The victoriatus was a silver coin minted during the time of the Roman Republic, originally minted around 221 BC. The obverse of the coin featured the bust of Jupiter, while the reverse featured a man placing a wreath above a trophy. Beneath the trophy is the inscription “ROMA.” This coin was released as a coin worth one-half a denarius and was made of debased silver. This debased silver contained more impurities, saving money for the Republic by using less silver in the coinage.
This method was often used for coins that are a subunit of the standard currency, such as the aforementioned victoriatus and the United States half dollar. A half dollar minted within the past few decades for example weighs over 11g and is made up of approximately 92% copper and 8% nickel. This is a drastic change from a pre-1964 half dollar, which had a composition of 90% silver. This was reduced over the next few years to a mere 40% until 1971 when silver was no longer used for the United States half Dollar. With this example it can be seen that by increasing the amount of base metals used in coin production, the government can use less precious metals, effectively producing coins that are worth less than their face value. This both saves the government the costs of making pure silver coinage, and may also lead to inflation since they can produce more coins from a given amount of the precious metals.
The reasoning behind debasing a coin varies, but one of the most common cause is because of limited supplies of precious metals. For example the United States phased out silver coins due to the increasing prices of silver in the early 1960’s. It was seen as a necessary step as the bullion value of the coins would soon surpass the face value of the coins. For the Roman Republic, debasement of the victoriatus and other coins may have been done to increase the amount of coins that could be minted, but they may have had other reasons. It is known that during the time period that the victoriatus was being produced the Republic was facing economic failure. While the Republic continued to expand, countless farmers went bankrupt. The debasement of the coinage likely played a role in this, since it causes inflation, lessening the purchasing power of the coins that they relied upon.
In conclusion, the victoriatus and other debased coins of the time influenced the Roman Republic economically and historically. This coin also shares similarities with the United States half dollar, with both of them being a debased coin used as a subunit, specifically one half, of the standard currency.