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date: 18 January 2020

Summary and Keywords

Most currency systems in classical antiquity used precious metals at standardized weights and/or fineness. Debasement describes reductions in currency standards, whether such reductions were openly declared or hidden, or whether they were enacted by legitimate minting authorities or counterfeiters. Some debasements may have been unintentional, the result of imprecisions in the minting process. Often, however, debasements were carried out on purpose and for a wide range of reasons—in response to crises such as wars or famines, or as part of a larger economic or monetary reform. Contemporary responses to debasements varied. Coin-users and money specialists developed techniques to assess the quality of coins. Some polities enacted legal tender laws—sometimes to discourage the use of debased counterfeit coins, but often to require the use of legitimate coinage after it had been debased. The scholarly study of changes in coin standards continues to provide insights into both the practical workings of ancient monetary systems and the abstract notions of value, acceptability, and other embedding frameworks that governed the use of ancient coinage.

Keywords: money, currency, coinage, metal, silver, counterfeit, legal tender

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