It Didn’t Begin with FDR: Currency Devaluation in the Roman Empire

by David Serrano Ordozgoiti

The phenomenon of currency devaluation and its consequences is a process that not only occurred in modern times, but has much deeper roots, going back to antiquity.

With the collapse of the Roman Republic, Caesar’s grandnephew Gaius Octavianus, renamed Augustus, rose to power and soon implemented a far-reaching monetary reform for the Roman common market. The old republican trimetallic system of different denominations of silver, brass, and bronze became a new quadrimetallic system of denominations of gold (aureus and quinary aureus), silver (denarius and quinary), brass (sestertius and dupondius), and copper (as, semis, and quadrant). The denarius aureus, or nummus aureus, was the stable base of the trimetallic system, with a high precious metal content of 98 percent. This unit fell from a theoretical 8.175 grams of the Caesarian aureus to a theoretical 7.785 grams under Augustus.

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