The Organisation of Roman Mints During the Third Century CE: the View from the Eastern Provinces 

Constantina Katsari

University of Exeter 


The monetary system of the Roman Empire developed during the reign of Augustus.  The emperor attached significance to the production of the various ?official? bronze denominations.  In fact, both the bronze sestertius and the silver denarius were coins that the Romans used in order to estimate commodity prices during the Principate.  The different metals and their denominations complemented each other according to a system of exchange rates set by the Roman state.  This elaborate system became even more complicated in the eastern provinces, where a number of mints produced silver and bronze coinages following various Hellenistic weight standards.  One of the main problems that modern researchers confront is the nature of the authorities responsible for the production of these different coinages.  It seems that, although precious metal coins were issued mainly in Rome, the production of bronzes was entrusted to the city authorities for the first two and a half centuries of existence of the empire.  However, the organisation of mints changed during the third century due to recurring political instability, continuous military campaigns, and a radical transformation of the currency system.  In this paper, I intend to analyse this change, which began in the early Severan period.

Mints issuing precious metal coinages

The emperor was mostly interested in the production of the precious metal coinages, gold and silver, that were used in order to pay his troops (Alston 1994: 113-123).  The category of mints issuing precious metal coinages includes two distinct groups of mints: a) ?mainstream? or ?official? mints that produced gold, silver and bronze coinages according to the denarius weight standard and b) ?provincial? mints that produced coinages according to Hellenistic weight standards.  Although the monetary systems that they followed were different, it is probable that the Roman state ran both types of mints in order to ensure their effective function.  The reasons for such a firm centralised imperial control were not only financial but also ideological, as we are about to see.

From an ideological perspective, the emperor was expected to be in charge of the issue of precious metal coins in Rome.  We can see the idea of the highest magistrate responsible for the production of coinage already in the work of Pseudo-Aristotle, Oeconomica (Pseudo-Arist., Oec. 1345b20).  This Greek idea does not seem to change through the centuries until the end of the Principate.  Third-century CE sources suggest that only the emperor had ultimate power over coinage, since he was the only one who could give permission to issue new precious-metal coins bearing his symbols (Herodian 2.15.5).  If individuals defied this rule, the state would treat them as enemies and take measures against them (Dio 80.4.7; Herodian 1.9.7).  If an emperor lost his power and eventually his life, he could no longer be represented on the currency (damnatio memoriae: Dio 78.12.6).  Such was the power of coinage and such was the importance of the imperial portrait on it that a knight who once carried a coin into a brothel was imprisoned and possibly accused of treason (Dio 78.16.5).

It is true that ideology or moral guidance would not always have affected imperial decisions with regard to the practical administration of the Roman Empire.  In this case, though, a number of financial reasons prompted the imposition of strict imperial control of the production and distribution of all precious metal coinages.  The most important raison d'être was that the production of precious metal coins facilitated imperial payments throughout the Roman period.  Silver and gold issues were used to pay the army and maintain the administrative infrastructure of the empire.  Apart from the convenience that the coins offered in terms of their transportation and guaranteed value, they probably also brought some profit to the issuing authority.  There is a strong possibility that the price of bullion was lower than the price of the coin itself.  Furthermore, overvaluations and continuous debasements during the Principate brought additional profits to the issuing authority.   While the legal value of the coins remained the same, the surplus derived from the reduction of quality ended up in the Roman treasury.  Consequently, it seems only natural that most of the precious metal coinages were produced in Rome under the control of the emperor, who also regulated their distribution in the provinces according to the needs and the expenses of the state.  It is almost self evident that the Roman denarii and aurei issued in ?official? mints were used mostly for military purposes. 

It has also been suggested that the cistophori, tetradrachms and drachmai produced in the provinces were intended primarily to meet the needs of Roman military forces stationed along the frontiers (Rodewald 1976: 25); Syria being one of these cases.  On the other hand, precious metal coinages were also necessary for the payment of soldiers who were garrisoned in areas located far from the limes, areas such as Asia Minor and Greece, where there was the danger of bandits (Mitchell 1983:132).  The imperial governors in the provinces probably had both the responsibility, which derived from their administrative relationship with the emperor, and the authority to regulate the coin output of the provincial mints, even if these mints were situated in distant regions.

The need for gold and silver coinages for state payments forced the central authority to control the production of precious metal coins, even if they were issued according to different monetary standards.  There was no obvious economic reason for the Romans to abolish the coins based on the Hellenistic standards and to impose their own, since drachmai brought them the same profit as denarii.  A simple system of exchange rates evened out the differences of the various standards, allowed their monetary function and did not cause any anomalies in the market.  It can be seen that if the quality of the silver denarii minted in Rome changed, the quality of the coins that belonged to the ?Attic? weight standards was subjected to analogous changes.   Specifically, when continuous debasements of the denarius took place in the third century AD, the drachma had to adjust in quality and weight so that it would be exchanged for the denarius at the same rate as before.  The cistophoric coinage also had to be adjusted almost every time wider monetary reforms took place.  During the Severan period the cistophori were reduced both in weight and fineness in order to comply with the debasement of Severus? denarii (Burnett 1987: 30; Harl 1996: 99-100).  This way, the denarial debasements did not cause the overvaluation of the other silver coins in circulation.  The Roman state was the only authority powerful enough to impose the same exchange rates throughout the Empire from the time of Augustus until the end of the Alexander Severus? reign (Dio 55.12.5) and adjust the weight standards whenever it was deemed necessary.

Furthermore, it would appear that a certain level of co-operation between the mints which issued silver coins existed.   Caesarea in Cappadocia, which had not produced silver coins for 22 years and no bronze for 10 years, ?borrowed? workmen from the nearest imperial mint, Antioch, in order to resume the issue of new coinage during the reign of Gordian.  Also, some Syrian silver coins of Trajan and Domitian were probably minted at Alexandria.  Similarly, some Arabian drachmai of Trajan could have been minted at Antioch, which probably also produced silver for Crete.  Furthermore, it has been suggested that, at certain periods, the mint of Rome was employed to strike provincial silver coins.  For example, the Egyptian style tetradrachms of Severus Alexander and the Syrian style tetradrachms of Philip were minted in Rome (Bland 1991: 229 and 231; Burnett 1987: 30-31).  The final destination of these coinages was the eastern provinces, where they circulated side by side with provincial silver coins minted locally or imperial coins issued by mainstream mints (Butcher 1995: 63-97; Carradice 1998: 95).  Although it is hard to define the extent of this procedure or its regularity, we should view the cooperation of imperial mints as an indication of centralised control over provincial silver coinage.  The fact that the provincial mints would use workers or artists from other imperial mints and not from neighbouring civic mints indicates a deep division between the two categories (imperial vs. civic) and further reinforces the hypothesis that all the mints which produced precious metal coinages were under a common administration.

Even though a number of mints issued silver based on Hellenistic standards in the eastern provinces, Rome continued to produce the bulk of precious metal coins circulating in the empire also during the Severan period.  However, certain changes in the organisation of provincial mints altered slightly the picture of the current minting system.  It seems that the outburst of the civil war in the late second century CE was the main reason for the establishment of a number of new mints in the provinces, mints which were designed to supply the army with new silver coins.  In this case, the emperor followed a standard imperial practice in the production of precious metal coinage during periods of military instability.

To be sure, a similar situation occurred previously in the years 68-69 CE, when the need for increased production of silver coins far from Rome forced emperors to issue denarii in state mints located in the provinces.  These denarii are the last substantial issues that can be attributed with some probability to eastern mints prior to the Severan period.  From an ideological perspective, these issues probably represented an attempt to extend the denarius system to the eastern Roman Empire.  It is also possible that the issue of official silver denominations emphasized the supremacy of Rome on the inhabitants of the eastern provinces and advertised the authority of the emperor, which at that time was an object of contention among several usurpers (Metcalf 1982: 334-5).  This assumption could also explain the parallel reduction in the production of silver coinages based on Hellenistic weight standards (Burnett 1999: 9-10).  From a financial point of view, we cannot deny the necessity of an increasing mint output in the regions where Vespasian and his army were located.  We can assume that the troops stationed in the provinces needed their payment without delay, because of the explosive circumstances.  Since communication with Rome would have been impossible, the emperor found an easy solution to this problem; he created a number of temporary mints closer to his headquarters.  When he secured the throne, the mint of Rome assumed its previous role and managed to cover almost without any provincial help the need for precious metal coinages.

A similar pattern repeated at the time of the struggle between Septimius Severus and Pescennius Niger, which led to the appearance of the denarial issues of Antioch, Laodicea ad Mare, Alexandria and Emesa (?).  It is clear that Septimius Severus was more interested in increasing the production of coinage in ?official? rather than provincial mints.  In fact, he only gave permission for small numbers of cistophori to be struck for a short time at an uncertain mint in Asia Minor (Metcalf 1988: 155-166).  His newly minted ?official? coins were distributed to his troops in Syria and possibly also in Asia Minor, even though they never replaced the tetradrachms already in circulation.  An exception to this policy was the mint of Alexandria, which continued to produce in large quantities heavily debased tetradrachms and bronzes (Mattingly 1950: xiv-xv).  Nevertheless, it is probable that these tetradrachms were not used to cover any military expenses, since their circulation was restricted to the local Egyptian markets; thus, a closed-currency system characterized Egypt from the time of Augustus.

The minting reforms of Septimius Severus, though, did not seem to have a long-lasting effect in Syria, since tetradrachms continued to be more common than denarii in the area.  The mint of Antioch remained the main provider of tetradrachm coinage for Syria during the first three centuries CE, while other smaller mints only occasionally produced this denomination.  Imperial silver coinage issued in Rome also circulated in the Syrian provinces, although in smaller quantities than the tetradrachms, even during the reign of Septimius Severus.  This provincial currency was designed to facilitate the payments of the administrative officers, provide for the military expenses and cover the commercial needs of the eastern cities (Burnett 1992: 7-8; Butcher 1996: 103 and 106).

By the time Caracalla became sole emperor, only the mint of Rome continued to produce ?official? precious metal coinage, whilst a multiplication of local Syrian mints took place during Caracalla?s military campaigns in the eastern provinces.  Only 3 mints issued tetradrachms at the death of Septimius Severus, while more than 28 mints issued these silver coins at the death of Caracalla.  The increased production of tetradrachms should probably be connected with the increase in payment of the troops stationed in Syria in the years 217-218 CE.  The fact that coins from all the ?tetradrachm? mints were found in Dura Europos could suggest that coins were struck for and used by the army for needs related to the war against the Parthians in Northern Syria and Mesopotamia (Bellinger 1940; McAlee 1984: 43-59; Gilmore 1987: 109-110).

The increase in number of tetradrachm mints and the subsequent increase in the circulation of these denominations did not affect any province apart from Syria. This case was obviously an exception and it probably should be explained along the same lines as the case of Egypt, which had the characteristics of a closed currency system.  On the other hand, the circulation of denarii remained predominant both in Greece and in Asia Minor until the reign of Gordian III, when they were replaced by antoniniani.  In fact, denarii, which were imported in the eastern provinces mainly from the mint of Rome, are abundant in the majority of the Greek and Turkish excavation sites.  Furthermore, by the reign of Septimius Severus we encounter only a handful of drachmai in coin hoards buried and lost in Asia Minor.  During the period from the reign of Septimius Severus to the reign of Gallienus, Rome was still the only mint which struck precious metal coinage regularly and continuously, although sporadically other mints would emerge.  For example, after the reign of Septimius Severus, Gordian III established an ?official? mint at Antioch in 240, while both Caesarea and Antioch continued to produce provincial issues.  Also, during the reign of Trebonianus Gallus, both Cyzicus and Antioch issued antoniniani.  The situation changed radically in the middle of the third century when a number of new ?official? mints in the eastern and western provinces undertook the minting of imperial currency.  Valerian continued the production of ?official? issues at Antioch and also opened a second eastern mint at Cyzicus, while Gallienus opened a third mint at Trier in the western provinces.  Other mints were then founded in Milan and Siscia, whilst Postumus established one at Cologne.  A substantial change took place when the number of mints rose to eight in 274 and then to fifteen by 300 (Tyler 1975; Harl 1996: 138-144). 

In the first instance, we notice that the number of ?official? mints progressively increased, while the number of provincial mints, which continued to produce precious metal coinages, decreased.  As a result, the production of provincial silver coins gradually declined until it ceased completely in the middle of the third century CE.  On the other hand, the number of official mints multiplied especially after the middle of the third century CE.  The reasons for such an increase are not necessarily the same that forced the emperors to establish new ?official? mints in the provinces in 69 CE or in the early Severan period. The political and military crisis of the middle of the third century AD lasted for so long that the consequences on the coinage became permanent.  The monetary system underwent radical changes, one of which was the massive production of billon antoniniani.  As we will see later, the demand for this denomination was such that the increase in number of ?official? mints, the only mints in operation by the end of the third century CE, became unavoidable.  Although the high number of ?official? mints could lead us to the conclusion that the minting of imperial coinages was de-centralised, we should take into consideration that the only authority responsible for the production of coins was the Roman state.

Mints issuing bronze coinages

Although the emperor seems to have kept a tight control over the production of precious metal coinage of different weight standards, he was not interested in controlling the production of bronze issues in the same way.  In fact, civic authorities in the eastern provinces were mainly responsible for the funding and issuing of coinage.  Local magistrates were often involved in the organization of public works, which included the production of coinage.  They undertook the minting of coins in the same way they undertook other liturgies.  It is probable that the above magistrates did not do this without the authorization of the administrative body of the city.  Inscriptions found on coins indicate that the boule¯ (council) could have been responsible for decisions relevant to the issue of coinage.  The power of civic authorities over the production of bronze issues lasted until the third century CE, when significant changes took place, as we will see later (Burnett 1992: 43; Burnett 1999: 3-4; Howgego 1985: 85; Robert 1967: 54ff.; Weiss 1992: 167-179; Weiss 2000: 235-254; Nollè 1993: 487-504 ).

Although a certain degree of administrative freedom concerning the production of bronze coinage was probably granted by Rome to individual cities, the local governors, as representatives of the imperial authority in the provinces, could possibly exert some control over the production of civic bronze coinage.  There are a number of instances of occurrence of a proconsul?s name on the coinage.  In some of these cases, the direct influence of the proconsul in the minting process cannot be excluded (Burnett 1992:3).  It is also possible that the koina (leagues), which minted bronze coinages, were under the same imperial administrative control.  Although a few of these mints produced superficially civil or regal issues, most of the coins lack any evidence of overt authority or ethnic, a fact that leads us to suggest that they should be regarded as ?official? issues (Burnett 1992: 3-4; Burnett 1999: 6; Troxell 1982: 227-234).  On the other hand, the literary sources refer directly to the permission either of the emperor or of the provincial governor to establish a new mint or to continue of the production.  In his Life of Alexander of Abonuteichus (43), Lucian mentions a petition concerning a city?s coinage.  Contrary to the literary sources, numismatic evidence suggests that the god Glykon was never present on the coins that were minted by the authorities of the city of Abonuteichus.  Even if the story should not be seen as a true historical event, we ought to acknowledge the fact that such petitions probably were common practice during the Principate, since Lucian does not need to explain further the phenomenon to his readers.  Although the citizens of Abonuteichus decided not to use the god-snake with healing power as type on their coins, other cities feature Glykon on their coinages (Jones 1998: 107; Miron 1996: 159-160).

The evidence from eastern cities is somewhat ambiguous, but in certain cases there is nevertheless clear evidence of permission from a higher authority, especially regarding coins issued by colonies.  Permissu Augusti is recorded on issues in eastern as well as western provinces inscribed mostly as PERM.IMP.  This formula probably refers to the restoration of the privilege of coining (Howgego 1985: 88; Burnett 1977: 58-59; Burnett 1992: 3-4; Burnett 1999: 2-3).  An issue from Patrae with the legend INDVLGENTIAE AVGVSTI MONETA INPETRATA on the obverse of a sestertius looks like an elaborate version of the formula PERMISSV CAESARIS AVGVSTI.  This coinage probably indicates the way in which colonies acquired the right to issue money: by direct application to the emperor.  Although the formula Indulgentia Augusti, ?by the Gracious Favour of the Emperor?, appears rarely on coins, it reveals that in some isolated cases permission was sought by the colonies in order to mint new issues (Levy 1987: 39-49).

Apart from the colonial issues that seemed to have been controlled by the imperial authorities, we should also take into consideration the imperial bronze coins produced mainly in Rome or other ?official? mints.  We have seen that under the principate the Roman imperial government was responsible for the control, production and supply of gold and silver currency throughout the empire.  The same authorities issued imperial bronze coins in the same way they minted ?official? precious metal coinages.  The emperors were mostly concerned about fixing the size of issues according to the army?s need for coin, rather than according to the convenience of civilians.  Among the published coins of known provenence, the largest quantities of official Augustan and Tiberian aes and its denominations have come from excavations in military sites along the German frontier and from chance finds in the same region.  Although the soldiers were paid in denarii or aurei, it is probable that the as could have also been used in certain cases in order to supplement their payment.  Subsequently, these low denominations probably passed gradually into general circulation and were used for small transactions, thus facilitating the workings of a monetized economy at least in places were troops where stationed.  Since western mints rarely produced their own coinage, virtually all Roman bronze coins of the late first and second centuries found in the Western Empire, whether in excavations or in hoards or as casual finds, were minted in Rome (Rodewald 1976: 52-69; Hobley 1998: 12 and 138-139).  Even though the civic mints of Asia Minor and Greece covered the needs of the local markets for small change, some of the imperial bronzes still found their way into the eastern provinces.

The above described civic and imperial mints produced the bronze coinage which covered the needs of retail trade until the beginning of the third century CE, when crucial political, military, and monetary changes took place.  Indirectly, the Severan wars probably affected also the production and distribution of bronze coinage, since the large silver output needed an equally large production of bronze coins.   It is certain that soldiers frequently used their payment in order to participate in commercial transactions.  Subsequently, merchants used these silver coins in order to exchange commodities in the local or regional markets.  The use of silver currency, though, was inherently connected to the use of bronze, since they both facilitated commercial activities.  When, during the third century CE, silver mint output rose to such an unprecedented level that it surpassed all previous increases, an equal increase of mint output in bronze became a priority.  The burden of the production of bronze currency fell on the shoulders of the eastern cities, which had to produce enough bronze coins to cover the increased needs of the local markets.  If the cities had not accelerated the production of coinage, they would have faced severe problems of monetary liquidity caused by the lack of bronze in daily transactions (Ziegler 1996: 119-227). 

One way to increase production in civic coinage was to increase the number of civic mints in the eastern provinces.  Jones was the first to attempt a detailed analysis of the evidence from excavations in the eastern provinces.  When he calculated approximately the numbers of mints in every province of Greece, Asia Minor and Syria according to individual reigns, he realised that the actual number of civic mints increased substantially during the Severan dynasty (Jones 1967: 308-347; Jones 1965: 295-301).  The simultaneous increase of the number of civic mints in the East could indicate the involvement of central imperial authorities.  The imperial administration was aware of the problems and the subsequent complaints caused by the lack of bronze in the markets, as an inscription from Mylasa indicates (Katsari 2001: ch.5).  Therefore, the provincial governors may have actively interfered in order to remedy the situation.  This action was so widespread that it alone indicates the need for intervention from an authority other than the individual cities or the already powerless koina (leagues) in order to enable its success.  It seems that the foundation of new mints was coordinated by an imperial authority in the provinces, an authority which aimed at the increase of the overall coin output, although it is not certain that the desired increase in the production of bronze coins was finally achieved.  In fact, it is possible that in most cases the reaction of the government was incredibly slow and therefore ineffective (Duncan-Jones 1990: 7-29).

Furthermore, an organisational development of mints took place at the end of the second century a phenomenon which also suggests the interference of a central authority.  A number of numismatic studies demonstrate that in the period between 192 and 212 CE the patterns of supply of dies in the western coastal region of Asia Minor were relatively complex; however, after about 212, the workshops were organised on a strictly regional basis.  Engravers who engraved the same dies for more than one city produced the entire coinage.  It has been suggested that a certain stability and organisational competence was required for the operation of these mints.  This development could have been achieved across Asia Minor only as a result of activities promoted by the central state.  Ann Johnston already suggested that a central authority, probably the procurator acting for the emperor, regulated the provision of civic bronze coinage during the third century CE (Kraft 1972; Johnston 1974: 203-207; Johnston 1982/3: 70).

When the multiplied civic mints in the eastern provinces were placed under tighter imperial control during the Severan period, the central mint of Rome reduced the ?official? issues of bronze coinage (for this information I am indebted to A. Burnett).  It is possible that the emperor decided that the most important imperial mint of the empire, Rome, should concentrate its efforts on the increasing production of silver coins necessary for the payments of the army.  The number of bronzes minted during the third century in Rome probably facilitated the immediate needs of the royal court for everyday transactions, as they were not supposed to be distributed to distant provincial markets.

The proliferation of mints that has been attested in the early Severan period did not last.  One after the other local mints ceased the production of bronze coinages, while the majority of them stopped producing civic coins by the end of the reign of Gallienus; only a few continued minting until the reign of Tacitus.  Since the eastern cities gradually became reluctant to produce their own change, the ?official? mints undertook the production of all the bronzes in circulation by the middle of the third century, thus effectively centralising minting.  In the meantime, the production of these ?official? bronze coins was also restricted until the reign of Aurelian, when it stopped altogether (Watson 1999: 127-132).  Bronze coins from previous periods continued circulating for years after the mid-third century along with antoniniani (Howgego 1985: 71).  The reasons for these changes are both ideological and financial, as we will see.

In the first instance, the decline in the production of civic coinages could be connected with the decline of the role of the polis.  Until the third century CE, the prestige of the Greek city in the Roman eastern provinces provided a focus for the economic and political actions of its inhabitants.  However, both archaeologists and epigraphists attest numerous changes in the attitude and the ideology of the population in the eastern Roman provinces from as early as the Severan period.  First of all, there is a decrease in the number of honorary inscriptions, a fact that indicates an indifference of the wealthy members of the society towards benefactions.  At the same time, the number of monumental buildings reduced, even though private houses became larger and lavishly decorated.  This evidence indicates that the inhabitants were no longer interested in the welfare or the fame of their city.  Although the bronze coinages continued to advertise the importance of the polis whenever they were issued, the citizens felt that they no longer needed this element in order to promote their fading civic patriotism (Liebeschuetz 2001).

Apart from the ideological reasons for the end of civic coinages, financial reasons, such as inflationary tendencies, were equally significant.  Rathbone demonstrated that prices in Egypt did not rise substantially until the reign of Aurelian (Rathbone 1996: 321-339; Rathbone 1997: 183-244).  He tried to explain this stability by assuming that the degree of monetization in Egypt rose during the third century and absorbed the cumulatively increasing stock of coinage in circulation without causing price inflation.  In fact, a rise in prices did take place before the reign of Gallienus, as Rathbone?s charts indicate, although it did not match the subsequent enormous increases.  We saw that the silver metal in the coinage was reduced from the reign of Septimius Severus onwards.  Even if the exchange rates remained stable until the reign of Severus Alexander, eventually merchants would have demanded more pieces of coins for the same transaction, taking into consideration the intrinsic and not the face value of the coin.  That is why we observe the rise in prices and a vast increase in the number of billon antoniniani (which by now were used as low denominations) in circulation by the mid-third century.  Economists may perceive as ?inflation? the commonsensical effect of the repeated debasements of silver coinage.  Only after the reign of Gallienus did prices rise uncontrollably and cause real inflation (Katsari 2003).

How did these circumstances affect the organisation of mints and the production of bronze coinages?  It is probable that until the beginning of the third century both civic and ?official? coinages continued to bring some profit to the issuing authorities; thus, local mints were quite popular (Martin 1996: 262-264).  This situation possibly changed the moment that Septimius Severus decided to debase the denarius without altering the exchange rates between silver and bronze coins.  During this period, the intrinsic value of bronze coins probably increased, while their face value remained the same.  The state and the cities, which used to buy bronze bullion for a lower price and then ?sell? it in the form of coins with a substantial profit, gradually lost this revenue, since the legal value of bronze asses and assaria was now closer to their intrinsic value.  In some instances, the authorities may have even lost money when they decided to issue their own coinage.  In particular, small communities with restricted financial capacity might not have been able to cover mint expenses; therefore they decided to decrease the number of issues after the death of Caracalla, although they probably still had permission to produce coins.

Especially during the reign of Gallienus, the gap in the intrinsic value between bronze and silver coins became negligible.  The citizens probably noticed that the value of their bronze coins, in some cases, could have been higher than the value of their silver coins.  This situation demanded the reform of exchange rates.  The value countermarks that were applied in the middle of the third century (long after the first Severan debasement) were supposed to increase the external value of the bronze coins so that it would match the debasements of the antoniniani (Howgego 1985: 62ff; Johnston 1994: 205-206).  The adjustment of the exchange rates, though, did not solve the problem, since during the reign of Gallienus the antoninianus consisted only of some 2.5% silver while the rest was bronze.  Since the cities could no longer profit from the production of civic coins, they stopped minting.  The billon antoniniani replaced or complemented the existing bronzes in circulation and the task of distributing small denominations in the Roman Empire was undertaken almost exclusively by the imperial authorities and the ?official? mints.


Modern scholars agree that the production of precious metal coins was centralised in the mint of Rome for two and a half centuries in an attempt to control centrally the currency used for the payment of soldiers.  In the meantime, the responsibility for the issue of bronze coinages remained mainly in the hands of the civic magistrates of the eastern cities, although a number of the bronze coins produced in mainstream mints eventually ended up in the provinces.  This arrangement was profitable both for the cities which earned money from the exchange of different denominations and for the emperor who concentrated on the production of the financially more important silver and gold issues.  Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this rule especially in cases of political and military turmoil.

One of these instances was the civil war at the end of the second century CE, which brought about certain changes in mint organisation during the early Severan period.  Both Septimius Severus and Caracalla experimented with the organisation of mints.  The first emperor followed the earlier example of the Flavians and established in the provinces mints that produced ?official? coinage, while the second followed local traditions establishing numerous ?tetradrachm? mints in the wider area of Syria.  This policy seems to be consistent also at the level of civic minting.  Already during the reign of Septimius Severus the number of active mints multiplied in the eastern provinces in order to cover the need of the local markets for small change.  The extent of this action combined with a regional rather than strictly civic organisation of minting could indicate the interference of the provincial imperial authorities, such as the procurator, although the civic authorities still assumed most of the financial and organisational responsibility.  The multiplication of mints is not necessarily a sign of the decentralization of mints, since the production of precious metal coinages remained under firm central control, while the production of bronze was also monitored from the imperial authorities in the provinces.  In any case, the experiment ended soon after the death of Caracalla and was never repeated.

The financial and political problems of the military emperors required a reconsideration of the whole monetary system and, consequently, the reorganisation of minting.  The civic mints gradually terminated their operations mainly because minting activities no longer brought any profits to the cities.  Furthermore, a reduction in the quality of the antoniniani, combined with a probable modification of the exchange rates, reduced these silver coins into small change appropriate only for retail transactions.  The ?official? mints that produced billon coinages were forced to intensify the production in order to cover both the financial needs of the state and the needs of the markets for coined money.  In view of these changes the multiplication of ?official? mints and their establishment in different parts of the empire was inevitable.  It is the first time that the imperial authorities were responsible for the production of all the money circulating within the Roman empire, including small change.  Although the ?official? mints were established in different provinces the centralised imperial control cannot be disputed.



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