It Didn’t Begin with FDR: Currency Devaluation in the 3rd Century Roman Empire


Mises Institute: Since the reordering of Augustus, during the first two centuries of the empire, the Roman state manipulated the intrinsic value of the denarius argenteus, the main axis of the imperial monetary system, from the theoretical 3.892 grams and between 97.0 and 98.0 percent silver to 3.22 grams and 56.5 percent silver at the end of the second century AD.

The increase in military expenditure, social aid, payments to specific pressure groups, new public works, and various types of excesses greatly strained the indebtedness of the Roman state. Inflation was moderate in these first two centuries, averaging 0.7 percent per year, but excessive public spending seriously threatened to push overall prices and the stability of the imperial economic system out of control.

Caracalla, the “new Alexander,” continued and expanded the war policy of his father, Septimius Severus: he increased military pay to twenty-four hundred sesterces a year to undertake new campaigns against the Alamanni and Parthians, whom he bribed for peace, and to pay for everything, he again increased taxes and pursued a new expansive monetary policy. He devalued the three main coins: the aureus to 6.6 grams of gold, the denarius to 51.5 percent silver, and the sestertius to 24.8 grams of brass.

But his main invention was the creation of the argenteus antoninianus, weighing 1.5 denarii, or 5.11 grams, containing between 46 and 51 percent silver, but with the face value of two denarii, which became the standard coinage during the third century. At that time, inflation was still below 1 percent per annum and general prices were 2.67 times those of the Augustan period.

His successor, the prefect of the praetorium Opilius Macrinus, tried again to raise the official content of the denarius to 58.0 percent silver and to abandon the antoninianus project, but after his short-lived reign, Heliogabalus again returned to excessive public spending. The eccentric emperor-priest lowered the weight of the aureus to 6.35 grams of gold, the content of the denarius to 46.5 percent silver, and the weight of the sestertius to 22.5 grams of brass, as well as resuming the minting of the antoninianus with a content of 43.0 percent silver. The copper ace of Augustus began to disappear.

The fall from grace of the Severan dynasty marked the beginning of a period of profound political instability and economic crisis throughout the Roman Empire: up to twenty-six emperors reigned over the next fifty years, one emperor every two years on average. Gordian III, supported by the Praetorians, further reduced the weight of the golden coin to 4.85 grams, the antoninianus to 4.35 grams, and the sestertius to 20.5 grams to pay for his disastrous campaign against Sapor I of Persia.

But the empire would hit rock bottom in the middle of the century under Gallienus, who, in his fifteen-year reign, had to deal with more than ten different barbarian invasions and fifteen other usurpers of the imperial throne throughout the world. The devaluation of the coinage skyrocketed to levels never seen before, bringing the weight of the aureus down to 3.4 grams and the sestertius to 16.9 grams. Read More …

Opinion: These past two years have seen inflation rise to 40 year highs, and because of that we have hundreds of posts on the subject. Oftentimes, I search for Bible verses to emphasize a point and many times Leviticus 19:35-36 pops up.

“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. 36 Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”

I am not sure I ever understood weights and measures until I read the above article by Mises Institute writer, PHD student David Serrano Ordozgoiti.

What a parallel ancient Roman emperors have to today’s leaders. Devaluing a nation’s currency is far more dangerous than a standing army. And yet that is precisely what the Obama administration’s Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke started in 2009-13. They printed $4 trillion to bail out the financial crisis, a policy of money printing that continued through the Trump administration until early 2022 when inflation began to rise.

3 US-based economists receive Nobel Prize for work on banks | WLNS 6 News

For his misguided efforts, Bernanke recently received a Nobel Prize in of all things, economics.

Ancient Rome disappeared financially, and the same will likely happen to the US. We will  probably not be conquered militarily, but just economically melt into hyperinflation while a new world leader takes over in Europe:

” … And the people of the prince who is to come
Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary …” Daniel 9:26.

That is why Daniel calls the final world empire the 4th beast, while prophesying 5 empires:

4 Biblical Proofs of a Revived Roman Empire – From the Book of Daniel | Studying Bible Prophecy

Daniel prophesied that Rome, which was never conquered militarily, would be revived in the last days describing it as iron and clay, precisely as the EU is today. The economically rich northern nations and the economically weak southern nations do not bond just as iron does not adhere with clay.

” And there is nothing new under the sun” Ecclesiastes 1:9.