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  • Print publication year: 1963
  • Online publication date: March 2008

Appendix: Coinage and Currency


Roman-Barbarian Continuity

The collapse of the Roman Empire in the West was so prolonged a process that to expect to find any cataclysmic change in the coinage would be unreasonable. No such violent change or lengthy cessation of coinage occurred except in Britain. After the Roman departure no further coin entered the country, and within a generation, by about A.D. 435, coin had ceased to be used as a medium of exchange. Not until the latter part of the seventh century were coins again used in Britain other than as jewellery. Elsewhere continuity was maintained. The barbarian ‘allies’ took over the Roman mints which continued to strike in the names of the emperors.

The coinage of the late Roman Empire reflected its economic decrepitude. On the one hand there was a highly valued gold coin, the solidus, introduced by Constantine, of fine gold, weighing 24 siliquae (about 4 48 gm.), together with its half, the semissis, and third, the tremissis or triens. On the other hand there was the heavy copper follis, revived by Anastasius I in 498 as a coin of forty nummi, and its poor relations down to the nummus. Between were the sparsely issued silver siliquae and half-siliquae, twenty-four siliquae being worth a solidus. The magnificent gold coinage served for imperial gifts and the payment of subsidies to imperial ‘allies’ such as the 50,000 solidi paid by Maurice Tiberius to Chilperic in 584. It was only of importance within the Empire because taxes had to be paid in gold. The prolific bronze coinage was of use only for the multiplicity of small local payments. Neither was of much use in commerce, and the small silver coinage came to an end under Justinian (527-65).

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The Cambridge Economic History of Europe from the Decline of the Roman Empire
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