History of Roman Coins



At the beginning, as in different parts of the world, commercial transactions were carried out in Rome through barter, but also by paying with the sheep, very much in use among Roman shepherds (it is no coincidence that the term “pecunia” comes from “pecus “sheep, even if some deny it) and also with metals.

Pecunia is in fact the oldest name of the coin because in the archaic times of the pastoral age it was used to express the value of things by comparing it to that of the sheep, which also acted as a means of payment through barter, the term then passed to indicate the subsequent coin metallic.

Soldo is an ancient but more recent name deriving from a prestigious gold coin, the Solidum, which by Constantine, in the year 312 was placed at the base of the Roman monetary system; subsequently the name was deformed first in Solido and then in Soldo.

This currency dominated the great economy until the fall of the empire and continued in the Byzantine and barbarian coinage. With the money they paid the soldiers who were therefore called hired and later soldiers.



From the foundation of Rome (21 April 753 BC) to the entire monarchical period (753-509 BC) and part of the republican period, up to the third century BC, trade was not based on the use of money, but on a kind of barter or pseudo-coinage for which the means of exchange were bronze processing scraps (aes rude), based on the value of the metal and therefore its weight.

Given their considerable weight, these irregular bars, devoid of any sign of recognition, had more function of hoarding than of a daily commercial use. The most used form was the barter, flour in exchange for eggs, wood in exchange for furs, or for more substantial expenses a piece of cut and weighed bronze.


 “ King Servius Tullius first impressed copper (aes signum). Before, as Timaeus recounts, raw copper was in use. The stamped seal represented a sheep, which is why the coin was called pecunia. Silver was minted as a currency in the year 485 auc (286 a, c.) under the consulate of Quinto Ogulnio and Caio Fabio, five years before the Punic War I. 
And it was established that:
– a Denarius was worth ten pounds of bronze, 
– the quinario five, 
– the Sestertius a dupondius and a semisse. 
The next crime was the one who first minted gold coin, this crime also remained hidden because the author is uncertain. The Roman people did not use silver coined before the defeat of King Pyrrhus.

 – Aes signatum, (marked), was a bar (or ingot) of cast bronze with a seal stamped on it to guarantee weight and material, used in central Italy before the aes grave and after the aes rude. it was produced in directing age, in the fourth century BC., and had written Romanom and monetary system was bronze and sometimes silver. that was strictly Roman bronze, the silver was a Roman-Campanian of Greek origin.

the weight of the bars was between 1,150 and 1,850 kg: about 5 Roman pounds and therefore of 5 axes.They had no face value and therefore had no fixed types, but were worth their weight and were cut as needed.

 The seal was first a branch without leaves and then various animals: an eagle holding a lightning bolt in its claws on one side and a flying Pegasus on the other; a sword and a sheath; outer side and inner side of a shield; elephant and pig. The dating is from 275 BC The aes signatum was supplanted by the aes grave.

With the reduction of the weight of the coin, the bronze coins, during the Roman Republic, were not only melted, but beaten with various hammers, a kind of mold on a rondel, that is the minting.



 – Aes Grave, introduced in the early days of the Republic, was often melted to obtain bronze, until its face value did not exceed the value of the metal. It flourished with the birth of trade by sea around 335 BC, under the consuls Marco Valerio Corvo IV, and Marco Atilio Regolo Caleno.

The aes grave went from the 4th and 3rd centuries BC issued in central Italy by different populations, its standard was the weight of one pound which could be 272, 327 or 341 grams. The term used to indicate Aes was “Æ”.

The first minted coins issued by Rome were some silver didrachmas and some fractional linked coins in both silver and bronze. These coins are referred to as Roman-bells, as they were most likely minted, in the style of the Greek ones, in Campania in the third century BC, in order to facilitate trade with the Greek colonies of southern Italy.


Aes Grave was succeeded by the coin guaranteed by the state: the Asse (in Latin as, assis), a bronze coin (later replaced by copper) in use during the Republic and also during the Roman Empire.
It came into use during the fourth century. BC as a large bronze coin. The term as indicated a unit of measurement of weight, namely 327 g. The coin had its fractions and its multiples.

When it went from molten coinage to hammer coinage, produced from a smooth metal disk (a roundel) hit by a hammer to produce the image on both sides, it had constant value, and it worked for the whole republic.



A major innovation on coins was brought by Julius Caesar by placing his own portrait instead of that of his ancestors. The example was also followed in the imperial period, with the image of the head of government used to reinforce the image of the state emperor and his rules. Subsequently, the image of the emperor was associated with that of the deities.

In the campaign against Pompey, Caesar issued coins with also images of Venus and Aeneas, to propagate his divine descendants. Commodus even proclaimed his divine status by issuing a coin in 192 that depicted his bust covered with a lion’s skin on the obverse, and on the reverse an inscription proclaimed him the reincarnation of Hercules. From the time of Augustus until the end of the empire, in fact, the representation of ancestors was replaced by that of the emperor’s family and heirs, strengthening the public image of those who were wanted to be considered at the height of the emperor himself therefore legitimate successors to the throne.


In the last years of the Roman Republic, just before the birth of the principality, in a period torn apart by civil wars, coins were issued in the name of the generals who fought each other by virtue of their imperium.

This type of coinage was called imperatorial. These coins were issued by Pompeo, Julius Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Labienus, Sextus Pompey, Lepidus, Marcus Anthony and Octavian alone or together with each other or with other people. Often these coins had high propaganda content.

Denarius of Augustus

The weight loss of

In the second half of the third century. BC, the weight of the axis decreased to half a pound, but the Latin pound of 273 g was no longer taken as the unit of measurement, but the Roman pound of 327 g which became the fixed unit of measurement.

Therefore an axis weighed half a Roman pound: 163.5 g, and the submultiples were adjusted to this weight. In this series the coins are melted except the sextant and the ounce which are minted. Therefore:
Axis – 12 ounces – 163.5 g
Semisse – 1/2 axis – 121 g
Triente – 1/3 axis – 54.5 g
Quadrant – 1/4 axis – 40.8 g
Sextant – 1/6 axis – 27.25 g
Ounce – 1/12 axis – 13 , 6 g

Its fractions:
– bes (2/3), – dodrante (3/4) – semisse (1/2), 136.5 g – quincunciation (5/12), – triente (1/3), 91g – quadrant (1/4), 68.25g – sextant (1/6), 45.5g – ounce (1/12), 22.75g – half ion (1/24) 11, 37

its multiples:
– dupondius (2), – tresse or tripondio (3), – quadrusse (4), – quinquesse (5), – decusse (10).

DODRANTE – The Dodrante, perhaps derived from quadrans with a de privativo, was issued together with the Bes, and was a coin equal to three quarters of the axis (i.e. 9 ounces). It was issued during the Roman republic, but only twice: in 127 BC by Marco Cecilio Metello, and the following year by Caio Cassio who also issued the bes, equal to two thirds of the axis, that is eight ounces.

BES – The Bes has on the obverse the head of the Free Italic God turned to the right with a crown of vine, behind the sign of the value: S ••. On the reverse there is the ship’s prow typical of Roman coinage in bronze with the indication: – of the monetary magistrate Caius CASSI above, – ROME below, and the same indication of the value in front. In addition to the bes and the dodrante, a denarius and a quadrant were also issued. Only one example of the latter coin is known in the Capitoline collection. 

SEEDS– Semisse (lat. Semis semisses – half) a small bronze coin that was worth half of an axis. During the Republic it was distinguished by an “S” or by 6 globules (for 6 ounces). It had the image of the God Saturn on the obverse and the ship’s prow on the reverse. It was initially cast, like all Roman republican bronzes; it was instead beaten shortly before the Second Punic War (218-204 BC). The coin was rarely issued during the Roman Empire and ceased under Hadrian (117-138 AD).

SEMISSE GOLD The half-axis is reintroduced by Constantine I but as a gold coin, with a value of half a solid (therefore 2.27 grams).

Gold Coin of Trajan


All the coins tied as a unit of weight to the pound were made by casting, pouring the molten metal into refractory matrices (fired clay) with the negative image, that is, hollowed out. The matrix was unique but had grooves for various coins with a very thin communicating groove whereby the metal flowed through all the grooves producing more coins in a casting.

When the product had cooled, the thin bars that joined the coins together came off. Subsequently only the major coins were merged, while the minor ones were minted. With the reform of Augustus in 23 BC, the Axis was beaten on copper instead of bronze, while the Sesterzio (4 Assi) and the Dupondio (2 Assi) were in copper and zinc alloy (orichalcum).

The main coins then became:
the as – of copper,
the sestertius, the quinarius, the denarius, – silver;
the aureus, – of gold.

With the transition to hammer coinage, the axis became a fiduciary currency, the value of which was no longer linked to the metal content. Originally the as contained a pound of copper, but over time it decreased to 1/24 of a pound. The as was divided into 12 unciae, so much so that uncia generally meant a twelfth. The semis (half axis) was half of this as divided into twelve parts. I

AXIS 272 gr.
SEMIS S 136 gr. 1/2
TRIENTE °°°° 90 gr. 1/4
DIAL °°° 45 gr. 1/6
SEXTANT °° 22 gr. 1/12
OZ ° 22 gr. 1/12
HALF S 11 gr. 1/24

DUPONDIO II. 2 (axles)

– The semis was half of the as divided into twelve parts.
– The sestertius contained 2 as and 1/2,
– the quinarius 5 as,
– the denarius 10 as.


The silver coin that formed the basis of the Roman economy was the denarius, first minted in Rome around 211 BC, a small silver coin with a value of 10 axes, as indicated by the X sign present in the first issues. and was defeated during the Second Punic War. The images of the first denari usually consisted of the bust of Rome on the obverse and of a divinity driving a chariot or chariot on the reverse.
The first coins weighed 4.55 g, 1/72 of a Roman pound, and featured the helmeted head of Rome on the obverse and the Dioscuri on horseback with the legend ROME on the reverse. Then the weight was lowered to 3.9g. Around 142 BC its value was set to 16 axes and the symbol from X became XVI, first in extended and then in monogram.
The new deniers, weighing 3.9 g, show the head of Rome on the obverse, while the she-wolf with suckling Romulus and Remus on the reverse; behind a fig tree, in the exergue the legend ROME. For example, the coins minted by Marcus Antony during his war with Octavian were slightly smaller in diameter and with a considerably lower title: the obverse depicted a galley and the name of Antonio, while the reverse presented the name of the particular legion for which the coin had been issued.
Note that these coins remained in circulation for more than 200 years due to the shortage of precious metal. However, the weight remained almost unchanged until Nero’s reform of 64 AD, which lowered it to 3.4 g.
Under Marcus Aurelius the weight was brought to 2.36 g, and under Septimius Severus to 1.7 g. After 250 its weight was 0.17 g, after which Aureliano introduced the nummo (equivalent to 5 denarii). Around 300 the exchange of the denarius with the gold was 1,600 denarii for one aureo, after which under Constantine the denarii were no longer minted.

The production of gold (golden) coins was very sporadic before the conquest of Gaul (and its mines) by Julius Caesar. The first gold issues, following the Greek monetary system to facilitate trade with the south of Italy and the East, occurred in 286 BC (with a gold weight of 6.81g) and in 209 BC ( with a weight of 3.41 g).

The first truly Roman auras were minted in 87 BC by Silla (value of 1/30 of a pound, 9.11 g), followed by issues in 61 BC by Pompey (value of 1/36 of a pound, 9 , 06 g), in 48 BC by Caesar (value of 1/38 of a pound, 8.55 g) and in 48 BC, again by Caesar (with a value of 1/40 of a pound, 8.02 g).

Hadrian Gold Coin


1) In the calculation of money the unit was the sestertius, also called nummus;

a) the units, tens and hundreds are written with sestertii and the cardinal number:
quinque sestertii = 5 sestertii;
viginti sestertii = 20 sestertii;
ducenti sestertii = 200 sestertii.

b) One thousand sestertiums = one thousand sestertiums, or one thousand sestertiums.

c) Up to 1,000,000 sestertiums, thousands are written:
(1) milia sestertium (gen. plur.),
(2) with sestertia: duo milia sestertium, or duo sestertia = 2,000 sestertia;
quinque milia sestertium, or quinque sestertia = 5,000 sesterces.

d) For one or more million sesterces: sestertium, with the value of 100,000 sesterces the numeral adverb, decies, vicies, etc. is used.
decies sestertium = 1,000,000 (10 x 100,000) sestertium;
vicies sestertium, 2,000,000 (20 x 100,000) sesterces.
For 1,000,000 sesterces “decies centena milia sestertium”.
The words centena milia were omitted, so sestertium became a declinable noun.
2) Sometimes sestertium is omitted, leaving only the numeral adverb: decies = 1,000,000 sesterces.
3) The HS sign is often used for sestertii, or for sestertia, or for sestertium:
decem HS = 10 sestertii (HS = sestertii).
dena HS = 10,000 sestertia (HS = sestertia).
decies HS = 1,000,000 sesterces (HS = sestertium).

The sestertius became the most widely used currency. The term derives from semis-tertius = 2 1/2. Like aureus, denarius etc., the name was originally an adjective that modified the currency.


In the Roman Empire some cities retained the right to issue their own coins. These coins were primarily used for the internal trade of a city or a limited area. As a result, emissions were much more limited and less regular. Furthermore, the types used reflected local themes. This coinage was invaluable as it revealed otherwise little known details of the life of the Roman world.


With coinage, counterfeiters and scams spread:
– coins in precious metal with low-grade alloy,
– gold coins stained when rubbed, a sign that they were in alloy;
– copper coins laminated with gold or silver, they tested with their teeth for hardness;
– the coins were filed to reduce their weight, therefore coins with a serrated edge came into use.


– At the time of Augustus a man could belong to the equites (knights) if he owned a property of at least 400,000 sesterces (100,000 denarii).
– A senator was to own properties for 1,000,000 sesterces (250,000 denarii).
– A simple soldier under Augustus and Tiberius (ca. 15 AD) earned 10 aces a day or 900 sesterces a year. Under Domitian (ca. 85 AD) it had only increased to 1,200 sesterces a year.
– The Praetorian legionaries under Augustus received 2 denarii a day, or about 730 a year.
– The centurions received 3750 denarii per year under Augustus and 5000 under Domitian.
– A lawyer under Claudius (ca. 50 AD) could ask clients up to 10,000 sesterces for his defense.
– Juvenal (ca. 100 AD) complained of circus champions, who earned 100 times what a lawyer earned – 15,000 to 60,000 sesterces for a victory.
– Martial, II half I century. dc, told of the charioteer Scorpus who won 15 bags of gold in an hour, and that a slave, which cost 10,000 sesterces, laughed at the masters who could only donate 100 quadrantes (6 1/4 sesterces) a day to their clients. .
– Another charioteer, under Hadrian and Antoninus Pius (140 AD), was said to have accumulated 35,863,120 sesterces.
– In the first century. AD, olive oil cost 2 or 3 sesterces per liter, and wine from 1 and 4 boards for 1/2 liter.
– An entrance to the spa cost 1 quadrans for a man and 2 quadrantes for a woman, while the children did not pay.
– In Pompeii a man paid a denarius for a prostitute.
– A city house in Rome could cost between 500,000 (125,000 den.) And 2,500,000 sesterces (625,000 den.), And one iugerum (2,400 sq m) of land cost between 1,000 (250 den.) And 12,000 sesterces (3,000 den. .).


Money as a handy means, produced and guaranteed by an internationally recognized political entity, to quickly ensure the acquisition of goods and the use of services within its own territory, was adopted by Rome quite early.

The tresviri (or triumviri) monetales were three young magistrates in charge of controlling and operating the mint, located on the Capitol, near the temple of Juno Moneta. The temple stood on the place from which the alarm for the night assault of the Gauls had started, an alarm that had allowed the city to be saved. In memory of this episode a temple had been raised to Juno called “Moneta”, that is “she who warns” (from monere).

The official name was “IIIviri monetales aere argento auro flando feriundo” (III VIR AAAFF), ie monetary triumvirs to melt (flando) and beat (feriundo) bronze (aerop), silver and gold (auro). On a denarius of Manio Aquilio, senator in 74 BC, we find the inscription “III VIR” on the obverse; we find the same writing on the back of several bronzes of Augustus.

They were responsible for the casting of the gold bars, the alloy, the weight and engraving of the struck coins, as well as the accounts of the mint and therefore the coins issued were signed by them. But there are also coins issued by consuls, praetors, quaestors or by aediles. Extraordinary emissions were somehow identified, for example with the abbreviation SC (Senatus Consultum).

They could be:

– “ordinary coins”, which had the task of the mint in Rome, or were delegated above all by the Senate to exercise similar functions outside Rome in various centers, or in some districts, but in any case within the border of Italy;
– “special coins”: invested by the Senate, through special provisions, with the authority to initiate extraordinary issues. The issues of these “special coins” are distinguished from ordinary issues by particular abbreviations (for example SC, since the authorization was often provided by a senatus consulto) or by the different title of the magistrate, or by the two combined indications.
– “military coins”: following the army especially in the provinces. These could be quaestors, legates and prefects to the orders of the generals in command.


It seems strange today, but it was the people gathered in the comitia to decree all the characteristics of the coin, to establish which metal it should be made of, as well as the type and weight. The Senate then had to make sure that those decrees were duly executed and to assign particular officials to that end. Especially the consuls, who, by virtue of their imperium, exercised their authority over the execution.

They would exercise general control over the issue time, weight, size and value of the coins. Their authority was of a public nature, so on the first bronze issues one encounters only representations of tutelary deities of Rome on the D / and the prow of the ship at the R /.


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