XXII.12 Circumstances in which the Romans performed their monetary operations

In ancient times there was very lit­tle gold and sil­ver in Italy : that coun­try has few or no gold and sil­ver mines ; when Rome was taken by the Gauls, only one thou­sand pounds of gold were found there.1 Yet the Romans had pilla­ged seve­ral mighty cities, and had brought their riches home. For a long time, their only coins were of cop­per ; it was only after the peace with Pyrrhus that they had enough sil­ver to make coins with : they made deniers from this metal, which were worth ten asses2 or ten pounds of cop­per, and then the pro­por­tion of sil­ver to cop­per was as 1 to 960 : for the Roman denier being worth ten asses or ten pounds of cop­per, it was worth one hun­dred twenty oun­ces of cop­per ; and the same denier being worth one-eighth of an ounce of sil­ver,3 that made the pro­por­tion which we have just sta­ted.

Rome, having become mis­tress of that part of Italy most proxi­mate to Greece and Sicily, gra­dually found her­self bet­ween two weal­thy peo­ples, the Greeks and the Carthaginians. Her sil­ver increa­sed, and as the pro­por­tion of 1 to 960 bet­ween sil­ver and cop­per could no lon­ger be sus­tai­ned, she per­for­med various ope­ra­tions which we do not know on the moneys. We only know that at the begin­ning of the second Punic War, the Roman denier was down to twenty oun­ces of cop­per, and that the pro­por­tion bet­ween sil­ver and cop­per was thus down to 1 to 160.4 The reduc­tion was quite consi­de­ra­ble, since the repu­blic gai­ned five-sixths on all the cop­per money ; but they did only what the nature of things requi­red, and re-esta­bli­shed the pro­por­tion bet­ween the metals that were ser­ving as money.

The peace that ended the first Punic War had left the Romans mas­ters of Sicily. Soon they ente­red Sardinia and began to dis­co­ver Spain ; the mass of sil­ver fur­ther increa­sed in Rome ; they per­for­med the ope­ra­tion that redu­ced the sil­ver denier from twenty oun­ces to six­teen,5 with the effect of res­to­ring the pro­por­tion of sil­ver and cop­per : that pro­por­tion, which was as 1 is to 160, was now as 1 is to 128.

Pliny, book XXXIII, art. 5.

Freinsheim, book V of Decade II. They also struck, says the same author, half-coins called quinaires, and quarters called sestertii.

One-eighth according to Budé ; one seventh according to other authors.

Pliny, Natural History, book XXXIII, art. 13.

Pliny, ibid.