Front Page Titles (by Subject) § 4.: Of the value of Gold in Greece and Rome. - A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money
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§ 4.: Of the value of Gold in Greece and Rome. - John Ramsay McCulloch, A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money 
A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money from the Originals of Vaughan, Cotton, Petty, Lowndes, Newton, Prior, Harris, and Others, with a Preface, Notes, and Index (London: Printed for the Political Economy Club, 1856).
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Of the value of Gold in Greece and Rome.
Herodotus reckons the value of gold to silver in the proportion of 13 to 1.‡ Plato, who wrote about fifty years after him, says it was 12 times the value of silver§ ; and Xenophon, Plato’s contemporary, relates that Cyrus paid Silanus the Ambraciot 3000 Darics for the ten talents he had promised him? ; which being Babylonian talents, agrees with Plato’s estimate, as I have shewn above.
After the conquest of Asia by Alexander, the immense treasures of the Kings of Persia circulating in Asia and Greece, reduced the price of gold to ten times its weight in silver, at which it seems to have continued two hundred years, or more.
The Romans did not coin gold till above a hundred years after the death of Alexander: and Pliny gives the following account of its first coinage. Aureus nummus post annum LXII percussus est quam argenteus, ita ut scrupulum valeret Sestertiis vicenis: quod effecit in libras, ratione Sestertiorum qui tunc erant, Sestertios DCCCC.¶ Now if the Scruple was valued at 20 Sesterces, the Pound, instead of being worth 900, must have been worth 5760 such Sesterces: but if for Sestertios DCCCC, we read Denarios DCCCC, the account will be clear and intelligible. The words ratione Sestertiorum qui tunc erant, imply that the Sesterce of that age was different from the Sesterce of Pliny’s time: but the quarter of the silver Denarius, or Nummus Sestertius of 4 Asses, was the same at both times, and we know of no other Sesterce but the ancient one of 2½ Asses. Twenty such Sesterces make 50 Asses for the value of the Scruple of gold; which multiplied by 288 (the number of Scruples in the Roman Pound) give 14400 Asses for the value of the Pound of Gold. And reckoning 16 Asses to the silver Denarius (which it passed for at the time of this coinage) 14400 Asses make just 900 such Denarii; which is Pliny’s number.
That the Romans kept their accounts in copper Sesterces of 2½ Asses, long after the silver Sesterce passed for 4, appears not only from this passage, but from what Pliny says of the pay of the Army, that notwithstanding the silver Denarius passed for 16 Asses, it was paid to the soldier for 10: which implies that the Quæstor’s accounts were kept in copper money, as all the public accounts probably were. Cæsar is said to have doubled the pay of the soldiers,* and it appears from the account Tacitus gives of the mutiny of the legions in Pannonia,† that at the accession of Tiberius to the empire, their pay was but ten Asses a day; and they demanded a Denarius, not upon pretence that the legionary soldiers had ever received so much, but that ten Asses were not an equivalent for the dangers and hardships a soldier underwent. Hence 5 Asses appear to have been their pay before Cæsar raised it; but if this was their pay on the Quæstor’s book, they actually (according to Pliny) received a Quinarius of 8 Asses, and Cæsar only nominally doubled it; which is more probable than that their pay at the time he raised it, should be under two-pence three-farthings English a day. Polybius tells us, that in his time the pay of a Roman foot soldier was two Oboles a day; that of a centurion twice as much; and that of a horseman a Drachm (or Denarius).* This must be understood of what they received, not of their nominal pay on the Quæstor’s book. The foot soldier, therefore, was paid at the rate of 5? Asses a day, which, in a country where a traveller might have his lodging and all necessaries on the road for half an As,† would be great pay, had not their cloathing, arms, and tents, been deducted out of it, as they were.‡ But both the public and private riches of the Romans were increasing very fast when Polybius wrote, and the prices of all the necessaries of life must have increased in proportion, therefore it is probable that the soldier’s pay was raised to 5 Asses on the Quæstor’s book, for which they received a Quinarius, before Cæsar augmented it.
If the Pound weight of gold was worth 900 Denarii, 84 of which were coined out of the Pound of silver, the value of gold to silver must have been in the proportion of 900 to 84, or as 10 to 1. And if this was the value of gold at Rome sixty-two years after their first coinage of silver, it proves that no fewer than 84 Denarii were then coined out of the Pound. Now by an article in the treaty with the Etolians, about eighteen years after this first coinage of gold at Rome, that people were permitted to pay one third of their tribute in gold, at the rate of one Pound of gold for ten of silver.§ Therefore gold was then but ten times the value of silver in Greece; and it could not be much higher at Rome, where silver was esteemed the more useful metal, as appears by the limitation of the sum to be paid in gold, to one third of the whole; and Pliny observes, that the Romans always required the tribute they imposed on conquered countries should be paid in silver, not in gold;* therefore it is not probable that gold should bear a much higher price at Rome than elsewhere, as it would, according to this account of its first coinage, if fewer than 84 Denarii were coined out of the Pound of silver.
There is another passage in Pliny relating to the value of gold, which requires correction. Speaking of the Byssine thread, he says, Quaternis denariis scripula ejus permutata quondam, ut auri, reperio.† When 96 Denarii were coined out of the Pound, each of them weighed 3 Scruples; therefore 4 Denarii weighed 12 Scruples, which was nearly the value of a Scruple of gold when Pliny wrote. But Pliny knew no such Denarius; for he says, the lawful weight of that coin was the eighty-fourth part of the Pound; besides, he speaks here of former times. Therefore for Quaternis, we should read Ternis; for 3 Denarii of 84 in the Pound weighed 10 Scruples, which was nearly the ancient value of a Scruple of gold.
From a passage in Tacitus, compared with Suetonius, we learn that in Galba’s time the Aureus passed for 25 Denarii; the former says—ut per speciem convivii quoties Galba apud Othonem epularetur, cohorti excubias agenti viritim centum nummos divideret; which the latter expresses thus, quoties cœnâ principem exciperet, Aureos excubanti cohorti viritim dividebat.‡ But 100 Nummi were equal to 25 Denarii; therefore when 40 Aurei were coined out of the Pound of gold, and 84 Denarii out of the Pound of silver, the Pound of gold passing for 1000 Denarii, was worth 11 Pounds of silver.
When the Aureus of 45 in the Pound passed for 25 Denarii of 96 in the Pound, the proportional value of gold to silver was as 375 to 32, or a little under 11¾ to 1.
Suetonius tells us, that Cæsar brought so great a quantity of gold from Gaul, that he sold it throughout Italy and the Provinces for 3000 nummi the Pound.* 3000 nummi make 750 Denarii; and 750 is to 84, as 8 to 1. This was its price as merchandize, when the market was overstocked, and the seller in haste to dispose of his goods; but what effect it had on the coin, we do not know.
By the diminution of the Aureus for above half a century before the reign of Constantine,† the price of gold appears to have been rising, till it came to above 14 times its weight in silver; for five Solidi of 72 in the Pound, being valued at a Pound of silver‡ , the proportion between the two metals was as 14 to 1.
[‡ ]Herodotus, L. III. § 95.
[§ ]Plato in his Hipparchus.
[? ]Xenophon in his Expedition of Cyrus, L. I.
[¶ ]Pliny Nat. Hist. L. XXXIII. c. 3.
[* ]Suetonius in Julio, c. 26.
[† ]Taciti Annal. L. I. § 17.
[* ]Polybius, L. VI. p. 484 of Casaubon’s edition.
[† ]Polybius, L. II. p. 103.
[‡ ]Polybius, L. VI. p. 484. Taciti Annal. L. I. § 17.
[§ ]Polybius, Excerpt. Legat. § 28. Livy L. XXXVIII.
[* ]Pliny, Nat. Hist. L. XXXIII. c. 3.
[† ]L. XIX. c. 1.
[‡ ]Taciti Hist. L. I. § 24. Suetonius in Othone, c. 4. See also Dio Cassius, L. LV.
[* ]Suetonius in Julio, c. 54.
[† ]See the Pembroke Collection, from Tab. XX. to XXIV.
[‡ ]See Cod. Justinian. L. X. Tit. 76. quoted above.