The Roman coin: origin, value and evolution –

We live in a society where we need money for everything, to be able to feed ourselves, to have a roof over our heads and even to have fun. We work to obtain money, since with it we will buy everything we need, but what we have so normalized many years ago was something new.

In Superhistory we are going to tell you all about roman coins and how the Roman Empire was one of the first peoples to use them and put bartering aside.

Origin of the Roman coin

Although much of the economy of ancient Roman society was based on its coins and monetary system, we must bear in mind that this was not always the case. In the Rome of the past a system was used to trade known as barterwhere the first unit of trade was cattle and was called “pecunia”, which led to the term “pecuniary”. Barter was replaced, little by little, thanks to the labor and commercial relations that began to be established with the Greeks around the 5th century BC and after the internal problems within Rome’s politics stabilized.

The first units used within this new monetary system were a few ingots, which lacked any type of brand or registration that were made, as a general rule, with materials such as bronze or copper. These ingots were called aes rude Y their final value depended on their own weightthe one that weighed the least was 8 grams up to 300 grams at most.

Bullion continued to function as a form of currency for many years, expanding in value to bars weighing 1 kilo and 600 grams. Finally, the Romans took the Libra as a measure, which had an equivalence of 1 to 324 grams.

Roman coin value

Not all coins in Rome had the same value, as is the case today. We have euro coins and euro cents, which when added together, acquire the same value as the first, that is what happens with Roman coins.

  • Silver Denarius: This was the official coin of the Roman Empire and was made of quality silver. After the defeat suffered by Pirro, the coin began to be minted and they decided to make it a copy of the coin used in Magna Graecia, the drachma. this one had a value equivalent to 10 aes and had a mark of X, to refer to its value. After being widely used during the Republic, at the time of the Empire this coin began to be minted in iron and it was, with the reign of Valeriano, that the coin was no longer silver, but a mixture of silver with copper and tin, which received the name fleece.
  • Sesterce: this coin had a quarter of the value of the denarius and the coin was marked with HS. Although the normal thing is that this coin was made of copper, units made with silver have been seen. Their value was 800 gramsalthough there are some cases that had the value of 1000 grams.
  • Quinary: this currency also comes from the denarius, and has an equivalence of half a denarius. To see a quinary, you just had to pay attention to whether the coin had marked a V, since it was also worth 5 aes. At the beginning of the Empire, this coin was minted with gold and could range from 10 silver denarii to 25, although this was not always the case. Its point of greatest circulation was when Julius Caesar was in power until the reign of Augustus, but its price and use began to drop with Aurelian at the helm of the Empire.
  • Tremissis: It was about one coin made with gold and that it was worth a third part of the quinario de oro. With the arrival of Constantine I, this ended up being replaced by one whose name was a golden solid and that had a value close to 2,000 denarii and that after the Byzantine Empire received the name of nomisma, from which our current word payroll comes.

Evolution of Roman currency

To talk about the evolution of the coins of ancient Rome, we must take into account that peoples like Greece already had them and that the Romans adopted some of their bases when trading with them. And it is that during the time of the Empire, a division was made between the different authorities to be able to create coins according to what materials and that is that despite the fact that some towns were allowed to mint their bronze coins, in no case could they do so with higher value metals, such as gold or silver. It was Rome who was in charge of minting the coins with precious metals, especially in the Republic and the first years of the Empire. Certain provinces did mint their silver coins, but these were only valid for trade between them and had no value in other cities.

The government of Rome was not interested in minting the coins that were made of bronze, not only because they already had coins of greater value that they could use, but also because in many cases minting them involved more expense than final benefit. This ends up causing very well-made imitations of bronze coins to appear, since the coins that had a higher value were not affordable for the entire population in Rome. Despite this, knowing that they were unofficial coins, Rome ended up allowing them and they began to be minted in greater numbers by nearby towns, since the government only wanted the bronze coins to pay its officials.

In ancient Rome not only the coins they minted were used, but also the coins of other towns circulated due to trade with other civilizations or peoples, the most common were the following:

  • Greece: drachma, dicalco, tetradrachma.
  • Mesopotamia: talent and mine.
  • Spain: victories.
  • Greek and Phoenician colonies: cistophorus of Pergamon, obolus, shekel, triobolus and trishekel.

As you have been able to see, the ancient Roman coins had a very great impact not only for the societies of ancient Rome, but many ways of valuing our coins come from their knowledge and experiences when carrying out commercial transactions.