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A guide to Roman Coins

Updated on February 17, 2013

Roman Coins

Roman Coins are probably the most beautiful and interesting coins to collect.Each coin is literally a piece of history. In the past those amazing pieces of metal (gold,silver,bronze) were mostly found in museums and in the private collections of the elite. However, in the past few years with the rapid expansion of internet sales and auction sites like eBay,along with the wealth of information found on-line is now easier - and cheaper than ever to start a collection of Roman Coins.I am not an expert on Roman Coins but I will do my best to share the knowledge I have about the topic with you. The coin presented here is a gold aureus of Roman Emperor Germanicus.

Image Source

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Some history first

A few basic facts and information need to be said first before moving on,since Roman Coins - and coins in the ancient world in general changed, as history itself changed over the centuries.Generally speaking there are two separate periods of Roman coinage which are as follows:

300 BC - 27 BC The Roman Republic

The Romans were a bit late in adopting a coinage system, especially taking into consideration that their neighbouring areas were already minting coins a few centuries back.The first type of coin that appeared in the Roman world was the large bronze bar known as the aes signatum which was as heavy as 1,6 kg ! Later circular coins were produced as well, influenced by the Greeks as they feature mainly mythical scenes and deities in their designs.

27 BC - 476 AD The Roman Empire

The end of the Roman Republic came to an end when Augustus rose to the throne as the first emperor.This, as expected changed the Roman coinage.The coin periods of the Roman Empire are categorized further into three time periods according to their values and denomination. It starts with the Augustan values (27 BC - 301 AD), , followed by the Diocletian values ( 301-305 AD) and finishing with the Late Empire coin values (337 - 476 A.D)..

Statue of the first Roman Emperor Augustus as a younger Octavian.

The Republic Values

The Denarius

The Denarius was a small silver coin weighting around 6.8 grams at the early years of the republic with a gradual decline towards the end of the period,reaching 3.9 grams.

Example of a Roman Denarius

CNG [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sesterius

During Republican times this was issued only in rare occasions. It was a small silver coin, usually a quarter of the weight of the denarius.

The Dupondius

This was a large brass coin valued at 1/5th of the sesterius.

The Ass

A bronze coin,half the value of the dupondius.

The Semis,Triens,Quadrans,Quincunx,Uncia

All these were smaller bronze coins. The semis had a value of 1/20th of the sesterius while the smaller republican value, was the uncia valued at 1/120th of the sesterius.

Below you can see how the coin values were formed in relation to the gold aureus.

A Dupondius coin

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-2.5, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins: An Official Whitman Guidebook
Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins: An Official Whitman Guidebook

This small book is easy and enjoyable to read by non-experts on the field. I believe it is a great introduction to anyone who wants to learn more about ancient coins. To top that is available at a really great price. True value for your money.


The Augustan Values

The beginning of a new era in Roman history saw the introduction of new coins as well. Two gold coins were introduced, the aureus and the Quinarius Aureus (hald aureus). The value of the aureus was 25 denarius, while weighting 7,3 g. The coin values in relation to the aureus were formed as shown in the table below:

Aureus of Emperor Augustus

Aureus of Emperor Tituts

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Informative books about Roman Coins

The Diocletean Values

A new era began during the reign of Emperor Diocletean with a reform of the Roman coinage system. New values were introduced and the gold aureus was replaced by a lighter coin,the gold solidus. The coin values in relation to the solidus were as follows:

The Late Empire Values

The last years of the Roman Empire brought a new reform to the coinage system. Now, the coin values were formed as shown in the table below:

By Rasiel Suarez.Rasiel at en.wikipedia [GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

Roman Coins on YouTube

Roman Coin Hoards

By Portable Antiquities Scheme from London, England [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Roman Coin Hoards and Finds on YouTube

Please leave your comments & suggestions below. I do appreciate your feedback !


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    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      This is a beautiful page. I can't imagine anybody finding our modern money as cool and strange and beautiful as we find these ancient coins, but I suppose enough time makes all things more interesting.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

      In find ancient coins fascinating.

    • profile image

      Juliafaustina 5 years ago

      Wow ! Great coins !

    • DaveP2307 profile image

      DaveP2307 5 years ago

      I used to be an avid coin collector some time ago.

      I never found any Roman coins with my metal detector unfortunately.

      Great Lens.