Roman currency
Overview
The Roman currency during most of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 and the western half of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 consisted of coins including the aureus
Aureus
The aureus was a gold coin of ancient Rome valued at 25 silver denarii. The aureus was regularly issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century, when it was replaced by the solidus...

 (gold), the denarius
Denarius
In the Roman currency system, the denarius was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus...

 (silver), the sestertius
Sestertius
The sestertius, or sesterce, was an ancient Roman coin. During the Roman Republic it was a small, silver coin issued only on rare occasions...

 (brass), the dupondius
Dupondius
The dupondius was a brass coin used during the Roman Empire and Roman Republic valued at 2 asses ....

 (brass), and the as
As (coin)
The , also assarius was a bronze, and later copper, coin used during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire.- Republican era coinage :...

 (copper). These were used from the middle of the third century BC until the middle of the third century AD.

They were still accepted as payment in Greek influenced territories, even though these regions issued their own base coinage and some silver in other denomination
Denomination (currency)
Denomination is a proper description of a currency amount, usually for coins or banknotes. Denominations may also be used with other means of payment like gift cards. See also Redenomination.-Subunit and super unit:...

s, either called Greek Imperial or Roman provincial coins
Roman provincial coins
Roman Provincial coins are coins that were minted in the Roman Empire by civic authorities rather than by Imperial authorities. Often these coins were a continuation of the original currency system that existed prior to the arrival or conquest by the Romans....

.

During the third century, the denarius was replaced by the double denarius, now usually known as the antoninianus
Antoninianus
The antoninianus was a coin used during the Roman Empire thought to have been valued at 2 denarii. It was initially silver, but was slowly debased to bronze. The coin was introduced by Caracalla in early 215 and was a silver coin similar to the denarius except that it was slightly larger and...

 or radiate, which was then itself replaced during the monetary reform of Diocletian
Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244  – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....

 which created denominations such as the argenteus
Argenteus
The argenteus was a silver coin produced by the Roman Empire from the time of Diocletian's coinage reform in AD 294 to ca. AD 310. It was of similar weight and fineness as the denarius of the time of Nero...

 (silver) and the follis
Follis
The follis was a type of coin in the Roman and Byzantine traditions.-Roman coin:The Roman follis was a large bronze coin introduced in about 294...

 (silvered bronze).
Encyclopedia
The Roman currency during most of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 and the western half of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 consisted of coins including the aureus
Aureus
The aureus was a gold coin of ancient Rome valued at 25 silver denarii. The aureus was regularly issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century, when it was replaced by the solidus...

 (gold), the denarius
Denarius
In the Roman currency system, the denarius was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus...

 (silver), the sestertius
Sestertius
The sestertius, or sesterce, was an ancient Roman coin. During the Roman Republic it was a small, silver coin issued only on rare occasions...

 (brass), the dupondius
Dupondius
The dupondius was a brass coin used during the Roman Empire and Roman Republic valued at 2 asses ....

 (brass), and the as
As (coin)
The , also assarius was a bronze, and later copper, coin used during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire.- Republican era coinage :...

 (copper). These were used from the middle of the third century BC until the middle of the third century AD.

They were still accepted as payment in Greek influenced territories, even though these regions issued their own base coinage and some silver in other denomination
Denomination (currency)
Denomination is a proper description of a currency amount, usually for coins or banknotes. Denominations may also be used with other means of payment like gift cards. See also Redenomination.-Subunit and super unit:...

s, either called Greek Imperial or Roman provincial coins
Roman provincial coins
Roman Provincial coins are coins that were minted in the Roman Empire by civic authorities rather than by Imperial authorities. Often these coins were a continuation of the original currency system that existed prior to the arrival or conquest by the Romans....

.

During the third century, the denarius was replaced by the double denarius, now usually known as the antoninianus
Antoninianus
The antoninianus was a coin used during the Roman Empire thought to have been valued at 2 denarii. It was initially silver, but was slowly debased to bronze. The coin was introduced by Caracalla in early 215 and was a silver coin similar to the denarius except that it was slightly larger and...

 or radiate, which was then itself replaced during the monetary reform of Diocletian
Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244  – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....

 which created denominations such as the argenteus
Argenteus
The argenteus was a silver coin produced by the Roman Empire from the time of Diocletian's coinage reform in AD 294 to ca. AD 310. It was of similar weight and fineness as the denarius of the time of Nero...

 (silver) and the follis
Follis
The follis was a type of coin in the Roman and Byzantine traditions.-Roman coin:The Roman follis was a large bronze coin introduced in about 294...

 (silvered bronze). After the reforms Roman coinage consisted mainly of the gold solidus
Solidus (coin)
The solidus was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans, and a weight measure for gold more generally, corresponding to 4.5 grams.-Roman and Byzantine coinage:...

 and small bronze denominations. This trend continued to the end of the Empire in the West. See also Byzantine currency.

Authority to mint coins

Unlike most modern coins, Roman coins had intrinsic
Intrinsic value (numismatics)
In commodity money, intrinsic value can be partially or entirely due to the desirable features of the object as a medium of exchange and a store of value. Examples of such features include divisibility; easily and securely storable and transportable; scarcity; and hard to counterfeit...

 value. While they contained precious metals, the value of a coin was higher than its precious metal content, so they were not bullion. Estimates of the value of the denarius
Denarius
In the Roman currency system, the denarius was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus...

 range from 1.6 to 2.85 times its metal content, thought to equal the purchasing power of 10 modern British Pound Sterling (US$15) at the beginning of the Roman Empire to around 18 Pound Sterling (US$29) by its end (comparing bread
Bread
Bread is a staple food prepared by cooking a dough of flour and water and often additional ingredients. Doughs are usually baked, but in some cuisines breads are steamed , fried , or baked on an unoiled frying pan . It may be leavened or unleavened...

, wine
Wine
Wine is an alcoholic beverage, made of fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes. The natural chemical balance of grapes lets them ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes, or other nutrients. Grape wine is produced by fermenting crushed grapes using various types of yeast. Yeast...

 and meat prices) and, over the same period, around one to three days' pay for a Legionnaire.

The majority of the written information about coins that survives is in the form of papyri
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 preserved in Egypt’s dry climate. The coinage system that existed in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 until the time of Diocletian’s monetary reform was a closed system based upon the heavily debased tetradrachm
Tetradrachm
The tetradrachm was an Ancient Greek silver coin equivalent to four drachmae. It was in wide circulation from 510 to 38 BC.-History:Many surviving tetradrachms were minted by the polis of Athens from around the middle of the 5th century BC onwards; the popular coin was widely used in transactions...

. Although the value of these tetradrachmas can be reckoned as being equivalent in value to the denarius, their precious metal content was always much lower. Clearly, not all coins that circulated contained precious metals, as the value of these coins was too great to be convenient for everyday purchases. A dichotomy existed between the coins with an intrinsic value and those with only a token value. This is reflected in the infrequent and inadequate production of bronze coinage during the Republic, where from the time of Sulla till the time of Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 no bronze coins were minted at all; even during the periods when bronze coins were produced, their workmanship was sometimes very crude and of low quality.

Later, during the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, there was a division in the authority of minting coins of particular metals. While numerous local authorities were allowed to mint bronze coins, no local authority was authorized to strike silver coins. On the authority to mint coins Dio Cassius
Dio Cassius
Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus , known in English as Cassius Dio, Dio Cassius, or Dio was a Roman consul and a noted historian writing in Greek...

 writes, "None of the cities should be allowed to have its own separate coinage or a system of weights and measures; they should all be required to use ours." Only Rome itself struck precious metal coinage, and the mint was centralized in the city of Rome during the Republic and during the early centuries of the Empire. Some Eastern provinces struck coins in silver, but these coins were local denominations that were intended to circulate and to fill only a local need. The issue of bronze coins can be interpreted to be of little value, and of little importance to the central government of Rome, since expenditures of the state were large and could be more easily paid with coins of high value. It is known that during the first century AD an as
As (coin)
The , also assarius was a bronze, and later copper, coin used during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire.- Republican era coinage :...

 could only buy a pound of bread or a litre of cheap wine
Wine
Wine is an alcoholic beverage, made of fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes. The natural chemical balance of grapes lets them ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes, or other nutrients. Grape wine is produced by fermenting crushed grapes using various types of yeast. Yeast...

 (or according to Pompeii
Pompeii
The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

an graffiti, the services of a cheap prostitute). The importance and the need for smaller denominations for the population of Rome was probably high. Evidence of this can be seen in the numerous imitations of imperial Claudian
Claudius
Claudius , was Roman Emperor from 41 to 54. A member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. He was born at Lugdunum in Gaul and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy...

 bronzes that, although probably not authorized by Rome, appear to have been tolerated and were struck in large numbers. Since the government required coins mainly as a means to pay its army and officials, it had little impetus or desire to fulfill the need for bronze coins.

Republican iconography

Another role that coins played in Roman society, although secondary to their economic role within Roman commerce
Roman commerce
Roman trade was the engine that drove the Roman economy of the late Republic and the early Empire. Fashions and trends in historiography and in popular culture have tended to neglect the economic basis of the empire in favor of the lingua franca of Latin and the exploits of the Roman legions...

, was their ability to convey a meaning or relate an idea via their imagery and inscriptions. The interpretation of imagery featured on coins is clearly subjective, and has drawn criticism for over-interpreting minor details. The first images to appear on coins during the Republic were rather limited in diversity and generally represented the entire Roman state. The job of deciding what imagery to feature belonged to the committee of tresviri monetales
Moneyer
A moneyer is someone who physically creates money. Moneyers have a long tradition, dating back at least to ancient Greece. They became most prominent in the Roman Republic, continuing into the empire.-Roman Republican moneyers:...

 ('trio of money men'), young statesmen who aspired to be senators. The position of tresviri monetales (moneyers) was created in 289 BC and lasted until at least the middle of the third century AD. Although initially there were only three, the number was increased by Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 to four during the end of the Republic.

Imagery on the earliest denarii usually consisted of the bust of Roma
Roma (mythology)
In traditional Roman religion, Roma was a female deity who personifed the city of Rome and more broadly, the Roman state. Her image appears on the base of the column of Antoninus Pius.-Problems in earliest attestation:...

 on the obverse, and a deity driving a biga or quadriga on the reverse. There was no mention of the moneyer’s name, although occasionally coins featured control marks such as small symbols, letters, or monograms which might have been used to indicate who was responsible for a particular coin. Eventually, monograms and other symbols were replaced with abbreviated forms of the moneyer’s name. After the addition of their names, moneyers began to use the coins to display images that relate of their family history. An example of this are the coins of Sextus Pompeius Fostulus, which feature his traditional ancestor, Fostulus, watching Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus are Rome's twin founders in its traditional foundation myth, although the former is sometimes said to be the sole founder...

 suckling from a mother wolf. While not every coin issued featured references to an ancestor of a moneyer, the number of references increased and the depictions became more and more of current interest. Self-promoting imagery on coins was part of the increasing competition amongst the ruling class in the Roman Republic. The Lex Gabinia
Lex Gabinia
In the law of ancient Rome, the Lex Gabinia of 67 BC granted Pompeius Magnus extraordinary proconsular powers in any province within 50 miles of the Mediterranean Sea...

, which introduced secret ballots in elections in order to reduce electoral corruption, is indicative of the degree of competition amongst the upper class of this time period. The imagery on Republican coins wasn’t meant to influence the populace; the messages were designed for and by the elite.

Imperial iconography

The imagery on coins took an important step when Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 issued coins bearing his own portrait. While moneyers had earlier issued coins with portraits of ancestors, Caesar’s was the first Roman coinage to feature the portrait of a living individual. The tradition continued following Caesar's assassination, although the imperators
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

 from time to time also produced coins featuring the traditional deities and personifications found on earlier coins. The image of the Roman emperor took on a special importance in the centuries that followed, because during the empire, the emperor embodied the state and its policies. The names of moneyers continued to appear upon the coins until the middle of Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

’ reign. Although the duty of moneyers during the Empire is not known, since the position was not abolished, it is believed that they still had some influence over the imagery of the coins.

The main focus of the imagery during the empire was on the portrait of the emperor. Coins were an important means of disseminating this image throughout the empire. Coins often attempted to make the emperor appear god-like through associating the emperor with attributes normally seen in divinities, or emphasizing the special relationship between the emperor and a particular deity by producing a preponderance of coins depicting that deity. During his campaign against Pompey, Caesar issued a variety of types that featured images of either Venus or Aeneas
Aeneas
Aeneas , in Greco-Roman mythology, was a Trojan hero, the son of the prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite. His father was the second cousin of King Priam of Troy, making Aeneas Priam's second cousin, once removed. The journey of Aeneas from Troy , which led to the founding a hamlet south of...

, attempting to associate himself with his divine ancestors. An example of an emperor who went to an extreme in proclaiming divine status was Commodus
Commodus
Commodus , was Roman Emperor from 180 to 192. He also ruled as co-emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 177 until his father's death in 180. His name changed throughout his reign; see changes of name for earlier and later forms. His accession as emperor was the first time a son had succeeded...

. In 192, he issued a series of coins depicting his bust clad in a lion-skin (the usual depiction of Hercules) on the obverse, and an inscription proclaiming that he was the Roman incarnation of Hercules on the reverse. Although Commodus was excessive in his depiction of his image, this extreme case is indicative of the objective of many emperors in the exploitation of their portraits. While the emperor is by far the most frequent portrait on the obverse of coins, heirs apparent, predecessors, and other family members, such as empresses, were also featured. To aid in succession, the legitimacy of an heir was affirmed by producing coins for that successor. This was done from the time of Augustus till the end of the empire.

Featuring the portrait of an individual on a coin, which became legal in 44 BC, caused the coin to embody the attributes of the individual portrayed. Dio wrote that following the death of Caligula
Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

 the Senate demonetized his coinage, and ordered that they be melted. Regardless of whether or not this actually occurred, it demonstrates the importance and meaning that was attached to the imagery on a coin. The philosopher Epictetus
Epictetus
Epictetus was a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia , and lived in Rome until banishment when he went to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece where he lived the rest of his life. His teachings were noted down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses...

 jokingly wrote: "Whose image does this sestertius
Sestertius
The sestertius, or sesterce, was an ancient Roman coin. During the Roman Republic it was a small, silver coin issued only on rare occasions...

 carry? Trajan’s? Give it to me. Nero’s? Throw it away, it is unacceptable, it is rotten." Although the writer did not seriously expect people to get rid of their coins, this quotation demonstrates that the Romans attached a moral value to the images on their coins. Unlike the obverse, which during the imperial period almost always featured a portrait, the reverse was far more varied in its depiction. During the late Republic there were often political messages to the imagery, especially during the periods of civil war. However, by the middle of the Empire, although there were types that made important statements, and some that were overtly political or propagandistic in nature, the majority of the types were stock images of personifications or deities. While some images can be related to the policy or actions of a particular emperor, many of the choices seem arbitrary and the personifications and deities were so prosaic that their names were often omitted, as they were readily recognizable by their appearance and attributes alone.

It can be argued that within this backdrop of mostly indistinguishable types, exceptions would be far more pronounced. Atypical reverses are usually seen during and after periods of war, at which time emperors make various claims of liberation, subjugation, and pacification. Some of these reverse images can clearly be classified as propaganda. An example struck by emperor Philip
Philip the Arab
Philip the Arab , also known as Philip or Philippus Arabs, was Roman Emperor from 244 to 249. He came from Syria, and rose to become a major figure in the Roman Empire. He achieved power after the death of Gordian III, quickly negotiating peace with the Sassanid Empire...

 in 244 features a legend proclaiming the establishment of peace with Persia; in truth, Rome had been forced to pay large sums in tribute to the Persians.

Although it is difficult to make accurate generalizations about reverse imagery, as this was something that varied by emperor, some trends do exist. An example is reverse types of the military emperors during the second half of the third century, where virtually all of the types were the common and standard personifications and deities. A possible explanation for the lack of originality is that these emperors were attempting to present conservative images to establish their legitimacy, something that many of these emperors lacked. Although these emperors relied on traditional reverse types, their portraits often emphasized their authority through stern gazes, and even featured the bust of the emperor clad in armor.

Further history of Roman coins

The type of coins issued changed under the coinage reform of Diocletian
Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244  – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....

, the heavily debased antoninianus
Antoninianus
The antoninianus was a coin used during the Roman Empire thought to have been valued at 2 denarii. It was initially silver, but was slowly debased to bronze. The coin was introduced by Caracalla in early 215 and was a silver coin similar to the denarius except that it was slightly larger and...

 (double denarius) was replaced with a variety of new denominations, and a new range of imagery was introduced that attempted to convey different ideas. The new government set up by Diocletian was a tetrarchy, or rule by four, with each emperor receiving a separate territory to rule.

The new imagery includes a large, stern portrait that is representative of the emperor. This image was not meant to show the actual portrait of a particular emperor, but was instead a caricature that embodied the power that the emperor possessed. The reverse type was equally universal, featuring the spirit (or genius) of the Romans. The introduction of a new type of government and a new system of coinage represents an attempt by Diocletian to return peace and security to Rome, after the previous century of constant warfare and uncertainty.

Diocletian characterizes the emperor as an interchangeable authority figure by depicting him with a generalized image. He tries to emphasize unity amongst the Romans by featuring the spirit of Romans (Sutherland 254). The reverse types of coins of the late Empire emphasized general themes, and discontinued the more specific personifications depicted previously. The reverse types featured legends that proclaimed the glory of Rome, the glory of the army, victory against the "barbarians", the restoration of happy times, and the greatness of the emperor.

These general types persisted even after the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. Muted Christian imagery, such as standards that featured Christograms (the chi-rho monogram for Jesus Christ’s name in Greek) were introduced, but with a few rare exceptions, there were no explicitly Christian themes. From the time of Constantine until the "end" of the Roman Empire, coins featured indistinguishable, idealized portraits and general proclamations of greatness.

Although the denarius remained the backbone of the Roman economy from its introduction in 211 BC until it ceased to be normally minted in the middle of the third century, the purity and weight of the coin slowly, but inexorably decreased. The problem of debasement in the Roman economy appears to be pervasive, although the severity of the debasement often paralleled the strength or weakness of the Empire. While it is not clear why debasement was such a common occurrence for the Romans, it's believed that it was caused by several factors, including a lack of precious metals, inadequacies in state finances, and inflation. When introduced, the denarius contained nearly pure silver at a theoretical weight of approximately 4.5 gram
Gram
The gram is a metric system unit of mass....

s.

The theoretical standard, although not usually met in practice, remained fairly stable throughout the Republic, with the notable exception of times of war. The large number of coins required to raise an army and pay for supplies often necessitated the debasement of the coinage. An example of this is the denarii that were struck by Mark Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 to pay his army during his battles against Octavian. These coins, slightly smaller in diameter than a normal denarius, were made of noticeably debased silver. The obverse features a galley and the name Antony, while the reverse features the name of the particular legion that each issue was intended for (it is interesting to note that hoard evidence shows that these coins remained in circulation over 200 years after they were minted, due to their lower silver content). The coinage of the Julio-Claudians remained stable at 4 grams of silver, until the debasement of Nero in 64, when the silver content was reduced to 3.8 grams, perhaps due to the cost of rebuilding the city after fire consumed a considerable portion of Rome.

The denarius continued to decline slowly in purity, with a notable reduction instituted by Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus , also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of...

. This was followed by the introduction of a double denarius piece, differentiated from the denarius by the radiate crown worn by the emperor. The coin is commonly called the antoninianus
Antoninianus
The antoninianus was a coin used during the Roman Empire thought to have been valued at 2 denarii. It was initially silver, but was slowly debased to bronze. The coin was introduced by Caracalla in early 215 and was a silver coin similar to the denarius except that it was slightly larger and...

 by numismatists after the emperor Caracalla, who introduced the coin in early in 215. Although nominally valued at two denarii, the antoninianus never contained more than 1.6 times the amount of silver of the denarius. The profit of minting a coin valued at two denarii, but weighing only about one and a half times as much is obvious; the reaction to these coins by the public is unknown. As the number of antoniniani minted increased, the number of denarii minted decreased, until the denarius ceased to be minted in significant quantities by the middle of the third century. Again, coinage saw its greatest debasement during times of war and uncertainty. The second half of the third century was rife with this war and uncertainty, and the silver content of the antonianus fell to only 2%, losing almost an appearance of being silver. During this time the aureus remained slightly more stable, before it too became smaller and more base before Diocletian’s reform.

The decline in the silver content to the point where coins contained virtually no silver at all was countered by the monetary reform of Aurelian
Aurelian
Aurelian , was Roman Emperor from 270 to 275. During his reign, he defeated the Alamanni after a devastating war. He also defeated the Goths, Vandals, Juthungi, Sarmatians, and Carpi. Aurelian restored the Empire's eastern provinces after his conquest of the Palmyrene Empire in 273. The following...

 in 274. The standard for silver in the antonianus was set at twenty parts copper to one part silver, and the coins were noticeably marked as containing that amount (XXI in Latin or KA in Greek). Despite the reform of Aurelian, silver content continued to decline, until the monetary reform of Diocletian. In addition to establishing the tetrarchy, Diocletian devised the following system of denominations: an aureus struck at the standard of 60 to the pound, a new silver coin struck at the old Neronian standard known as the argenteus
Argenteus
The argenteus was a silver coin produced by the Roman Empire from the time of Diocletian's coinage reform in AD 294 to ca. AD 310. It was of similar weight and fineness as the denarius of the time of Nero...

, and a new large bronze coin that contained two percent silver.

Diocletian issued an Edict on Maximum Prices
Edict on Maximum Prices
The Edict on Maximum Prices was issued in 301 by Roman Emperor Diocletian....

 in 301, which attempted to establish the legal maximum prices that could be charged for goods and services. The attempt to establish maximum prices was an exercise in futility as maximum prices were impossible to enforce. The Edict was reckoned in terms of denarii, although no such coin had been struck for over 50 years (it is believed that the bronze follis was valued at 12.5 denarii). Like earlier reforms, this too eroded and was replaced by an uncertain coinage consisting mostly of gold and bronze. The exact relationship and denomination of the bronze issues of a variety of sizes is not known, and is believed to have fluctuated heavily on the market.

The exact reason that Roman coinage sustained constant debasement is not known, but the most common theories involve inflation, trade with India, which drained silver from the Mediterranean world, and inadequacies in state finances. It is clear from papyri that the pay of the Roman soldier increased from 900 sestertii a year under Augustus to 2000 sestertii a year under Septimius Severus and the price of grain more than tripled indicating that fall in real wages and a moderate inflation occurred during this time.

Another reason for debasement was lack of raw metal with which to produce coins. Italy itself contains no large or reliable mines for precious metals, therefore the precious metals for coinage had to be obtained elsewhere. The majority of the precious metals that Rome obtained during its period of expansion arrived in the form of war booty from defeated territories, and subsequent tribute and taxes by new-conquered lands. When Rome ceased to expand, the precious metals for coinage then came from newly mined silver, such as from Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 and Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, and from melting older coins.

Without a constant influx of precious metals from an outside source, and with the expense of continual wars, it would seem reasonable that coins might be debased to increase the amount that the government could spend. A simpler possible explanation for the debasement of coinage is that it allowed the state to spend more than it had. By decreasing the amount of silver in their coins, Rome could produce more coins and "stretch" their budget. As time progressed the trade deficit of the west because of its buying of grain and other commodities led to a currency drainage in Rome.

Relative values (value of coin in column/value of coin in row)

Early Republic Values (after 211 B.C.)
Denarius
Denarius
In the Roman currency system, the denarius was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus...

 
Sestertius
Sestertius
The sestertius, or sesterce, was an ancient Roman coin. During the Roman Republic it was a small, silver coin issued only on rare occasions...

 
Dupondius
Dupondius
The dupondius was a brass coin used during the Roman Empire and Roman Republic valued at 2 asses ....

 
As
As (coin)
The , also assarius was a bronze, and later copper, coin used during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire.- Republican era coinage :...

 
Semis
Semis
The semis was small Roman bronze coin that was valued at half an as. During the Roman Republic, the semis was distinguished by an 'S' or 6 dots...

 
Triens
Triens
The triens was an Ancient Roman bronze coin produced during the Roman Republic valued at one-third of an as . The most common design for the triens was the bust of Minerva and four pellets on the obverse and the prow of a galley on the reverse. It was not a common denomination and was last struck...

 
Quadrans
Quadrans
The quadrans was a low-value Roman bronze coin worth one quarter of an as. The quadrans was issued from the beginning of cast bronze coins during the Roman Republic with three pellets representing three unciae as a mark of value...

 
Quincunx
Quincunx (coin)
The quincunx was an Ancient Roman bronze coin produced during the Roman Republic. The word quincunx comes from Latin "quinque" which means "five" and "uncia" which means "one twelfth", because the coin was valued at five-twelfths of an as , or five unciae...

 
Uncia
Uncia (coin)
The uncia was a Roman unit of length and of weight .-Republican coin:...

Denarius 1 4 5 10 20 30 40 24 120
Sestertius 1/4 1 1  1/4 2  1/2 5 7  1/2 10 6 30
Dupondius 1/5 4/5 1 2 4 6 8 4  4/5 24
As 1/10 2/5 1/2 1 2 3 4 2  2/5 12
Semis 1/20 1/5 1/4 1/2 1 1  1/2 2 1  1/5 6
Triens 1/30 2/15 1/6 1/3 2/3 1 1  1/3 4/5 4
Quadrans 1/40 1/10 1/8 1/4 1/2 3/4 1 3/5 3
Quincunx 1/24 1/6 5/24 5/12 5/6 1  1/4 1  2/3 1 5
Uncia 1/120 1/30 1/24 1/12 1/6 1/4 1/3 1/5 1

Augustan Values (27 B.C. – 301 A.D.)
Aureus
Aureus
The aureus was a gold coin of ancient Rome valued at 25 silver denarii. The aureus was regularly issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century, when it was replaced by the solidus...

 
Quinarius Aureus Denarius
Denarius
In the Roman currency system, the denarius was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus...

 
Quinarius
Quinarius
thumb|right|A quinariusThe quinarius was a small silver Roman coin valued at half a denarius.The quinarius was struck for a few years, along with the silver sestertius, following the introduction of the denarius in 211 BC. At this time the quinarius was valued at 5 asses...

 
Sestertius
Sestertius
The sestertius, or sesterce, was an ancient Roman coin. During the Roman Republic it was a small, silver coin issued only on rare occasions...

 
Dupondius
Dupondius
The dupondius was a brass coin used during the Roman Empire and Roman Republic valued at 2 asses ....

 
As
As (coin)
The , also assarius was a bronze, and later copper, coin used during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire.- Republican era coinage :...

 
Semis
Semis
The semis was small Roman bronze coin that was valued at half an as. During the Roman Republic, the semis was distinguished by an 'S' or 6 dots...

 
Quadrans
Quadrans
The quadrans was a low-value Roman bronze coin worth one quarter of an as. The quadrans was issued from the beginning of cast bronze coins during the Roman Republic with three pellets representing three unciae as a mark of value...

Aureus 1 2 25 50 100 200 400 800 1600
Quinarius Aureus 1/2 1 12  1/2 25 50 100 200 400 800
Denarius 1/25 2/25 1 2 4 8 16 32 64
Quinarius Argenteus 1/50 1/25 1/2 1 2 4 8 16 32
Sestertius 1/100 1/50 1/4 1/2 1 2 4 8 16
Dupondius 1/200 1/100 1/8 1/4 1/2 1 2 4 8
As 1/400 1/200 1/16 1/8 1/4 1/2 1 2 4
Semis 1/800 1/400 1/32 1/16 1/8 1/4 1/2 1 2
Quadrans 1/1600 1/800 1/64 1/32 1/16 1/8 1/4 1/2 1

Diocletian Values
Edict on Maximum Prices
The Edict on Maximum Prices was issued in 301 by Roman Emperor Diocletian....

(301 – 305 A.D.)
Solidus
Solidus (coin)
The solidus was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans, and a weight measure for gold more generally, corresponding to 4.5 grams.-Roman and Byzantine coinage:...

 
Argenteus
Argenteus
The argenteus was a silver coin produced by the Roman Empire from the time of Diocletian's coinage reform in AD 294 to ca. AD 310. It was of similar weight and fineness as the denarius of the time of Nero...

 
Nummus
Nummus
Nummus , plural nummi is a Latin term meaning "coin", but used technically for a range of low-value copper coins issued by the Roman and Byzantine empires during late Antiquity....

 
Radiate
Radiate (coin)
The radiate or Post-reform radiate , was introduced by Diocletian during his reforms. It looked very similar to an Antoninianus even with a radiated crown like Sol Invictus, except it misses the XXI that numismatists believe was to represent 20 parts bronze to 1 part silver...

 
Laureate Denarius
Denarius
In the Roman currency system, the denarius was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus...

Solidus 1 10 40 200 500 1000
Argenteus 1/10 1 4 20 50 100
Nummus 1/40 1/4 1 5 12  1/2 25
Radiate 1/200 1/20 1/5 1 2  1/2 5
Laureate 1/500 1/50 2/25 2/5 1 2
Denarius 1/1000 1/100 1/25 1/5 1/2 1

Late Empire Coin Values (337 – 476 A.D.)
Solidus
Solidus (coin)
The solidus was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans, and a weight measure for gold more generally, corresponding to 4.5 grams.-Roman and Byzantine coinage:...

 
Miliarense
Miliarense
A miliarense was the only fairly regularly minted silver coin issued by the late Roman and Byzantine Empires. It was struck with variable fineness, generally with a weight between 3.8 and 6.0 grams. The miliarense was struck from the beginning of the 4th century under Constantine I with a...

 
Siliqua
Siliqua
The siliqua is the modern name given to small, thin, Roman silver coins produced from 4th century and later. When the coins were in circulation, the Latin word siliqua was a unit of weight defined as one-twentyfourth of the weight of a Roman solidus .The term siliqua comes from the siliqua graeca,...

 
Follis
Follis
The follis was a type of coin in the Roman and Byzantine traditions.-Roman coin:The Roman follis was a large bronze coin introduced in about 294...

 
Nummus
Nummus
Nummus , plural nummi is a Latin term meaning "coin", but used technically for a range of low-value copper coins issued by the Roman and Byzantine empires during late Antiquity....

Solidus 1 12 24 180 7200
Miliarense 1/12 1 2 15 600
Siliqua 1/24 1/2 1 7  1/2 300
Follis 1/180 1/15 2/15 1 40
Nummus 1/7200 1/600 1/300 1/40 1

See also

  • List of historical currencies
  • Roman economy
    Roman economy
    The history of the Roman economy covers the period of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.Recent research has led to a positive reevaluation of the size and sophistication of the Roman economy within the constraints generally imposed on agricultural societies in the preindustrial age.- Gross...

  • Roman Imperial currency
  • Roman Republican coinage
    Roman Republican coinage
    Coinage came late to the Roman Republic compared with the rest of the Mediterranean, especially Greece and Asia Minor where coins were invented in the 7th century BC. The currency of central Italy was influenced by its natural resources, with bronze being abundant and silver ore being scarce...

  • Roman Republican moneyers
  • Spintria
    Spintria
    A spintria is a small bronze or brass Roman token, possibly for use in brothels, usually depicting sexual acts or symbols.-Use:Some scholars have argued that spintriae were used to pay prostitutes...

  • Tessera
  • Visigothic coinage
    Visigothic coinage
    The Visigothic coinage was the basis of the economical system of the Visigoths in Gaul and Hispania, developed during the early Middle Ages ....


External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
x
OK