Sign up ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Forging money or currency is more often called counterfeiting and, as is well known, the counterfeiting of money is usually attacked aggressively by today's governments.

But, generally speaking, was it the same during the medieval era? And during the Roman Empire?

I ask because an Italian daily newspaper has claimed that "fino al '600 riprodurre monete altrui fu considerato legale", i.e., until 1600, counterfeiting money belonging to an emperor or reign was considered legal.

share|improve this question
A few month ago I heard, that money before 1600 was not like money is today. It existed somewhat, but it was not used much. And around 1600 it started to become more widespread and more like it was today. There's even a book claiming that money is the reason why we learned to detach numbers from units. (badly I'd need a lot of time to dig up the name of the book.) – Elrond May 25 '13 at 21:50
Do you have a link to the newspaper article? – coleopterist May 26 '13 at 6:24
They might be talking about counterfeiting historical money. For example, it certainly is legal to counterfeit money as long as it isn't current money. You can counterfeit 16th century Spanish doubloons all you want and the Treasury will not care. – Tyler Durden Mar 13 at 15:04

3 Answers 3

As stated, the question has a simple answer: no!

In Rome the right to mint currency was strictly reserved to the emperor. The emperor might at times devolve the right to mint copper or silver (but not gold!) coins to certain favoured cities, but it was his to grant and his to withdraw. There were severe punishments for counterfeiters (don't remember offhand how severe, but rest assured they were so).

Btw, ironically, the imperial government itself often resorted to debasement which nowadays would be called by the respectable name of "turning on the printing press" but in ancient terms is very much akin to counterfeiting.

What, however, your source might have had in mind is that gold or silver bullion, however processed, used to serve as legitimate means of payment. Probably one could legally inscribe his name on his bullion, although I don't know why they should be doing that.

share|improve this answer
allowing cities or provinces to strike their own coins was no different from the current central bank system in the US where there are regional mints. Makes for easier distribution of a bulky product :) – jwenting May 27 '13 at 5:46
Is there a difference between "legally inscribing his name" and "inscribing his name"? (and is either different from "inscribing her name"? – Mark C. Wallace Nov 17 at 17:29
@MarkC.Wallace I meant that there was no law against that, afaik. – Felix Goldberg Nov 17 at 21:33

In 17th century England there was a shortage of copper coins. Even lumps of copper were accepted since the value of coins were effectively their bullion weight so trade tokens or outright fakes were perfectly acceptable, provided they were copper. However, if you faked silver or gold coins you were hanged, drawn & quartered (or burnt if you were a woman).

share|improve this answer
Could be improved with some references. – Steve Bird Nov 17 at 17:27

The quotation "fino al '600 riprodurre monete altrui fu considerato legale" actually means that it was legal to counterfeit other people's [i. e. foreign] money, in fact, aristocrats, churchmen, traders, and guild engaged in such counterfeiting, and it was usual for official mints to counterfeit their own currency (thus producing debased coins) — but a private individual could be severely punished if caught by the affected authorities and could end being boiled alive.
There's an interesting chapter on currency counterfeiting in England in Malcom Gaskill's Crime and Mentalities in Early Modern England.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.