Front Page Titles (by Subject) Conclusion. - A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Conclusion. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE Greeks had no money at the time of the Trojan war; for Homer represents them as trafficking by barter,* and Priam (an Asiatic) weighs out the ten talents of gold, which he takes to ransom his son’s body of Achilles.†
This ponderal Talent was very small, as appears from Homer’s description of the Games at the Funeral of Patroclus, where two Talents of gold are proposed as an inferior prize to a mare with foal of a mule. Whence I conclude it was the same that the Dorian Colonies carried to Sicily and Calabria; for Pollux tells us, from Aristotle, that the ancient Talent of the Greeks in Sicily contained 24 Nummi, each of which weighing an Obole and a half, the Talent must have weighed six Attic Drachms, or three Darics; and Pollux elsewhere mentions such a Talent of gold. But the Daric weighed very little more than our Guinea; and if 2 Talents weighed about 6 Guineas, we may reckon the mare with foal worth 12; which was no improbable price, since we learn from a passage in the Clouds of Aristophanes, that, in his time, a running horse cost 12 Minas, or above 46 pounds Sterling.
Therefore, this seems to have been the ancient Greek Talent, before the art of stamping money had introduced the greater Talents from Asia and Egypt.
Herodotus tells us, the Lydians were reputed to be the first that coined gold and silver money;* and the Talent, which the Greeks called Euboïc, certainly came from Asia. Therefore, the Greeks learned the use of money from the Asiatics.
The Romans took their weights and their money, either from the Dorians of Calabria, or from Sicily; for their Libra, Uncia, and Nummus, were all Doric words, their Denarius was the Sicilian ??????????; and Pollux tells us, from Aristotle, that the Sicilian Nummus was a quarter of the Attic Drachm;† and the Romans called a quarter of their Denarius by the same name.
The weights I have produced of the Greek and Roman coins, so fully prove the ancient Attic Drachm to have been heavier than the Denarius, that it may seem superfluous to quote any authorities in support of their evidence: nor should I do it here, but in order, at the same time, to answer an objection which may be made to the weight I have assigned to the Attic Drachm.
In the treaty between the Romans and Antiochus, recorded by Polybius and Livy,‡ the weight of the Euboïc talent is set at 80 Roman Pounds. The Talent is not, indeed, called Euboïc, in the treaty, which was superfluous when its weight was specified: but both historians, in relating the terms offered by Scipio to Antiochus, on which this treaty was founded, call it so.§ Therefore in Livy’s recital of the treaty, for Argenti probi XII millia Attica talenta, we should read with Gronovius, Argenti probi Attici XII millia talenta.
In § II of this discourse, I have endeavoured to prove that the Euboïc Talent was equal to the Attic; and if so, it contained 6000 Attic Drachms; but 80 Roman pounds contained 6720 Denarii; therefore, according to this treaty, the weight of the Attic Drachm must be to that of the Denarius, as 6720 to 6000.
And, even if the Euboïc Talent was heavier than the Attic, in the proportion of 72 to 70, the Attic Drachm would still be heavier than the Denarius; for in that case, the Euboïc talent should contain 6171 Attic Drachms, and the two coins would be in the proportion of 6720 to 6171.
But an anonymous Greek fragment published by Montfaucon,* makes 100 Attic Drachms equal to 112 Denarii; which proportion of the two coins being the same with that of 6000 to 6720, seems to have been taken from this treaty; and if it was, that writer certainly thought the Talent therein mentioned, equal to the Attic.
This proportion, however, does not agree with the weights I have assigned to the two coins; for if the Denarius weighed 60 Troy grains, and the Attic Drachm 66½, 6650 Denarii should weigh 6000 Attic Drachms, or a Talent; but this number of Denarii is deficient of 80 Roman Pounds, by just 10 Ounces.
Now, this adjustment of the Talent to Roman Pounds, was probably occasioned by the Greeks attempting to impose light weights upon the Romans, who finding the Talent to exceed 79 Pounds, might take what it wanted of 80 in their own favour, to punish the Greeks for their unfair dealing. Or, the standard the Romans pitched upon for the Euboïc Talent might be somewhat overweight; and the Coin of Lysimachus above-mentioned, makes this conjecture not improbable; for that in the possession of Mr. Duane weighs 537,6 Troy grains, which divided by 8 gives a Drachm of 67,2, exactly the weight required by this treaty, supposing the Denarius to weigh 60 grains. But the gold coins of Philip and Alexander are so perfect, and so correctly sized, that their authority is indisputable; and if the mean Drachm of 66½ grains derived from them were somewhat too small, it cannot be increased by above a quarter of a grain.
Therefore, I suppose the great weight given to the Talent by this Treaty, may arise partly from too heavy a standard, and partly from the Romans taking the turn of the scale in their own favour.
After the Romans became the masters of Greece and Asia, the Athenians might find it their interest to lower their Drachm to the weight of the Denarius, long before they were reduced into the form of a Roman Province, by Vespasian. When they did this, and whether they did it gradually, as may seem probable from some Tetradrachms now remaining, is uncertain; but that they did so, sooner or later, cannot be doubted.
Pliny and Scribonius Largus expressly say, the Attic Drachm was equal in weight to the Denarius:* and A. Gellius, who, having resided long at Athens, could not be ignorant of the value of the current money of that city, says 10000 Drachms were in Roman money, so many Denarii.† And the Attic gold coin above-mentioned, in the British Museum, is a proof of their having reduced their money to the Roman standard.
These are the most authentic testimonies that the two Coins ever were equal; for though all the Greek writers of Roman affairs, call the Denarius, Drachma, it is no proof of their equality; for one being the current coin of Rome, as the other was of Athens, and not very unequal in value, a Greek might consider the Denarius, as the Drachma of Rome, and translate it by that word, which was familiar to his countrymen; as we call the French Ecû, or the Roman Scudo, a Crown; which hath no more affinity to the French or Italian names, either in sound or signification, than Drachma hath to Denarius.
But the opinion that the ancient Attic Drachm was really equal to the Denarius, hath occasioned much confusion in the writers on this subject. Hence it is, that Rhemnius Fannius hath told us of an Attic Libra, or Mina (for he calls it by both names) of 75 Drachms; for the Roman Pound being reckoned to weigh 75 ancient Attic Drachms, Fannius, supposing them to be equal to so many Denarii, concluded it must be an Attic weight, as it could not, on such a supposition be the Roman Pound.
An anonymous fragment says, The Attic Mina weighs 12 Ounces, the other 16:* the former was the Roman Pound; the latter, the ancient Attic Mina. Which makes it probable, that when the Athenians reduced their money to the Roman standard, they adopted the Roman Weights; and this may have occasioned many mistakes in the later writers.
The great disproportion between the copper and silver money, when the Romans first coined the latter, hath induced many to believe that the first Denarii must have been heavier than the eighty-fourth part of their Pound; thinking it incredible that silver should ever be valued at 840 times its weight of copper. But they can produce no ancient author of credit, in support of this opinion.
On the contrary, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who made diligent enquiry into the antiquities of Rome, while all, or most of the evidences relating to them were in being, giving an account of the first institution of the Classes by Servius Tullius, hath valued what the Romans called centum millia æris, or 100000 Pounds weight of copper, no higher than 100 Minas,* which is at the rate of a Drachm for every 10 Pounds of copper; and this valuation he must have taken from the price of copper when the Romans first coined silver, reckoning the Denarius of that time equal to what it was when he wrote. But had the first Denarius been Didrachmal or Tetradrachmal, so well informed a writer must have known it, and would have valued the copper money accordingly. Neither is it probable that Pliny, who hath given so particular an account of the diminution of the As, should omit that of the Denarius.
But it is not impossible that silver might be so scarce at Rome when it was first coined there, as to bear the above-mentioned proportion to copper; and the Romans, not being a trading people, might have no regard to its value elsewhere. It is likewise probable, that, through ignorance and inexperience in money matters, they set too high a value on it at first; which seems to have been the case, by its quick reduction from 840 times its weight in copper, to 140, in less than thirty years; and again to 112 in between twenty and thirty years more; and not very long after to 56, at which price it remained during the continuance of the republican government.
But we are little interested in the weight of the Denarius for the first sixty years after it was coined; and I have shewn that when the Romans began to coin gold, it did not exceed the eighty-fourth part of their Pound.
The learned have differed much concerning the grammatical construction and use of the word Pondo; most of them have supposed it to be a neuter indeclinable; but Gronovius hath produced many authorities to shew that it was the old ablative case of Pondus, pondi, for which they afterwards used Pondere. Livy has, Coronam auream libram pondo, and the like in many places. Columella, medicaminis pondo unciam. Celsus, pondo denariorum trium. And Plautus in Menæchmis, Pondo duum nummum. In all which pondo seems to be the ablative case for pondere. And Festus tells us, Centenas pondo dicebant antiqui, referentes ad libras.* Thus Livy says, sex millia pondo, for, sex millia librarum pondere, and Pondo bina & selibras, for, Pondere bina librarum pondera & selibras. In the former of these passages, Livy seems to have valued the Libra at 100 Denarii. For relating how Scipio was accused of having received a bribe from Antiochus of sex millia pondo auri quadringenta octoginta argenti, he calls it in a round sum Ducenties quadragies, or 24,000 Sestertia.† Now reckoning 100 Denarii to the Libra, and the value of gold decuple that of silver, it should amount to 24192 Sestertia; whereas reckoning 84 Denarii to the Libra, it would amount to no more than 20352. And Plutarch in his life of Fabius, translates what Livy calls Pondo bina & selibras, by 250 Drachms, which is a Sestertium.
The learned Budæus, and others after him, have called this sum of 100 Denarii, Libra centenaria, and Libra nummaria; though he confesses he had never found either the word Libra or Pondo used to signify a sum of money; but always, when applied to gold or silver, a weight of Plate or Bullion; and how the Libra, which certainly weighed but 84 Denarii when Livy wrote, should be valued at 100, is a paradox I cannot account for.
TABLES SHOWING THE DENOMINATIONS OF THE PRINCIPAL GREEK AND ROMAN COINS, AND THEIR VALUES IN STERLING MONEY,
[* ]Iliad H. ver. 472.
[† ]Iliad ?. ver. 232.
[* ]Herodot. L. I. § 94.
[† ]See Pollux, L. IX. c. 6. § 80, 81, 87. & L. IV. c. 24. § 175.
[‡ ]Polybius, Excerp. Leg. § 35. Livy, L. XXXVIII. c. 38.
[§ ]Polyb. Exc. Leg. § 24. Livy, L. XXXVII. c. 45.
[* ]Analecta Græca, p. 393. Paris, 1688, in Quarto.
[* ]Pliny, Nat. Hist. at the end of L. XXI. Scr. Largus, in his Preface.
[† ]A. Gellius, L. I. c. 8. Hoc facit nummi nostratis Denariûm decem millia.
[* ]See the Appendix to Stephens’s Greek Thesaurus, col. 219.
[* ]Compare Dionysius with Livy.
[* ]Gronovius, De pec. vet. L. I. c. 6.
[† ]Livy, L. XXXVIII. § 55.