Old Interpretations…

I’m reading:

Frank, Tenney. “On Some Financial Legislation of the Sullan Period.” The American Journal of Philology 54, no. 1 (1933): 54–58. https://doi.org/10.2307/290251

And finding it very good to think with and through. He’s trying to make historical sense of an odd bit of Festus (516 L) which I’m sad to say I’ve never thought about before today:

Unciaria lex appellari est quam L. Sulla et Q. Pom[peius Rufus] tulerunt qua sanctum est ut debitores decimam partem …

“The law called that of the twelfth was carried by Sulla and Pompeius Rufus (coss. 88) by which it was sanctioned that debtors an tenth part…[the rest is lost]” (my translation)

It just cuts off and that is all we have. The unciaria could refer to a 1% per month interest rate for loans (=12% per annum). The assumption is that the decimam refers to some sort of debt relief and that the whole law was trying to address financial tensions as typified by the murder of the praetor Asellio in 89 BCE (last blog post).

Frank connects the Asellio incident with Senatorial attempts to regain control of juries, suggesting that this was motivated by a concern to adjudicate disputed debts — a clever view if not one able to be substantiated.

Frank’s big goal is to make sense of why a senatorial backer like Sulla would engage in debt relief, in this he’s arguing against Mommsen’s views. I’m less interested in this question and more in how he collects relevant evidence and reads it.

So, he reads Pliny NH 33.46

Livius Drusus in tribunatu plebei octavam partem aeris argento miscuit.

As meaning that every 8th coin was plated citing Grueber BMCRR I.200 for this interpretation. Debernardi has done a great deal of work on plated coin and seems to lean towards the belief that such plated coins could have indeed been issued by the Roman mint. I’m deeply skeptical and this seems an odd reading of the Latin, here but still Drusus didn’t debase the coins and when the silver content does dip in the denariii early 80s under the Cinnan regime it is only by a few precent. In a past post I point out that Pliny seems to be following a tradition that casts Drusus as greedy and dishonest and this passage is just one of a pattern pointing in this direction.

“Livius Drusus in his plebian tribunate mixed an eighth part bronze with silver” (my translation)

The Lex Valeria of 86 was passed by the consul suffectus L. Valerius Flaccus (the same man who lost his life in the mutiny of Fimbria later that year, but seems NOT to be the son of the moneyer, but rather his nephew). This law allowed debts to be repaid as in full with only a quarter of the amount owed (Vell. 2.23.2; cf. Cic. Font. 1.1; Quinct. 17; Sall. Cat. 33.2). Frank treats this as apply to private acocunts primarily, but the evidence from Cicero’s defense of Fonteius (the missing moneyer for whom no coins exist, see RRC 347) suggests that this was a particular benefit to the Cinnan regime in trying to settle its own public accounts. And it suggests that those account records were public:

Cic. Font. 5:

duorum magistratuum, quorum uterque in pecunia maxima tractanda procurandaque versatus est, triumviratus et quaesturae, ratio sic redditur, iudices, ut in eis rebus quae ante oculos gestae sunt, ad mu<l>tos pertinuerunt, confectae publicis privatisque tabulis sunt, nulla significatio furti, nulla alicuius delicti suspicio reperiatur

“of two magistracies, each of which is occupied in handling and dealing with large sums of money, the triumvirate and the quaestorship, such accurate accounts have been rendered, that in those things which were done in the sight of men, which affected many men’s interests, and which were set forth both in public and private registers, no hint of robbery, no suspicion of any offence can possibly arise.” (Loeb translation)

HOW DID FRONTEIUS SURVIVE SULLA’S RETURN?! So many didn’t even those who went to Spain on the winning side!

More tomorrow perhaps…

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