First exhibition on ancient Rome's economy and banking professions at the Uffizi

At the Uffizi, the new archaeological exhibition is dedicated to the economy of ancient Rome and the figures who were born around it. The work of these professionals will be illustrated by banking documents from two thousand years ago.

From July 4 to September 17, 2023, new rooms on the ground floor of the Uffizi will host the exhibition Pecunia non olet. The Bankers of Ancient Rome, curated by Novella Lapini. The central theme of the museum’s new archaeological exhibition is precisely currency, as a medium of exchange, a symbol of power and prosperity, as well as all the professions related to it.

Divided into five sections, the exhibition displays more than fifty works, also from Italian and European museums, as well as from important private collections, through which it aims to tell the story of the economic evolutions from primitive Roman society, characterized by a pre-monetary economy, to that of Republican and then Imperial Rome, a period in which the various figures active in the Roman bank became established: first the argentarii, followed by coactores, coactores argentarii and nummulari (late I B.C.C. - second half of II AD).

The work of these professionals is illustrated by banking documents from two thousand years ago, along with their sometimes enigmatic ’tools of the trade,’ such as nummularie tesserae, and splendid reliefs, which lead the visitor inside Roman banks, dominated by the mensa, the counter that ended up becoming a symbol of all work centered on money.

The exhibition also aims to tell the story of some of the Roman banking practitioners, such as Daphnus, who in the scene carved on his altar is shown in business attire, directing an auction in the sumptuous market built by Nero, or Caecilius Iucundus, who shows his Pompeian home and private archive.

The last section of the exhibition is devoted to the transformations of Roman society from the middle of the second century CE, when with the contraction of trade even the banking trades lost their specialization and gradually disappeared. Of their function, however, memory remains, as evidenced by the forcefulness with which Pope Gregory the Great went out of his way to protect a Roman argentarius who was his contemporary.

“This exhibition is the first to deal with a very important topic of social history of classical antiquity such as the economy of ancient Rome (on which today’s is based) and the figures that sprang up around it-professional skills that endure to this day,” said Uffizi Galleries director Eike Schmidt. “The exhibition is based not only on original artifacts such as nummus and depictions of commercial and banking activities, but above all on a most precious genre that combines textual and material heritage such as epigraphs, which are too often neglected or considered only auxiliary elements.”

“This is an exhibition that helps to understand from unsuspected angles the complexity of the Roman imperial economy,” said Professor of Roman History at the University of Florence Giovanni Alberto Cecconi. “It is made up of a series of special interest testimonies that give an account of the astonishing modernity of the economic and financial system of 2,000 years ago; the general public is put before the main social actors and the mechanisms of functioning of the Roman economic-financial world.”

First exhibition on ancient Rome's economy and banking professions at the Uffizi
First exhibition on ancient Rome's economy and banking professions at the Uffizi

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