For many millennia man uses all his energy to replenish the energy spent foraging and food. He was able to accumulate wealth when he was able to cultivate the land and control the domesticating animals using their multiplication. He must to keep the accumulated wealth safe from various enemies; so kings and states created the called “treasures”. Some smaller or personal amounts were kept in protected “arks” or “safe boxes”. Even smaller and easier to transport amounts were kept in smaller boxes also, in bags or “piggy banks”.

Treasury, ark or safe box, piggy bank, are three instruments designed to save wealth. They are very old and still exist. This allows us some historical and linguistic comments.

Treasury: θησαυρός is a Greek word, thesaurus in Latin, from  unknown source, perhaps an Egyptian or Semitic loan, as some think. There is who relates it to the Greek verb τίθημι, tithemi, to place, to put, (from which derived also theme or thesis), but it did not seem overly justified. Its meaning can be very general: depot, warehouse (in Egyptian papyri frequently it refers to deposits of wheat), chest, box, bag, treasure.

So especially the term designates a room in which they are stored and saved all kinds of goodies, jewelry, food…and  by metonymy from the continent it pass to refer to content: money, precious objects, metal …. Then it can even refer generically to persons or things considered of great value. Even dictionaries or anthologies (Thesaurus) that contain words and texts of value to the language. Or even a whole set of coins, jewelry or valuables hidden things, especially in the "treasure islands" which endlessly feed the dreams of many visionaries.

In the Antiquity in private homes it is a generally underground vaulted chamber similar to our warehouses. They are named that too, Treasury,  the treasure houses which in historic times every Greek state maintained within the sacred precincts of a Panhellenic sanctuary as Olimpia or Delphi, in which the offerings of citizens to their gods were stored.  It is a curious survival of these offerings to the gods in their temples. Also this "treasure house" could be located in the agora or public square of the city.

Treasury are also called, perhaps with some impropriety, the underground tombs in the form of tholos or beehive, characteristic of the remote Greek antiquity. The Greek word tholos, θόλος means vault, roundabout, round chamber. Probably the most famous of these “tholos” or tombs is  the so-called "Treasury of Atreus" at Mycenae, which is dated more or less close to the famous Trojan War times. Part of doorpost, as various elements of the Parthenon, have ended up in the British Museum, an issue that periodically generates an interesting controversy, as the reader knows well. There is no agreement among researchers whether these buildings were actually "treasure houses", ie, the hosted wealth, metals, weapons, jewelry, etc. or they were simply graves.


In Rome the public treasury and therefore the public money is called Aerarium. After missing the monarchy, the Temple of Saturn was used to save public money until the final days of the Empire. It is  explained by Festus Sextus Pompeius, in his De significatione verborum, I, "aerarii tribuni":

Tribunes of the Treasury (aerarii Tribuni). They are named from "aes" (the as, copper coin) and "tribuere" (giving, delivering, attribute). The Romans kept his treasure in the temple of Saturn.

Aerarii Tribuni a tribuendo aere fiunt. Aerarium populus Romanus in aede Saturni habuit.

In this temple they are stored other objects, such as standards of the legions, such as it is certified by Livy in III, 69; IV, VII 22 and 23. I offer some texts:


We are told that all these measures were carried out so promptly that the standards were fetched from the treasury by the quaestors that very day, and being carried to the Campus Martius, headed the line of march from the mustering ground at ten o'clock in the morning; (Translation. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1922

haec omnia adeo mature perfecta accepimus ut signa, eo ipso die a quaestoribus ex aerario prompta delataque in campum, quarta diei hora mota ex campo sint, exercitusque nouus, paucis cohortibus ueterum militum uoluntate sequentibus, manserit ad decimum lapidem.

And in Livy, IV, 22:

The standards were taken out of the treasury and brought to the dictator. (Translation. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1922).

signa ex aerario prompta feruntur ad dictatorem.

The laws engraved on bronze are also saved , as Suetonius says in  Caesar 28:

but soon afterwards, when the law was inscribed on brass, and deposited in the treasury,… (Publishing Editor. J. Eugene Reed. Alexander Thomson. Philadelphia. Gebbie & Co. 1889.)

ac mox lege iam in aes incisa et in aerarium condita   

And the decrees of the Senate recorded in books, while the originals are kept in the temple of Ceres in the custody of the councilors (aediles): Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, XIV 9:

Now after Caius was slain, when Marcus Antonius and Publius Dolabella were consuls, they both assembled the senate, and introduced Hyrcanus's ambassadors into it, and discoursed of what they desired, and made a league of friendship with them. The senate also decreed to grant them all they desired. I add the decree itself, that those who read the present work may have ready by them a demonstration of the truth of what we say. The decree was this:
"The decree of the senate, copied out of the treasury, from the public tables belonging to the quaestors, when Quintus Rutilius and Caius Cornelius were quaestors, and taken out of the second table of the first class, on the third day before the Ides of April, in the temple of Concord.
(Translated by William Whiston, A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. 1895.)

From Plutarch, in Cato Minor 16-17 it is followed  that the  documents are kept in the Treasury as if it was a  public "notary"  or public registry. And Cicero in De legibus, III, 4 the obligatoriness for the presidents of the assemblies displaying them publish the decisions in the Treasury:

Let those who act observe the auspices; obey the pubic augur; and carry into effect  all proclamations, taking care that they are exhibited in the treasury, and generally known. (Translated , chiefly by Editor, C.D.Yonge,B.A. London, MDCCCLIII)

Qui agent auspicia servanto, auguri publico parento,promulgata proposita in aerario cognita agunto.

And Tacitus reports that the Decrees of the Senate do not move to the Treasury before the tenth day, ie after nine days. In Annales III, 51.

Only one of the ex-consuls, Rubellius Blandusm supported Lepidus.The rest voted with Agrippa. Priscus was dragged off to prison and instantly put to death. Of this Tiberius complained to the Senate with his usual ambiguity, extolling their loyalty in so sharply avenging the very slightest insultus to the sovereign, though he deprecated such hasty punishment of mere word, praising Lepidus and not censuring Agrippa. .So the Senate passed a resolution that their decrees should not be registered in the treasury till nine days had expired, and so much respite was to be given to condemned persons. Still the Senate had not liberty to alter their purpose, and lapse of time never softened Tiberius. (Taciitus. Alfred John Church. William Jackson Brodribb. Sara Bryant. edited for Perseus. New York. : Random House, Inc. Random House, Inc. reprinted 1942.)

Solus Lepido Rubellius Blandus e consularibus adsensit: ceteri sententiam Agrippae secuti, ductusque in carcerem Priscus ac statim exanimatus. id Tiberius solitis sibi ambagibus apud senatum incusavit, cum extolleret pietatem quamvis modicas principis iniurias acriter ulciscentium, deprecaretur tam praecipitis verborum poenas, laudaret Lepidum neque Agrippam argueret. igitur factum senatus consultum ne decreta patrum ante diem decimum ad aerarium deferrentur idque vitae spatium damnatis prorogaretur. sed non senatui libertas ad paenitendum erat neque Tiberius interiectu temporis mitigabatur.

In the Treasury, aerarium, other public documents, reports and general offices, of the governors of provinces, the names of the foreign ambassadors were also guarded.

During the Republic the aerarium was divided into two parts: the common treasury where regular rates (tributum; vectigalia) were kept, from where money for the ordinary functioning of the state was extracted and the Sacred Treasury (aerarium sanctum or sanctius) which  is only taken if extraordinary danger. They report it Livy, XXVII, 10; Julius Caesar in his De Bello Civili, I, 14; Florus IV, 2; Cicero Ad Att.VII, 21.2). I offer some texts:

Livy, XXVII,10;

While the consuls were endeavouring to provide everything else needed for the war, it was voted that the gold yielded by the five per cent tax on manumissions, and kept in the more sacred treasury to meet extreme emergencies, should be brought out.    About four thousand pounds of gold were brought out. ( Cambridge. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1943)

cetera expedientibus quae ad bellum opus erant, consulibus aurum vicensimarium, quod in sanctiore aerario ad ultimos casus servabatur, promi placuit. prompta ad quattuor milia pondo auri.

Julius Caesar in his De Bello Civili, I, 14:

Intelligence of this being brought to Rome, so great a panic spread on a sudden that when Lentulus, the consul, came to open the treasury, to deliver money to Pompey by the senate's decree, immediately on opening the hallowed door he fled from the city. (Translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn)

Quibus rebús Romam nuntiatis, tantum repente terror invaist, ut, cum Lentulus consul ad aperiendum aerarium venisset ad pecuniamque Pompeio ex senates cojsulto proferendam, protinus aperto sanctiore aerario ex urbe profugeret.

And Cicero Ad Att.VII,21,2

On the 7th of February the tribune C.Cassius came with an order from him to the consuls that they should go to Rome, remove the Money from the reserve treasury, and immediately quit the town. (Translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. London George Bell and sons. 1905)

vii Idus Febr. Capuam C. Cassius tribunus pl. venit, adtulit mandata ad consules ut Romam venirent, pecuniam de sanctiore aerario auferrent, statim exirent.

This sacred Treasury also formed with some of the immense wealth that the Romans won with his conquests, is also formed, according to Manlia Act, the year 357 BC, ratified by the Senate, with 5% (vicesima) of value of the freed slave, what is called "aurum vicesimarium" or "Vicesima Libertatis". Titus Livius in VII, 16, 7:

The other consul accomplished nothing worth recording, except that without precedent he got a law passed in his camp before Sutrium —the men voting by tribes —which levied a tax of one-twentieth on manumissions. The Fathers ratified this law, since it brought in no small revenue to the empty treasury; but the tribunes of the plebs, troubled less by the law than by the precedent established, had it made a capital offence for anyone thereafter to summon the people to the comitia away from Rome.  If this should be permitted, there was nothing, they argued, however baneful to the people, which could not be carried through by the votes of soldiers sworn to obey their consul. (An English Translation. Cambridge. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1924: no copyright notice.)

ab altero consule nihil memorabile gestum,   nisi quod legem novo exemplo ad Sutrium in castris tributim de vicesima eorum, qui manu mitterentur, tulit. patres, quia ea lege haud parvum vectigal inopi aerario additum esset, auctores fuerunt; [8] ceterum tribuni plebis non tam lege quam exemplo moti, ne quis postea populum sevocaret, capite sanxerunt; nihil enim non per milites iuratos in consulis verba quamvis perniciosum populo, si id liceret, ferri posse.

It is a curious similarity to various measures that sometimes  the various governments still make  in special circumstances. Then in the Empire, after the division of Augustus of provinces between senatorial and imperial provinces, the contribution of the imperial, administered by the emperor, was called Fiscus, Treasury.

The Treasury received the rates of senatorial provinces, many of the existing taxes  in Italy such income of all public lands, tax of manumission, customs duties, water ratges for the use of water from the aqueduct, the sewer rates …

In addition to aerarium and Fiscus, Augustus created another third treasury for military expenses, called aerarium militare to meet the expenses of the army, including the retirement of the legionaries. Augustus, when he created it, contributed a large sum and promised to do every year.

The Monumentum Ancyranum (Monument of Ankara), also known as Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Acts of the Divine Augustus) is the Temple of Augustus and Rome in which he appeared an inscription in Latin and Greek that is the best copy we have of bronze inscription  in front of  the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome that included the works and miracles of Augustus. In paragraph 17.2 it is said:

And in the consulship of Marcus Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius I contributed one hundred and seventy million sesterces out of my own patrimony to the military treasury, which was established on my advice that from it gratuities might be paid to soldiers who had seen twenty or more years of service. (English translation by Frederick W. Shipley, The Loeb Classical Library, Velleius Paterculus and Res Gestae Divi Augusti, first published in 1924.)

Et M.Lepido et L.Arruntio consulibus in aerarium militare quod ex consilio meo constitutum est, ex quo praemia darentur militibus qui vicena aut plura stipendia emeruissent, HS (sestertium) milliens et septuagentiens ex patrimonio meo detuli.

There is also news of the creation of Augustus in Dio, IV, 23,24,25,32 and Suetonius, Life of Augustus 49. I offer this last reference:

For the purpose of providing a fund always ready to meet their pay and pensions, he instituted a military exchequer, and appropriated new taxes to that object. (Translation: Publishing Editor. J. Eugene Reed. Alexander Thomson. Philadelphia. Gebbie & Co. 1889)

utque perpetuo ac sine difficultate sumptus ad tuendos eos prosequendosque suppeteret, aerarium militare cum uectigalibus nouis constituit.

The most important was the vicesima hereditatum et legatorum, ie five percent of inheritances and legacies, with some exceptions depending on the degree of kinship or the amount bequeathed. They give us news Dio Casius LV, 25; LVI 18, LXXVII, 9; LXXVIII, 129; Iulius Capitolinus in Marco Antonio, 11, Pliny the Younger, who specifies the existing exemptions to the degree of kinship, in his Panegyricus of Trajan, 37-40, whose I offer part:

The burdens of empire have forced to institute many taxes  as useful to the community as a burden for individuals. For it was invented the “vicesima” (5%  of value), tolerable and slight tribute only to heirs who are not from home, but burdensome for them. So it was imposed on those and forgave these .
… So his father sets it: that  children who inherited the property from his mother or the mother from  her children, but to get citizenship, they did not obtain the rights of consanguinity, they not taxed twentieth (the vicesima). And that same exemption was attributed to the child on parental property, if he  was under parental authority …

Onera imperii pleraque vectigalia institui, ut pro utilitate communi, ita singulorum iniuriis coegerunt. His Vicesima reperta est, tributum tolerabile et facile heredibus dumtaxat extraneis, domesticis grave. Itaque illis irrogatum est, his remissum:….
Igitur pater tuus sanxit, ut, quod ex matris ad liberos, ex liberorum bonis pervenisset ad matrem, etiamsi cognationum iura non recepissent, quum civitatem adipiscerentur, eius Vicesimam ne darent. Eandem immunitatem in paternis bonis filio tribuit, si modo reductus esset in patris potestatem: …..

Sometimes even it vanishes completely, as it is stated in Codex Iustinianus, 6, tit.33, s.3.
Variations were constant throughout the history of the emperors. As the administration was concentrated in the hands of the emperor, the Treasury also fell under their control and disappeared the difference between aerarium and fiscus. Suffice it to these examples. All this is very complex and interesting and reveals the complexity of managing such a large empire. Suffice it for now to what was said. Anyone interested in these issues will find abundant literature on the web.

These tax rates are actually very small compared to those of modern states. We have to remember the animosity with which the Romans saw the payment of taxes to the state, because they  knew themselves the owners of the world and they  were the losers who must to pay taxes. So they are instituted these kinds of fees.

All these words and actions of Roman administration have continued until the present day: treasure, treasury, taxes, etc …

But the Romans also permanently handle smaller amounts of money, and for this they have small boxes, such as piggy banks. But we'll see it in another article

Treasury, treasure, chest, purse, money box (piggy bank): money (I)

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