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Mark Lehman's NJCL Lecture Print E-mail
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Mark Lehman's NJCL Lecture
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So this is an excellent place for me to put in a big plug for Ancient Coins for Education!  The Roman government issued these small coins in astronomical numbers to try to make-up for inflation, but pouring more coins into an inflationary market without enough public faith in government to support the social contract worked precisely like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, And the Romans went on inadvertently feeding the inflationary spiral ensuring that ever greater numbers of nearly worthless coins had to be struck.  These coins didn't have sufficient intrinsic value to make them worth melting down, and a lack of anything like banks as we know them caused vast amounts of them to be buried for safekeeping.  The worse things got, the more people buried their money and the less likely it was they were going to survive to dig it up again.  So many of these pieces have survived and are just now being dug-up and coming on the market in "as-is", uncleaned condition that our organization is able to donate, free of charge, genuine, uncleaned late-Roman coins to enrich the classics curriculum for students in Latin and History classes in High and Middle schools as they clean and study the coins - 40 schools from coast to coast and in Canada participated last season and we hope we will be able to provide enough free coins to enable even more schools to participate this coming year - So, if you think your class might want to participate AND you feel you have an exceptional teacher - because it takes a special teacher to make the program work properly - a teacher who has imagination and can really take advantage of our cleaning - identification - and essay-contest program, or, if you happen to BE that teacher, please let me know at the end of the lecture and I'll give you information about how your school can apply for the program.

So, lets go back to the dysfunctional family of Constantine the Great and what the "tabs" might have made of it.

18. Constantinian Era AE Family Group

Family of constantine
Family of Constantie
 

Constantine Believes Wife, Kills Son, Then Believes Son, Kills Wife. Is This Guy Great, or What? 

Rumor has it that the Emperor's wife is really steamed.  -        

Dateline Rome - June, 326 A.D. -

How often do we have to hear the same sad stories caused by broken families? The latest tale of our royal family is so sadly typical - boy meets girl, girl has child, man leaves girl for Emperor's daughter, Emperor's daughter accuses first girl's child of treason, boy executes child, repents and executes Emperor's daughter. The boy in question in our present Emperor Constantine. A product of yet another broken marriage, Constantine's father (Constantius I) left his bar-maid wife Helena to marry Theodora, step-daughter of our late Emperor Maximian. This pattern of broken families continued to Constantine - he chose to leave his paramour Minervina to marry his step-mother's step-sister Fausta, daughter of Maximian and Theodora. This marriage strengthened Constantine's claim to power but left a pretty dysfunctional family in its wake. It also left a son behind with Minervina, our late Caesar Crispus.  At least our Emperor Constantine proved a better supporter of his children than the average single father. Crispus was educated by the best minds in the Empire and at age fifteen he was raised to the purple, becoming Caesar along with his step-brother Constantine II. The following year saw Crispus serving as Consul and beginning his military career. This military career saw its high point five years later when Crispus led a fleet of 200 ships against the much larger fleet of his father's rival, Licinius. Crispus' victory was complete and his destiny as Constantine's heir seemed assured.  Yet now we are deprived of our Caesar. His very success seems to have led to his fall. Last June our Crispus was put to death, accused of rape by his stepmother Fausta. We shall never know the validity of Fausta's accusations - the justice administered by our Emperor was harsh and swift. But the result may show the motivation - Fausta's sons Constantine and Constantius are now destined for the purple.

Update - October, 326 A.D. 

In a stunning reversal of fortune, reports from the palace indicate that Constantine has apparently repented executing Crispus. The recent arrival of the Emperor's mother Helena may have something to do with this change of heart. Now disbelieving Fausta's allegations, Constantine reportedly had his wife boarded up in a bath and the hypocaust stoked until she boiled to death. Imperial spin doctors are trying to convince the public that Fausta's death was a suicide but this observer doubts that anyone would choose to die in such a horrific way - steamed like a prawn.  Contributions to erect a golden statue to Crispus are being accepted at the palace. Donations are, of course, voluntary - but highly recommended.

 

19. Late Roman - Folles Ae 1's and Descending Sizes, Siliquae 
 
Late Roman coins
Late Roman Coins
   
Over the next century, the billon and bronze issues change size so often that nobody knows now where most of them stood in relation to gold and silver, and history has not recorded the names of this multitude of denominations.  Around 350 or so AD, the Mints finally gave up for good trying to silver-wash the low value coins, and simply issued bronze coins without trying to disguise them as silver. 

Since we don't really know what to call the late Roman bronze denominations, we classify coins from this time by size and call them: AE1, AE2, AE3 and AE4, with AE1 being roughly silver-dollar sized, like the old imperial sestertius and the smaller the coin, the lower its "AE. Number".

The late imperial bronze coins themselves declined in size, until by the early fifth century, mostly, only very tiny (about 15 millimeter, or smaller than a US Dime) bronze coins were being regularly issued. 

Interestingly, in the fourth century, as the final decline of the Roman bronze coinage proceeded, a viable gold and silver coinage was reestablished.  Constantine I (307-337 AD) introduced a new gold coin, called the Solidus, which stayed at a consistent weight and fineness of about 4 and a half grams of pure gold, and continued unchanged well into the Byzantine era, right down to the eleventh century AD.  By the end of the fourth century, gold fractions of the Solidus - the Semisis and Tremisis - respectively ½ and 1/3 of a Solidus - began to be issued in large enough quantities that they actually circulated.  Constantine also resumed the issue of a high purity silver coinage, about the weight and fineness of Nero's denarius, initially coined at a confusing array of different weights, but settling down by the end of the fourth century to become the widely-circulating Siliqua, worth 1/24 of a Solidus.  

From the late third century AD, the Roman Empire typically was divided administratively between two or more Emperors.  After Constantine I founded Constantinople, the normal division was into eastern and western portions roughly demarked by a north-south line drawn from Belgrade in Serbia to Bengazi in Libya. When Theodosius I, the last man to rule the entire Roman Empire, died in 395 AD, the Empire was divided between his two sons, Arcadius in the East and Honorius in the West.  Soon, the western half of the Empire was crushed by invading Germanic tribes -Ironically the most dishonorable "sack of Rome" by Alaric's Visigoths in 410 AD occurred during Honorius' not very honorable reign. 

This surviving eastern portion of the Roman Empire after about 500 AD is known to us as the Byzantine Empire, after the Greek city of Byzantium, that Constantine I made his new capital of Constantinople.  Of course "Byzantine" is a misnomer, since the so-called Byzantine Empire, with full justification, always considered itself  "THE Roman Empire", AND her citizens, Romans - THEY called themselves "Romaion" However, the Eastern Roman coinage soon developed into forms very different from anything known in more Classical Roman times.

20. Byzantine AE's

Byzantine coins
Byzantine Coins
 

For numismatic purposes, we usually say the Byzantine coinage begins and the purely Roman Coinage ends with Anastasius I, who reintroduced large bronze coins, which, in marked contrast to the Roman Imperial bronzes, invariably carried a numeric mark of value.  The value of each denomination was a multiple of those tiny bronze AE4 "nummus" coins that had made up the bulk of small change for the past century, and the denomination was represented by a Greek numeral.  So, "M" was 40 nummi, "K" was 20, "I" was 10, and "E' was 5.  Since we need some point in time to divide the "ancient" Roman coinage from the more properly medieval Byzantine coinage, and the political events of the era don't provide us with a convenient temporal "landmark", AND the introduction of a mark of value was a true innovation in the Roman Imperial coinage, the monetary reform of Anastasius is generally accepted as the dividing line between the Roman and the Byzantine coinages, if not generally between the Roman and Byzantine imperial eras which sort of segued one into the other. The eastern, Byzantine division, of the Roman Empire was not finally extinguished until the Turks conquered its capital, Constantinople, on May 29, 1453, only 39 years before Columbus' fateful voyage.

And there we have to end our own voyage through the history of the Romans.

  

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