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ERIC Table of Contents


Title Page

Introduction

About Roman Coins

Denominations

Coins of Other Ancient Cultures

Identifying Roman Coins

How To Use This Book

Mintmarks

Mint Map

Pricing And Grading

Bibliography

Reference Catalogs Cited

Coin Terms Used

Glossary

Rarity Tables

Index of Rulers

Photography Credits

Additional Web Resources

Imperial Catalog:

AUGUSTUS
LIVA
AGRIPPA
NERO CLAUDIUS DRUSUS
GERMANICUS
AGRIPPINA I
TIBERIUS
DRUSUS
ANTONIA
CALIGULA
CLAUDIUS I
BRITANNICUS
AGRIPPINA II
NERO
GALBA
CLODIUS MACER
OTHO
VITELLIUS
VESPASIAN
DOMITILLA
TITUS
DOMITIAN
DOMITIA
JULIA TITI
NERVA
TRAJAN
PLOTINA
MARCIANA
MATIDIA
HADRIAN
SABINA
AELIUS
ANTONINUS PIUS
FAUSTINA I
MARCUS AURELIUS
FAUSTINA II
LUCIUS VERUS
LUCILLA
COMMODUS
CRISPINA
PERTINAX
DIDIUS JULIANUS
MANLIA SCANTILLA
DIDIA CLARA
PESCENNIUS NIGER
CLODIUS ALBINUS
SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS
JULIA DOMNA
CARACALLA
PLAUTILLA
GETA
MACRINUS
DIADUMENIAN
ELAGABALUS
JULIA MAESA
JULIA SOAEMIAS
JULIA PAULA
AQUILIA SEVERA
ANNIA FAUSTINA
SEVERUS ALEXANDER
JULIA MAMAEA
ORBIANA
MAXIMINUS I
PAULINA
MAXIMUS
GORDIAN I
GORDIAN II
BALBINUS
PUPIENUS
GORDIAN III
TRANQUILLINA
PHILIP I
OTACILIA SEVERA
PHILIP II
PACATIAN
JOTAPIAN
TRAJAN DECIUS
HERENNIA ETRUSCILLA
HERENNIUS ETRUSCUS
HOSTILIAN
TREBONIANUS GALLUS
VOLUSIAN
AEMILIAN
CORNELIA SUPERA
SILBANNACUS
URANIUS ANTONINUS
VALERIAN I
MARINIANA
VALERIAN II
GALLIENUS
SALONINA
SALONINUS
REGALIANUS
DRYANTILLA
POSTUMUS
LAELIANUS
MARIUS
VICTORINUS
DOMITIAN II
TETRICUS I
TETRICUS II
QUIETUS
MACRIANUS
CLAUDIUS II
QUINTILLUS
AURELIAN
SEVERINA
ZENOBIA
VABALATHUS
TACITUS
FLORIAN
PROBUS
SATURNINUS
CARUS
CARINUS
MAGNIA URBICA
NIGRIAN
NUMERIAN
JULIAN I
DIOCLETIAN
MAXIMIAN
CARAUSIUS
ALLECTUS
DOMITIUS DOMITIANUS
CONSTANTIUS I
THEODORA
GALERIUS
GALERIA VALERIA
SEVERUS II
MAXENTIUS
ROMULUS
CONSTANTINE I
HELENA
FAUSTA
ALEXANDER
LICINIUS I
CONSTANTIA
MAXIMINUS II
LICINIUS II
CRISPUS
VALERIUS VALENS
MARTINIAN
CONSTANTINE II
DELMATIUS
HANNIBALLIANUS
CONSTANS
CONSTANTIUS II
MAGNENTIUS
DECENTIUS
NEPOTIAN
VETRANO
CONSTANTIUS GALLUS
JULIAN II
JOVIAN
VALENTINIAN I
VALENS
PROCOPIUS
GRATIAN
VALENTINIAN II
THEODOSIUS I
AELIA FLACCILLA
MAGNUS MAXIMINUS
FLAVIUS VICTOR
EUGENIUS
HONORIUS
CONSTANTINE III
CONSTANS II
MAXIMINUS
PRISCUS ATTALUS
JOVINUS
SABASTIANUS
CONSTANTIUS III
GALLA PLACIDIA
JOHANNES
VALENTINIAN III
LICINIA EUDOXIA
HONORIA
PETRONIUS MAXIMINUS
AVITUS
MAJORIAN
LIBIUS SEVERUS
ANTHEMIUS
EUPHEMIA
ANICIUS OLYBRIUS
GLYCERIUS
JULIUS NEPOS
ROMULUS AUGUSTUS
ARCADIUS
EUDOXIA
PULCHERIA
THEODOSIUS II
EUDOCIA
MARCIAN
LEO I
VERINA
LEO II
ZENO
ARIADNE
BASILISCUS
ZENONIS
LEONTIUS I
ANASTASIUS I
ANONYMOUS COINAGE

ERIC The Encyclopedia of Roman Imperial Coins
by Rasiel Suarez


Denominations

Roman coins came in many different denominations. The weight and metal type of each coin determined how much purchasing power each coin had. Eventually, coin designs would to a certain extent explicitly state the value of the coin but it is uncertain whether these official values were honored by merchants and the public in general.

The absolute base unit in Roman coinage is the Uncia, a small copper coin the size of a small button which was never struck in large quantities and is today very rare. 16 Unciae are equivalent to an As which is the first commercially functional coin. In turn, 16 Asses make up the famous Denarius, a silver, U.S.-dime sized coin which circulated for hundreds of years and influenced coinage in just about every successive Western culture up into modern times.

Although a fascinating subject, it's disappointing to learn that we lack a good understanding of what the actual value of Roman coins were. Necessary food staples were often heavily subsidized by the government to ensure their accessibility. The emperor and his officials understood that a hungry citizenry was a grave liability. What records survive, therefore, tend to point out these set prices but the going rate for other luxuries is largely speculative.

For what it's worth, a rough sketch of salaries would have a gold Aureus or Solidus as a month's pay for an ordinary soldier. And a Denarius or two could be earned in a day by a skilled laborer. In turn, a family meal consisting of bread, olive oil, wine and perhaps some meat would cost a Denarius or one of its equivalents.

For early imperial coinage the relative values are as follows: 1 Aureus = 2 Quinarii = 25 Denarii = 100 Sestertii = 200 Dupondii = 400 Asses = 800 Quadrans = 6,400 Unciae

Considering the expense in labor and materials that was borne in the production of the small-change Quadrans and Uncia it's not hard to see why these denominations existed more as a theoretical currency keystone than as real coins.

The first crack in the Roman economical machine appeared under the reign of Nero who cut back the purity of the Denarius from 98% fineness (essentially as pure as could possibly have been refined on a large scale basis back then) to 93%. The debasement did not link up with an official decrease in the nominal value of the coin itself so that the extra 5% silver was clear and free profit for the emperor.

However, it took virtually no time for the public at large to see that the old Denarius was intrinsically worth more than the new one. This created an immediate hoarding of the old silver coins which could now be melted and then sold as scrap. In fact, finding today a pre-reform Denarius is considerably more difficult and expensive than Nero's new Denarii.

From then on each new emperor lowered the fineness of the Denarii a percent or two so that by the time of Gordian III, the last emperor to issue significant quantities of Denarii, a Denarius was actually no more than about 35% silver by weight.

Another unintended effect was that as the silver coins became cheaper the copper ones became more expensive. After all, each Denarius was now being made by more and more copper to fill in for the missing silver. What was happening was that a 3 gram silver coin was 2 grams copper but the whole coin was still valued at several multiples more than the Sestertii, Dupondii and Asses which weighed between 10-30 grams a piece. Therefore, rather than the government risk striking copper coins which would only wind up being melted it chose to not strike them much in the first place.

Gold on the other hand was considered sacred. As much as it may have pained each emperor to part with his dwindling supplies of its most precious metal no soldier would risk his life unless it was for real gold. Not until the situation had grown into a series of deep crises in the middle of the third century that emperors decided to tinker with the next best thing: their weight. The Aureus which had traditionally weighed between 7-8 grams each went as far down as just over 2 grams under the reign of Gallienus. How the paymasters kept a straight face on pay day is anyone's guess and it's quite possible that the scam was masqueraded as salary increases by paying two or three of these Aurei while, of course, the total outlay of metal was still below the traditional amount.
As the fineness in silver was steadily lowered, and the weight of the Aureus became erratic, new denominations were introduced to further blur the government's cost-cutting schemes and attempts to curb rampant inflation. The silver Antoninianus was introduced around the year 215 under Caracalla at a nominal value of two Denarii and, for gold, the Binio was introduced a few years later as a double Aureus. Since gold coins were never a major part of everyday commerce the Binio was a nonstarter but the Antoninianus drove the Denarius into extinction within 30 years of its introduction. And it, too, would suffer severe debasement and reduction in weight.

By the mid-250's the Ant reached the critical low point in the silver-copper alloy, about 18%, where it no longer resembled a silvery coin even when freshly minted. Debasing this coin further served no practical purpose because it was blatantly obvious it was no longer silver. A decision was therefore made to stop making silver coins altogether and simply apply a silver wash to the Ants as a last processing step of the coin blanks.

When new, these coins looked much better than the previous 18% silver Ants. However, shortly after entering circulation the silver coating wore off across the high points of the coin to reveal the copper beneath. Many such coins continued to circulate long after the silvering was fully gone and yet they were still officially considered silver coins!

By the early 290's the Roman economy was in a state of near-collapse as the old currency value schedules were maintained relative to a silver coinage that existed only as a dim memory. The emperor Diocletian set into motion a series of monetary reforms meant to rectify the situation. The Antoninianus was suspended and new denominations introduced including a new Denarius of high silver content termed “Argenteus” (but officially worth 2.5 Denarii each) and the Follis which had a negligible amount of silver but was as hefty as an old As. The Aureus would be reborn under more predictable weights as well and the whole coinage system was overhauled from top to bottom in the hopes of stabilizing the economy.

Some of the denominations caught on and some, specifically the Argenteus, would see a quick demise due to the chronic lack of silver. What little silver was initially breathed into the Follis was pulled and the weight, too, dwindled swiftly from a high of about 10g until it was a small copper coin of about 2-3g each within a few years' time. This reduced Follis enters the fourth century as the new de facto standard copper coin to serve the same general purpose as the Denarius of two centuries before (if not the actual buying power). Since it is unclear what the Romans of the time called it today's numismatists give it the generic term of a class three bronze or AE3 for short (AE is the abbreviation for Aeratus, Latin for copper).

Even though during the fourth century the AE3 is king there are several other important denominations. After Diocletian's reforms settle into a new swing over the following years, a new gold standard is introduced under Constantine I with the flagship Solidus, a successor to the old Aureus which is now made to unerring precision at 72 to a Roman pound of gold, or about 4.4g a piece. It is so successful that it was still being made 500 years later under Byzantine emperors easily outlasting the Denarius itself and, possibly, any other denomination to this age.

While the relationship between bronze coins and their silver and gold cousins are poorly understood the relative values between silver and gold are as follows:
1 Solidus = 2 Semisses = 3 Tremisses = 24 Siliquae

The Siliqua is the last major successor to the old Denarius. It is thinner and lighter at only 2-3g each and never approaches the popularity of the Denarius. Except for rare occasions it is the one denomination that is not survived by the fall of the Roman empire itself in 476.

While the gold and silver remain stable into the fifth century and beyond the last days of the Western half of the Roman empire see the bronze coinage shrink quickly into a morass of teeny coppers known as AE4's. They survive in large quantities today but prove difficult to identify due to careless minting methods and heavily debased alloys which fared poorly in the soil upon their loss or burial.

The following table lists the most important denominations with rare fractions and multiples being omitted.
 

Main Roman Imperial Coin Denominations

Denomination

Metal Weight Value Circ. Dates Notes
Aureus Gold 7-8g 25 Denarii c.200 BCE – 305 CE Weights fluctuate wildly mid-third century
Binio Gold 5.5-6g 2 Aurei 251-310
Quinarius Gold 2.5-4g ½ Aureus c.200 BCE – 305 CE Weights fluctuate wildly mid-third century. Very rare
Solidus Gold 4.4g 24 Siliquae 310-c.963 The Solidus is reborn as Basil I's Histamenon Nomisma with same weight and purity until replaced in the 1040‟s by the Hyperpyron.
Semissis  Gold 2.25g ½ Solidus 310-c.867 Rare prior to 6th century
Tremissis Gold 1.5g Solidusc.380-c.867
1-½ Scripulum Gold 1.7g 9 Siliquae 310-c.380 Scripulum is a measure of weight. Ancient name remains unknown. Extremely rare.
Denarius Silver 2.5-4g 4 Sestertii 211 BCE – 244 CE Weights were never adhered to very strictly but typical Denarius in Augustan times was 3.8g dropping to 3.4g by 2nd century and sometimes as low as 2g under the Severan dynasty. When first introduced in 211 BCE the Denarius was tariffed at 10 Asses and was retariffed to 16 Asses in 118 BCE.
Cistophoric Tetradrachms Silver 10-12g 3 Denarii 27 BCE – 138 CE A denomination meant for use in the eastern provinces to mimic traditional silver coinage in the region but using Latin legends and imperial portraits.
Antoninianus Silver 3-5g 2 Denarii 215-285 The name of this coin in antiquity is unknown. Present usage is named after Caracalla whose formal name was Antoninus and who first introduced this coin. The radiate bronze coins under Diocletian may be a separate denomination or simply a size-reduced Antoninianus.
Argenteus Silver 3-4g 2-½ Denarii c.290-c.310 A severely debased Argenteus is minted in Trier from c.310-319. Note also that this coin is essentially the same as the light Miliarense.
Quinarius Silver 1.3g-
2g
½
Denarius
211 BCE –
c.230 CE
Rare



Siliqua Silver 1.5-3g 1/24th Solidus 310 – c.650 Weights were erratic but steadily diminished over time from around 3g early on to less than 2g by the 5th century. Although sporadically minted during Byzantine times it had been phased out of general production by the 460s.
Miliarense Silver 3.5g5.2g ~2 Siliquae 310-c.717 The Miliarense comes in three separate weight categories of uncertain value relative to the Siliqua or Solidus except as raw bullion weight. The “light” Miliarense of approximately 3.5g, a regular ~4.5g coin and the “heavy” miliarense of ~5.2g
Sestertius Bronze/ Brass 22-30g Ό Denarius 2 Dupondii 23 BCE – c.275 It is possible that the Sestertius continued to be struck in extremely limited quantities until Diocletian's reform in or around the year 285. However, after the Severan dynasty the Sestertius became increasingly scarce and underweight, occasionally falling to under 10g. Prior to 23 BCE the Sestertius existed as a rare denomination in silver. Its value however had always been fixed to a quarter of a Denarius.
The Sestertius and the Dupondius are typically struck from Orichalcum, a brassy alloy.

Double Sestertius Bronze 25-40g 2 Sestertii 251-274 Using the convention of radiate crowns for double value, the double Sestertius is an exotic denomination begun under Trajan Decius. Some rare pieces have been noted weighing upwards of 44g but typical weights hover around 25g. The last double Sestertii were apparently minted during the reign of Aurelian at a rather emaciated weight of ~17g.
Dupondius Bronze/ Brass 11-15g ½ Sestertius 23 BCE – c.260 From the year 64 forward emperors on the Dupondius are depicted with a radiate crown. This visual aid eases the distinction between it and the larger Sestertius and the smaller As. Empresses do not get a similar distinction until the 220's when a bust resting on a crescent was introduced, a feature which was never thoroughly consistent in use.
As Copper/ Bronze 10-12g ½ Dupondius c.280 BCE – c.275 It is often impossible to tell for certain whether a coin is a heavier than usual As or a light Dupondius on those coins that normally lack a radiate crown.
Semis Bronze 2-3g ½ As c.210 BCE – c.180 CE Rare and often struck anonymously. Last issues were used in the outer provinces.
Quadrans Bronze 2.5-4g ½ Semis c.210 BCE – c.180 CE
AE1 Bronze >25mm ? 360‟s Julian II introduces a large silvered bronze coin of ~8.5g, quite possibly a rebirth of the Follis. It is continued by Jovian and struck in very limited quantities by Valens & Valentinian I before disappearing. Large copper medals and so-called “contorniates” are minted sporadically from the early 300‟s and well into the 500‟s. They were rare in their own time, struck for ceremonial purposes, as presentation pieces or other special occasions and unlikely to have entered circulation as money.

AE2 Bronze 22-25mm 2x AE3 (?) 350-c.390 The typical AE2 weighs 4-5g and is sometimes called a “Centenionalis” though the term is far from universally accepted. AE2‟s from the 5th century are exceedingly rare but, strangely, seem to have had a little revival under Leo I and his wife Verina in the 450s. 
AE3 Bronze 16-22mm ? c.300-430 The greater part of extant ancient Roman coins fall under this category. Perhaps hundreds of millions were struck during the fourth century and seem to have served as the general-purpose coin in commerce of the day. They typically weigh about 3g each and were largely phased out of production by the last decade of this century but erratic production continued until Anastasius' reform in 498.
AE4 Bronze <16mm ? c.317-498 The AE4 is to the fifth century what the AE3 was to the fifth. They are found today in large quantities but careless production processes, poor alloys and small size conspire against easy identification.
AE5 (proposed) Bronze <12mm ? c.380-498

This class of bronze is proposed to differentiate them from the larger AE4s struck in the first half of the 4th century which were initially conceived as posthumous coins struck in honor of deified emperors and empresses and then as the very large issue in celebration of the refounding of Byzantium as Constantinople. The first mainstream AE4s appeared late in the 340s but were abandoned within a decade until 379 when the emperor Gratian authorized the minting of a small coin of about 12mm diameter. This smaller module would quickly eclipse the AE3 in popularity and is apparently the main engine of small commerce for the entire fifth century with larger bronzes becoming practically nonexistent during this period. Its weight hovered around 0.9-1.14g and by the early 400's settles into a diameter range of about 10mm.