98 of 234: Money issues in the early 80s BCE, preliminaries

Main points. A brain dump.

91 BCE – Drusus is said to have mixed bronze with the silver as plebeian tribune. Still, even after testing by drilling, there is no evidence this is true for the denarii of these years. The Plinian tradition(s) want to cast Drusus as greedy and a liar, the historiographer in me wants to see the debasement accusation as just part of this tradition. He is also accused of nearly single-handedly CAUSING the Social War. (early post)

90 BCE – Social War: masses of coins rapidly struck by Romans, The new Italian confederacy issues denarii of their own (debased?). The only significant silver debasement among the Roman coins are for the quinarii, but quinarii were always lower silver content, but irregularly struck. I wonder if Drusus was blamed for the low silver content of these quinarii and the memory came down to us as that passage in Pliny? (RRC 340/2, RRC 341/3, RRC 343/2) Note to self: this debasement difference was confirmed in private correspondence; check email for details when doing final write up.

91-90 BCE – semiuncial standard introduced for bronze and we also get the rare little ELP silver sestertii (issued by Piso RRC 340/3 and Silanus RRC 337/4). The dating depends on whether it was Gnaeus the Marian brother or Gaius the Sullan Brother who brought about the lex Papiria, but I lean Marian as did Crawford and Mattingly. (early post) This view is supported by the heavy (if highly irratic) weight of Sullan asses as compared to those of the semuncial standard (I use Macer’s for the visual). Those Sullan asses on something closer to an uncial standard were the last asses before the next civil wars. Small change (i.e. fractional bronzes) seems to have been a popular type of politics not one actually useful to the state finances and certainly not something Sulla himself supported spending money on.

89 BCE – There is a big problem with debt following the Social War. Asellio as Praetor gets murdered by money lenders in the forum while offering sacrifice and no one ever turns in the mob ring leaders. They were angry he was upholding an old law against usury.

88 BCE – Sulla and Pompeius Rufus pass a law that seems to limit interest rates and perhaps erases 10% of existing debts (Festus 516 L)

88 BCE – Cinna is said to have (a) tried and failed to mobilized enslaved peoples by offers of freedom (an old trope), and (b) to have incited revolution in NEW citizens in Tibur, Praeneste, and as far as Nola, specifically he used them as a source of funding for his efforts (App. BC 1.65). There is more testimony of further money collection from allied cities, i.e. those who defected with the offer of citizenship to the Roman side in the Social War, after the administering of military oaths (App. BC 1.66). An analysis of historiographical tradition behind all this: Heredia Chimeno, Carlos. “Apiano, el « Cinnanum Tempus » y el nuevo régimen.” Aevum 93, no. 1 (2019): 155-174, esp. p. 159. cf. Also by the same author, Heredia Chimeno, Carlos. “Consideraciones historiográficas en torno al « Cinnanum tempus ».” Faventia 41 (2019): 21-36. [non vide]


88-87 BCE – Roman issues are debased by a few percent, both those struck by Cinnan and Sullan partisans. There is however no evidence thus far that these issues are hoarded differently (new better evidence sent by Lockyear supporting this!), or cut more or subject to more bankers mark, but they are also slightly lower weight and contain more striking errors (double strikes, brockages, etc…) Future coin of the Cinnan regime is not debased in any meaningful way.

86 BCE – Influx of money from Ptolemy Alexander?! See Crawford RRC II, 605, citing Badian 1967. My take on this is that Crawford probably put too much emphasis on Badian’s reconstruction (new post). BUT now private correspondence suggests in fact trace elements show new influx of silver consistent to with Ptolemaic sources (see email)

86 BCE – Gratidianus as praetor urbanus takes credit for some sensible and popular monetary policy that had been developed in committee. We don’t know either the problem or the solution. (round up of evidence and interpretations) What is the key evidence? Cicero says the no one knew what they had (Off. 3.80: ut nemo posset scire, quid haberet). Pliny says a igitur ars facta denarios probare (NH 33.132). The key word here is probare. Which can mean to test, but I think is better taken to mean approved or validated in this context. Why do I think that? Well probare is something that happens to both bronze coins and also ship rams in the 1st Punic War (earlier post, follow up). Probare seems to be an action taken by a Roman magistrate to deem something acceptable for use (see new post). This makes me sympathetic to Heinrichs 2008 view that Gratidianus made it a crime not to accept a coin at face value unless proven fake (e.g. with a banker’s mark that showed it to be plated), even if it was low weight or worn, just like the lex Cornelia in the Sent. Paul. He may have also fixed the bronze to silver exchange rate or that might have already been fixed de facto if semi-uncial and uncial bronzes all had to be accepted at face value. Cicero’s iactabatur…nummus, “coin in flux”, is such a strange metaphoric phrase it is hard to put too much emphasis on it beyond perhaps meaning that the lex Papiria caused more problems than it solved.

86-85 BCE – revival of Argentum Publicum legend use on coinage. …

84 BCE – Cinna and Carbo fearing Sulla’s well-resourced return start collecting Money (and other stuff) up and down Italy (App. BC 1.76)

83 BCE – By contrast whereas Sulla’s enemies in the city are taking money from all over Italy (App. BC 81), Sulla is said to be spending money to get more Italic troops (App. BC 86) Capitoline burns, perhaps effecting mint operations?

82 BCE – Sulla specifically considers the contribution or lending or borrowing of money to be a crime worthy of massacre, banishment or property confiscation (App. BC 96)

lex Cornelia (Sent. Paul.) established perhaps because Sulla as dictator had to turn over existing legislation but also needed to keep or re-instituted/codify those financial solutions that actually worked.

Flower, Harriet I.. “Rome’s first civil war and the fragility of republican political culture.” In Citizens of discord: Rome and its civil wars, Edited by Breed, Brian W., Damon, Cynthia and Rossi, Andreola Francesca., 73-86. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Pr., 2010. Abstract: The first true Roman civil war happened in 88 B.C. when Sulla marched on Rome, not in the violence surrounding the Gracchi in the 2nd cent. The traditional republican government of the « nobiles » came to a decisive end in the early 80s, specifically with the marches on Rome by Sulla and Cinna. The interpretation of the 80s as a political watershed is based on two fundamental observations : 1) The rupture caused by civil war in the city’s political life and social fabric was stark. 2) The republic set up by Sulla through his legislation in 81 was significantly different from what had come before in Roman history

The above is not unlike her argument in her own book on the Roman republics, but a nice focused treatment of the topic.

Cf. Morstein-Marx, Robert. “Consular appeals to the army in 88 and 87: the locus of legitimacy in late-republican Rome.” In Consuls and res publica: holding high office in the Roman Republic, Edited by Beck, Hans, Duplá, Antonio, Jehne, Martin and Pina Polo, Francisco., 259-278. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Pr., 2011. Abstract: If one sets aside some traditional but questionable assumptions about the disaffection, disloyalty, or degeneration of the post-Marian army, one may appreciate more precisely the issues of political legitimacy that arose in 88 and 87 B.C. Sulla’s march can hardly have been generally viewed as a coup against the state. Arguably, the character and role of the consulship were central issues in the civil conflicts in which Sulla in 88 and Cinna in 87 were involved, especially in the minds of the legions who followed them. Attention to the claims of legitimacy that these men and their followers staked casts light on contemporary understanding of the meaning of the consulship in republican political culture. Texts considered include Cicero, Att. 9, 10, 2-3 ; and Appian 1, 57 and 1, 65-66.

I want to read something on Cinnan era legislation and Sulla’s reactions to it… I’ve not found the right study yet.

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