POWER OF COINS by K.Radhakrishna
(Note : This article was first published in RBI Magazine “Without reserve” Oct 1997 -Jan 1998 vol. XXXI No.4 - No. 1 and is published now with permission of the author.)
Praetorians were personal body guards of the Roman General, an elite corps who were given better conditions than the Roman armies. Their proximity to the center of government made them politically important. They were responsible for making Publius Helvius Pertinax Emperor of Rome. His austerity and discipline did not benefit the Praetorian guards. Laetus, prefect of Praetorian guards, incited them to murder the emperor. At noon on 28th march, 193 A.D the guards separated the head of Pertinax from his body and placed it on a lance which was carried in triumph to the Praetorian camp.
In the midst of this disorder, the governor of the city, Suplicianus who was also a father-in-law of the dead emperor expressed his desire to become the next emperor. The Praetorian guards assumed the position of “Emperor Makers”. They held the head of the emperor on the lance and ran out upon the ramparts proclaiming in a loud voice that the Roman world was to be sold to the best bidder by public auction.
The news reached the ears of Didius Julianus, a wealthy Roman Senator. His wife, daughter and his sycophants convinced him that he deserved the Roman throne. He hastened to the Praetorian camp, where Suplicianus was still entreating the guards; and began to bid against him from the foot of the ramparts. The illegal, shameful and immoral negotiation was transacted by faithful emissaries, who passed alternately from one candidate to the other and acquainted with the offers of his rival. Suplicianus had already offered 5000 Denaril to each guard. Ambitious Julianus offered 6250 Denaril. The gates of the camp were instantly thrown open to the purchaser; he was declared emperor and ruled for 66 days. On 2nd June, 193 A.D. he was beheaded as a common criminal by the orders of Septimius Severus, the next incumbent to the throne.
Each Denarus weighs 3.41 grams Comprising 10 percent of alloy and 90 percent of silver. 6250 such coins were given to 300 Praetorian guards. If price of silver is taken at Rs 25000 per Kg, it would work out to Rs 15 Crores, perhaps being the cheapest bargain for winning the Roman World.
(In India an M.P may be spending more than that during elections.)