Gold Coinage in the Roman World

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Classics & Ancient History

Abstract

A study of the metallurgy and circulation of Roman gold coinage that aims to define its significance within Roman society and the Roman economy. Analyses drawn from the 600 Roman gold coins in the Ashmolean have the potential to provide the basis on which the history of Roman gold coinage will be interpreted in the future. The Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire Project can provide the necessary data on coin circulation and online tools for analysis. The thesis will address major historical questions through a study of the weight standards, gold standards and circulation and hoarding of Roman gold coinage. The fineness of Roman gold appears remarkably stable, with minor blips only in the mid-third and mid-fourth centuries, unlike the silver coinage, the dramatic decline of which has been regarded as an indicator of the fiscal inadequacy of the Roman Empire. This has always been a conundrum, which this study will seek to resolve. The metal analyses will investigate not only fineness but also metal sources and metal flows, drawing on new approaches developed by Butcher at Warwick and by Pollard and Bray in Oxford. Other areas for investigation are the point at which gold coin ceased to circulate at a fixed nominal value and became more like a circulating ingot and the suggestion that there was a major new source of gold in the fourth century.With the additional evidence for circulation it will become possible to create a more rounded account of the role of gold coin within the Roman economy. The idea that the apparent scarcity of gold in the third century was due to export from the Empire, most importantly through subsidies paid to 'barbarians', requires testing. In terms of function, the initial provision of gold to the military in the early empire is evident, but what happened after that is much less clear. By the fourth century AD control of gold appears to have been both a marker of, and a means to enhance, social hierarchy throughout the provinces. How did this change come about?

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