Just been reminded that for a few decades in the first century CE, the Roman Empire was absolutely flooded with weird sex-coins and we're still not 100% why.
Later called spintriae (from a Greek slang word referring to male prostitutes), they were stamped on one side with depictions of a variety of sex acts and on the other with numbers from 1 to 16. And not one contemporary record mentions them or explains what they were used for.
They mostly date to Tiberius' reign, and he famously minted no coins himself (whether out of sheer parsimony or a deliberate effort to control inflation, it's not known). One theory is they were minted by private lenders desperate to get *some* sort of coinage in circulation.
Cassius Dio, around a century later, coined the name and suggested that they were a sort of "sex token," that you bought in advance and could trade for services in a brothel or bath house.
You see, Augustus, who was surprisingly prudish for an Emperor, had come up with an ingenious way to try and ban sex work: he'd made it illegal (indeed, treason and blasphemy) to pay for sex with a coin bearing the Emperor's likeness... which was all coins.
According to this theory, the ban had promptly inspired a trade in sex-coin-changers, who would sell the customers spintriae, then buy them back from the sex workers, taking a cut each time. Which I absolutely love, for sheer intelligence, adaptability and barefaced cheek.
Huh. I tried adding these tweets to the end of this thread, but I guess I took too long drafting them and the link broke. Here they are, and good morning! (I've muted this thread as it was drowning my mentions )
Morning, everyone! Some follow-ups to this thread:
1. I wrote that Tacitus minted no coins, which is an error, apologies. More accurately, he minted *few* coins, especially early in his rule, which contributed to a deflation crisis in 33 CE: