What Is A Roman Coin Worth?


The Roman monetary system, until the 3rd century was complicated, based on the Greek drachma and included bronze coins as well as the more traditional silver. Around 212BC, a new silver denomination was introduced. This basic Roman coin was the denarius.  It was re-tariffed in 141BC and evolved into fractions of a denarius from silver down through bronze coinage.

Despite the creation of the denarius, bronze was the principle element in the Roman coinage system for some years. The bronze, lower denominations of Roman coins, under Augustus, were as follows:

Sestertius one quarter denarius
Dupondius half sestertius
As quarter sestertius
Semis half as
Quadrans quarter as

The suppression of silver coins did not last forever.  Romes conquest of the world provided booty in the form of silver, which took over in Rome from 194BC onwards and by 157BC, silver Roman coins identified Rome as the ruler of the world. The gold coin, the aureus, produced in quantity by Julius Caesar, bore a value of 25 denarii.

After the second Punic war, Roman coinage gradually became the coinage of the whole of the Mediterranean world.  The denarius was the silver coin of Sicily, and in Spain, the Romans actively encouraged the creation of silver and bronze coins modelled on the denarius.  As more and more of the Mediterranean came under Roman rule, the use of Roman coins spread, to Africa, Greece and the east, and Gaul.  Only Egypt, under the Romans in 30BC, remained monetarily independent from the Roman world.

The insurrection of Sulla in 84BC ensured a production of gold coins as well as silver.  The availability of precious metal combined with a need for Sulla to pay his soldiers made it a necessity.  This was followed by Caesar who converted the vast quantities of gold, acquired as booty from Gaul and Britain, into the largest gold issue produced by Rome before the reign of Nero.  By 44BC, the distribution of gold coins, or aurei, to the troops had become a regular and accepted occurrence.

The mainstream coinage was produced in the provinces and the base metal coinage of the east, in hundreds of city coinages.  Its unclear how the empire formed a single circulation area but the monetary system of the Roman Empire always operated on very narrow margins.  In normal times, about 80 per cent of the imperial budget was covered by taxes; the rest by topping up with coins minted from newly mined metal.

The collecting of Roman coins, today, combined with the study of different social and historical aspects of the Roman Empire, can give us a fascinating glimpse into the past.  See if you can find out where and when your Roman coin might have been used.  Imagine who held it, what it might have purchased. Its a fascinating subject.