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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

Similar principles of Currency caused the fall of Ancient Empires

Similar principles of Currency caused the fall of Ancient Empires.

The false economic principles of the modern monetary system cannot be more clearly estimated than by examining the disastrous effects which the adoption of currency systems similar in principle exercised on the decline and fall of the great and enlightened civilisations of antiquity, and notably on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

During the greatness of the Roman Republic, her monetary system (the refined conception of the Greeks) was "symbolic," and consisted of "numerals" stamped upon bronze or copper called "nummus," whose emission was controlled, limited, registered and regulated (as a State monopoly) by the Senate, who jealously guarded and maintained this privilege. The stamp S.C.—Ex Senatus Consulto—(by decree of the Senate) and number on the face, they circulated with the clear perception that their value was not from the material of which they were composed, but their numeral volume and from law. This system lasted two centuries, during which all that was admirable of Roman civilisation saw its origin, its growth and its maturity,—when the system fell Rome had lost her liberties, the State was to grow (outwardly) more powerful and dreaded, but that State and its people were no longer one; from henceforth the Roman monetary system was to be dependent on conquest, plunder and slave mining for her stability of prices. This scientific system was first encroached upon, and then corrupted and destroyed by the coinage of gold by the Patricians—the rich capitalists—until, in the Augustan age, the system had attained a mixed currency similar to the modern system of to-day, consisting of over-valued copper coins, and other gold and silver coins at their bullion value.

The modern and the Augustan system had one feature in common—the volume of money had no specific limit—to the over-valued portion—the copper tokens (answering to our promissory note, except that they promised nothing) there was a certain and foreseeable limit. To the intrinsic portion, and therefore to the whole volume of the measure of value, there was none, the limit was whatever the vicissitudes of conquest, the mines and demand for the arts, etc., chanced to make it. In this most important of all features of a monetary system—that of Republican Rome was the scientific and refined embodiment—its entire limit or volume was regulated by the Senate from time to time, and being known to the citizens, afforded them an equitable measure page 12 by which they might compute value, and compare services and wealth—that so long as the Roman "numerical system" was preserved intact—the State continued to increase in population and productive resources; that before the "numerical system" was abandoned it had been encroached upon by the coining of gold and silver by the patricians, who had from their monopoly of large landed estates and wealth attained the power to corrupt the "institutions of the state," and that from the time of this introduction into the currency of silver, and after wards of gold, and greatly in consequence thereof, the State began to decay, because prices came to be based upon the bullion value of the precious metals, instead of legal value of the bronze numerary, and with this change (there being no more plunder by conquest or slave mining to maintain the expansion of the currency in ratio to commerce, prices immediately began to fall and continued to do so for ten centuries. The tremendous social consequences of this continued "fall of prices" has been depicted by Hume and Allison—it was the gloom of the dark ages.

Sir A. Alison ascribes the fall of Rome to the exhaustion of the Spanish mines, and the resultant contraction of the currency and the "fall of prices." Whether or not it is certain that Antoninus Augustus said: "Money had more to do with the distemper of the Roman Empire than the Huns and Vandals."

It may be open to reflection that had the Emperor Octavius Augustus returned to the refined "numerary system" of the Republic as—able and subtle statesman as he was—he wished to do, Rome might still have been mistress of the world to-day. But he quailed before the patricians—the great capitalists of his age, who enriched themselves by coining gold—and he dared not entrust to the Senate so tremendous a power as the control of the currency; the power which the Senate alone had once wielded under the commonwealth for the public welfare. Octavius was therefore obliged to take the same middle course which most modern Governments have found themselves obliged to do, and from the same influences; and adopt the same sort of mixed system, consisting like our present currency, partly of over-valued pieces (copper), and partly of coins, at their bullion value. In modern days, the over-valued pieces are made of paper, and usually promise something. In the Augustan era, the over-valued pieces were made of bronze, and promised nothing.

The modern banking system then is a paralell of the corrupted and unscientific system, adopted during the degenerate era, preceding the fall of the Roman Empire—a system which had supplanted and usurped the place of the bronze numerary of the Republic, the refined conception which once had been the bulwark of Roman liberty, progress and prosperity and equal distribution of wealth, and had now become the football of politicians and the tool of capitalists for the monopoly of wealth, which is again repeated in modern times, and exemplified by the existence of such gigantic millionaires as Rothschild, Astor, Jay Gould, etc.

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The fall of the Roman Empire was a repetition, in causes and effects of the fall of other high civilizations of past ages—India, Egypt, Carthage, and China all respectively used and enjoyed the beneficial results of "numerary" systems of money controlled by the State; instanced by the "marked numeraries" of China; the "nummulites" of Egypt; the "iron numeraries"of Sparta, etc.; and the decline of these great States was contemporaneous with the currency becoming the monopoly of the great capitalist, as it was in the decline of Rome.

The curse of Pliny—"Latifundia perdidere Italiatn"—against large estates is often quoted. He also—lamenting the downfall of the "numerary" money of the Roman Republic—transmits to posterity his curse on those who caused it. "The next crime committed against the welfare of mankind, was on the part of him who was the first to coin a Denarius of gold—a crime the author of which is unknown. Gold will be the bane for the human race. Would that gold could have been banished for ever from the earth, accursed by universal report, reviled by the reproaches of the best of men, and looked upon as discovered for the ruin of mankind."

Pliny affects a preference even for barter, which appears to be a veiled satire upon the use of gold for money, in the place of "nummi" (the numerary money of Rome)—gold being really a barter of one commodity for another, while the "nummi" were the scientific determination of relative value by means of "numbers."