Monday, February 8, 2016

The Fiscal Policy of Emperor Constantine

From Inflation and the Fall of the Roman Empire, a transcript of Prof. Joseph Peden's 50-minute lecture. By way of Vincent Cate.

The next emperor who interfered with the coinage in a meaningful way was to be Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome. Constantine in the year 312, which is also the year he issued the Edict of Toleration for Christianity, issued a new gold piece which he called by a new name, the solidus — solid gold. This was struck at 72 to the pound, so it was in fact debased over Diocletian's. These were very large issues and historians have puzzled over where he got all the gold; but I think the puzzle is not so much of a real puzzle once you begin to look at the legislation that took place.

First of all, he issued two new taxes: one was taxed on the estates of the senators, and this was rather new because senators generally were free of most taxes on their land. He also issued a tax on the capital of merchants; not their earnings, but their capital.

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