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Die Germanen und das Geld

Sven Günther


Pages 569 - 580



The article re-examines a well-known and often-discussed passage on the economic behavior of the ‚Germani‘ and their use of coin money in Tacitus’ ‚Germania‘ (5.1–3). Unlike previous interpretations of the tricky text that nearly exclusively linked the use of Roman coin money to the “more developed” ‚proximi‘ it is argued that Tacitus ascribes the use of coin money to both Germanic “groups”, the proximi and the ‚interiores‘, yet in a different way. While for Tacitus, the ‚proximi‘ are already integrated into the then contemporary Roman economic system of the Empire in terms of commerce and have to distinguish between “good”, i. e. valuable gold and silver coins and less valuable coinage, the ‚interiores‘ have still a barter economy wherein old republican silver coins (‚serrati‘ and ‚bigati‘) play a key-role for economic transactions on the basis of approval and trust in the stable value of those older, non-imperial coins. By drawing a line between the two economic systems, Tacitus reflects on the loss of trust in (debased) coin money and in the economic system of his own imperial times, and shows that a better system is still imaginable in remote areas. Those areas are nevertheless in great danger of losing this privilege due to gradual integration into the Roman civilization that could have the consequence of moral decline.

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