Most of the time, coin of the realm wasn’t used for transactions, all was barter. And gold coin was scarce. After the Roman Empire passed its financial peak (reign of Trajan who had a nice big payday due to his conquest of Dacia; Trajan ruled a couple reigns before Antoninus Pius) the Empire’s population continued to grow, and more and more demand for coinage took place.
The response was bronze coinage, which had taken over nearly entirely before the traditional fall of Rome. The Roman bronze coins tend to be in very bad shape if they’ve been in the ground (and typically, that’s where they are found), but currency is merely a medium of exchange — a fact identified by the Romans.
There was a revival of gold coin minting during the peak of the Byzantine phase of the empire, because Constantinople got fabulously rich from trade and taxation. Gold Byzantine coins at least used to be pretty reasonably priced, mainly because gold survives well, and they were minted in pretty large quantities.
There’s a misconception that there’s enough gold around to mint into usable coin; the entire pile of gold ever mined in history wouldn’t make a cube 1000 inches on a side. 1000 cubed is one billion (cubic inches), and the population of the Earth today is between six and seven billion people.
[snip] Aurelian’s reign records the only uprising of mint workers. The rationalis Felicissimus, mintmaster at Rome, revolted against Aurelian. The revolt seems to have been caused by the fact that the mint workers, and Felicissimus first, were accustomed to stealing the silver used for the coins and producing coins of inferior quality. Aurelian wanted to erase this practice, and put Felicissimus under trial. The rationalis incited the mintworkers to revolt: the rebellion spread in the streets, even if it seems that Felicissimus was killed immediately, possibly executed. The Palmyrene rebellion in Egypt had probably reduced the grain supply to Rome, thus disaffecting the population with respect to the emperor. This rebellion also had the support of some senators, probably those who had supported the election of Quintillus, and thus had something to fear from Aurelian. Aurelian ordered the urban cohorts, reinforced by some regular troops of the imperial army, to attack the rebelling mob: the resulting battle, fought on the Caelian hill, marked the end of the revolt, even if at a high price (some sources give the figure, probably exaggerated, of 7,000 casualties). Many of the rebels were executed; also some of the rebelling senators were put to death. The mint of Rome was closed temporarily, and the institution of several other mints caused the main mint of the empire to lose its hegemony.
His monetary reformation included in the introduction of antoninianii containing 5% silver. They bore the mark XXI (or its Greek numerals form KA), which meant that twenty of such coins would contain the same silver quantity of an old silver denarius. Considering that this was an improvement over the previous situation gives an idea of the severity of the economic situation Aurelian faced. The emperor struggled to introduce the new “good” coin by recalling all the old “bad” coins prior to their introduction.
That coin is in beautiful condition.
Thanks for that great background info.
Gold artefacts, to me, have a special glamour. They are so pure and bright - untouched by time.