Ancient coin in sale reflects monetary system changes
- Published: Dec 30, 2020, 9 AM
Money in general and especially ancient coins act as artifacts of economic history.
A circa A.D. 300 silver argenteus of Maximianus (also called Maximian), sold in Classical Numismatic Group’s electronic auction No. 482 ending Dec. 16, reveals the changing shape of money in ancient Rome.
The Extremely Fine coin from Maximian’s first reign realized $560.50, including the 18 percent buyer’s fee.
The coin was struck at the mint in Ticinum (modern day Pavia). It measures 18 millimeters in diameter and weighs 3.05 grams, the width of a Roosevelt copper-nickel clad dime but almost 50% heavier.
The ruler’s laureate head appears on the obverse, and a wreath and the denomination appear on the reverse. A giant flan crack bisects the 12 o’clock position of the obverse, through to the middle of the coin.
During the later third century A.D., monetary reforms were implemented to restore the imperial coinage to a more stable system of relational weights and to improve fineness, according to CNG.
A money reform
Inspired by the monetary system of Nero, Maximiam’s co-ruler Diocletian set out on his reformation of the coinage along that line, based on a ratio of 1:4, with four sestertii equal to one denarius.
To this end, in A.D. 294 to 295, two new denominations were introduced including this one of nearly pure silver. This newly inaugurated argenteus coin was to be struck 96 to the pound (indicated by the XCVI on the reverse of some issues, as on this coin), and, like the denarius, of a high fineness of silver, according to CNG.
The argenteus would also be valued in relation to the new bronze denomination, thereby restoring a sense of unity to the entire monetary system. Although Diocletian was introducing the first true silver coin in over a century, the argenteus’s role was to be subsidiary; the aureus and nummus were intended to be the principal coins.
This new system, however, was fragile, the CNG history continues. By A.D. 301, the argenteus had to be revalued to double its face value to keep up with inflation and maintain the relational standard.
Furthermore, the appearance of high quality silver issues encouraged hoarding, resulting in the disappearance of the argenteus from the marketplace.
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