Money in Mid-Republican Rome

By Lucia Carbone
Figure 1. The participants to the workshop Money in Mid-Republican Rome on the terrace of KNIR. Front row (seated, l. to r.): Fleur Kemmers, Marleen Termeer, Jens Brinkers. Second row (l. to r.): Marta Barbato, Lucia Carbone, Melissa Ludke, Maria Cristina Molinari, Cristiano Viglietti, Suzanne Frey-Kupper, Wilhelm Hollstein. Third row (l. to r.): Liv Yarrow, Moritz Hinsch, Seth Bernard, Philip Kay, Andrew Burnett, Marion Bolder Boos, Charles Parisot-Sillon.

On February 16–18, 2023, the Royal Netherlands Institute of Rome (KNIR) hosted an international workshop titled Money in Mid-Republican Rome, to which the author was fortunate enough to participate. This workshop was organized by Fleur Kemmers (Goethe University, Frankfurt) and by Marleen Termeer (Radhoud University, Nijmegen) in cooperation with the KNIR, the German Archaeological Institute at Rome, the Radboud University Nijmegen, and Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. It was funded by the Thyssen Foundation and by the Radhoud University ongoing research project Coining Roman Rule? and saw the participation of 15 scholars coming from Europe, US, and Canada, who dedicated three days to discussing the role and the importance of coinage in Mid-Republican Rome. 

Figure 2. Cover of the catalogue of 1973 exhibit La Roma Medio Repubblicana.

The term “Mid-Republic” refers to the Roman Republic between the fourth and the third centuries BCE or, alternatively, from the beginning of the First Punic War (264 BCE) to the Age of Gracchi (133 BCE).  It was coined after an important exhibit La Roma medio Repubblicana, held at the Capitoline Museum in Rome in 1973 (Fig. 2). In very recent years, this important period, during which Rome became the Mediterranean power to be reckoned with after the defeat of Carthage, has been the subject of several important scholarly contributions, among which Nicola Terrenato’s The Early Roman Expansion into Italy (2019) and the edited volumes Roma Medio Repubblicana. Dalla conquista di Veio alla battaglia di Zama (2021), and Making the Middle Republic. New Approaches to Rome and Italy, c.400–200 BCE (forthcoming). For what concerns numismatic studies, Filippo Coarelli’s Argentum Signatum. Le origini della moneta di argento a Roma (2013), in spite—or actually because—of the scholarly debate it ignited, marked a renewed attention towards the beginning of the Roman monetary production in the very late fourth century BCE. Money in Mid-Republican Rome was then a very welcome occasion to further discuss the role coinage played (or not) in the expansion of Rome over Italy and the Mediterranean and its cultural, social and economic impact on the organization of Roman society in the same years.

The first part of the workshop, A monetizing State?, focused on early Roman coinage.

Philip Kay (Oxford) presented a paper with the provocative (for a workshop dedicated to coinage!) title “A Society without Coinage,” where he argued that coinage was a subordinate exchange medium in the Roman society of the fourth and third centuries BCE, as opposed to debt. According to Kay, the real turning point was the introduction of the denarius. Only after this date, could Rome be considered a “monetized” society.

Figure 3. Silver Didrachm, Rome. RRC 25/1. ANS 1969.83.39.

On the other hand, Seth Bernard (Toronto) used Konraad Verboven and Jan Lucassen’s concept of “deep monetization” to evaluate the relevance of early Roman coinage at a societal level (Fig. 3). He insisted on the importance of small denominations and bronze coinage as a measure of the index of monetization of a society. According to Bernard, the production of a full-scale monetary series, including both silver and bronze denominations could be a good index of “deep monetization.” In his contribution, he singled out the aftermath of the First Punic War as a turning point for the monetization of Roman society, with the issue of the RRC 25 series.

Figure 4. An example of aes grave. Bronze As, Rome. RRC 35/1. ANS 1943.127.1.

Building on the metallurgical analyses of specimens of aes grave from the collections of Yale and Princeton University, Liv Yarrow (Brooklyn College-CUNY Graduate Center) argued that, while the composition of aes rude greatly varies, currency bars and—at much higher level—aes grave show a much similar and more stable composition (Fig. 4). In particular, the result of the metallurgical analysis of 86 specimens of aes grave show a high level of standardization that could be related to a State-controlled production for this coinage. Aes grave production was thus deeply ingrained in statal organization, showing the relevance of coinage as a means of economic exchange already in the early third century BCE.

Figure 5. Silver Victoriatus, uncertain mint. RRC 95/1a. ANS 1944.100.190.

In his paper, Charles Parisot-Sillon (Orleans) argued for the nature of the victoriatus as a special-purpose coinage (Fig. 5). Building on the relatively small size of denarii issues in the early second century BCE and on their heterogenous metallurgical composition within issues, he presented the case that victoriati, on the other hand, were characterized by heterogenous composition between issues, but by extreme homogeneity in composition within issues. Together with minting and find spots, the composition characteristics of victoriati could hint at the use of specific batches of bullion for their production and at their distribution during triumphi or after the discharge of the armies.

In the last paper of the session, Fleur Kemmers argued that circulation and production patterns seem to suggest a weak correlation between the number of legions and silver coinage production. There are almost no newly minted Roman coins in theaters of war in the Mediterranean, as they mostly appear in hoards within Italy. This seems to suggest that stipends and other military payments were made right after the discharge (and possibly not in denarii, as suggested by Parisot-Sillon), while soldiers received only pocket money, mostly in local currencies, during campaigns. On the other hand, she highlighted the importance of public works as a source of public expenditure, and the correlation between censores, publicani and public works.

The second session of the workshop, Rome presenting itself on a Mediterranean stage, dealt with the cultural impact of Roman monetary production and with the relationship between it and the monetary production of the allied cities, colonies, and provinces.

Figure 6. Bronze quadrans with bust of Hercules, Rome. RRC 39/2. ANS 1969.83.89.

In his paper “Hannibal, Q. Fabius Maximus and Hercules (Fig. 6). Choosing coin images at the beginning of the Second Punic War,” Wilhelm Hollstein (Dresden) suggested a correlation between Hercules-related types on Roman coinage (especially RRC 38/5 and the enigmatic collateral series RRC 39) and the gens Fabia, especially Q. Fabius Maximus.

Figure 7. The author presenting her paper at the workshop.

In her paper, Lucia Carbone (New York) highlights the circumstance that Tarentum and Campania were central not only to early Roman production, but also to the beginning of Roman literature (Fig. 7).

Figure 8. A Cosa issue, imitating RRC 17/1. Etruria, Cosa, ca. 273-250 BCE. Helmeted head of Mars r. / Head of horse l. on small dolphin l. EC Series 2, 1–3; HN Italy 210. Bronze, 19 mm, 5.50 g. Bertolami Fine Arts – ACR Auctions > E-Auction 251, 25 February 2023, lot 5.

Marleen Termeer (Nijmegen), Suzanne Frey-Kupper (Warwick) and Melissa Ludke (Tallahassee) presented respectively on the monetary production of the cities allied with Rome, of Sicily, and on the colony of Cosa (Fig. 8). The overall picture is one of very tight interaction, where Rome over the third century BCE gradually shifted her role from enabler yet only participant of the Italian monetary koine to the main mint of the Mediterranean.

The final session of this workshop, A monetizing society?, was focused on the uses of coinage and on the societal effects of the use of coinage.

Cristiano Viglietti (Siena) dealt with the early uses of weighed-out metal and argued that, while “a monetary economy does not necessarily imply the physical use of coinage” (Heymans 2021, 110), the monetary use of weighed-out bronze was a reality in early Republican Rome. The use of weighed-out metal went hand in hand with other means of payment (e.g., operae), since the use of money was contingent to the choice of the society (Bernard 2018, 2).

Figure 9. The Santa Marinella Hoard at the Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (Roma).

Fig. 9 Maria Cristina Molinari (Roma) and Marion Bolder-Boos (Eichstätt) addressed in their papers the contexts of monetary findings between the fourth and the second centuries BCE (whether funerary, votive, or related to abandonment) and their relationship to the ongoing monetization process of Roman society. Marta Barbato (Rome) focused on the hoard of San Chirico Nuovo and in the role played by RRC 13/1 and by Roman monetary production during the Pyrrhic War.

Finally, Moritz Hinsch (München) addressed the numerous attestations of money and money-related terms in Plautine comedies and drew a picture of a double-tier economy, where credit was pervasive among “friends” (according to Verboven’s definition), namely people who were part of the same social network and thus worthy of fides, while cash was used not only for small transactions, but also among people who were not part of the same networks, for a variety of reasons.

In his closing remarks, Andrew Burnett (London) remarked that: a) the question of the economic significance of early Roman struck bronze is still open;  b) the hoard and production data presented in the workshop suggest a change in destination for coinage, mostly found in military-votive contexts in the fourth-third century BCE, but largely destined to public works in the second century BCE; c) that the choice of monetary types for personal glorification could likely be downdated to the Second Punic War; and that d) 240 BCE represented a very clear threshold for the self-presentation of the Roman state to the Mediterranean, as suggested by both coinage and literature, while 200 BCE could likely be chosen as an approximate date for a change in nature of Roman money, where coined metal (and especially silver) became the most widely used means of economic exchange.