It was a result of the book I've been picking at since my last stay in TJICistan - Adrian Goldsworthy's How Rome Fell.
The whole Roman history thing is slowly starting to come together in my head, after a year or two of books, podcasts, and lecture series. I won't say I feel comfortable with it yet, but at least the broad sweep of the narrative is starting to feel familiar.
Anyhow, I just got to this section on Emperor Diocletion's price controls. Once upon a time, a denarius was a silver coin about the size of a nickel. By the time of Diocletion the coin itself is out of use, though it remains a unit of account.
Now "a law some months earlier had set the value of a silver coin at 100 denarii and the silver-washed copper nummus at 25 and 4 denarri depending on its size."* Tracing back to Goldsworthy's source, it looks like even more importantly, "[Diocletian] continued to issue vast quantities of coper coins, particularly of the smaller denomination, where were not even plated with silver" (Jones, p.438)
For some reason, prices have started climbing. And so we get price controls. Mysteriously, people seem to be ignoring them:
The only literary source to mention the price edict derides it as an utter failure, ignored by merchants who knew that they could charge more for their goods. Papyri from Egypt do suggest that prices soon rose far beyond the supposed maximums established by the emperor. As far as we can tell it was abandoned fairly quickly, but at least one copy was maintained long enough for a few of the prices to be altered. In his long introduction to the edict, Diocletian reminded his audience of the stability and success his rule had brought, and claimed to be expressly concerned that his brave soldiers were being overcharged. There may also have been a desire to set rates at which the state would pay for goods and services regardless of the market price.
Diocletian's government lacked the machinery to enforce such a rigid pricing system on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps the most striking thing about the edict was its ambition - even if it was economically naive. Combined with the objective of profound change is the highly moral rhetoric. Talk of 'the peaceful state of the world' now that the 'seething ravages of barbarians peoples' have been restrained by great effort, is followed by outrage at a new evil attacking the soldiers. `There burns a raging greed, which hastens to its own growth and increase without respect for human kind.' A little later the emperor compared this greed to a religion. The tone is typical of the other legislative activity of the tetrarchs and of their recorded rescripts - replies issued to legal questions and appeals sent to the emperor. The sense of outrage was accompanied by savage and often inventively cruel punishments.
How Rome Fell
Hunh....devalue the currency, print bushels of devalued money, then scream and yell that anyone who tries to keep up with your devaluation is greedy and mean spirited. Don't see that much anymore. ;)
Also? I found a new piece of
A copy of denarius issued by Brutus. One hint - "EID MAR" refers to "The Ides of March." That's also an early Libery Cap there between the pugiones on the reverse. Cool, hunh?
As an aside, just like "favorite founding fathers," I'm starting to get "favorite Romans." So far I think Brutus the Younger is far and away leading the pack**. Torn between duty to his country and loyalty to his friend - to say nothing of the weight of his familial heritage and social pressure - the guy went through a firestorm and rode it to the end.
Anyhow - on with the packing!
* Goldsworthy p.170, referencing p.438 of
The later Roman Empire, 284-602: a social economic and administrative survey by Arnold Hugh Martin Jones
** Though OKAY I admit it. I have lust in my heart for Purefoy's portrayal of Antony. Shut up. ;)