For Work / Against Work
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"Currency, bullion and accounts: monetary modes in the Roman world"

by Verboven, Koenraad (2009)


It is the contention of this paper that the instrumental-functional approach which most scholars take to the role of money in the Roman world leads to a dead end. I argue instead that money can be analyzed more fruitfully as a social construct or a social institution in itself. The important question is not what the functions were of coinage or whether Roman credit notes may be considered as monetary instruments, but how the deep monetization of transactions was achieved in the Roman world. Monetized transactions are essentially exchange relations in which entitlements to goods or services change hands after the prior attribution of abstract or at least non specific quantifiable values to the goods or services in question. The transactions as such may be institutionalized in various ways depending on the cultural, social and economic (sub)context. I will focus on “monetary modes”. These are sets of instruments (monetary, financial and other) and procedures to handle monetized transactions. The currency mode in the Roman world was characterized by the abundance of coins, the use of which was facilitated by deposit bankers. In the High Empire, gold coin expanded the reach of the currency mode to large payments. The commodity mode was important primarily under the Republic for gold bullion. Monetized transactions were only in exceptional circumstances handled through the transfer of commodities. Private credit rationing emerged as an important monetary mode in the Late Republic. It profoundly determined and expanded the monetization of transactions, but did not result in the development of credit or fiat money. Because debts notes never became freely transferable, transaction costs were too high. The notes remained instruments


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Ancient Rome

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