Chapter 13

How the Emperors Devalued their Coin

March 10, 2020

The Roman republic devalued their coin by adding alloys because of the unwise spending of their leaders. They even plated or covered cheap metals like copper with a thin plate of silver. This money is mentioned in the 77th book of Dio.

Didius Julian first began to debase it. The coin of Caracalla had an alloy of more than half. The coin of Alexander Severus had 2/3. The debasing increased until under Gallienus until the silver coin was merely copper silvered over.

Such violent proceedings cannot happen nowadays. A prince might deceive himself, but he could deceive nobody else. The exchange has taught the banker to compare all the money in the world, and to establish its just value. The standard of money can be no longer a secret.

If the prince plated his copper with silver, everybody would still use it. It would be sent overseas to buy imports and come back as copper.

If, like the Roman emperors, he debased the silver, without debasing the gold, the gold would suddenly disappear, and he would be reduced to his bad silver.

The exchange, as I have said in the preceding book,* has deprived princes of the opportunity of shewing great exertions of authority, or at least has rendered them ineffectual.

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