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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.

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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
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Do you have a link to the newspaper article? –  coleopterist May 26 '13 at 6:24
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1 Answer

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.

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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
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