Tuesday 12 March 2013

Rome's most precious metal

It might be surprising to hear but silver was far more important to Rome than gold...although, as today, its value was far lower. Silver set the standard for the finance trade and was pressed into the Denarius (the Roman equivalent of the $100 note in the late Republic) for several centuries. Because of its importance to the value of the Roman currency, silver - and the lead it was mined with - were state controlled by the 1st-century AD; over-production would have decreased the value of the denarius while under-production would have driven inflation...concepts the Roman Treasury was just as aware of as today's modern treasury officials. So the mining of silver - and finding new mines - was particularly important to the Roman Empire. Much of this mining was focused in Spain where some shafts produced over 300lb (around $2.1-million worth) of silver per day...however as the Empire expanded, a considerable percentage of production was shifted to Britain. It is quite possible the underlying reason Claudius committed to the invasion of Britain was to keep the Roman currency stable. Trajan's invasion of Dacia was also driven by mining...and the fact the Roman Empire went into a long inflation-driven decline in the years after expansionism ended suggests the economy was unable to produce enough silver to sustain the currency's value. Goes to show nothing much changes...even if bankers have got more creative. For more on ordinary Roman life, check out 'A Body of Doubt' - live on Amazon now  and on YouTube

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