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Bill Thayer

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 p702  Libella

Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on p702 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

LIBELLA, a small Roman silver coin, which is mentioned by Varro (L. L. V.36, p68, Müller) as having existed in the early age of the city, but which in his time, and apparently for a considerable period before, was no longer coined. The name, however, was retained especially as a proverbial expression for a very small value (Plaut. Pseud. II.2.34, Capt. V.1.27; Cic. Verr. II.2, pro Rosc. Com. 4). It was equal in value to the as (whence its name),a and, in the system of silver money, it was the tenth part of the denarius (Varr. l.c.; Plin. H. N. XXXIII.3 s13). The words of Varro and Pliny clearly imply that the libella was equal in value to the old full-weight as; and it seems most probable that the coin ceased being struck at the time of the reduction of the as on account of the inconveniently small size which it would have assumed. The libella was subdivided into the sembella, its half, and the teruncius, its quarter. Cicero (ad Att. VII.2)º uses these words to express fractions of an estate, with reference to the denarius as the unit, the libella signifying 1‑10th, and the teruncius 1‑40th of the whole (Böckh, Metrol. Untersuch. p453, &c.).

Thayer's Note:

a This will puzzle those with no Latin: libella is a diminutive of libra, a pound, the weight of the as. Whereas the as was of bronze, and thus a rather large coin, the libella was of silver, and therefore small: so you had the "big pound" — and the "little pound".

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Page updated: 31 Dec 06