ISAW Paper 14 (2019) now available: "The Constantian Monetary Revolution"

By David M. Ratzan
04/03/2019

ISAW Papers 14 (2019)

The Constantian Monetary Revolution

Roger S. Bagnall and Gilles Bransbourg

http://hdl.handle.net/2333.1/3n5tb9sc

Abstract: The fourth century CE represents a peculiar moment of monetary history. Most prices rose about fifty thousandfold, materializing the strongest inflationary period ever experienced during Antiquity. Traditionally, this price inflation has been linked to coinage debasement. However, the reality is more complex: imperial authorities also manipulated coinage tariffs in current units of account. This is particularly noticeable under the reign of Constantius II, when most prices increased about twenty-fold in a matter of few years in the early 350s, with no coinage change of comparable magnitude. Very interestingly, gold and silver rose to preeminence at the same moment, at the expense of base metal. We believe both phenomena were linked. A thorough analysis of papyrological and numismatic evidence will demonstrate that the increased supply of silver coinage was allowed by the removal of silver from the existing billon coinage supply, while growth in gold coinage depended on new metallic sources. The sudden price increase, sometimes explained by some form of competition between precious and base metals, would in fact result almost mechanically from the retariffication and subsequent demonetization of the existing billon coinage, replaced during that process by bronze coins of comparable monetary value but of much lesser commodity value. This led ultimately to the bimetallic gold: bronze bullion-based price system that defines the Byzantine period. This paper originated in a conference presentation at "Money Rules!", held in Orléans October 29-31, 2015, and organized by Thomas Faucher. A slightly different version will appear in the proceedings of that conference: R. Bagnall and G. Bransbourg, The Constantian Monetary Revolution. In Th. Faucher (ed.), Money Rules! The monetary economy of Egypt, from Persians until the beginning of Islam (Cairo, IFAO, forthcoming).

Library of Congress Subjects: Numismatics, RomanEconomic history--To 500.