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The denarius (pl. denarii) was the standard Roman silver coin from its introduction in the Second Punic War c. 211 B.C. to the reign of Gordian III (AD 238–244), when it was gradually replaced by the Antoninianus. It continued to be minted in very small quantities, likely for ceremonial purposes, until and through the tetrarchy (293–313).

The word dēnārius is derived from the Latin dēnī "containing ten", as its value was originally of 10 asses. The word for "money" descends from it in Italian (denaro), Slovene (denar), Portuguese (dinheiro), and Spanish (dinero). Its name also survives in the dinar currency.

Year Event 
Weight   Purity 
211 Introduction 4.55g 95–98% 1/72 pound. Denarius first struck. Equivalent to 10 asses.
200 Debasement 3.9g 95–98% 1/84 pound.
141 Debasement 3.9g 95–98% 1/84 pound. Retariffed to equal 16 asses due to the decrease in weight of the as.
44 Debasement 3.9g 95–98% Death of Julius Caesar, who set the denarius at 3.9g. Legionary (professional soldier) pay was doubled to 225 denarii per year.


3.9g 97.5–98% Tiberius slightly improved the fineness as he gathered his infamous hoard of 675 million denarii.
64–68 Debasement 3.41g 93.5%
1/96 pound. This more closely matched the Greek drachm. In 64, Nero reduced the standard of the aureus to 45 to the Roman pound (7.2 g) and of the denarius to 96 to the Roman pound (3.30 g). He also lowered the denarius to 94.5% fine. Successive emperors lowered the fineness of the denarius; in 180 Commodus reduced its weight by one-eighth to 108 to the pound.

Debasement 3.41g 93.5% Reduction in silver content under Domitian
148–161 Debasement 3.41g 83.5%
193–235 Debasement 3.41g 83.5% Several emperors (193–235) steadily debased the denarius from a standard of 78.5% to 50% fine. In 212 Caracalla reduced the weight of the aureus from 45 to 50 to the Roman pound. They also coined the aes from a bronze alloy with a heavy lead admixture, and discontinued fractional denominations below the as. In 215 Caracalla introduced the antoninianus (5.1 g; 52% fine), a double denarius, containing 80% of the silver of two denarii. The coin invariably carried the radiate imperial portrait. Elagabalus demonetized the coin in 219, but the senatorial emperors Pupienus and Balbinus in 238 revived the antoninianus as the principal silver denomination which successive emperors reduced to a miserable billon coin (2.60 g; 2% fine).
241 Debasement 3.41g 48%
274 Double Denarius 3.41g 5% In 274, the emperor Aurelian reformed the currency and his denominations remained in use until the great recoinage of Diocletian in 293. Aurelian struck a radiate aurelianianus of increased weight (84 to the Roman pound) and fineness (5% fine) that was tariffed at five notational denarii (sometimes called "common denarii" or "denarii communes"by modern writers, although this phrase does not appear in any ancient text). The coin carried on the reverse the numerals XXI, or in Greek κα (both meaning 21 or 20:1). Some scholars believe that this shows that the coin was equal to 20 sestertii (or 5 denarii), but it is more likely that it was intended to guarantee that it contained 1/20 or 5% of silver, and was thus slightly better than baby of the coins in circulation. The aureus (minted at 50 or 60 to the Roman pound) was exchanged at rates of 600 to 1,000 denarii, equivalent to 120 to 200 aurelianiani. Rare fractions of billion denarii, and of bronze sestertii and asses, were also coined. At the same time, Aurelian reorganized the provincial mint at Alexandria, and he minted an improved Alexandrine tetradrachm that might have been tariffed at par with the aurelianianus.

The emperor Tacitus in 276 briefly doubled the silver content of the aurelianianus and halved its tariffing to 2.5 d.c. (hence coins of Antioch and Tripolis (in Phoenicia) carry the value marks X.I), but Probus (276–282) immediately returned the aurelianianus to the standard and tariffing of Aurelian, and was the official tariffing until the reform of Diocletian in 293.


Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.

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 Lord’s 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.


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