New Evidence and Further Thoughts
Since the publication of
Currency and Inflation in Fourth Century Egypt
Atlanta 1985), new editions of papyri have added to the information available for the course of
prices in Egypt in the fourth century. In addition, recent studies have added to our information
about the metallic content of the coins in use during the period. None of the new information, it
seems fair to say, alters in any radical way the picture that I presented several years ago; but in a
number of ways it is now possible to be more precise about certain aspects of the monetary evolu-
tion in the century. Some of the editors' restorations, datings and commentary, moreover, appear
to me open to improvement. What follows is a series of eight comments on different aspects of the
1. Gold, Silver, and Wheat in the Edict of Maximum Prices
One of the major fixed points for monetary history of the early fourth century has been the
appearance of prices for gold (28.1a: 48 Talents/lb.
), silver (28.9: 4 T./lb.), and (among
numerous other types of goods) wheat (1.1a: 100 denarii/modius = 1,333 dr./art.
) in Diocletian's
Edict of Maximum Prices.
It is striking that the relationship of the pound of gold to the artaba of
wheat is only about 1:216 in the Edict, or 10 modii/3 artabas per 4 grams of gold (the weight of the
later Constantinian solidus). This is an extremely low figure; 1:576 is the fourth-century average,
and 1:720 is common in later centuries. Naturally enough, this fact has led to some expressions of
doubt the that market price of wheat really reached the level in the Edict.
New evidence allows a different approach. In
VI 75, published in 1985, there is a value
of 640 dr. per artaba assigned to wheat.
The date is in Mecheir of 301, thus 26 January to 24
February. Now this document antedates the Currency Edict which took effect on 1 September 301,
when existing coinage was doubled in value.
It seems, as one would expect, that when a coin
heretofore worth 12.5 den. was stated to be worth 25 den. the prices of goods doubled to take
account of the move. If we double the price in
VI 75, it comes to 1280 dr./art.,
or just slightly
These remarks arise from the coincidence of the publication of
LIV with my
preparations for an international conference on inflation in the fourth century, which was held at the
Istituto Italiano di Numismatica (Rome), 23-25 June 1988. I am grateful to Sara Sorda and Elio Lo
Cascio for the invitation to this conference and to the participants for many stimulating observations.