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Roman Currency Information Page

Rome's history was a long one and as with most societies, you can trace its history through its coinage. Roman currency went through distinct stages and each ushered in its own weight, values, rhetoric and style. The Roman senate and later the emperors used their coins to send messages to the people, both their own people and their enemies. It is evidence of their rise to power, their successes and failures, their accomplishments in both peace and war. Later it would also present evidence of a crumbling empire, waning imperial control and insecurity. All this and much more is evident through their currency.

Even as it grew to dominate the italian penensula, Rome remained a rustic, somewhat culturally insulated society and took to the idea of a regulated, structured currency relatively late. Early Romans traded sheep and it is from this they derive their word for money (pecunia). They also had an abundance of copper alloy while silver was scarce which influenced what they would use once they began to develop a currency system.

Through their early history their medium of trade evolved from sheep and rough bronze ingots to marked cast bronze bars. These, in turn, gave way to heavy cast bronze coins. As Rome aggressively expanded, they captured large quanities of silver which would eventually transform their monetary system from mostly bronze to silver.

Roman silver coins were minted in Greek style for a time until the introduction of the Denarius in 211 BC using silver taken during the sack of Syracuse. It was minted in great numbers becoming the most common circulated coin. It would change quite a bit over the more than 4 centuries the coin was in production until it was debased and replaced by the Antoninianus. Many later kings, empires, and nations would issue coins named after the denarius such as the widely used Dinar, Denar, Denier, Denaro, Dinero, etc...

Earlier imperial roman currency issued by the princeps developed a classical fine style in silver, gold and large bronzes with a wide variety of idealistic themes ranging from Hope (Spes) and Trust (Fides) to Victory (Victoria) and Security (Salus). These coins often presented the emperor as the 'First Citizen' in high style as they presented the power and advancement of Rome at its most prosperous. Later imperial currency suffered severe devaluation and degradation in style and quality.

These later coins served, more than ever before, as an expanded resume of a Imperial General. Through coins the ruler showed the people his titles and accomplishments, often he was in military garb, and on the reverse he showed scenes of what he is doing to keep the empire safe from its many enemies. Later themes were the Felicium Temporum Reparation (Return of Happy Times) with a fallen enemy horseman being speared or Gloria Exercitus (The glory of the army) with Standard Bearers, Camp Gates and Turrets, Sol Invictus, and enemy captives tied to a standard or being dragged. These coins show an empire in decline and soldier emperors always at war trying to reassure his citizens he is out there ably dealing with all the ever present, and always imminent, threats.

Below is a very basic guide to Roman Currency including the different types of currency issued at different times periods, a list of cities that minted coins in the name of Rome, Common inscriptions, common or interesting types, and a timeline of Roman denominations. A great resource for more in depth study of ancient coins, their inscriptions, their imagery, symbolism, and mintmarks is where you will find a sizable database of a wide variety of coins from antiquity , most with images or Helvetica's RIC lists that documents the large variety of roman coin types, variations, inscriptions, themes, imagery, and mints.

roman denominations

As - Base unit of currency, also early weight unit equal to a pound
Unicae - Unit of currency worth 1/12th As, Also weight unit equal to ounce
Size and weights varied

Aes Rude - Bronze Ingots (before 400 BC)
Aes Signatum - Cast and Embossed Bronze Bars (Early)
Aes Grave - Heavy Cast Bronze Coins (Early)
As - 12 Unica
Semis - 6 Unica
Triens - 4 Unica
Quadrans - 3 Unica
Sextans - 2 Unica
Unica - (Base Unit 12th of an As) Roughly 27 gm

Early Imperial
Aureus - AV - 7.8gm / 20mm / Worth: 25 Denarii
Quinarius - AV - 4gm / 15mm / Worth: 15.5 Denarii
Denarius - AR - 3.8gm / 19mm / Worth:16 Asses
Quinarius - AR - 2gm / 15mm / Worth: 8 Asses
Sestersius - AE (brass) - 25+gm / 25+mm / Worth: 4 Asses
Dupondius - AE (brass) - 12gm / 18mm / Worth: 2 Asses
As - AE (copper) - 11gm / 24+mm / Worth: Base Unit
Semis - AE (brass) - 4gm / 18mm / Worth: 1/2 As
Quadrans - AE (copper) - 3gm / 15mm / Worth: 1/4 As

Addition by Emperor Caracalla (215 A.D.)
Antoninianus - AR or Billion - 6gm / 20+mm / Worth: 2 Denarii

Diocletian Monetary Reform (294 A.D.)
Aureus - AV - (size varies) / Worth: Gold Content
Quinarius - AV - (size varies) / Worth Gold Content
Argenteus - AR - 3gm / 18mm / Worth: 5 Follis
Follis - AE (low % Silver) - 10gm / 25mm / Worth: 10 Radiates
Radiate - AE (bronze) - 3.8gm / 20+mm

Constantine Monetary Reform (318 A.D.)
Solidus - AV - 4.5gm / Worth: 24 Siliquae
Semissis - AV - 2.2gm / Worth: 12 Siliquae
Scripulum - AV - 1.7gm / Worth: 9 Siliquae
Miliarense - AR - 4.5gm / Worth: 1/18 Solidus
Siliquae - AR - 3.5gm / Worth: 1/24 Solidus (base unit)
AE1 - AE (Bronze) - 25+mm
AE2 - AE (Bronze) - 21-25mm
AE3 - AE (Bronze) - 17-21mm
AE4 - AE (Bronze) - 17mm

metal content
AV = Gold
AR = Silver
AE = Bronze / Brass / Copper
CU = Copper
Billon = Silver debased with tin or copper

List of Roman Mints:
Alexandria, (Egypt)
Ambianum, (France)
Antioch/Antiochia, (Syria)
Aquileia, (Italy)
Arelatum/Constantina, (France)
Barcino, (Spain)
Caesara, (Israel)
Camulodunum, (England)
Carthage, (North Africa)
Clausentum, (England)
Constantinopolis, (Turkey)
Cyzicus, (Turkey)
Emesa, (Syria)
Heraclea, (Turkey)
Londinium, (England)
Lugdunum, (France)
Mediolanum, (Italy)
Nicomedia, (Turkey)
Ostia, (Italy)
Ravenna, (Italy)
Rome, (Italy)
Serdica, (Bulgaria)
Sirmium, (Serbia)
Siscia, (Croatia)
Thessalonica, (Greece)
Ticinum, (Italy)
Treveri, (Germany)
Viminacium, (Yugoslavia)