Inflation bedevils capitalist economies. Despite the power of Rome, the low-wage slave-economy, and a single currency (quite an achievement), the Roman World suffered from inflation. This happened most notably from the beginning of the third century after a plague. The reasons may be many & complex e.g. too many coins in circulation; debasement of the original precious-metal content when the intrinsic value of the metal became worth more than the face value; the cost of the army--soldiers expected to be (well-) paid and weak emperors "bribed" the soldiery in order to cling to increasingly insecure thrones.

How was price-wage inflation expressed by increasingly frustrated Roman emperors?


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The Roman concept of inflation was pretty vague. During the worst periods, people were a lot more worried about staying alive than monetary affairs. Also, during the 3rd century, the greatest period of inflation, very little to nothing was written about economics. Also, things written in general about economics in ancient Rome were far and few between and usually fanciful in conception. For example, Pliny wrote about various changes in the coinage and many of his statements have been disproved by numismatic experts. In general, what we know about Roman inflation is mostly based on archaeological numismatics, not on the contents of Roman literature.

When Romans do make remarks about the declining value of money, it is usually with reference to debased (adultarinus) coinage. For example:

Monetam illam veterem sectator. Plumbei nummi et cuiuscemodi adulterini in istis recentibus nummis saepius inveniuntur quam in vetustis, quibus signatus est Perperna vel Treba .... Quid igitur? Non malim mihi nummum Antonini aut Commodi aut Pii? Marcus Cornelius Fronto, Correspondence

(Adhere to the old mintage. Coins of lead and debased metal of every kind are oftener met with in our recent issues than in the archaic ones which are stamped with the names of Perperna or Trebanius ..... What then? Am I not to prefer for myself a coin of Antoninus or Commodus or Pius? Trans: C. R. Haines)

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