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DENARIUS. - This well-known Roman coin derived its name from its value of ten asses (a denis assibus) when it replaced the quadrigatus at the time when the old cast aes grave coinage finally gave way to the new struck bronze coins circa 211 B.C.
Around 141 B.C., the denarius was retarrifed at sixteen asses and retained this value into Imperial times.
According to Pliny, it was established that the denarius should be given in exchange for ten pounds of bronze, the quinarius for five pounds, and the sestertius for two-and-a-half. - But when the as was reduced in weight to one ounce, it was established that the denarius should be given in exchange for sixteen asses, the quinarius for eight, and the sestertius for four. And though the reason for its being so called no longer existed, yet the denarius retained its original name. With respect to the weight of thje denarius, it appears, also according to Pliny and other writers, that there were, in the ancient libra, eighty-four denarii.
The problems with Pliny's theory are cited (though unresolved) by Eckhel, and the chronology of Edward Sydenham, with regard to the Republic, has been revised by Michael Crawford in his Roman Republican Coinage.
A specimen of a denarius of Augustus, struck at Rome about 19 B.C. by the moneyer M. Durmius is illustrated by the woodcut below.
The mark of the republican denarius was X with one or two variations in the form of that letter. A similar mark was used on the bronze coinage to indicate the weight of X asses; but on denarii also it donates the value of X asses, for which, as already stated, the denarius was given in exchange. Instead of this mark, however, on coins of the Atilia, Aufidia, Julia, Titinia, and Valeria families, there appears the numeral XVI, doubtless indicating the value of the denarius as 16 asses.
With respect to the types of denarii, Pliny simply states that the type of silver was bigae and quadrigae. this is true with reference to a large portion, but many bear other types. Tacitus (De Morib. Germ.) has mentioned the bigati, and so has Livy frequently, whilst describing the booty taken in Hispania and Gallia Cisalpina. On denarii struck during the later periods of the republic, the types varied in many ways, conforming to the will of consular magistrates, and finally of the triumvirs.
The obverses of the early denarii bore the helmeted head of Roma, while their reverses exhibited representations of the Dioscuri on horseback (as on the denarius pictured at the head of this entry); also figures driving bigae and quadrigae, from which the pieces were termed bigati or quadrigati. They were also called Victoriati, when their types displayed a figure of Victory, as in the woodcut below, from a denarius of the Fannia gens, in which the goddess is driving her chariot and four horses at full speed.
This was also the case with the half denarius, called the quinarius (see EGNATIA and EGNATULEIA), or piece of five asses, but of this and of the small silver coin called sestertius, few specimens are extant.
Examples of the republican denarius can be found under the respective headings of Atilia (Dioscuri) Annia (Victory in a quadriga) Baebia (Quadriga) Caecilia (Biga of elephants) Cipia (Victory in Biga) Cornelia (Jupiter in Quadriga) Curiatia (Quadriga) Saufeia (Victory in Biga) etc., etc.
For specimens of the Imperial denarius see Caesar Augustus Agrippa and Augustus Caligula and Agrippina Antonia Severus Alexander. To these we add the cut below from a rare Decursio denarius struck during the reign of Nero.
Frequent mention is made of the denarius or (Roman) penny, in biblical writings, where it is spoken of as the daily wages of a labourer and too, as the tribute penny, Whose is this visage and superscription?
Published in England, the Numismatic Illustrations of the Narrative Portions of the New Testament, quoting from St. Matthew, the words a penny a day, makes the following observations:-
The penny here mentioned was the denarius, which, at the time of Our Lords ministry, was equivalent in value to about sevenpence halfpenny of our money. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the denarius was by degrees debased; and before the time of Diocletian had entirely disappeared, or rather had ceased to be struck in the Imperial mints; but that emperor restored the coinage of silver; and denarii were again minted, though reduced in weight. This reduction went on, after the division of the Empire, until the denarius, once a very beautiful medalet, became a coin of very inferior execution, low relief, and reduced thickness and weight. * * * The term denarius is yet preserved in our notation of pounds, shillings and pence, by £. s. d. * * * It is worthy of remark, that, in this country, a penny a day appears to have been the pay of a field labourer, in the middle ages; whilst, among the Romans (See Tacitus, Ann, lib.i) the daily pay for a soldier was a denarius.
From the same work, another passage referring to the imperial denarius, as circulated during the ministry of Jesus Christ, can be found cited in this dictionary, amongst the mintages of TIBERIUS.
Respecting base denarii, see the words MAJORINA PECUNIA.