Friday, March 1, 2024

Strongboxes and banks in the Roman Empire

Beautiful image of the recently restored atrium in the House of the Vettii in Pompeii taken just last year by Professor Johannes Eber as displayed by The Vettii brothers' strongbox is encased in glass on the left.

House of the Vettii VI 15,1 Pompeii 2023 Looking south-west across atrium towards south ala, in centre, across impluvium towards peristyle courtesy of Johannes Eber

Although strongboxes looked formidable their size and ornamentation could have been somewhat exaggerated to emphasize the wealth of the residents since they were used for temporary storage of valuables and currency needed to operate the household but not protect the residents' accumulated wealth since the primary entrances to a Roman house were open to the passing public. Gemini explains:

"In ancient Rome, both strongboxes and banks were used to store valuables, including currency. However, their specific functions and popularity differed:
"Primary use: Primarily used for short-term storage of valuables, especially in domestic settings like the House of the Vettii.
"Currency storage: While Romans did store coins in strongboxes, it was likely for smaller amounts needed for daily use or immediate access.
"Security: Offered a physical barrier against theft and fire, but their level of security varied depending on the materials and construction.
Banks (Mensae)
Primary use: Primarily used for long-term storage of valuables and larger sums of money, especially for wealthier individuals and businesses.
"Currency storage: Banks were the preferred option for storing large amounts of coins and other valuables like precious metals and documents.
"Security: Offered greater security compared to strongboxes due to their often fortified structures and professional management. They might also have had additional safeguards like armed guards and complex record-keeping systems.
Key points:
"Strongboxes were more common for everyday use and smaller amounts, while banks were the preferred option for larger sums and long-term storage.
"The presence of a strongbox in the House of the Vettii suggests they might have kept smaller amounts of currency readily accessible, while their larger wealth would likely have been stored in a bank (mensae) for added security."
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