Roman Money

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Roman Money

Postby Q. C. Locatus Barbatus on Sun Jan 12, 2003 7:33 pm


Can anyone tell me something about Roman money? How were the units divided? How was it founded?


Quintus Claudius Locatus Barbatus
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Postby Tiberius Dionysius Draco on Mon Jan 13, 2003 1:39 pm

Salve Locate,

after doing some research on the internet about a most interesting topic, I am able to anwser your questions.

Roman coins were handmade andey didn't actually have a prescribed value. The coin itself was literally worth its own weight (in gold, silver, bronze or copper).

In 23BC, Augustus overhauled the coinage system creating the following relationships:

1 Aureus = 25 Denarii
1 Denarius = 4 Sestertii = 8 Dupondii = 16 Asses = 64 Quadrans

Antoninianus -- plural: antoninianii. A coin created by Caracalla to supplement the debased denarius. Because of its relative weight and fineness, it is sometimes called a double denarius--this greater value is indicated by a radiant crown on the emperor's head. The antoninianus was originally a silver coin, but was itself debased to become a copper coin with a thin silver wash. The Emporer Constantine discontinued it.

As -- plural: asses. Originally a bronze coin, the as was minted in pure copper during the time of Augustus. The as was slowly debased; it became a bronze coin again and was discontinued by Diocletian.

Aureus -- plural: aurei. The standard gold coin of the Empire. Aureus is actually an adjective meaning golden (the noun for gold is aurum), but came to be used as a noun when referring to this coin. During the Republic, gold coins were struck only to make paying large debts more convenient. It was Julius Caesar who gave the aureus a fixed weight and introduced it into common circulation.

The aureus was over 99% pure gold and weighed about 8 grams. As is the case with most Roman coins, the aureus suffered debasement, particularly under Nero (yes, that was real gold that gilded his Domus Aureus). When Nero became emperor, the aureus weighed about 7.7g; by the time he was done it sank to 7.2g. The aureus suffered more debasement and devaluation until 309 when Constantine replaced it with the solidus.

Denarius -- plural: denarii. This is probably the most common Roman coin. It was first minted around 210 BC during the Second Punic War and continued to be minted into the 3rd century AD. The letter X is often used as a symbol for the denarius which was originally worth 10 asses, hence the Roman number for 10. During the late Republic, around 150 B.C., the denarius was retariffed to be worth 16 asses. These more valuable denarii often carry the symbol which on coins often looks like a star but is really a monogram for the number 16: the X stands for 10, the central bar divides the X, creating a small V, and the bar itself represents 1 (X+V+I=16).

The emperors generally oversaw the minting of silver and gold coins, and many made a personal profit by mixing in small quantities of base metals and keeping the balance of the precious metals for themselves. At the beginning of the Empire, the denarius was more than 97% pure silver and weighed about 3.9g. Under Nero, the silver content was reduced to about 93% fine, and the weight to 3.4g. Under Caracalla the denarius was approximately 40% silver, but by the end of the 3rd century AD it was only 2-4% pure! A silver coin with less than 50% silver is called billon.

Despite this massive debasement, the denarius was not discontinued. Instead, other coins sprang up that were, at least for a while, heavier and richer in silver content. One example is the antoninianus.

Dupondius -- plural: dupondii. A large coin orginally struck in bronze. After the reform of the coinage system by Augustus, the dupondius was struck in orichalcum and was very similar in size and color to the as. In 66AD, Nero represented himself on the dupondius wearing a radiant crown. This convention helped distinguish the dupondius and show its greater value over the as. The radiant head was used on other coins (such as the antoninianus to indicate its greater value over the denarius). The dupondius was struck until the time of Trajan.

Quadrans -- A very small bronze coin. The quadrans was the lowest denomination coin and, perhaps for that reason, was seldom graced by an emperor's portrait. The quadrans was discontinued by Marcus Aurelius.

Quinarius -- plural: quinarii. This silver coin was common in the Republic but makes only infrequent appearances during the empire. It was valued at approximately 2 sesterces, or one-half of a denarius. Do not confuse the quinarius with the term "quinarius aureus" which is a modern label for an Imperial gold coin valued at one-half an aureus.

Sestertius (also Sesterce) -- plural: sestertii or sesterces. Originally silver, its use died out until Augustus revived it and struck it in an alloy that we today call orichalcum (no one is sure what the Romans called it). Orichalcum is very similar to brass, so the sesterce had a pleasing bright, golden appearance. The sesterce is also large and fairly thick, so artists had plenty of room to show their skills. For this reason collectors often prefer sestertii over smaller silver and gold coins.

Towards the end of its life, the sesterce became a bronze coin before being discontinued late in the 3rd century.

Semis -- plural: semisses. Semis means "half" and so it was half of an as (or six unciae). The semis was a bronze coin that had been a main component of Republican coinage but made infrequent appearances in Imperial coinage. It was last issued by Hadrian.

Solidus -- plural: solidii. A gold coin created by Constantine in 309 AD to replace the devalued aureus. It weighed approximately 4.5 grams. With few exceptions this coin held its size, gold content, and value; it remained in circulation past 900 AD.

Al this information comes from the same site:

That site also gives a lot of information about inscriptions, forgeries, minting and tips for would-be collectors.

Valete bene,

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