Why didn't the Romans issue fractional gold like Indian Fanams?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by JayAg47, Jan 19, 2021.

  1. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    I know they had the half Aureus, aka quinarius, however they were still out of reach for a common person. I wonder why didn't they issue coins like the modern Indian Fanams that weigh under half a gram which could be used by the average person, not only that but we would also have cheap Roman gold to have in our collections ;)
    Makes me think what kind of designs and information the engravers would've fit into these tiny flans!
    Mysore Kanthariva fanam, 5mm, 0.38g.
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  3. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    You are assuming there would be low demand like fanams. It would all depend on production, since the demand would be high. It is not the metal value that makes Roman gold expensive, its the rarity and the fact usually the best celators worked on gold, meaning gold coins are usually the highest style for an emperor.
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    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    It's still a really interesting question, though, what was happening with the contemporaneous economic dynamics. Given the modern reputation the Roman middle class has, for extent and stability (into the 3rd century, anyway), it would make a lot of sense for there to be smaller gold denominations. But why not some equivalent of a tetradrachm to go with them?
    ...After the collapse and abandonment of the antoninianus, the picture you get from the 4th century monetary landscape is exactly in keeping with the ongoing concentration of wealth, and the proto-manorialism which eventually fed into the origins of medieval feudalism. Gold, nominal AE, and not much in between. Why should the earlier model (c. 1st-earlier 3rd centuries) be any less intuitive?
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2021
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  5. Herodotus

    Herodotus Well-Known Member

    I suppose it’s for the reasoning that AU was generally reserved for large payments/purchases, rather than everyday commerce.

    The average soldier made the equivalent of one aureus per month.

    Can you imagine the look on a taverna keeper’s face when having to make change for an aureus for the purchase of a flask of wine, a chunk of bread and a side of garum?

    I suppose that making change for a 1/8 Aureus might be somewhat easier, but it would likely still elicit some grumbles.
    svessien, JayAg47 and +VGO.DVCKS like this.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    I was thinking of that. When a legionary got paid, where would he go to spend it?
  7. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I view that the Romans wanted to have a silver coin, but they simply ran out of silver. The Silk Road moved northerly in the 3rd century due to the devastation of Bactria. This moved the road out of gold users and into an area where silver was the base coinage. As such, it sucked all of the silver out of the Roman empire due to demand for Eastern imports.
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  8. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    If their pay was an aureus, it would be an equivalent value in lesser coins.
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    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    But, to @JayAg47's original point, as amplified by @Herodotus, how readily could a typical low-end merchant make change --especially if a whole legion got paid at the same time?
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2021
  10. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    A good macroeconomic point. But I suspect that, from the time of Caracalla and even before, there also would have been more mundane, effectively independent factors, along the lines of imperial self-interest.
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  11. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I was trying to say that Aureus would be the total pay, not necessarily the coinage given to the troops. Just like if you get paid $1000 a week, does not mean the employer has to give you a $1000 bill, they can give you 8 $100's and 10 $20's. Similarly, if someone got paid $10 a month in US history does not mean they had to been given an Eagle.
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  12. scottishmoney

    scottishmoney Я люблю черных кошек

    I wonder how often Romans got paid? Once a week, once a month?
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  13. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I agree that during the 3rd century it was all about debasement for emperor's gain. However, Diocletian tried to reform, but at that point the empire, due to the Northern Silk Road, was being sucked dry of any silver it had. I assumed everyone, like you are, were aware of debasement being the predominant trend in 3rd century Rome. My comment was more around Diocletian's reform and why it failed for silver coinage. Sorry I have a bad habit of not connecting my dots. :)
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  14. panzerman

    panzerman Well-Known Member

    The Holy Roman Empire had it right/ not only did they strike the most beautifull of all known coinages/ but struck all denominations. Imperial Mints made 1/32 1/16/ 1/8 1/4 1/2 Dukats for the lower classes/ 1/2/4 Dukaten for the Middle Class/ and those sought after 10/20/30 upto 105 Zecchini (Venice) for the nobility.
    Here are a AV 10 Zecchini(Dukaten) Bologna/ Pope Pius VI 1787 and a 1/32 Dukat 1750 Regensburg 877284l (1).jpg IMG_0077.JPG IMG_0078.JPG
  15. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    But my understanding was that a key part of the aureus's place in the economy was precisely the payment of troops. Am I conflating earlier practice with, say, the solidus in the 4th century?
  16. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    No worries, @medoraman, I do the same thing, too often not to be embarrassing!
    Your eleucidation did help me out, though. It makes immediate, intuitive sense that the Silk Road trade was a huge part of what stymied Diocletian, etc.'s efforts at reform, after that much damage had already been done. ...Kind of a perfect storm, between previous, politically-engendered precedent and ensuing macroeconomic trends.
  17. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    It would be helpful if there is any literature around the topic sir. Even if they were paid in an actual aureus, I remember back to my time in the service. Yes, they paid you a monthly check, (like an aureus), but you immediately went to the PX, Finance office, or the bank to cash it and turn it into spendable money. I wonder if similar things went on with the legions on payday. If the legion did not do this for them, I am betting hoards of moneychangers followed them around to do it.
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  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    I think you're onto something here, sir (see how you like it!). A textbook example of why, in appropriate contexts, speculation has to be integral to historical methodology. ...My vote, for what it's worth, is that you likely nailed it. Something, whether from the public or private sector, would have rushed into the vacuum.
  19. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    Firstly, it depends on the period you're referring to.

    The Romans did issue a fractional, the Tremissis - 1/3 of a Solidus.

    As to why they didn't earlier, it's a good question. I suspect however that it was fairly unnecessary. If a decent day's pay was a Denarius, would you really need a fractional for everyday transactions? Sure, you might need more than one Denarius, but it would be pretty rare that a transaction would call for gold.

    Also, we need to remember that currency back then didn't work the same way it does now. Many (probably most) transactions would have been done via the value of goods, accounts, etc, not via cold hard cash - which would have been largely reserved for transactions where you didn't know the person you were dealing with.
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  20. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    A common soldier's pay up the reign of Septimius Severus was 225 denarii per year, less the cost of clothing and food.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2021
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  21. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    This is an important feature. A lot of pay was probably 'on account'. Soldiers also received donatives and had some opportunity for 'income' sacking defeated cities. Remember that Postumus was killed after forbidding one such event. Remember how Pertinax was killed for refusing to enrichen the Praetorians. Base pay was not the bottom line for a soldier. Come to think of it, it is not today. When I was in the Army, I got a base pay but also either room, board and uniforms in kind or additional allowances to cover these things. Has anyone seen the extent of these extra income sources addressed for the average Roman soldier?
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