Monday, 3 January 2022

Decline of Roman coinage

A pre-reform denarius of Nero, about 98% pure silver.
For the first 90 years of the Roman Empire the purity of Rome’s silver coinage was 98% or higher. That standard was kept by emperors Augustus, Tiberius (14-37), Caligula (37-41) and Claudius (41-54), and the first decade of Nero's reign (54-68). The Great Fire of Rome in 64 marked the start of a debasement that would eventually bring Rome’s silver coinage to unfathomable depths.
Post-reform denarius of Nero, about 93% pure silver Nero took the quickest path to raising cash – re-coining old money. Nero decreased the purity of the silver denarii by 5%, dropping it from about 98% to about 93%. At the same time he reduced the weight of the denarius by about 12.5%, which further reduced silver content. Nero also reduced the weight of his gold aurei.
Nero was overthrown in 68 giving rise to the Year of Four Emperors in 69. Vespasian (69-79), reduced the purity of the denarius to about 90%.
In 107 Trajan (98-117) reduced the purity of the denarius to 88%. From there the purity slid until 148, when Antoninus Pius (138-161) removed 5%. The denarius was now about 84% or 83% pure. The denarius reached about 71% purity near the end of the reign of Commodus (177-192)
Under Septimius Severus (193-211) the purity of the denarius dropped to about 57%. Over the next four decades, the purity of imperial silver coinage continued to slide, dropping steadily until it had reached about 41% purity under Trajan Decius (249-251). Under Trebonianus Gallus (251-253) and Aemilian (253), it sank to about 35% pure. By 268, the double-denarius had slid to a silver content of 5% or less – in some cases dropping to about 2.5%.