As we saw in previous post, it has been necessary centuries till we get into the monetary system we have nowadays. It was essential the Classic Greek period, VII  to I Century b.C. Although the first coins were discovered in Minor Asia (in the Lyria Kingdom, Turkey now) the Greeks were the ones who developed the mint system, adapted sizes, materials, and beautiful designs during three historical periods: Archaic, Classic and Hellenistic.

At the end of the Hellenistic period (the death of Alexander the Great and the expansion of Greek culture through commerce) and Greece was annexed by the Romans, it started the splendor of Roman numismatics.

Like any other ancient civilization, Romans used bartering in transactions and livestock was the first unit of measure: pecunia. This system was transformed around the V Century  b.C. thanks to commercial relations and contact with Greece. A politically calm period in Rome helped too.

First roman coins

The evolution of Roman numismatic history through its coin would be like the following:

·        Aes Rude: (III century b.C) First bronze or copper ingots with no mark. It
is not exactly a coin but it was an interchange unit. Its value would depend on
its weight which could be between 8 and 300 grams in the first period, reaching
1.600 grams later on. The aes divisions were used like small change in the most common transactions:  semis,triente, quadrant, sextant and ounce made out of bronze, copper, brass or even vellum.
·       Denarius: when Roman expansion reached the rest of Italy and further nations, over all the Hellenes in the Campaign, it went through a different way of understanding things, in a Greek way. After the war against Pyrrhus (280/271 B.C.) Rome conquered all of south Italy’s Greek polis and didn’t accept money diversity. That’s how the denarius was born, as a common coin minted in Rome for the whole Italy. The first denarius was found near Capua. The denarius was made out of silver, it was equivalent to ten aes and it was a bit heavier than Athena’s drachma. Cooper aes and its fractions were still circulating for small transactions. 

·        Sesterce: a quarter of a denarius and marked with an HS. Also in silver but not as heavy as the denarius. It was created as the aes became too small with the common use of the denarius.

Golden coins
Rome kept the right to mint coins in precious metals and centralized all mint jobs during Republic and Empire’s first Centuries. No local authority was allowed to mint coins, only the cooper ones. However, some oriental provinces minted silver coins but because they were only used locally to satisfy local needs.
The State already kept pure gold and silver ingots long before, but it wasn’t till the August period that gold coins were minted. Before him, they were only minted for military reasons or emergency situations.
The main golden coins were:

·        Denarius aureus: minted under Julius Caesar era. It was necessary to specify the name of the silver denarius, now called denarius argentus. The aureus was equivalent to 25 denarius argentus or to 100 sesterces. Its division was the quinary or half aureus.

·        Tremissis: golden coin equivalent to a third part of an aureus.

·        Aureus solid: coin introduced by Constantine I substituting the aureus one. It was equivalent to around 2000 denarius. It was the most common coin during the late empire and the following Byzantine Empire, when it became to be called nomisma. Its divisions were the same as the aureus plus some others created by Constantine I like the siliqua: the 24th  part of a solid aureus

Other coins in the Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome circulated coins of other nations were not minted in Rome because they helped commercial transactions and the integration of all provinces inside the roman market. The more common were:

         Greek Drachma, Didalco and Tetradrachma

         Mesopotamian Talent and Mina

         Greek and Phoenician colonies Cistoforo and Obolus.

 Are you an Ancient Roman coins collector? Would you share a piece with us?


La moneda romana: origen,valor y evolución –
Monedasromanas (
El sistema monetario en la antigua Roma (

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