If Rome's rule had ended, its influence did not. In the east the Byzantine
empire was the direct continuation of the Roman and though primarily Greek
in culture nonetheless maintained several Roman institutions, most notably
the law. Roman law likewise continued in the west, where Latin survived,
as did the Roman Church, and the Holy Roman empire soon emerged and ruled
central Europe from Rome northward to the Baltic for almost a millennium.
To paraphrase the venerable Bede, as long as the Colosseum survives, Rome
will survive, and as long as Rome survives, the world will survive. All
three survive in one form or another. The history of ancient Rome from 753
B.C. to A.D. 476 is therefore central to an understanding of western history,
and what fascinates numismatists and historians alike is that Rome's history
is indelibly stamped on its coins.
The economy of regal Rome was one of barter, with value determined by livestock:
Latin pecunia, "money," derives from pecus, a collective
noun meaning "livestock" and referring especially to sheep and
cattle, and "fee" is its English relative. "Money,"
on the other hand, is derived from Latin moneta, an epithet of the
goddess Juno, whose temple on the Capitoline hill in Rome (located under
the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli) was the location of Rome's first
mint; thus both "money" and "mint" derive from moneta.
The earliest money consisted first of uncoined bronze (aes rude),
then cast bronze bars (aes signatum), and finally--tradition says
about 289 B.C.--aes grave (literally "heavy bronze"), cast
coins with differing weights and concomitantly differing face-values minted
at Rome under the supervision of an appointed board of three men known formally
as tresviri monetales. The one-pound bronze as (plural asses)
was standard. As Roman armies marched southward, they encountered the silver
coinage long traditional in the Greek colonies located there, and by 269
B.C. the tresviri monetales were regularly (as opposed to extraordinarily)
minting silver coins, which were intended for the south and which were monetarily
independent of the traditional bronze asses. So the appearance of
silver coinage marks the denouement of Rome's expansion throughout the boot
of the Italian peninsula.
The first Punic War with Carthage required more than the usual amount of
capital, and so a lighter and therefore slightly devalued silver issue resulted.
Around 235 B.C. silver coinage became much more Roman, i.e., less
Greek, in style, and the legend ROMANO was replaced by ROMA; both changes
signal a greater sense of national self-identity as a consequence of Rome's
first international military undertaking. Around the same time, however,
the bronze as became a casualty of the war, being reduced to half
its original one-pound value. The second Punic War brought Hannibal to Italy,
disastrous defeats to the Romans at Lake Trasimene in 217 B.C. and at Cannae
a year later, and virtual collapse of the coinage. Around 211 B.C. a new
system of gold, silver, and bronze coins arose, based on the silver denarius,
worth 10 asses. This quickly became the standard issue, and it lasted,
with devaluations, for some 400 years.
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