When counterfeit dimes were worth the effort

1861 counterfeit dime

The practice of counterfeiting money is as old as money itself.

Archaeologists have discovered counterfeit examples of coins produced in Lydia, a Roman province said to be the locale of the first metallic coinage, dating back to the 7th century BC.

Today, we tend to think of counterfeiters as individuals who mass produce paper money, usually in large denominations – $20 or higher.

But until relatively recently, nearly all counterfeit money came in coin form. This was because until relatively recently nearly all money came in coin form, and was known as “hard money” because it contained a commodity such as gold or silver which gave it intrinsic value.

A short 1884 article in the New York Times highlighted just how valuable even small coins – albeit those made of silver – were 130 years ago.

MARLBOROUGH, N.Y. – Counterfeit silver dollars, quarters and ten-cent pieces are being circulated in a number of the Hudson River counties. The quarter dollars and dimes are said to be very good imitations of genuine money. It is said that ticket agents on the line of the Hudson River Railroad have been told to scrutinize carefully all silver offered in payment for tickets. It is believed that the counterfeits were first put in circulation about three weeks ago.

Today it seems difficult to imagine someone going to the difficulty of attempting to counterfeit a dime, never mind working hard enough at it to do it well.

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Site of Caesar’s demise said to be uncovered

Demonstrating that there may be nothing beyond knowing, archaeologists said Wednesday they believe they have found the exact spot in Rome where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death more than 2,000 years ago.

The assassination of Julius Caesar by Roman senators on March 15, 44 BC, was recorded by ancient historians and immortalized in William Shakespeare’s eponymous play, in which the Roman dictator uttered the last words: “Et tu Brute? Then fall, Caesar.”

A team from the Spanish National Research Council said they have unearthed evidence that reveals precisely where the infamous attack took place, according to Agence France-Presse.

They base their claim on the discovery of a concrete structure 10 feet wide and nearly seven feet high, erected by Caesar’s adopted son and successor, Augustus.

Augustus, after taking sole power of Rome sometime after 27 BC, ordered the structure be placed exactly over the spot where the attack occurred so as to condemn the slaying, the scientists said.

“This finding confirms that the general was stabbed right at the bottom of the Curia of Pompey while he was presiding, sitting on a chair, over a meeting of the Senate,” the Spanish research council said in a statement.

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Roman ship discovered in remarkable condition

It’s been nearly 2,000 years since a Roman cargo ship sank in shallow waters along what is now known as the French Riviera.

Yet, not only are saw and wood-cutting marks still visible on the vessel’s frame, but archaeologists have even found a small caulking brush that was likely left in the ship’s hold during construction.

The wreck was discovered in May during a dig in Antibes, in Southeastern France. The excavation was being done prior to the construction of a parking lot on the site of the ancient Roman port of Antipolis, according to an article that first appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde.

Archaeologists have gradually uncovered a 50-foot length of hull and structural timbers, described as being in “exceptional” condition, according to Giulia Boetto, a specialist in ship design at Aix-Marseille University who is involved in the dig.

“The remains consist of a keel and several boards that covered the hull, held together by thousands of pegs inserted into sheave slots cut into the thickness of the boards,” according to artdaily.org. “Around forty transverse ribs are present, some of which were attached to the keel with metallic pins.”

The ground in which the vessel was discovered is permanently waterlogged, which prevented the timber from rotting and decomposing, Le Monde reported. In addition, sprinklers have been used to keep the ship’s remnants moist since it was found.

It is believed the vessel, which was probably about 72 feet long and about 20 feet across, sank in the second or third century.

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British hoard turns up coin from 32 BC

Included in a massive hoard of coins discovered in Bath, England, five years ago is one silver piece that dates back to before the birth of Christ, researchers recently learned.

A Roman coin dating from 32 BC is the oldest found so far from among the approximately 22,000 pieces unearthed in a stone-lined box by archaeologists working in Bath in 2007, according to the BBC.

That makes it more than 200 years older than any of the other coins already examined from among the so-called Beau Street Hoard, according to Stephen Clews, manager of the Roman Baths.

The silver coins are believed to date from 274 AD and have been described as the fifth-largest hoard ever found in the United Kingdom, according to the BBC.

The coins were fused together and sent to the British Museum, according to media outlet. Conservators are expected to take at least a year to work through them.

The coins were discovered about 150 yards from the Roman Baths, the BBC added.

The previous oldest coin found in the hoard was from about 190 AD but that figure has had to be revised considerably with the discovery of the coin dating back to the time of Marc Antony, Clews said.

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Ancient Transylvanians were flush with gold

Transylvania, the region of Romania today often associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was likely an area of untold riches in gold, suggests a new study of a cache of priceless, snake-shaped bracelets.

Demonstrating “no economy of gold at all,” craftsmen shaped each spiral cuff from an entire ingot, study author Bogdan Constantinescu said, according to a report in National Geographic.

“Most of the 2,000-year-old accessories tip the scales at about 2.2 pounds each — a heft that materials scientist Paul Craddock found ‘surprising,'” according to the report.

“Yes,” Craddock concluded, “they did have a lot of gold.”

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Birthplace of Vespasian said to be found

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Archaeologists said Thursday they had unearthed the ruins of a villa believed to be the birthplace of the Roman emporer who was noted for imposing a tax on urinals.

Professor Filippo Coarelli, who is leading the dig, said “numerous clues” pointed to the site as the house of Emperor Vespasian, who ruled the Roman Empire from 69 AD to 79 AD, according to news agency Agence France-Presse.

The location of the villa, in the ancient city of Falacrine, 45 miles northeast of Rome, was a strong indicator that the site was where the ruler was born, Coarelli added.

Vespasian was born in the city, which was lost until 2005 when archaelogists located the site and began excavating it, Agence France-Presse added.

Earlier this year, Rome celebrated the 2,000th birthday of Vespasian, who was famed for helping build the Colosseum.

Vespasian came to power amid great chaos in the Roman Empire, the last of four emperors who ruled Rome in a single year, 69 AD.

According to a story earlier this year in The Independent about the anniversary of Vespasian’s birth, “he took drastic measures to restore sanity to the Roman Empire’s finances, which had been emptied by Nero’s extravagance.”

“He raised taxes steeply … and famously introduced a tax on public urinals, which is why in Italy they are associated with him to this day. When his son Titus remonstrated with him over this measure, the emperor held out a handful of coins for him to sniff. These come from the urinal tax, he said, “Pecunia non olet” (money has no smell).”

The first-century villa forms a complex stretching over 150,000 square feet and is lavishly decorated nestling amid the Apennine mountains.

The decline and fall of Rome, and today

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Columnist and Hoover Institute fellow Thomas Sowell lists some of the books he considers most influential. Among them: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon.

Gibbon’s six-volume work, published between 1781-1789, attributed the collapse of the great Roman empire to barbarian invasions in large part due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens.

Sowell writes that to follow one of the greatest civilizations of all time through Gibbon’s masterpiece as it degenerated and fractured, even before being torn apart by its enemies, was especially painful in view of the parallels to what is happening in America in our own times.

“The fall of the Roman Empire was not just a matter of changing rulers or political systems. It was the collapse of a whole civilization – the destruction of an economy, the breakdown of law and order, the disappearance of many educational institutions.

“It has been estimated that a thousand years passed before the standard of living in Western Europe rose again to the level it had once had back in Roman times. How long would it take to recover from the collapse of Western civilization today – if we ever recovered?”

Sowell understands that societies come and go, even great ones. Just because the United States today is seen by many as the greatest nation in the history of the world, it doesn’t mean it’s immune to the trends and characteristics that affect all nations, big and small.

America and Americans don’t ooze uniqueness and there’s nothing keeping us from descending into the dustbin of history if we choose to neglect the lessons of the past.