The Roman Empire's Financial Collapse: Are We Witnessing History Repeat Itself?

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There seems to be a new fascination with the Roman Empire these days. On TikTok, a trend has emerged where users ask their boyfriends, fathers, brothers and other men how often they think about the Roman Empire. The answer is often surprising — some men say that they think about the fallen empire every day.

This trend has taken the platform by storm. The hashtag #romanempire has over 1.1 billion views on TikTok.

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While modern-day internet trends like this highlight the persistent fascination with the Roman Empire, it is not just its grandeur and military might that captures attention. Its economic challenges, particularly the inflation that plagued the empire, offer insights that resonate today.

Here's a look at the intriguing story of inflation in the Roman Empire.

Currency Debasement

Established in 753 B.C., Rome's initial days as a monarchy witnessed the bronze aes as its primary currency. The republic era began in 509 B.C., and by 211 B.C., the silver denarius took center stage, initially made of 95% silver.

Gold coins were minted in substantial numbers under Roman leader Julius Caesar. The gold aureus, a significant coin of the era, held a value equivalent to 25 silver denarii.

Fast forward to 54 A.D., and Emperor Nero’s reign became synonymous with the notorious practice of coin clipping. By reducing the precious metal content while maintaining face value, Nero introduced the empire to the perils of currency debasement and the specter of inflation.

While the empire grappled with a manageable inflation rate for a while, the Crisis of the Third Century in 235 A.D. brought with it significant political and military disturbances. This led to increased government spending and more aggressive coin debasement.

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Diocletian attempted to rectify the situation through the introduction of the gold solidus, but it was in small issues. It was under Constantine's rule that the empire experienced some economic stability, although Rome's grandeur would continue to wane, leading to its eventual fall in 476 A.D.

While there was no such thing as the consumer price index in ancient times, some historians have estimated that Roman inflation reached 15,000% between 200 A.D. and 300 A.D.

Inflation In The American Empire

Fast forward to today, and rising prices remain a concern for people in the most powerful empire of the modern world: the United States of America.

In August, the U.S. consumer price index increased by 3.7% from a year ago. While this headline inflation figure is down from its 40-year high of 9.1% last June, the prices of many necessities, like food and shelter, remain elevated.

Last year, billionaire investor Carl Icahn noted that rampant inflation was a key factor that brought down the Roman Empire. He also warned investors that "the worst is yet to come."

"We printed up too much money and just thought the party would never end," he said.

Icahn also cautioned that "inflation is a terrible thing" and "you can't cure it."

The U.S. dollar has long held its position as the world's primary reserve currency. It's also considered a safe-haven currency because of America's robust economy and stable political system. But contrarian thinkers have been sounding the alarm on the greenback's dominance.

For instance, renowned global investor and economist Marc Faber recently said that the U.S. dollar "will become over time — not tomorrow, but over time — a worthless currency." 

Faber suggested that investors should look outside not just America but also its allies.

"My view is that as inflation will reaccelerate in the future, that investors should have money outside of the U.S. dollar region, and that includes the close allies and vassal states or provinces of the U.S., that are Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand — the woke countries are all in the American empire," he said.

A Long Way To Go?

While inflation has been an ongoing concern, history tells us that the downfall of an empire could take time.

Nero, recognized as the first to practice coin clipping, rose to power in 54 A.D. Although Rome faced significant challenges, especially during the Crisis of the Third Century, it persisted until its eventual fall in 476 A.D., lasting over 400 years after Nero.

America began its rise to imperial power in 1898 following the Spanish-American War and achieved global dominance post-World War II.

As for currency debasement, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the U.S. off the gold standard in 1933. And in 1971, President Richard Nixon completely removed the dollar's link to gold.

Today, the U.S. dollar is fiat money — like most global currencies. While some experts have been predicting the dollar's demise, compared to the timeline of the Roman Empire, America could still be in its early stages.

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Image by Clarence Alford from Pixabay

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