European Monetary History: Render Unto Caesar, Part II

The Euro gets a lesson in history

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European Monetary History: Render Unto Caesar, Part II

Just what do those bridges and windows on Euro banknotes mean…?

So in trying to to match ancient Rome’s monetary reach, the Euro is running pretty much neck-and-neck with the almighty Dollar.

Some €898 billion of printed notes, plus €23bn in coin, were in circulation at end-July 2012, says the European Central Bank. By value, that just pipped the amount of physical US Dollars in circulation – put by the Federal Reserve at around $1.1 trillion.

One third of those Euros took the form of €500 banknotes, the highest-value note now in circulation worldwide, and the gangster’s money of choice everywhere. But all told, the Eurozone’s population, together with the 6 other states now using the single currency, still lags the official Dollar zone, 334 million to 339 million.

Perhaps it was such hairs-breadth distinctions that European Central Bank president Mario Draghi had in mind when, on Wednesday — and writing in Germany’s Die Zeit — he called the Euro “the world’s second-most important currency.” Still, such wide-spread use 1,500 years ago was “a mark of the power of the Romans, which God has given them,” wrote ex-merchant, hermit and cartographer Cosmas Indicopleustes – referring to the Byzantine empire, run from Constaninople.

“It is with their nomisma [money] that every nation conducts its commerce…It is acceptable in every place from one end of the earth to the other.”

Yet on Christendom’s money today, there is no Christ Pantokrator. On Eurozone banknotes, in fact, there isn’t a human or even animal likeness at all, whether “all powerful” or otherwise. No owl of Athens, Prussian Eagle or Spanish lion. No monarch, president or other sovereign leader, dead or alive. Because of course, this faceless monetary union currently lacks a sovereign – historical or living – beyond the dry signature of the European Central Bank chief himself.

The Euro symbol itself however, when decided in 1995, was chosen by the nearest thing Europe had to a basileus. “The European Commission organised an internal competition to come up with the symbol,” the EC explains. “Some 30 drafts were considered — ten of which were tested on the public — and the final design was selected from two short-listed proposals by the then President of the Commission, Jacques Santer, and Commissioner Yves Thibault de Silguy.”

And its meaning? Inspired by the Greek letter epsilon, says the EC, the Euro symbol “also stands for the first letter of the word ‘Europe’ in the Latin alphabet, while the two parallel lines running through the symbol signify stability.” Never mind that in economics, the Greek letter epsilon is used to denote elasticity — or an error in statistics, an empty string in computer science, or an arbitrarily small quantity in calculus. Because lacking the emperor’s image, the Euro’s founders asserted plenty of other meanings in their money, too.

Standardized right across the 17 nations of the 330-million citizen union — and issued copyright the European Central Bank only — the seven denomination of Euro banknote were apparently “inspired by the theme ‘the ages and styles of Europe’ and depict the architectural styles from seven periods of Europe’s cultural history,” says the ECB. Not wishing to privilege (or ignore) any particular national monument or building, however, none of the gateways and windows on the front, nor the bridges on the back are real. Instead, they are “stylised illustrations”, explains the European Central Bank, “not images of, or from, actual constructions.” The Eurozone’s money thus shows the form of windows and bridges – meant to “symbolise the European spirit of openness and cooperation…[and] communication” – but not from any true example. How’s that for Platonic idealism? The model currency bears model images only, the form alone of its chosen symbols.


Article printed from InvestorPlace Media, http://investorplace.com/2012/09/european-monetary-history-render-unto-caesar-part-ii/.

©2014 InvestorPlace Media, LLC

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