Roman finance


Roman finance

For centuries the monetary affairs of the Roman Republic had rested in the hands of the Senate, which was steady and fiscally conservative. The aerarium(state treasury) was supervised by members of the government rising in power and prestige, the Quaestors, Praetors, and eventually the prefects. With the dawn of the Roman Empire, a major change took place, as the emperors assumed the reins of financial control. Augustus initially adopted a system that was, on the surface, fair to the senate. Just as the world was divided in provinces designated as imperial or senatorial, so was the treasury. All tribute brought in from senatorially controlled provinces was given to the "aerarium", while that of the imperial territories went to the treasury of the emperor, the fiscus.

Initially, this process of distribution seemed to work, although the legal technicality did not disguise the supremacy of the emperor or his often used right to transfer funds back and forth regularly from the "aerarium" to the "fiscus". The fiscus actually took shape after the reign of Augustus and Tiberius. It began as a private fund ("fiscus" meaning purse or basket) but grew to include all imperial monies, not only the private estates but also all public lands and finances under the imperial eye.

The property of the rulers grew to such an extent that changes had to be made starting sometime in the 3rd century, most certainly under Septimius Severus. Henceforth the imperial treasury was divided. The "fiscus" was retained to handle actual government revenue, while a "patrimonium" was created to hold the private fortune, the inheritance of the royal house. There is a considerable question as to the exact nature of this evaluation, involving possibly a "res privata" so common in the Late Empire.

Just as the senate had its own finance officers, so did the emperors. The head of the "fiscus" in the first years was the rationalis, originally a freedman due to Augustus' desire to place the office in the hands of a servant free of the class demands of the traditional society. In succeeding years the corruption and reputation of the freedman forced new and more reliable administrators. From the time of Hadrian (117-138), any "rationalis" hailed from the Equestrian Order ("equites") and remained so through the chaos of the 3rd century and into the age of Diocletian.

With Diocletian came a series of massive reforms, and total control over the finances of the Empire fell to the now stronger central government. Under Constantine this aggrandizement continued with the emergence of an appointed minister of finance, the "comes sacrarum largitionum" (count of the sacred largess). He maintained the general treasury and the intake of all revenue. His powers were directed toward control of the new "sacrum aerarium", the result of the combination of the "aerarium" and the "fiscus".

The "comes sacrarum largitionum" was a figure of tremendous influence. He was responsible for all taxes, examined banks, mints and mines everywhere, watched over all forms of industry, and paid out the budgets of the many departments of the state. To accomplish these many tasks, he was aided by a vast bureaucracy. Just below the "comes sacrarum" were the "comes largitionum", positioned in each diocese. They acted as territorial chiefs, sending out agents, the "rationales summarum", to collect all money in tribute, taxes, or fees. They could go virtually anywhere and were the most visible extension of the government in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Only the "magister officiorum" and the "comes rerum privatarum" could counter the political and financial weight of the "comes sacrarum largitionum". The "magister officiorum" (master of offices) made all the major decisions concerning military and intelligence matters, receiving a budget of monumental size, over which the "comes sacrarum largitionum" probably only had partial authority.

Given the increased size of the imperial estates and holdings, the "res privata" not only survived but was also officially divided into two different treasuries, the "res privatae" of actual lands and the "patromonium sacrae", or imperial inheritance. Both were under the jurisdiction of the "comes rerum privatarum". He also took in any rents or dues from imperial lands and territories.

See also

* Agentes in rebus
* Aerarium
* Comes
* Congiarium
* Donativum
* Fiscus
* Rationalis
* Rationibus
* Roman commerce


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