup, elevated 15-year-old Elagabalus as the new emperor; a battle ensued between Elagabalus supporters and Macrinus loyalists. Macrinus’ forces were routed, and he was captured and executed.

Severus Alexander (March 222AD – March 235AD)

The new Emperor Elagabalus presided until his 18th birthday, profoundly debasing the denarius and squandering monstrous sums from the public treasury. “No fouler…monster” wrote the poet Ausonius, “ever filled the imperial throne of Rome”.[18] After his assassination, his cousin Severus Alexander rose to power. And

[b]y the time that Alexander ascended the throne the question of the coinage, long acute, had become critical. Looking backwards one may see two centuries of fraud that the debasement of money had gradually but surely proceeded; in the future something little short of national bankruptcy awaited the Roman world unless measures were forthwith adopted to ward off [that] evil day.[19]

Yet in a different strategy from Domitian’s, Alexander initially reduced the silver content of the denarius from 1.41 grams to 1.30 grams, and some years later not only raised it back to the old standard, but far beyond that to 1.50 grams; a quality it had not seen in decades. He

restored the tarnished reputation of imperial money by improving the denarius and striking the first substantial numbers of brass sestertii and copper assees in a generation … they were well-engraved, struck on flans of traditional size and weight, and, as money, the equal of their more elegant ancestors.[20]

He reduced taxes and attempted through various means to end the “singular system of annihilating capital and ruining agriculture and industry [which] was so deeply rooted in the Roman administration”.[21] At the same time, though, he subsidized literature, art and science and socialized education.

When invaders from Gaul threatened the Empire, Severus Alexander attempted to buy them off rather than engage in a pitched, costly battle. This, once again, angered the legionnaires, who elevated General Maximinus as the new emperor. The military rebelled and, like Pertinax and Macrinus before him, Alexander Severus was executed.

Over the next three years, Maximinus doubled soldiers’ pay and waged nearly continual warfare. Taxes were raised, with tax-collectors empowered to commit acts of violence against delinquent or reluctant payers, as well as to summarily confiscate property for citizens in arrears.

Over the next five decades,

[e]mperors … debased the silver currency and raised taxes during what they perceived to be a temporary crisis, expecting windfalls of specie from victory, but war had changed from profitable conquest to a grim defense … The Roman world was treated to the spectacle of imperial mints annually churning out hundreds of millions of silver-clad antoninaniani by recycling coins but a few years old [which] removed older coins from circulation and destroyed public confidence in imperial moneys.[22]

Characteristic of all monetary collapses, as the denarius rapidly withered into a billon trinket Roman citizens developed odd, if essential, skills – the most noteworthy of which were extracting the thin silver coating from otherwise worthless coins and fluency in the social language of monetary failure: barter.


Comparing modern challenges and policy responses to those of remote times is an attractive but precarious enterprise: every generation, let alone culture and era, breathes a unique psychological oxygen. Nevertheless, in this case the exercise yields several potentially valuable insights.

First, what can we say about the reformers? Why did select figures, in an era admitting no formal economic theories and within which the interaction of supply and demand was attributed to superstitious causes or conspiracies, occasionally shore up their currency?

It is notable that all of the reform-minded emperors possessed germane backgrounds and experience: where the majority of Roman emperors had pre-ascension careers in politics or the military, Domitian grew up in a family known for banking; and despite the inglorious end of his incumbency (when maintaining power came to trump sense and experience) his initial

concern with finance, with a stable currency, and an awareness of reciprocity in business and trade dealings as demonstrated in instruments such as his Vine Edict, reflect his continuation of a tradition of financial sensibility, more in keeping with a business house, than with the traditions of [elites] valued by Senators and expected of Emperors.[23]

Most fascinatingly,

[w]hile still a Caesar, Domitian had published a work on coinage … which Pliny the Elder … had cited as a source.[24]

Macrinus was the first non-senatorial emperor, and had years of both financial training and experience; he served as the administrator of the massive Flaminian Road project. Later in his pre-political career, he was personally selected to manage the personal wealth of the imperial family under the emperors Caracalla and Geta. Pertinax had spent years in business as well as teaching, and his time as a merchant led him to the belief that “[e]conomy and industry … [were] the pure and genuine sources of wealth”[25]

Alexander Severus became emperor at 13. It is difficult to hypothesize as to what may have led him to enhance the denarii – and so strongly – but one may speculate that his closest advisors, his mother and grandmother, drew from years of experience in Roman booms and busts.

One also notes that each of the reformers came after particularly egregious debasers: Domitian after Vespasian and Titus; Pertinax after Commodus; Macrinus after Caracalla; and Severus Alexander after Elagabalus. It seems as if each deduced the connection between his predecessor’s profligate monetary (and, indeed, fiscal) policies and the consequent economic crisis, choosing to reverse the afflux.

Summarizing Macrinus’ efforts, but no doubt broadly applicable, is this synopsis:

The exact motivation … for coinage reform [efforts in the Roman Empire] is in general a little hazy … attempts at reforming the coinage standards could reflect the distrust that the … population had for the imperial currency … [a]nother possibility is that [the reformers] wanted to fit into a monetary tradition that was considered responsible … [or] felt a desire to distance themsel[ves] from the policies of [their] predecessor[s] … [as many] were a simple overturning of [prior emperors] destructive economic measures.[26]

In consummation, were these episodes in qualitative tightening successful? Obviously, brief respites in the systematic debasement of the denarius delayed the eventual, yet perhaps inevitable, monetary emergency. More analytically, though, one hint lies in the architectural analysis of lost, donated, and hoarded coins, in that

coins lost casually on sites are equivalent to small change lost today [in that] more were lost as their numbers mounted and purchasing value plunged due to debasements … [C]asual losses and hoards, then, can document shifts in patterns of circulation both within and beyond imperial frontiers.[27]

The number and constitution of coin hoards reveal the public propensity to forestall consumption (“saving”, in familiar parlance) or represent financial reserves hidden out of fear of future devaluations; in any event, they imply which coins were highly valued. Patterns of similar coins lost or donated, oppositely, suggest which in circulation were valued appreciably less. While both Pertinax and Macrinus ruled briefly, and their programs were quickly reversed by their successors, under both Domitian and Severus Alexander (who ruled for 15 and 13 years, respectively) the number of discovered, archeologically-dated coin hoards skyrocketed over those dated to their immediate predecessors: from 3 to 10 and 7 to 18; again, respectively. Similarly, coins of reduced quality are found with higher frequency at ritual offering sites (e.g., temples) and where losses were common (e.g., river crossing sites) than those of contemporary circulating issues with higher purity.[28]

But the most forbidding commonality is the thread of continuity running through the fates of the monetary reformers:

Emperors who improved the purity of the denarius, [notably] Pertinax in 193 [and] Macrinus in 217 … found themselves outbid for the loyalties of the army, and … went down in ignominious defeat.[29]

And so we return to the present day. Owing to the deep entrenchment of government in daily life and, consequently, the politically incendiary nature of entitlements, attempts to underpin the value of any currency with a commodity is likely to be met with considerable resistance from the diffuse and deep-seated institutions and social groups benefitting from fiat currency systems. And yet, for the first time in well over a century, the issue of what actually backs state-issued money has resurfaced as a political issue. Precious metals are seeing their greatest popular resurgence in decades, as, in tandem, interest in and usage of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – precisely because of their irreproducibility and the consequent quantitative limitations – expands rapidly. This, perhaps, hints at a burgeoning shift in public awareness and sentiment, which may eventually translate to political pressure for a return to sound money, but real progress will likely be an uphill battle – with bouts of ‘sticker shock’ along the way. As historian William Warren Carlise wrote,

[a]ll through history we find that it is the reform, the return to sound money rather than the depreciation itself that first rouses popular discontent. It is only when the mass of the people learns that depreciations must be followed sooner or later by such remedies that they begin to entertain a salutary dread with regard to them.[30]

Perhaps the best conclusion that can be drawn from examining these instances is that in response to the familiar rhetorical query – “Are we going the way of the Romans?” – one can reply, truthfully: “No; they occasionally reformed their currency.”


[2] Brian W. Jones, The Emperor Domitian (London: Routledge, 1992), 76.
[3] Kenneth W. Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700 (Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1996), 14.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Jones, 77.
[6] Susan P. Mattern, Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate (Los Angeles: University of California Press), 141.
[8] Edward Gibbon, Esq. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I (London: W. Strahan, 1776), 101
[9] John Platts, A New Universal Biography … of Eminent Persons (London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper, 1826), 122.
[10] Mattern, 140 – 141.
[11] Gibbon, 102.
[12] Gibbon, 103.
[13] Platts, 122.
[14] Gibbon, 139.
[15] Andrew Scott, “Change and Discontinuity within the Severus Dynasty: The Case of Macrinus”, a dissertation submitted to the Graduate School-New Brunswick, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Graduate Program in Classics, May 2008, 133.
[16] Henry Jewell Bassett, Macrinus and Diadumenian (Menasha: George Banta Publishing Co., 1920), 33.
[17] Scott, 135.
[18] Martijn Icks, The Crimes of Elagabalus: The Life and Legacy of Rome’s Decadent Boy Emperor (London: I. B. Taurus & Co, 2011), 115.
[19] R. V. Nind Hopkins, The Life of Alexander Severus (Cambridge: University Press, 1907), 182.
[20] Harl, 128.
[21] Hopkins, 154.
[22] Harl, 132.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Gibbon, 102 – 103.
[26] Scott, 129 -133.
[27] Harl, 17 – 20.
[28] Richard Duncan-Jones, Money and Government in the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 107.
[29] Harl, 126 – 127.
[30] William Warrand Carlile, The Evolution of Modern Money (London: Macmillan and Co.), 100.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
oudinot's picture

This article is not very good at describing Ancient Rome.

Vespasian (69-80)was a prudent , great Emperor.  The author, talking about,Vespasian building  'projects' .  Well, the he's the guy that built the Roman Colisseum; the 1,000 gold pensions were for authors, scribes, sculptor's-without these 'pensions' wouldn't be able to read these original histories.  And the author omits to mention that Domitian did not succeed Vespasian , Titus, his first son did .  There was a rebellion in Israeal at the same time there was a Roman civil war after the suicide of Nero (which was costly; Vespasian won over  Galbas and other claimants) . Vespaiain left his post in Syria as proconsul to fight in the civil war,   and let the factions of Jews fight among themselves.  After he became Emperoro he sent his son Titus to put down the Jewish revellion.  Titus puty a solid wall all the way aroound Jerusalem- circumvallation-a fierce fight, fires and Roman soldiers killing old Rabbis they finally detryed the Temple which was defended to the end.  Titus send huge stones from the demolished  temple back to his father which were used building  the Coliseum.

Vespasian, like the Chinese model today (ghost cities) , had a building program after the civil war , he needed to employ the people; especially soldiers coming out of the army.  Buildings, roads, bridges, aqueducts, Temples, Amphitheatres were made. Artists, subsdised,plays, theatres being patronised.  There was peace in the land.

Titus died after tywo years of rule (80-81), Domitian, the younger son became Emperor.  Titus was beloved by the people, Domitian was not, he was a mean type.  Once he became Emperor he plotted-successfully- to kill the powerful Senators who might be a threat.  He killed or exiled many of the leading families in Rome.  To contrast the hate of both the arisotcrats and the people he enlarged the Praetorian Guard, rasied their pay, and gave  huge raises to the regular army.  In order to balance the Treasury, because of these raises,  he had to debase the currency, which he did.  The author's idea that Domitian tried to improve the currency was but a classical  headfake in order to bid the market harder with the next issue of debased coin ; kinda like US treasuries today,  heading lower interest wise before the typhoon of inflation crashes in.

The wars the author refers to, are minor compared to what Trajan, Aurelius undertook later with not too much damage on the Treasury.

Domitian was eventually assassinated  by his wife and his servant as they feared Domitian  was going to excute them.



Urban Redneck's picture

If one is going to write about notable reform-minded emperors and the silver content of the denarius, how can one exclude Marcus Aurelius?

(from something I posted on Independence Day)

We are morally weak and easily corrupted, but going all the way back to the Stoics- even strong leaders have been led into temptation...

in 161 AD Upon becoming Grand Poobah - Marcus Aurelius reduced the silver content of the denarius from 2.68 grams to 2.57 grams to finance his shovel ready spending spree...

in 168 AD Marcus Aurelius increased the silver content of the denarius from 2.57 grams to 2.67 grams.

in 170 AD Marcus Aurelius reduced the silver content of the denarius 2.67grams to 2.57 grams (because fighting those damn Germans was draining his treasury and he needed more coins)

in 180 AD Marcus Aurelius croaked and Commodus became Grand Poobah and promptly rinsed his hands of Marcus Aurelius and repeated his predecessor's devaluation for his own shovel ready spending spree, this time to 2.34 grams

The "shovel-ready spending/jobs program" basically Rinses & Repeats with each Roman Emperor. Spending money to reduce the money supply... not so much.

oudinot's picture

Urban R.: Marcus Aurelius did not be become exclusive  'Grand Poobah" in 161 AD.  He became co-emperor with Lucius Verus-in accordance with  Antonius Pius's  (the previous Emperor 138-161) wishes-until Verus's death in 168 in Antioch; when  at that time  Aurelius became sole Emperor.

As well the debasing of the silver by Aurelius  in 170 was not because of  fighting the Germans-actually the Marcomanni- it was because Imperial revenues had dropped precipitously as the returning Roman soldiers from the East, fighting the Parthians,Persians,brought back the bubonic plague which was devastating to the Empire in 167-172. 

Aurelius had to debase the currency because of the deletrious economic effects of the bubonic plague; not from funding   'rinse and repeating 'shovel ready spending/program[s]" as you mistakenly believe. 

Urban Redneck's picture

Well you obviously have no sense of humor, and probably an abundance of back bile humor.

If you are going to be anal retentive and want to stick to literalism...

The Marcomannic wars were the longest wars of the imperial period. Half the Roman legions, which were themselves the largest expense to the Imperial treasury, were stationed along the Germanic front despite the relatively small amount of the overall Roman territory they were defending. The Antonine Plague, while it posed a revenue challenge for the Treasury, was reeking havoc on the Empire's population before the devaluation, and it never reduced the amount of silver available for confiscation by the taxing authorities. The Roman army, however, posed a continual spending problem. As to whether the crux of the matter was a government revenue or spending problem...

cum autem ad hoc bellum omne aerarium exhausisset suum neque in animum induceret, ut extra ordinem provincialibus aliquid imperaret, in foro divi Traiani auctionem ornamentorum imperialium fecit vendiditque aurea pocula et crystallina et murrina, vasa etiam regia et vestem uxoriam sericam et auratam, gemmas quin etiam, quas multas in repositorio sanctiore Hadriani reppererat

(And yes, I am being intentionally intellectually abrasive by quoting Historia Augusta, but Marcus Aurelius having his underlings hawk the imperial bling in the Trajan Forum is not among the rather dubious claims in that work, and is in fact- well substantiated)

Being a thinking man, I guess Marcus could have taken the Ron Paul approach, and cut back on military spending, foreign wars, and shovel ready shit spending to match his somewhat fixed circulating silver supply, but I guess he didn't think hard enough /sarc

So anyway, I have a crazy MOFO who was stating quite explicitly over 1200 years ago that it was the guns, and not the butter, (or panem et circenses for the literalists) that drove poor Marcus to sell his bling, what have you got?

oudinot's picture

The Macromannic wars were expensive and did contribute to put pressure on the Treasury but its effect was small compared to the loss of revenue due to the bubonic plague which commenced  in the Empire in 167/168 and was the major factor in the Aurelian 170 currency debasement.

'Panem et cicenses', is 'bread and circuses', not 'guns and butter'.

Urban Redneck's picture

You have merely restated your contention with absolutely no evidence to support it.

You have a fetish for rhetoric, as evidenced by your intentional misrepresentation of the ascension of Marcus Aurelius, knowing full well that was his own desire that Lucius Verus also be elevated that prompted the Senate to follow the course of action it did. Reason, however, appears to be above your pay grade.

It's always a revenue problem, and never a spending problem... just ask Dubya or Obozo.

Perhaps some Cassius Dio...

Then upon his return to Rome he made an address to the people; and while he was saying, among other things, that he had been absent many years, they cried out, "eight," and indicated this also with their hands, in order that they might receive that number of gold pieces for a banquet. He smiled and also said "eight"; and later he distributed to them eight hundred sesterces apiece, a larger amount than they had ever received before. Not only did he do this, but he remitted all debts owed by anyone to the emperor's private treasury or to the public treasury for a period of forty-five years, not including the fifteen years of Hadrian; and he ordered all the documents relating to these debts to be burned in the Forum. He also gave gifts of money to many cities, including Smyrna, which had suffered terrible destruction by an earthquake; and he assigned the task of rebuilding that city to a senator of praetorian rank. Therefore I am surprised to hear people even today censuring him on the ground that he was not an open-handed prince. For, although in general he was most economical in very truth, yet he never avoided a single necessary expenditure, even though, as I have stated, he burdened no one by levies of money and though he found himself forced to lay out very large sums beyond the ordinary requirements.

When the Scythian situation once more demanded his attention, it caused him to give his son a wife, Crispina, sooner than he wished. For the Quintilii had been unable to end the war, although there were two of them and they possessed great shrewdness, courage and experience; and consequently the rulers themselves were forced to take the field. 2 Marcus also asked the senate for money from the public treasury, not because such funds were not already at the emperor's disposal, but because he was wont to declare that all the funds, both these and others, belonged to the senate and to the people. "As for us," he said, in addressing the senate, "we are so far from possessing anything of our own that even the house in which we live is yours." Then, after making this speech and after hurling the bloody spear, that was kept in the temple of Bellona, into what was supposed to be the enemy's territorya (as I have heard men who were present relate), he set out; and he gave a large force to Paternus and sent him to the scene of the fighting. The barbarians held out for the entire day, but were all cut down by the Romans; and Marcus was saluted imperator for the tenth time.

The Iazyges sent an embassy and asked to be released from certain of the agreements they had made; and some concessions were granted them, to prevent their becoming entirely alienated. Yet neither they nor the Buri were willing to join the Romans as allies until they had received pledges from Marcus that he would without fail prosecute the war to the uttermost; for they were afraid he might make a treaty with the Quadi, as before, and leave enemies dwelling at their doors.

Marcus gave audience to those whom came as envoys from outside nations, but did not receive them all on the same footing; for this varied according as the several states were worthy to receive citizenship, or freedom from taxes, or perpetual or temporary exemption from the tribute, or even to enjoy permanent support. And when the Iazyges proved most useful to them, he released them from many of the restrictions that had been imposed upon them, — in fact, from all save those affecting their assembling and trading together and the requirements that they should not used boats of their own and should keep away from the islands in the Ister. And he permitted them to pass through Dacia in order to have dealings with the Rhoxolani, as often as the governor of Dacia should give them permission.

With regard to the Quadi and the Marcomani, who sent envoys:— the twenty thousand soldiers that were stationed in forts among each of these tribes would not allow them to pasture their flocks or till the soil or do anything else in security, but kept receiving many deserters from the enemy's ranks and captives of their own; yet the soldiers themselves were enduring no great hardships, inasmuch as they had baths and all the necessaries of life in abundance. The Quadi, accordingly, being unwilling to endure the forts built to keep watch over them, attempted to migrate in a body to the land of the Semnones. But Antoninus learned beforehand of their intention and by barring the roads prevented their departure. This showed that he desired, not to acquire their territory, but to punish the men themselves.

oudinot's picture

Great post!  Well done!

Aurelius was a remarkable prince who used debt forgiveness as a method to stimulate the economy, remedy impoverishment.  Same thing that happened in the 1930's with  WW1 debt inter alia; should have happened in 2008-if it did, everyone would be in a better place today. At the same time, because of the plague and war destroying revenues Aurelius liquidated massive amounts of his personal property to finance the budget deficit and debt forgiveness.

Debt forgiveness occurred a few times in Republican Rome when, like today, the rich were too rich and everyone else was too poor.  In these conditions economies suffer,stagnate.

I am a huge Aurelius fan; I use his," Meditations", as others  might use the Bible or the Koran; I am aetheist.

The one, monstrous mistake Aurelius made was allowing  his son, Commodus, become Ceasar, then as his successor as Augustus.The Antonines from Pertinax to Aurelius always 'adopted' the best princes than using a monarchial hereditary model.

And, it is not always a 'revenue problem in Rome, or anywhere.  When Aemillius Paullus (the adopted son of Scipio Africanus)defeated the Macedonian King , Perseus, at Pynda in 168 BC, the tribute taken from Greece at that time (and later from the near eastern provinces conquered by Fimbri, Lucullus, Pompey inter alia in 80-65 BC)set the table for NO Roman (taxes paid by Roman citizens)  taxation till 44 BC.

Lux Fiat's picture

When I saw the article title, at first I thought it was another Martin Armstrong discourse.  While quite lengthy for a blog post, and meandering and repeating at times, as is his style, this article is still an excellent read.  As the bard said, the past is prologue.

He tackles the takeover of a republic by an oligarchy, and how their incredibly strong sense of preservation leads them to viciously attack anything that challenges their power, and the gutting of true trial by jury.  And that's before he gets more current than 44 BC.

christiangustafson's picture

Yellen and Bernanke did not debase the USD.

The inflation in the system has accumulated over the last 100 years.  Your parents and grandparents helped fuel it, by demanding new currency to be called into existence via the magic mechanism of loans.  Thus they enjoyed Spring, Summer, and Fall of the cycle.

The problem is that Winter is coming.  Or, more accurately, since the 2008 crisis, Winter is here.

The extraordinary and unprecedented efforts in monetary policy signal that we are now playing in soccer "stoppage time".  QE and ZIRP could be extended as long as faith in the system could maintain it, and as long as the resource providers would continue to accept USD EUR etc for their real goods. 

The inflation is already baked-in.  It already happened.  The money has been printed.  The system could no longer generate organic credit and debt, which is why the Fed stepped in to take a whack at it and fill the void.

The hyperinflation we will experience in the future is not from episodes of continued printing, it comes from a lack of faith in the mechanisms and superstructures holding the system together.

Deflation is the key to undermining and collapsing that faith, the key to the next great crisis, the wrecking-ball of the great pyramids of debt.

After deflation, then fiat-dollar rejection, Treasury collapse, and the next great crisis of our civilization.


Edit: Anyone else see $500 gold as a target out of the B-wave continuation triangle on the weekly?  Oh, that's right, you disagree because we are "printing".  

Deflation cometh, ladies ...

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

The problem is that Winter is coming.  Or, more accurately, since the 2008 crisis, Winter is here.

I assume you are referring to KONDRATIEFF WINTER.

christiangustafson's picture
JULES Check out the big brain on Brett. You'a smart motherfucker, that's right.
GFORCE's picture

Definitely see $1000 Gold. A peek through that could see some panic sellers to $750.

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

You say 'Deflation cometh'. 2 years ago I said 'peak oil cometh" (it's one of my email addresses).  Deflation won't cause peak oil, but peak oil will cause deflation.

I have been arguing that there is less crude oil in reserve than the government has been telling us. And because of this the US has had a stronger interest in the countries and areas that have proven reserves and left oil barren countries to shift for themselves.

 The problem is that in 5, 10, 50 years the competition between economic growth and our military superpower for a dwindling supply of oil will lead to the failure of both.  

Unless the military asserts its dominance, claims control over all the oil and relunctantly throws capitalist growth under the bus.  Naturally, the military doesn't want to undermine the defense and technology industries, but with little or slower production of crude oil, the bottom-up depression will no longer be able to be concealed by the Fed and Treasury.

This all began in 1956 when M King Hubbert predicted peak oil for America in the early 70's.  He was spot on and in 1973 all the interested parties (e.g. the Pentagon) perceived it.

1973 was the year of the first 'oil shock' and the year that oil and oil supply became part of the national vocabulary.

I hope I didn't bore you with this.  It's my rant which no one wants to hear.

Errol's picture

soldier, I appreciate your comment.  I hadn't really snapped to the realization that petroleum is not only the lifeblood of industrial society, but of the US military machine as well.  I doubt the military will meekly fade away as that lifeblood runs low...

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

Errol, I appreciate your interest and reply.

But I think I'm going to lose you when I connect some more of the dots.

By the middle of 2009 when we were momentarily out of the woods, I began to think of the reasons the bubble got started.  If we start in1956 with Hubbert's prediction, which was a fait accompli by 1973, the year of the first oil embargo (read 'intentional stifiling of US demand"). In 1975 the strategic petroleum reserve was begun.  

In October 1977 demonstrations against the Shah began and 2 years later he was deposed.  In 1981 Reagan took office along with Grover Norquist and soon our sensible National Debt got loose and made Godzilla look like a Golden puppy.

There was the Iran-Iraq War in the 80's.  In the 90's there were two signal events: Congress ordered Freddy and Fanny to write 30% of their mortgages to subprime borrowers.  Greenspan COULD have shot this proposition down but did not.

More famously, Congress repealed Glass-Steagall.  Again Greenspan could have prevented the repeal.  So in the early 90"s there began a build-up of inventory of subprime mortgages which, by the late 90's, when  permission was given to the banks to assemble CDOs and MBS and market them, had a ready market waiting for them.

It's my contention that the Recession of 2007 was devised by the military as a way of further reducing the consumption of crude oil, but not the production of it, as it was now being stored by America and her allies.

Naturally the Army is loathe to cut off economic growth and institute martial law.  It is encouraging producers to pump up as much as they can to keep life as much like it is now as long as possible.

But military rule is just around the corner.

The most amazing thing of all is the way life is going to break down to Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.

Except Eurasia and Eastasia are much closer than Orwell thought.

christiangustafson's picture

Yes, finance and enegy are joined at the hip, with .mil standing by to intervene as needed, while it still can.

I always thought Nicole Foss did a great job explaining this over the years.  Kunster, too.  And then there's always Mr. HyperTiger.

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

with .mil standing by to intervene as needed, while it still can.

You may very well be right, cg, but that's not what I'm saying.  My unprovable argument is that the military learned about Hubbert's peak oil in 1973 when the giant light bulb appeared over its head, and then planned, devised and schemed the Recession of 2007 to slow down the consumption of crude oil, and enlisted the cooperation of Greenspan.

Also Officers of the Treasury, sundry shady characters on Wall Street. CIA. State Department. And Bernanke when he went to the Fed in 2002 as Chairman in Waiting. And, of course, the neocons, for this is the very tits and ass they see when they masturbate. 

So 40 years after Hubbert proved to the military that the world would eventually run out of crude oil,  the military decided that it had to have most of the oil that was in the ground, sooner rather than later.   No doubt the Pentagon made the Fed Chairman and other government officials offers they couldn't refuse.

Today there is trouble in Syria, Libya, South Sudan, Venezuela, South China Sea, Arctic Ocean.

10 years ago no one dreamed that the world could have degenerated into mess that we call today.

Read my reply to Errol about 2 comments up or down depending on which way you go. 

Lux Fiat's picture

I'm not going to hazard a guess as to whether we will see deflation, inflation, or both at the same time in different arenas, or one followed by the other. 

But would agree that the seeds of destabilization of the system were sown decades ago, and with a few exceptions, nobody thought to apply weedkiller while they grew.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

"....attempts to underpin the value of any currency with a commodity is likely to be met with considerable resistance from the diffuse and deep-seated institutions and social groups benefitting from fiat currency systems."

We are so consumed with our own personal consumption we often embrace that which is ultimately self destructive. This character defect is always effectively exploited by the ruling/money class and consistently used against us.

Keep a population under constant stress and you effectively control them. War and monetary debasement are two particularly effective public stresses.

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

War and monetary debasement are two particularly effective public stresses.

We didn't seem to mind so much when this scheme was applied to other peoples and other nations.  Now that it's being seen at home, it's giving a lot of us the willies.

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

Edward Gibbon is that you?

Of the 'Tale of Two Currencies', I prefer the story of the Bezant.  It's more Eastern and exotic. No?  

Also the Bezant was struck in gold, which was always classier than the silver Roman coin.  

Gold, of course, lent itself to the instant 'tooth test'. How many "B" movies have you seen in which a questionable character bites a gold coin to see if it's real?

WhyWait's picture

Fascinating stuff, this, but only a part of the story, not enough to draw conclusions from.

The context must include credit and banking, the economy and their relationship to the warfare state.

The Roman Empire and the late Republic before it had a banking system.  Money was lent at interest.  Interest claims accumulated, but the money supply couldn't grow enough to cover them.  Crises ensued.  Claims on debts traded like money. All was interrelated with coinage, debasement of currency and reforms.  

The Roman economy also had slavery as its economic engine, to a degree not seen again until the 18th Century colonial empires in the Americas.  I have seen claims that a core dynamic at Rome's height was that the slaves didn't reproduce themselves - essentially, they were worked to death - and a core function of the Roman Legions was taking new slaves on the frontiers, through constant warfare.  When Rome reached its maximum extent this flow of slaves was reduced to a trickle. The urge to finance new wars of expansion was thus driven by the scarcity and rising cost of slaves.

Throughout, there was constant danger and challenges from slave rebellions within - of which the slave revolt associated with the name Sparticus was the most famous - and subject nations - of which the rebellions in Judea are the best known.   

I regret not accumulating books and references on these issues, but this is the story I've put together over the years.  I may have the story wrong. Most likely I do.  But I am sure that any analysis of ancient Rome must include banking, the economy, their dyamics, and the role of the warfare state, not just as defender of the system but as a participant.

This history of currency debasement and reform I'm sure will be a contribution.

WhyWait's picture

I bet an interesting analogy could be drawn between Rome's struggle with Carthage and the Anglo/American Empire's struggle for "Full Spectrum Dominance".  

Cthonic's picture

+1  For pointing out the absolute dependency of the Roman empire upon slavery, which the author of the article completely sidesteps.  Punitive taxation also forced productive enterprises into the hinterlands; the state would auction off collection concessions to the equite, who in turn would attempt to recoup their bid and more from their allotted region over the taxation period.  Anything collected over and above their bid and costs was pure profit.  Late in the empire, the number of equite and other politically privileged persons grew incommensurately and there simply wasn't enough production and plunder to sustain their entitlements.

Lux Fiat's picture

Hmmmm, wonder why civil asset forfeiture comes to mind.  Same sh$t, different millenium.

MalteseFalcon's picture

The Roman need for slaves brings today's unhindered immigration to mind.


KickIce's picture

And you have to wonder is terrorist the new word for barbarian?  Another word used to label/villainize those that fight against your supposed "advanced" way of life perhaps?

Would be interesting to understand the relationships with those countries they conquered. I imagine the upper classes learned how to kiss Roman ass just like today's foreign politicians kiss our politician's asses.  (Or used to, the times seem to be a changing.)  How long did it take them to realize that the benefits were short term but in the end all the excess in Rome led to misery?

NoWayJose's picture

History does kind of show the effects of government's spending too much money on wars and pork barrel spending projects. Unfortunately, one of the requirements for being elected to the US Congress is to practice the history of bribery instead of the history of Rome.

FreedomGuy's picture

I am reminded of the quotation, "The lesson of history is that we do not learn the lessons of history."

czarangelus's picture

Interesting to see that the guys with the guns are ultimately the ones in charge. Don't like the desocialization and decollectivization of national defense? Just murder the guy and install a useful idiot who will follow orders! Guess we know who would have been behind it if Ron Paul had become President and tried to dismantle the American Empire.

Calmyourself's picture

The only currency reform possible or prudent is privately based.  Exchange fiat for commodities while you can.

himaroid's picture

The Roman military was the precursor to SEIU

XRAYD's picture

Where do Berlusconi and Mario Draghi fit in?

exartizo's picture

Interesting that the Romans at least had it right with the silver content of their currency.

The U.S. has been completely clueless since Richard M. Nixon took the throne.... and the debasement continues unabated.


MalteseFalcon's picture

LBJ removed silver from circulation in 1965.

The demonization of Nixon is well deserved, but I believe it is used to cover the crimes of the far more criminal LBJ.

bugs_'s picture

Not as worried of a replay of the collapse of Rome as I am of a replay of the collapse of Byzantium.

Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez's picture

Good article Tyler!

As Ike said, "beware the military industrial complex"!

Should be interesting to see if the globalists pull off a false flag to usher in demonati member Kissingers New World Order book which comes out on September 9th?!


Sandmann's picture

When Hayek lived in England he remarked on 1d coins still being in circulation with 1901 dates and 1937 as a sign of basic stability. The old coins with Britannia on one side and King's head on the obverse with FD DG Ind Imp were solid and had value.

The 'd' in the days when 240d = 20 Shillings (20/-) = £1  stood for Denarius in a country whose politicians had studied Greek and Latin and thought the British Empire was a successor to Roman and Greek.

Now it has cheap nickel coins that are worthless and is going the way of Portugal

midtablerespectability's picture

Have a read of Tom Holland's Rubicon, it's a very readable history of the Roman Republic and the creation of the Roman Empire. The Romans weren't great,they were just thieves and plunderers. They stole riches from other lands that they conquered, and taxed the populace that that remained after the slaughter and enslavement.  Their actions make the current 1% look like Occupy Wall Street by comparison. Rome carried the biggest stick at the time and that worked fine for a while like all empires/republics. It never lasts though due to the developing sense of entitlement from the top to the bottom of society creating inertia. History doesn't repeat but it does rhyme. The rot had started very early on.

oudinot's picture

'Rome carried the biggest stick at the time and that worked fine for a while..."

Rome was the dominant force for over 600 years-250BC to 400AD- and the eastern Roman Empire lasted 1,100 years-300 AD to 1453 (the sack of Constantinople by Muslims).

You have no idea what you are talking about.

adr's picture

In other words if you mess with the ability of the elite to grant themselves anything they wish, you'll eventually get your head cut off.

The goal of those in power is not to grant more power to the masses, but to ensure their own power remains absolute.

If given the chance a sociopath will always ascend  to power and raise even more sociopaths to his level. A sociopath can only associate with others like him. Although other sociopaths are a personal threat, those lacking sociopathic tendencies are a threat to the sociopathic way of life. The way of life must be  maintained at all cost.

The first thing a just man must do is decimate the ranks of the unjust, a hard thing for a just man to accomplish out if fear that this act will turn him into what he is trying to rid from the world.

CheapBastard's picture

Excellent article! Thanks for contributing it.

limacon's picture

Currency reform driven by need to pay troops ? See

Something similar can be seen in

If the stability of the state depends on mercenary(contract) soldiers , this stability is only as good as the currency .

Else rustle up a Great Patriotic War in a hurry .

JimS's picture

The Romans were in a un-tenable position with regards to basing their currency on silver. This dependence on silver was being exploited by traders taking goods (silver, slaves, lumber) eastward and returning with silk, perfume, spices, and gold. The silver/gold ratio was 16-1 in the west, and was 7-1 in the east. Silver flows east and gold to the west. This amounts to a HUGE arbitrage and enormous profits for every successful round-turn trade. This arbitrage existed until mid-1600's. That is why numerous battles/wars were fought for control of the east-west trade route. You can read all about this situation in the "Lost Science Of Money". It will answer a lot of questions about how the world got to where it is today, with regards to "money".

sidiji's picture

High mark of ancient civilization? lol not...compared to Tang or Ming dynasty China is like comparing Bangladesh to the US.  China invented paper money so if you want to blame someone for the money printing press blame it on them..oh yah they invented the printing press too...with some ups and down they seem to have held up pretty well the last 4000 years.

FYI, Rome didnt end with the collapse in the west, it lasted for thousands of years under the Byzantine emperors...whose double headed eagle standard is still claimed by today by...Russia, czars...ceasars...get it?

Joe_in_Indiana's picture

Marc Faber's book "Tomorrow's Gold" covers this topic very well also.