The Monetary Systems of the Han and Roman Empires

59 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2008 Last revised: 10 Jun 2009

Date Written: February 2008


The Chinese tradition of supplementing large quantities of bronze cash with unminted gold and silver represents a rare exception to the western model of precious-metal coinage. This paper provides a detailed discussion of monetary development in ancient China followed by a brief survey of conditions in the Roman empire. The divergent development of the monetary systems of the Han and Roman empires is analyzed with reference to key variables such as the metal supply, military incentives, and cultural preferences. This paper also explores the "metallistic" and "chartalistic" elements of the Han and Roman currency systems and estimates the degree of monetization of both economies.

Keywords: Rome, China, Comparative History, Money, Monetary History, Coinage

JEL Classification: E42, N00, N20

Suggested Citation

Scheidel, Walter, The Monetary Systems of the Han and Roman Empires (February 2008). Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics Paper No. 110505. Available at SSRN: or

Walter Scheidel (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-2145
United States

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