Did normal middle class people have gold coins in Ancient times?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Gam3rBlake, Mar 26, 2021.

  1. Robert Ransom

    Robert Ransom Well-Known Member

    I suspect they would have kept silver for ease of use. As far as stating a hypothesis, you did not state your opinion and/or its basis, only statements followed by a question(s) besides, how can we test your theory? With suppositions? I think common sense would be the deciding factor..
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  3. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    You’re right there is no way to test my theory. I was just curious if anyone happened to know or read something about the use of currency in the regular population.

    I do agree with you though that silver denarii would’ve made sense for ease of use.

    But it seems to me like it would make sense to have gold too as a portable store of wealth. Maybe a couple aureii and the rest in denarii.

    Now I’m wondering if there were “money changers” in Rome where someone could exchange 1 aureii for 25 denarii or 25 denarii for 1 aureii. o_O
  4. Robert Ransom

    Robert Ransom Well-Known Member

    I think you should quit while you are still sane;)
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  5. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Fair enough.

    The main reason for the whole question was this.

    If someone buys an AUREUS for their collection does that mean that a famous & wealthy Roman was more likely to have owned that coin at some point than say a DENARIUS?

    If the majority of people never owned an aureus because they were too poor doesn’t that make it more likely that any aureii have a good chance of having been owned by prominent Romans (like Crassus) of the time?

    Like an Aureus of Julius Caesar has a better chance of having been held by Crassus himself than a Denarius of Julius Caesar right? Because it’s unlikely that most of the common people of the time would’ve ever had a chance to touch an Aureus from that time.

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  6. panzerman

    panzerman Well-Known Member

    Thank God, that the evil creep (Crassus) died at Carrhae. The good guys won that one. Funny, the Roman Republic called their enemies "barbarians". In reality the Republic/ Empire where based on slavery/ oppression/ depravity/ cruelty. But, they did produce beautifull coinage for us to collect. On the subject of Stalin's extermination of Kulaks/ upwards of 10-16 Million where shoot/ starved to death in the Ukraine 1932-34. So, probably not just "Kulaks" perished, but also poor peasants. Even the Red Army/ Airforce where called in to bomb villages that had resisted the OGPU secret police hit squads.
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  7. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    In all fairness pretty much EVERY country had slavery & oppression at some point in time.

    The Greeks had slaves too.

    So did the Persians.

    I don’t really think it’s fair to single out individual countries for slavery when it was common worldwide.
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  8. Theoderic

    Theoderic Active Member

    Gam3rBlake, I agree that there was a middle class during the Roman Empire; perhaps not as widespread or as aggressively consuming as the middle class that we've known in the post WWII era but more in line with the smaller merchant/artisan class that has existed in the West since the 15th century. People from various walks of life living relatively simply but with the means to save a small amount every month and put it away for a rainy day.

    However, as to whether they would keep their savings in gold I would say no. Saving some excess every month, no doubt their savings were accumulated in bronze and/or silver. After a few years, could they afford to trade it all in for one or two aurei? Yes in theory, but in practice it would not make economic sense. Money changers in antiquity were notorious for their outrageous exchange rates and one would not use their services unless absolutely necessary. Recall Jesus, forgiving of tax collectors and prostitutes, but angry enough with money changers to start kicking over tables in the Temple. Any one changing their 25 or 50 denarii into 1 or 2 aureii would face a severe haircut in fees. Additionally, if you needed to actually spend your savings on some unexpected emergency, you'd need to exchange it back into silver to pay the relevant parties, and thus face another exchange rate loss from the money changers.

    Glancing at Roman coin hoard records and publications it seems that many consist of bronze and silver coins and that very few are of gold. Those that are gold are usually substantial deposits connected to government/army or wealthy private individuals. Perhaps findings of one or two aureii are misdescribed as a "stray find" instead of a "small hoard", but overall my feeling is that the Roman middle class kept their savings ready at hand in silver.
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  9. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Hmm that makes sense.

    Now I may be wrong, but here is my own reasoning.

    Are you talking about "money changers"? Because I think the ones you're talking about are the ones who converted foreign currency. Like converting Greek drachmae into Roman denarii. Not converting coins of same currency like a Roman aureus into Roman denarii.

    I figured maybe if people had to travel for a long period of time (or permanently) it would be easier to carry a few gold coins than a bag of silver ya know?

    Like lets say a Roman soldier was on campaign in Gaul and got paid 1 Denarius per day.

    Well wouldn't it make sense for the soldier to keep some Denarii for spending but keep any savings in Aureii so he doesn't have to carry a bag of silver around with him on campaign?

    Then when the campaign was over he could bring his gold coins back home and either spend them on goods (like garum/liquamen!) or convert them back into Denarii since he wouldn't be travelling with them anymore.

    It just seems like there might be unique, if not common, situations where a citizen would prefer the more portable form of wealth in gold.

    I should also mention that exile was a common punishment so if a Roman citizen was stripped of citizenship and exiled it seems like they'd want to carry their wealth out of Rome. Again I'm talking about the "middle class" who might have things worth selling. They couldn't carry all that with them so maybe selling it for denarii and converting some of those denarii into aureii would allow them to travel quicker and lighter.
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  10. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & Eccentric Moderator

    It's an interesting question.

    A middle aged soldier whose skeleton was found at Herculaneum carried three aureii when he died. (See last paragraph here, under "Analysis"). Could he have been considered "middle class"? I don't know. He might have been an officer.

    More aureii have been discovered with human remains in Pompeii in the last five years.

    Fascinating stuff, eh?
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  11. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Probably money changers were common, being like the bankers of today. Except there were no banks in the Roman world.
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  12. Theoderic

    Theoderic Active Member

    I was thinking really of the part-time individuals who must have existed in every Roman town that, if you needed to change denarii to aureii, knew a guy who knew a guy. Maybe old Lucius who ran the corner wine shop or so-in-so's shifty brother-in-law up the street. There were more professional merchants who operated in the big cities and at festival times, and they may have been focused more on the denarii/drachm type of trade, but regardless of who you dealt with you'd face the same problem of losing on the exchange rate. However, no doubt there were specific situations such as you pointed out, military service or other long distance travel, that would make that loss worthwhile.
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  13. Robert Ransom

    Robert Ransom Well-Known Member

    The whole issue seems to be predicated upon individuals who can either afford the large denomination because of desire or need as in the case of travelers or the storage of wealth. This leaves out the majority of the population living in that time.
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  14. Hrefn

    Hrefn Well-Known Member

    Small hoards of gold certainly exist which could be the life savings of a middle class person. This looks like the savings of a family possibly accumulated over a very long time, as it features some worn late Roman solidi with some early Byzantine fractional gold.

    From FC939DE6-3010-4E54-AF06-2A0312F719FD.jpeg FC939DE6-3010-4E54-AF06-2A0312F719FD.jpeg GABRIELA BIJOVSKY et al.
    A Byzantine Hoard of Gold Coins from Ashqelon, Barnea B–C Neighborhood
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  15. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    According to the Notitia Dignitatum, the salary for the Magister Peditum and Magister Equitem was around 700 solidi per year. (Master of Soldiers, Master of Horse). Obviously this was far out of reach of the average citizen.
  16. Robert Ransom

    Robert Ransom Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately, we will never know.
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  17. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Do you think it’s possible maybe the Roman Army itself aided in this matter?

    For example instead of paying a soldier 1 denarius every single day (which would get tedious and time consuming) maybe the Roman Army paid that soldier an aureus once a month?

    Kind of like how today a workplace doesn’t pay someone every single day but they lump it up into a weekly, biweekly or monthly paycheck.
  18. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Actually there were banks in Ancient Rome.

    But I get what you’re saying ;)

  19. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Nice! Now that’s what I’m talking about!

    I’m wondering if that hoard belonged to like a middle class family who needed to travel somewhere and converted their excess belongings and possessions for money and then converted their money into aureii to make it light and simple to travel with.

    Like maybe they had some land and some cows and pigs and chickens and sold all that for the gold aureii so they could bring their wealth with them in a small bag rather than trying to bring a bunch of farm animals with them across the country.
  20. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Yeah but those are the people we are talking about.

    Not the people who were dirt poor and lived hand to mouth.

    But more like Roman soldiers, government officials and people like that who likely were able to afford to save a small amount every year.

    People who weren’t the majority (the poor) or the minority (the filthy rich) but rather people in between. People who didn’t need to spend every denarius they got just to survive.

    Even if a man only saved 1 denarii per month (a day’s wages so not unrealistic) he would end up saving 12 denarii per year.

    Well over 10 years that’s 120 denarii or a little bit less than 5 gold aureii.

    He could keep say 20 denarii for small transactions and keep the rest of his life savings in the form of 4 gold aureii which would be easier to hide or carry to keep safe whereas a bag full of 120 silver denarii would be difficult to keep on one’s person for a long period of time such as when traveling along the Roman roads.

    Take a look at the Greek historian Herodotus. He travelled all over the place from Persia to Asia and instead of carrying thousands of denarii with him to pay expenses it seems like it would make more sense to keep a single bag of gold Greek staters (they had a little more gold than a Roman aureus) and use those. Then he would be given change (since most purchases wouldn’t be worth an entire gold stater) which he could spend on his future transactions.
  21. Robert Ransom

    Robert Ransom Well-Known Member

    Stated again and again using different scenarios.
    The historian Herodotus was a popular figure throughout the, circa. 400's BC, Mediterranean World. Kings and Pharaoh's would provide travel protection within their borders and welcome him to their palaces where they would house and feed him and his retinue. Information was a valuable commodity. Upon his departure, they would offer all types goods as an act of tribute for enlightenment of the health and status of other realms through which he traveled. Was some of this tribute in the form of gold and silver, probably a minor amount, but I suspect Royal Documents commanding public officials to house, feed and provide protected transport for him and his retinue were of more value.
    Gold versus silver. Were the more affluent (soldiers, officials, businessmen, etc.) capable of saving? Yes they were. Did they save? I vote yes. If we are talking large sums, I would think gold, and some silver for everyday needs. I think logic would be the driving factor.
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