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Who Controls the Imperial Mint at Rome? An Epigraphic Perspective on Bureaucrats

David Schwei

Inscriptions attest two very different titles for the men who were in charge of imperial Rome’s mint: the IIIviri aere argento auro feriundo flando and the procurator monetae. Theodor Mommsen proposed that the mints were controlled by a dyarchy. The Senate and triumvirs, who had run the mint during the Republic, issued bronze coins; and the emperor and his procurators issued gold and silver coins. Even though this model explained how both sets of officials controlled the mint in Rome, historians have rejected it in favor of a model of cooperation among the Senate, emperor, and magistrates. Numismatists have been unable to explain the roles of the triumvirs and the procurators at the imperial mint, in part because they only look at the issue synchronically. Some continue to accept the dyarchy model (Sutherland 1976, Burnett 1977), others assume the triumvirate became a merely nominal office (Carson 1956), and others choose not to fully address the problem (Peachin 1986, Wolters 1999). In this paper, I will examine the leadership of the mint at Rome diachronically in order to demonstrate that the triumvirs and procurators cooperated in order to run the imperial mint where gold, silver, and bronze coins were issued from a single entity. This diachronic examination reveals how the emperor and his procurators gradually developed their cooperation with the triumvirs.

First, I will show how the triumvirs retained control of the mint during the empire.  Between c. 23 and c. 7 B.C.E., the triumvirs continued to issue gold, silver, and bronze coins with their own names in the coin legends. At the end of Augustus’s reign, their names disappeared from the bronze coins from the mint of Rome. Their names’ absence is part of a larger trend of limited senatorial self-representation at Rome that began during Augustus’s reign (Eck 1984, Eck 2010). The moneyers did not lose control of the mint because inscriptions attest the presence of their office into the third century (Jones 1970).

Next, I will clarify how the emperor gradually gained influence at the mint through subordinates who eventually ran the mint together with the triumvirs.  During the Julio-Claudian period, the emperor’s influence at the mint began. Two inscriptions reveal that members of the familia Caesaris had begun to work at the empire’s mints, but they did not serve as the mint masters (CIL 6.8461 = ILS 1637, CIL 13.1820 = ILS 163). Soon, the emperor added procurators who helped run the mint. The procurators are first attested during the reign of Trajan (Pflaum 1960), but their unclear title causes confusion about how the mint was administered. Therefore, I will also clarify the official’s title.  The earliest known procurator and the majority of procurators’ titles are inscribed as procurator monetae, and the minority of procurators’ titles are inscribed as procurator monetae Augusti. The latter implies that the mint is owned and firmly controlled by the emperor, but the former does not. The addition of the word “Augusti” to the title is a reflection of the imperial ideology that encouraged the belief that the emperor controlled the mints (Ando 2000).  Since this, perhaps fictitious, ideology is expressed in the minority of the inscriptions, the procurator’s title was just procurator monetae.  Without the implication that the emperor owned and controlled the mint, it is reasonable to assume that the procurators and the triumvirs were free to collaborate in the production of gold, silver, and bronze coins. Werner Eck has proposed a similar model of collaboration for procurators and provincial governors (Eck 2000).  In the mint at Rome, this teamwork allowed each official to prevent the other officials from abusing their power as they cooperatively ran the entire mint. This diachronic study demonstrates for the first time how the emperor collaborated with the traditional Roman officials in order to produce coins. It also clarifies one way through which this cooperation developed over the first century C.E.

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Empire and Ideology in the Roman World

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