Where did all the silver go?!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by JayAg47, Aug 29, 2020.

  1. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Yes indeed. The near universal academic focus upon so called "bullion famines" has troubled me for 40 years or so. It seems to me a kind of less than honest sanitisation of history.

    'simple answers and something to blame'

    Seems to me there are multiple other very big factors involved

    1) Gvt attempts to interfere with the currency in order to balance the books

    2) Gvt decisions concerning what form money itself should take

    3) Hoarding by those outside gvt in pursuit of profits - creating metal commodity scarcity

    I notice only one of these factors being discussed above [(1) - competently by Doug.]

    Concerning (2) – it seems very likely to me that (for example) gold would gravitate to Roman/Byzantine mints in the late ancient/early medieval period. Meanwhile silver would tend to go to Sasanid Persia where it was much more used as money

    Concerning (3) there was a permanent world wide problem with hoarding of coin by the wealthy in pre-modern times. Merely by hoarding it - one helped push the value of the metal up, and thus the costs of labour and other commodities down.

    I challenged Spufford about this when his big book (Money and its use in Medieval Europe) came out in 1988. He correctly recorded massive hoarding in medieval Europe – but tried to argue it was just a consequence of a pre-existing bullion famine due to mine decline. His argument was unsupported, and seemed hardly rational to me. Spufford ducked the debate opportunity.

    What troubles me most is that many ancient kings clearly understood this matter, but it is so little understood by modern numismatists – collectors or academics.

    That fellow Julius Caesar got it - the truth is out there

    Rob
     
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  3. JohnnyC

    JohnnyC Member

    I have always assumed that much of the silver didn't disappear but rather it was recycled in the ever increasing quantity of ever more debased billon coinage of the 3rd century (as antoniniani and later, the earlier folles).

    But I can't quote any figures for just how much silver was still circulating at various times through this period.

    Ross G.
     
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  4. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Hello Ross - yes - I think that was more or less Doug's correct point too.

    The real problems however are to do with quantifying varying scale of hoarding. It was often clearly massive - but impossible by its nature to properly quantify.......

    Worth remembering too that the biggest ever move in worldwide metal values was around 1870. Many gvts abandoned bi-metalism and silver dropped against gold from 16:1 to 35:1. To thoughtlessly talk about historical bullion prices as a "market phenomenon" rather misses the role of a few giant players in the "market"

    Rob
     
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  5. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    I think the word "church" should be replaced by "temple." He was not raiding accumulated Christian treasures, rather accumulated pagan treasures. Also, silver (in the form of siliqua) are not at all common until Constantius II as Augustus; silver is still very unusual until after the death of Constantine. There is a much silver minted as argentei under the First Tetrarchy as silver minted as new denominations under Constantine, so his "raids," if they happened, did not result in increased silver coinage under Constantine. If there was confiscation of (temple) silver which was put into coinage, it really got going after Constantine died.
     
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  6. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    I too would be cautious about such matters. In England we know Henry VIII confiscated a lot of treasure from monasteries yet this went hand in hand with a great debasement of the coinage. Seems his ability to spend it far outran what he could confiscate at least in that case.

    I hope I am right in assuming an uptick in gold production under Constantine - which perhaps was in part underwritten by "plundering" the coinage itself - in the sense that he melted the "pagan" gold of rivals and struck much lighter solidi of his own?

    Rob
     
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