This page cannot be viewed in frames

Go to page

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Roman money

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Marcus Aurelius' denarius
Marcus Aurelius' denarius | Author: Rasiel at English Wikipedia

At the beginning of Rome, cattle was the common means of payment. Anyway, the later name of money in Latin, pecunia, derives from the word pecus, which means nothing but “cattle”.

Then, as means of payment, rectangular, rough copper bars weighing about half a kilogram functioned, on which the image of cattle often appeared. After stopping using this means of payment, around the 5th century BCE.

The next point on the way of development of means of payment in the Roman state was copper ace (aes rudae) weighing 327.45 g, which was still divided into 12 ounces of 27.3 g each.

The weight of the copper ace was the basic unit of weight and was called Roman pound (libra). This burden was proper in Rome and in several other cities. To denote one pound, the capital letter L was used.

Copper bars (aes signatum)
On Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The oldest round coin had a weight of 273 g and was called pound ace (as libralis). In 289 BCE for the control of monetary affairs, a committee of three was organized, whose primary task was to release aces and copper bars (aes signatum). The silver coin became known around 340 BCE, when the famous Kapui mint began to produce a silver coin for Rome, the so-called dydrachmy, whose weight was 7.58 g, to reduce it to 6.82 g in time.

The minting of the silver coin was transferred to Rome in 269 BCE. They were deniers weighing 4.55 g of silver. The next year, minting of a coin weighing 3.41 g, called victorian, began with the name derived from the image of the goddess Victoria, minted on the coin. Wiktoriat served as a means of settlement in international transactions, and more precisely, mainly in trade relations with the Greek states.

Solidus of Constans
On Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Money changes occurred during the Second Punic War, when the minting of a gold coin called scripulus, which was equivalent to 20 sesterions, began. At the end of the existence of the republic, the minting of the zloty (aureus) began, the equivalent of 100 sesterces. The zloty entered circulation permanently only during the reign of Augustus and from that time it became widely used money until the time of Constantine the Great, who in 309 AD replaced it with solidus.

In 210 BC, denarias (denarius) was minted for the first time, where one denarius was set at 16 aces. The denarius came to an end at the end of the 3rd century AD. Some modifications to the denarius coincide with the reign of Caracalla, which issued a coin replacing the denarius called the Antoninianus. Due to its weight, Antoninus was often called a double denarius. Initially it was a silver coin, later it was minted with bronze and covered with a thin layer of silver. Constantine withdrew it from use.

From the middle of the 3rd century BCE, the basic unit for all calculations was sesterc, whose value equaled 2.5 ace. Sesterc was marked with the letters HS. For saving larger sums, the following abbreviations have been used:

  • HSX – 10 sesteriums
  • HSM – 1000 sesteria

Later, apart from Rome, the mints were still in Taranto, Beneventum and some other unspecified town. The mint in the capital was seated on the Capitol, next to the temple of Juno Moneta. During the Augustus, the number of mints grew at an alarming rate. Coins were made in almost every corner of the Empire. It was only during the reign of Flavius ​​that this problem was solved by returning with the minting of coins to the area of ​​the city of Rome.

The minting of the coins was the responsibility of the Senate, and more specifically the members of the college Ill viri aere argento aur flando ferundio. The college consisted of three officials. In the years 44–40 BCE, the college expanded its composition to 4 members.

Domitian’ Denar
On Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Stamps were affixed to all coins. On copper coins, on one hand, the image of Janus, usually two-headed (Janus Geminus), was placed, while on the other side, the bow of the ship was visible . On silver coins, there were images of two-horse carts, called bigatti or four-horse carts, called quadrigati.

During the republic, coins were decorated with the head of a god (Jupiter, Janus, Juno, Mars or Minerva). She-wolf was also frequent, and on the obverse there were beaks of ships.

Gold coins were minted by both the Senate and emperors during the Empire. The first of them were provided with the inscription SC (Senatus Consulta), while coins minted on the order of the emperor could have the following inscriptions on them: Imp. (Imperator); Caes (Caesar); PM (Pontifex Maximus); Cos (Consul); Tr. p. (tribunicia potestate).

The first man whose face was placed on the coin was Gaius Julius Caesar. Later it became a tradition. Images of the rulers were on one page, while the other was intended for various types of impersonation. Most often they were: Freedom, Gentleness and Joy.

In the times of Constantine the Great, scenes from private life are becoming bolder. Further changes did not take place until the end of the 4th century CE after Theodosius the Great, when the minting of the monogram of Christ and other Christian symbols began on the coins.

The deepening anarchy in the Roman state during the third century AD did not miss money either. New coins of different weights were introduced in each province. It was only during the reign of Diocletian and its reforms in 294 AD that the currency was regulated.

Below is the monetary conversion rate in force in the empire throughout the first and second centuries CE.

  • 1 aureus = 25 denarii
  • 1 denarius = 4 sestertii
  • 1 sestertius = 2 dupondii
  • 1 dupondius = 2 asses
  • 1 as = 2 semis
  • 1 semis = 2 quadrans
Most often used denominations and their relative sizes in Roman times.

What was placed on Roman coins?

In the early period, they show Roman deities and symbols referring to the cult or the traditional past of the state (e.g. she-wolf feeding twins). We also see portraits of political activists on coins from the end of the republic.

Coins from the time of the empire give material for the iconography of the emperors. Single words or phrases (legends) minted on coins often depict political slogans from a certain period. The subject of inscriptions and images on coins from the end of the republic is extremely diverse. Coins were one of the means of propaganda. Based on these, you can get information about political groups or people in power. They allow us to check the messages provided by ancient authors.

  • Huerta de Soto Jesús, Pieniądz, kredyt bankowy i cykle koniunkturalne, Warszawa 2009
  • Victor Labate, Banking in the Roman World, "", 17 November 2016

IMPERIUM ROMANUM needs your support!

Your financial help is needed, in order to maintain and develop the website. Even the smallest amounts will allow me to pay for further corrections, improvements on the site and pay the server. I believe that I can count on a wide support that will allow me to devote myself more to my work and passion, to maximize the improvement of the website and to present history of ancient Romans in an interesting form.


News from world of ancient Rome

If you want to be up to date with news and discoveries from the world of ancient Rome, subscribe to the newsletter.

Subscribe to newsletter!

Roman bookstore

I encourage you to buy interesting books about the history of ancient Rome and antiquity.

Check out bookstore

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: