Roman Coins

Introduction to Roman Coins and Brief history of Roman Coins

One of the most fascinating ways of learning about ancient Rome is by studying its coins. Roman coins were not just a monetary system, but physical reflections on the time they were minted. Some have faces of the Emperors, some celebrate the gods of the pre-Christian time, and many fascinating allegorical and mythical symbols were also put on coins.

Roman coins can be roughly categorized into four historic periods: early Republican, late Republican, early Imperial, and late Imperial.

The earliest Republican money was uncoined bronze. Cast bronze bars also preceded the aes grave, which were cast coins with different weights and face values. The aes grave were minted in Rome under government supervision. The standard of the time was the one pound bronze as. The usual as bore the head of Janus looking to either side and the prow of a boat. Many asses (plural of as) were crude and poorly struck.

Roman armies moving southward encountered silver coins being used by Greek colonies. By 269 B.C. the Romans were also minting silver coins called denarii. These silver coins were used in the southern regions and circulated independently from the bronze coins. They were accepted as payment in Greek territories even though the regions issued their own coins. Early denarii had the head of Roma on one side and the heavenly twins Castor and Pollux on the other.

In the late Roman Republic, elected magistrates who issued coinage used coins as a method of communicating their loyalties to specific Roman generals, who were often in conflict with each other. Coins of this time promoted causes, famous names, and victories in battle. Some of those big names were Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and Brutus. Historians attribute the end of the Roman Republic to various events during this era, such as Julius Caesar’s reign as dictator that ended in assassination in 44 B.C., and the powers granted to Octavian (who became the Emperor Augustus) in 27 B.C.

By the time of the early Roman Empire and the first emperor, Augustus, in 27 B.C., denarii had been around for 180 years. Augustus added a large brass coin called the sestertius which was around 33 mm in diameter, with a thickness of about 4 mm. These larger coins allowed emperors of the time to add more in the way of titles for themselves in the inscriptions. Roman coins of this period bore images of allegorical figures, and sometimes of the wives and other relatives of the Emperor. This type of coinage was the standard in the Roman Empire for 200 years.

The late Imperial period begins with the Emperor Diocletian, who became Emperor in 285 A.D. This period was characterized by inscriptions in Latin and mint marks on the coins. By this time, Rome had begun its long decline that reached its nadir in the fifth century, and this was reflected in the coins. Less silver was used, and inflation increased. Coins began to decrease in size and quality of artwork. Many new denominations came into use as the empire crumbled.

Perhaps the most collected of the Roman coins are the ones that circulated near the time of the death of Jesus Christ. But other people collect coins depicting a favorite Emperor, or covering the various regions of the time when Rome was a republic. Some collect based on the type of metal used. There were enough Roman coins struck that a person just getting started with collecting can begin on a limited budget and pursue any number of different themes.