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Michael Crawford

Ancient devaluations : a general theory


In: Les « dévaluations » à Rome. Epoque républicaine et impériale. Volume 1. Actes du Colloque de Rome (13-15
novembre 1975). Rome : École Française de Rome, 1978. pp. 147-158. (Publications de l'École française de Rome,
37)

Citer ce document / Cite this document :

Crawford Michael. Ancient devaluations : a general theory. In: Les « dévaluations » à Rome. Epoque républicaine et impériale.
Volume 1. Actes du Colloque de Rome (13-15 novembre 1975). Rome : École Française de Rome, 1978. pp. 147-158.
(Publications de l'École française de Rome, 37)

http://www.persee.fr/web/ouvrages/home/prescript/article/efr_0000-0000_1978_act_37_1_1104
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MICHAEL Η. CRAWFORD

ANCIENT DEVALUATIONS: A GENERAL THEORY*

We are relatively well informed about the course followed by the dif
ferent devaluations which affected the Roman monetary system between
the third century B.C. and the fourth century A.D.; the admittedly sparse l
iterary evidence can be supplemented by the evidence provided by analyses
of metallic content and the more obvious evidence of changes in weight
standards; it remains true, of course, that changes in the face value of a
coin can take place without any corresponding change in its metallic con
tent; the recently discovered Currency Edict of Diocletian provides a cau
tionary example of this kind of change.1
If, however, we wish to know something of the effect of a devaluation
and the nature of the public reaction to it, it is necessary to consider the
evidence provided by coin finds for the way in which the issues produced
before and after the devaluation behaved in circulation; since this evidence
is often equivocal and since the literary sources provide almost no help at
all with this problem, there is inevitably a strong temptation to read more
than is legitimate into the evidence.
I begin by listing the various devaluations which occurred between the
beginning of Roman coinage and the reign of Constantine; many of them I
list simply for the sake of completeness; in attempting to elucidate the
problems associated with the effects of and reactions to devaluations, I pro
pose to consider only those devaluations which were substantial and sud
den and which may therefore reasonably be expected to have had an im
pact.

* I here consider only the main-stream coinage of Rome.


1 K. T. Erim, J. Reynolds, M. Crawford, 1RS, 1971, p. 171; further discussion in M. Crawf
ord, ANRW, II, 2, p. 578; J.-P. Callu, BSFN, 1972, p. 290, tentatively followed by D. Sperber, Ro
man Palestine, Ramat-Gan, 1974, p. 182, seems to me to opt for one of the less plausible solu
tions canvassed by K. T. Erim etc.; there is nothing both new and true in M. Giacchero, RIN,
1974, p. 145 = Edictum Diocletiani, Genova, 1974, p. 111. The 1975 season produced further
fragments, to be published shortly, with a reconsideration of some of the issues raised by the
inscription.
148 MICHAEL H. CRAWFORD

(1) The weight of the didrachm declined slightly from the first issue of
280 B.C. to the fourth issue of 265 B.C., thereafter remaining steady until
the Second Punic War.
(2) The weight of the token bronze associated with the didrachm also
declined somewhat.
(3) The weight of the cast as, after rising with the second issue and the
third issue, declined to a weight of about 10 ounces instead of a pound.2
None of these changes is mentioned in the literary tradition and none
appears to have had any effect on the circulating medium.
(4) Between 218 or 217 and 212 or 211 B.C., the weight of the as was r
educed by stages from 10 ounces to 2 ounces; the last stage is recorded in
the literary tradition.3
(5) Between 214 and 212 B.C., the silver didrachm, the quadrigatus, was
reduced in weight and debased, the debasement being recorded by Zona-
ras, from Dio.4
The evidence of the hoards shows an almost complete hiatus between
the didrachm system and the denarius system. There are no hoards
known which show debased quadrigati in circulation with earlier issues;
the Montedoro hoard, consisting exclusively of debased quadrigati,5 is pres
umably part of a consignment sent out by the mint; hoards closing after the
creation of the denarius system contain only 4 isolated survivors of the
quadrigatus coinage.6 Bronze hoards show a similar hiatus; those closing
in the period of the semilibrai as still contain a large proportion of aes
grave of librai standard7 and there is one hoard closing in the period of the
post-semilibral as with a substantial number of librai pieces; hoards closing
after the creation of the denarius system and the adoption of the sextantal
standard contain with one curious exception only relatively few survivors
from the earlier period.8

2 For details see the paper of Professor R.Thomsen, From librai "aes grave" to uncial
"aes" reduction, p. 9-30; M. H. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage, p. 595 with n. 7.
3 Pliny, Ν H xxxiii, 34; Festus 468 L.
4 Zonaras viii, 26.
SRIN, 1912, p. 330, n. 4.
6 Canosa, Pisticci, Paestum, Roman Republican Coin hoards, 86, 93, 103.
7 Carife, Castagneto, Cava dei Tirreni, Cerveteri, Trento, RRCH 50-3, 57.
8 Termoli, RRCH 70 (post-semilibral) ; Castagneto, Isernia, Via Tiberina (a curious accu
mulation, including aes signatum), Città Ducale, Tortoreto, RRCH 77, 78, 81, 97, 101 ; also Santa
Maria di Capua Vetere, RRCH 56, with RRC, 30.
ANCIENT DEVALUATIONS: A GENERAL THEORY 149

(6) In the earlier years of the denarius system, the weight of the denarius
declined from 72 to the pound to 84 to the pound, the weight of the as from
2 ounces towards one ounce; at the same time, occasional seriously under
weight silver issues were produced, slightly more numerous underweight
bronze issues were produced. The weight of the denarius was stabilised at
84 to the pound, the weight of the as continued to decline.9 It is impossi
ble to identify a point at which the uncial standard was introduced, but it is
clear that the average weight of the asses circulating in the middle of the
second century B.C. was roughly uncial.10
(7) In c. 141 B.C. the denarius was re-tariffed at 16 instead of 10 asses,
the value of the as in relation to the denarius being thereby diminished;11
following T. V. Buttrey, I regard this measure as recognising an existing
state of affairs; it also no doubt recognised the fact of the uncial as;12 the
metal ratio between a denarius at 84 to the pound and 16 uncial asses is
close to that between a denarius at 72 to the pound and 10 sextantal asses.
(8) During the course of the second century B.C. the value of the victor-
iati struck in the early years of the denarius system and remaining in circu
lation dropped to half a denarius.13
(9) A Lex Clodia, probably of the late second century B.C., provided for
the striking of the quinarius (from 101 B.C. onwards);14 despite the cryptic
nature of Pliny's remark, I take it that the law both established an official
valuation for victoriati in circulation and provided for the revival of the qui
narius; the first provision of the law, like the re-tariffing of the denarius,
simply recognised an existing state of affairs.15

9 RRC, p. 595 and 596.


10 Note the Città Sant'Angelo, Rocchetta à Volturno and Veroli hoards, RRCH 129, 133,
148.
" RRC, p. 621-625, with earlier bibliography. The argument of Professor R. Thomsen in
his n. 62 for an earlier date seems to me to be based on a very uncertain premise and in any
case to attempt to tie the composition of Polybius i-vi too rigidly to a particular date. It is
hard to assess the theories of P. Marchetti without seeing his forthcoming book; they do not
at the moment seem remotely credible.
12 It is to this that Pliny, NH xxxiii, 45, asses unciales facti, in the context of the re-tariffing,
should in my view be referred.
13 Cato, Agr. 15, 1 with RRC p. 628-9.
14 Pliny, NH xxxiii, 46, is qui mine victoriatus appellatur lege Clodia percussus est, with RRC,
p. 628-9.
15 If a law was necessary to establish an official valuation of half a denarius for early vic
toriati, that suggests originally a higher valuation; I believe that with both denarius and victor-
150 MICHAEL H. CRAWFORD

None of the preceding four changes in the organisation of the Roman


monetary system had any effect on the circulating medium that can now be
detected.
(10) After the as was withdrawn from production in the middle of the
second century B.C., its fractions were struck on a standard well below
uncial; when the as was revived late in the century the uncial standard was
restored;16 in 91 B.C. a Lex Papiria introduced the semuncial standard (and
re-introduced the sestertius).17
Whatever the reason for the Lex Papiria, it is clear that it was without
lasting consequences on the circulating medium. Although struck in fairly
substantial quantities, the semuncial asses produced from 91 B.C. onwards
were not, as far as we can see, hoarded with heavier asses and did not be
come a normal part of the circulating medium.18 The Panicale hoard con
tains denarii and quinarii down to 89 B.C. and uncial and heavier asses;
Caesarian and later hoards contain only uncial and heavier asses, some
times in great numbers.19 There are by contrast two small hoards which
contain only semuncial asses. No doubt the unfortunates to whom semunc
ial asses were paid had no choice but to accept them and the edict of
M. Marius Gratidianus in 85 B.C. was in my view a response to a situation
in which the value of the as in relation to the denarius was being ques
tioned.20 Stability returned and the great weight of uncial asses in circula
tion kept the semuncial asses out; the one Sullan issue of bronze was on
the uncial standard.21 Bad coinage did not drive out good.
(11) Pliny records a law of a Livius Drusus, Tr. Pi. 122 or 91 B.C., proba
bly the latter, concerning debasement of the denarius.22
There is no evidence that the law was ever put into effect.

iatus at their inception metal value and face value approximated and that consequently the
victoriatus was worth three quarters of a denarius.
16 RRC, p. 596.
17 RRC, p. 611 and 596.
18 1 leave out of account the Azaila hoard, RRCH 220, composed of over 700 Iberian AE,
with a sprinkling of Roman AE; also the Pompeii find, RRCH 245, perhaps not a hoard.
19 RRCH 415, 479, 494, 514, 516, 517, with RN, 1967, p. 119; W. Sicily (JNG, 1961, p. 121); the
Via Portuense hoard, NSc, 1888, p. 192; the Bolsena hoard, MEFR, 1964, p. 51. Semuncial
asses did not survive to be halved in the Augustan period.
20 PCPhS, 1968, p. 1; RRC, p. 620.
21 RRC, no. 368.
22 RRC, p. 616.
ANCIENT DEVALUATIONS: A GENERAL THEORY 151

(12) There is evidence for a transient debasement of the denarius in 88-


87 B.C.23

(13) The weight of the aureus declined gradually from its introduction
by Sulla to the Triumviral period.24
(14) The gold issue of Octavian with IMP. CAESAR or CAESAR DIVI F.,
struck in my view from the late 30s onwards, was further slightly reduced.25
(15) The Legionary denarii of M. Antonius were, notoriously, debased.26
(16) The denarii of Scarpus were underweight and probably also de
based.27
The denarii of Scarpus are very rare and it is not possible to analyse
their behaviour in circulation; the Legionary denarii of M. Antonius provide
a large proportion of the denarii in hoards closing under Augustus.28 The
weight reductions of the aureus listed previously do not appear to have af
fected the circulating medium. (The non-appearance of aurei of Sulla and
Cn. Pompeius in hoards may as well be due to their chronological isolation
as to their different and higher weight standard.)
(17) Augustus adopted a standard slightly below semuncial for his cop
per asses, thereby revaluing or encouraging the revaluation of uncial asses
in circulation as dupondii; many of these were in fact halved to function as
two asses in the new system.29 I return below to this monetary reform,
unique so far as I know for antiquity.
(18) Nero (short of money for state expenses) reduced the weight of the
aureus30 and denarius in A.D. 64 and apparently also slightly increased the

23 RRC, p. 569-72; G. Fortina and others, Sibrium, XI, p. 465, for a denarius of Cn. Lentulus
with less than 90% silver content.
24 M. Bahrfeldt, Goldmünzenprägung, p. 184.
25 Ibid., p. 106; for the date see JRS, 1974, p. 246.
26 RRC, p. 569-72.
27 Ibid., p. 569-72.
28 /Hi/, p. 668-71, Table L
29 T. V. Buttrey, AJA, 1972, p. 31. The objections of C. Rodewald, Money in the age of Tiber
ius, Manchester, 1976, p. 140, are without weight.
30 Pliny, NH XXXIII, 47. The recent attempt of M.E.K. Thornton, TAPA, 1971, p. 621, to
argue that Nero wished to increase the supply of money in circulation lacks all plausibility;
so also the argument of M. Rabossi, Acme, 1953, p. 479; A. Savio, Quad Tic. Num. Ant. Class.
1972, p. 89, that Nero wished to assimilate Roman to eastern weight-standards; and the argu
ment of H. Mattingly, BMCRE, i, xlix that Nero was adjusting his gold and his silver coinage,
following changes in the value of the metals; M. C. Soutzo, RN, 1898, p. 659, followed by
1 52 MICHAEL H. CRAWFORD

percentage of base metal in the denarius. The hoards make it clear that
new and old pieces in both metals initially circulated alongside each other;
but I find attractive the hypothesis of Keith Hopkins that the reduced
weight of the Neronian denarius after A.D. 64 contributed to the readiness
of the soldiers to revolt in A.D. 68.31
Pre-Neronian denarii with the exception of Legionary denarii of M. An
tonius largely disappeared from circulation in the course of the reign of
Trajan;32 the debasement of the denarius by Trajan no doubt made the
melting down of such coins, worn though they were, profitable and Trajan's
own re-coinage, though perhaps not undertaken for reasons of profit, clear
ly helped the disappearance of pre- Neronian denarii.33
(19) Later emperors than Nero, down to Didius Julianus, more often
contributed like Trajan to the progressive reduction of the weight of the
aiireus, denarius and base metal coinage and of the purity of the denarius
and base metal coinage than attempted to reverse the process. Of this suc
cession of small reductions in the intrinsic value of the different denominat
ions, that of Trajan had the effect outlined above, the reduction in the
weight of the denarius by Commodus perhaps led to military discontent.34
(20) The debasement of the denarius by Septimius Severus was followed
by the reduction in the weight of the aureus and the introduction of the an-
toninianus by Caracalla, with a face value of 2 denarii and a metal value of
just over 1 Vz denarii, the further debasement of the denarius and the reduc
tionin its weight by Severus Alexander, the re-introduction of the antonin-
ianus (suppressed by Severus Alexander), its progressive debasement, the
various reductions in the weight of the aureus.
Although peoples living beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire, a
c ustomed to melting down at least part of the stock of denarii reaching
them and to treating the whole of it effectively as bullion, displayed little
interest in the denarii of Septimius Severus and even less in those of his

E. A. Sydenham, The coinage of Nero, p. 15, is beyond belief. I am unable to attach any meani
ng to the argument of A. Kunisz, p. 89-97 and WN 1976, 156, that as a result of economic de
velopments since Augustus the issue of silver of the Augustan standard had become 'unprofi
table'.
31 M. Crawford, ANRW, II, 2, p. 563, n. 11.
32 See, provisionally, L. C. West, Gold and silver coin standards, p. 83, Table Q.
33 Dio lxviii, 15, 31, who should, I think, be trusted over the reason for Trajan's action; a
coin the issuing authority of which could no longer be identified should no longer circulate.
34 M. Crawford, ANRW, II, 2, p. 563, n. 1 1.
ANCIENT DEVALUATIONS: A GENERAL THEORY 1 53

successors, the Roman monetary system remained in my view stable until


the reign of Severus Alexander.35
(21) At some stage after Aurelian introduced antoniniani of improved
quality, they were perhaps halved in face value; the measure, if it occurred,
is now quite mysterious to us,36 and perhaps abortive. I believe that the
antoninianus was worth two denarii just before 294.
(22) Diocletian's introduction of a whole new monetary system in 294
involved in my view the revaluation upwards of existing antoniniani', in 301
Diocletian was forced to revalue upwards his aureus, his argenteus and
probably his billon nummus in relation to his antoniniani and other base
metal pieces; in 307 the billon nummus was revalued at 25 instead of 20
denarii, while its weight was substantially reduced; a further reduction in
weight followed in e. 310.37
(23) Meanwhile, in c. 309, the weight of the gold piece was reduced by
Constantine from 1/60 to 1/72 pound.38
(24) In 317 Licinius reduced the face value of the billon nummus in his
territory from 25 to 12 Vi denarii',1"9 this is the last monetary reform before
that of Anastasius which can be described with any reasonable certainty
and completeness.
One important distinction emerges immediately; I have talked both of
a reduction in the metal content of a denomination and of a reduction in its
face value; in the first case, as we shall see, public distrust may follow, lead
ingus to expect earlier coins to disappear into the melting-pot as their

35 Ibid., p. 565-569 (see Addendum).


36 Ibid., p. 577. J. Lafaurie, BSFN, 1974, p. 666, argues that the mark XI vel sim. has the
same meaning as XXI vel sim.; I do not understand the argument of P. Bastien, BSFN, 1975,
p. 704, that XI vel sim. is the half of XXI vel sim. but that pieces bearing the first mark are
worth twice as much as those bearing the second.
D. Kienast, Die Münzreform Aurelians, in Chiron, 1974, p. 547, rejects altogether the identi
fication of XXI vel sim. as a mark of value (I am delighted to agree that the antoninianus was
worth two denarii before and after Aurelian).
J.-P. Callu, Réflexions sur un cycle vicennal au IIIe siècle de notre ère, in Caesarodunum χ
bis, 1976, p. 209, wants to treat XXI vel sim. both as a mark of value and as a reference to vi-
cennalia.
It is obviously impossible to prove that XXI and similar marks are marks of value; the
balance of probability seems to me to be that they are.
37 Ibid., p. 577-585.
38 Ibid., p. 586 and 588.
39 Ibid., p. 588-589.
1 54 MICHAEL H. CRAWFORD

enormously greater value becomes apparent or newer coins to suffer a re


duction in face value; both these developments may take place togethe
r. Official reductions in the face value of a denomination are certainly
sometimes and in my view always the consequence of public distrust of a
coin and a resulting unofficial devaluation.
Thus during the Second Punic War, the bronze coinage was reduced in
weight to a point when its purchasing power went down disastrously; this
unofficial devaluation was officially accepted and soldiers previously paid
less than an as were now paid an as or more, presumably to give them ap
proximately the same real wages.40 At the same time, I think, there was i
ncreased demand for the silver coinage; this was debased in order to keep
up with demand and the whole system collapsed.
We can see a similar process in operation in the second century B.C.,
on a much smaller scale, with the declining intrinsic value of the asses in
circulation leading to their unofficial, then official, devaluation to a si
xteenth of a denarius each instead of a tenth, and with the declining average
weight of the victoriati in circulation leading to their unofficial, then offi
cial, valuation at half a denarius each.
In the third century A.D., the diminution in the metal content of the si
lver coinage by debasement and weight reduction clearly led to a position
where its traditional face value could not be maintained.
The monetary manœuvres of the age of Diocletian differ in detail, but
not, I think, in essence; instead of taking an existing denomination and red
ucing its metal content, Diocletian gave too high a face value to his base
metal pieces of 294 in relation to his gold and silver coinage (on that aspect
of his measures relating to the revaluation of existing antoniniani, double
denarii, see below); the result was an unofficial revaluation of the gold, si
lver and probably billon coinage of Diocletian, the equivalent of a devalua
tion of his base metal pieces.
Constantine both reduced the intrinsic value of his nummus and a
t empted to raise its face value; the result was almost certainly public dis
trust and a reduction in the face value at which the nummus passed, fo
llowed by the official devaluation of Licinius. One may hypothesise in re
trospect that the temporary official halving of the face value of the antonin-
ianus after Aurelian, if it occurred, reflected unofficial practice.
In this history, two reforms stand out, the attempted reform of the Lex
Papiria of 91 B.C. and the reform of Augustus. We have seen that the Lex

40 RRC, p. 626-627.
ANCIENT DEVALUATIONS: A GENERAL THEORY 1 55

Papiria had no lasting effect; it then becomes a matter for speculation why
Augustus chose what was close to a semuncial standard for his new
asses. It does not seem to me inconceivable that he was influenced by the
fact that the Lex Papiria was, as it were, the last law on the statute book;
the important thing is that, in ordaining that in future the as was to weigh
just under half an ounce, Augustus managed to avoid either driving earlier
asses out of circulation or producing coins which were in the end unaccepta
ble; he allowed or encouraged or ordered uncial and heavier asses to cir
culate as dupondii.41 In favour of the last possibility two arguments may
be advanced : the first is the uniqueness of what occurred when Augustus
adopted a drastically lower weight standard for the as than that of the asses
in circulation - surely only official action can explain the survival in circu
lation of uncial and heavier asses as dupondii rather than their disappear
ance into the melting-pot; the second is the contrast with what happened
during the Second Punic War, when denominations of one standard were
re-struck by the mint into higher denominations of a succeeding and lower
standard.
The reform of Augustus displays, I think, a rare awareness of the conse
quences of thoughtless manipulation of the monetary system.

41 The reform of Diocletian of 294 presents provides a partial parallel; in adopting a low
erstandard for a 2-denarius piece than that of the pieces in circulation, he allowed or encou
raged or ordered existing antoniniani to circulate at a higher value; but he also continued to
produce similar pieces himself and his reform was, I think, concerned with attempting to
give a higher face value to antoniniani and comparable pieces rather than with creating a
new 2-denarius piece; Diocletian also got it all wrong.

ADDENDUM

A. Savio, Quad. Tic. Num. Ant. Class. 1976, 205, is quite wrong to argue that Ap-
uleius II, 22 shows an aureus : denarius ratio of less than 1 : 25; four or six aurei are
a normal reward for corpse- watching, 1000 sestertii are offered for watching the
corpse of the son of one of the principes civitatis.
156 MICHAEL H. CRAWFORD

INTERVENTIONS

J.-P. Callu rappelle que dans le circuit fiscal on ne peut négliger la part des
versements en nature ou en métal précieux. Quant à la crise de 300-301, il présente
trois observations :
1) la nouvelle datation de l'Edit du Maximum devrait, pour être acceptée,
impliquer un changement dans la notation des titulatures ce qui est peu probable;
2) la mention trois fois à Aphrodisias de 4 deniers donne à réfléchir. Cette
cotation est également très fréquente dans l'Edit, mais est-il permis de mélanger
les indications d'Aphrodisias avec celles d'Aezani, même si l'hypothèse d'un maint
iende la valeur n'est pas à exclure? On doit avoir affaire à une fraction. Laquelle?
Plutôt la plus petite monnaie, car jusqu'à la découverte d'Aphrodisias on croyait à
une divisionnaire lauree égale au cinquième de la pièce au Genio et cet ordre de
grandeur serait analogue, sinon avec 4 et 25, du moins avec 4 et 20;
3) il vaudrait la peine de reconsidérer et le mot bicharacta et l'inscription
IGRR, IV, 595 où διχαρακτός qualifie une monnaie d'époque tétrarchique. L'inter
prétation la plus banale est celle d'une pièce régulière, frappée sur les deux faces
et par conséquent non incuse Ο. Seeck avait avancé un autre type d'explication :
monnaie doublement certifiée, d'abord sur le flan lui-même par l'opposition de la
marque d'atelier, ensuite par un sceau de contrôle attaché au follis-sac, multiple à
la fois concret et comptable.
D'une manière plus générale, les numismates ont pour le IVe siècle intérêt à
multiplier les enquêtes épigraphiques, à la recherche de toute indication soit sur la
terminologie monétaire, soit sur des sommes chiffrées. L'exemple des dernières
années montre que c'est par là que viendra le progrès.

/. Lafaurie :
J'ai évidemment été surpris de la proposition de mettre l'Edit d'Aphrodisias et
l'Edit de Maximum à la même date. Nous avons très nettement un doublement de
la valeur de la monnaie d'argent au 1er septembre 301 et une modification de la
valeur de l'or et de l'argent attestée au début décembre 301, c'est-à-dire quatre
mois après; grâce à une succession de documents qui sont apparus depuis peu
d'années, nous avons des chiffres de la monnaie des valeurs de l'or qui se succè
dent, dans l'ordre :
- 60.000 deniers au début de l'année 300 (cf. le papyrus de Panopolis qui est
un document officiel et non purement égyptien);
ANCIENT DEVALUATIONS: A GENERAL THEORY 157

- un doublement de la valeur de l'argent au 1er septembre 301 (on peut en


déduire la valeur de l'or qui - si l'on prend la ratio 12 - est 115.200 deniers et - si
l'on prend la ratio 12,5 - est 120.000 deniers);
- une diminution massive, quatre mois après, de cette valeur éphémère de
120.000 ou 115.200 deniers : la livre d'or tombe à 72.000 deniers;
- cela est vite compensé par les valeurs successives de l'or pendant la pre
mière Tétrachie (c'est-à-dire avant le 1er mai 305). Au cours de l'année 302 la livre
d'or est montée à 90.000 deniers, puis à 96.000 deniers (fin 302-début 303) enfin à
100.000 deniers (cf. le papyrus d'Oxyrhynchos 2106 du 2 août 304). Ce prix existe
encore en 310; ce n'est qu'en 324 que l'on voit la livre d'or remonter à 313.508
deniers.

Nous avons donc une courbe de 60.000 à 120.000, puis de 120.000 à 72.000 et de
72.000 à 100.000 au cours de la première Tetrarchie.
Il y a eu une très curieuse manœuvre des Tétraques devant la hausse des prix :
ils ont doublé la valeur de la monnaie pour que la monnaie rattrape les prix. Cela
ferait aujourd'hui une révolution et Lactance s'est fait l'écho de cette révolution
qui concerne l'Edit du 1er septembre 301. Cet Edit a voulu mettre en rapport la
monnaie et les prix, d'une façon très maladroite.
J'en viens au chiffre 4 dont M. Crawford signale trois mentions dans l'Edit.
Dans l'édition Laufer, on avait 90 fois le chiffre 4; dans l'édition Giacchero, nous
sommes à 94 fois le chiffre 4. Il y a bien longtemps j'avais proposé de voir dans le
chiffre 4 la valeur de ce qu'on appellait le follis (et qui vaut mieux baptiser le genio
suivant l'opinion de J.-P. Callu), parce que c'est une pièce qui a une valeur variable.
Je pense que ce chiffre 4 s'adresse à Yaurelianus qui est passé de 1 denier à 20 as
lors de sa création à 2 deniers et demi à l'époque de papyrus de Panopolis du fait
du doublement de la valeur de la monnaie de billon; la création du genio en 294
ferait passer cet aurelianus à 2,5 deniers. Au 1er septembre 301 Yaurelianus serait
doublé à 5 d. (chiffre qui apparaît sur une ligne malheureusement très corrompu
et qui serait réduit à 4 lors de l'Edit de Maximum : 4 correspond au plus grand
nombre de valeurs que l'on trouve dans l'Edit).
Cette statistique des prix de l'Edit est très importante. Nous avons :
2 fois la mention de 1 denier
26 fois la mention de 2 deniers
94 fois la mention de 4 deniers
1 fois la mention de 5 deniers
33 fois la mention de 6 deniers

II y a de très nombreux multiples de 4. Je pensais que le genio pouvait s'adap


ter au chiffre 12 (3 fois la valeur de Yaurelianus) mais cela contrarie le fait que ces
pièces ont une valeur intrinsèque - valeur qui peut être arrondie au denier ou au
demi-denier près - de 10 deniers. Cette volume passera bien vite à 12 deniers et
demi et sera maintenue lors d'une nouvelle hausse de la monnaie d'or (et par suite
de la monnaie d'argent qui reste dans un rapport constant).
C'est en quelque sorte la réforme de Dioclétien qui fait tomber la taille du
158 MICHAEL H. CRAWFORD

genio du 32e au 40e de la livre; par la diminution du poids de la monnaie, cette


valeur reste constante lors d'une modification de l'Edit.
L'Edit de Maximum est logique à la fin de 301 parce que la manœuvre gouver
nementale a vraisemblablement créé un climat monétaire très explosif : la réaction
normale des Tétrarques a été de limiter les prix puisqu'ils ne pouvaient limiter la
monnaie; c'est ce qui s'est passé en France en 1794 quand on a été obligé de créer
un Edit du Maximum. L'inflation a rebondi de plus belle car à un marché qui était
devenu anarchique on a substitué un marché officiel qui est redevenu purement
anarchique : le marché noir.

[Les opinions exprimées au cours de ce colloque par J. Lafaurie ont fait l'objet
d'une étude publiée dans la Revue numismatique 6e s.t. XVII, 1975, p. 73-138 : Réfor
mesmonétaires d'Aurélien et de Dioctétien].