Money in the Roman Republic
The MoneyMuseum presents: How to write world history with denars
1st Theme: War is the Father of all Things
- Sujet 1: Military and government
The administration of the Roman Republic relied on the organisation of the army. That means the structure of the most important people’s assembly mirrored that of the army. The century assembly elected the highest state officials, who held power to decide over both civil and military matters.
- Sujet 2: Gods of War
A large part of the Roman pantheon is dedicated to warfare, despite the fact that the Romans did not have any brutal war god like Ares. Deities were exclusively responsible for protection and defence. Mars for instance was the protector of the peasants’ fields, cattle and family. The bloody sacrifice of the October Horse must be seen as a ritual linked to harvest. However, the Romans believed that the gods would only grant them victories if they behaved in accordance with the concept of pietas. Pietas was more than just piety. It was the commitment to follow all old traditions in every detail.
- Sujet 3: Of coins and wars
All major changes in the Roman coinage system can be accounted for by the demands of war time. During the Samnite Wars, Rome adapted its own system to the Greek coinage system and commissioned Greek artisans with the production of Greek-style coins. The war against Hannibal brought about the most comprehensive coin reform of Antiquity. It also gave birth to the denarius, which would be in circulation for almost 500 years.
2nd Theme: Drive to Power
- Sujet 1: Cursus Honorum
The central political power in Rome was the senate. It was hierarchically organised. The decisions made by the senate were effectively decided only by those senators who had previously held the highest offices as well as the biggest number of offices. So it was the ambition of a young Roman to get as far on the Cursus Honorum, the prescribed sequential order of public offices, as possible.
- Sujet 2: Elections
State officials were elected in two legislative assemblies. Candidates for the less important offices were elected by the Comitia Populi Tributa, organised on the basis of tribal affiliation, while those for the important offices were elected by the Comitia Centuriata, the century assembly.
- Sujet 3: Networking
Political decisions – both in the senate and in the legislative assemblies – were based on personal, long-term obligations. I’ll help you if you help me – personal favours were a common practice. Such obligations survived over generations.
- Sujet 4: A prominent family is half the battle
A crucial prerequisite for a politician’s advancement was his descent from a prominent family who had already rendered outstanding services to the state in the past. Of those whose ancestors had done great things, equally great things were expected. Therefore, the best thing you could do to promote yourself was to praise your ancestors’ deeds.
- Sujet 5: Money for politics
The more generously politicians financed public investments with their own money, the more prestige they usually enjoyed. No matter whether the money was spent on lavish games, a costly building or the distribution of corn, the sponsor’s descendants could be expected to still brag about those investments for a long time.
- Sujet 6: Where does the money come from?
Being elected into a public office meant losing a lot of money. Only when the official was sent to conduct business or war abroad, was he able to make profits – legally or illegally.
3rd Theme: The Caecilii Metelli: A textbook example of success
The family of the Caecilii Metilli was one of the most successful players in the game of power. Over the course of three centuries, 20 consuls, two high priests and four censors emerged from this clan and that is naming just the most prestigious offices. Hardly any other family had as many connections and clients as the Caecilii Metelli. For any one member of the family, a political career was certain.
4th Theme: The era of the imperators: A system at its limits
Rome’s many wars made the empire rich and powerful. At the same time, they demanded more military recruits for a longer term of service than a citizens’ militia could provide. Legionary became a profession. Now, soldiers felt obliged to no one but their commanders – which made these commanders just as powerful as the Roman senate.
5th Theme: Caesar's genial Policy
- Sujet 1: Debtor of the mighty
Caesar belonged to an ancient, though politically insignificant, family. Instead of relying on family relations, he trusted in heretofore unprecedented amounts of money to further his career. By borrowing the money from the most powerful politicians of his day, he ensured that they would support his political career, if nothing else to get their money back – with interest.
- Sujet 2: Creditor of the ambitious
Initiating the Gallic Wars made Caesar one of the richest men in Rome. He strategically used the money, lending it to young, ambitious politicians who needed it to advance their careers. Thus, he secured their support in the senate and defied his enemies.
- Sujet 3: Rebellion of the reactionaries
Caesar’s politics had completely altered the traditional power structures in the senate. Holding high offices below him did not go hand in hand with more political influence as it used to. Decisions were made by Caesar alone. And even those who had helped finance his rise to power felt betrayed.
6th Theme: Fight for Succession
- Sujet 1: Caesar’s heirs
More than one party tried to assume power after Caesar’s death. On the one side were men like Cicero, Brutus or Cassius, who tried to rebuild the system of the former republic. On the opposite side were men like Marc Antony and, most importantly, Octavian, who were keen on assuming Caesar’s power themselves. Still others, like the son of Pompey the Great, merely wanted control over a smaller part of the empire. After more than ten years of civil war and after hundreds of thousands had been killed or expelled, Octavian finally emerged as Caesar’s successor. As emperor he called himself Augustus.
- Sujet 2: Augustus buys Rome
His conquests made Augustus the richest man of the Roman Republic. He could afford to cover all expenses that up to then had been covered by the whole of the Roman aristocracy together. Thus every citizen of Rome became his client and Augustus unchallenged sole ruler.
7th Theme: And where did future emperors take the money from?
The Roman emperor became the guarantor of the well-being of Rome’s citizens, who expected him to organise lavish games, commission extravagant buildings and always provide enough grain to assure a livelihood. For all of this he needed money, just as for the legionaries’ pay and the salaries in the imperial administration. The easiest way to raise money was war. The annexation of new provinces always meant large spoils of war for Rome.