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The denarius ( Latin denarius , from deni : ten each ) was an ancient, medieval and modern coin denomination , initially fine silver and of medium value, becoming increasingly inferior due to inflationary processes and finally copper . It was originally considered "ten times" of a whole, namely ten times the Roman unit of weight and money, the bronze - ace . The Denarius was the ancient forerunner of German pfennig and is still used today coin or currency name dinars .

As a multiple of a whole, early Roman denarii - in addition to the As coins and their fragments - also had a value in the mint , namely the value number X (for 10 aces). Some later denarii carried the XVI in relation to the 16 bronze aces, which were now reduced in weight, whereby it was around 130 BC. In addition to a metal price shift between silver and bronze. Accordingly, the early half denarius ( Quinarius nummus ) had the value number V and the early silver sesterce as a quarter denarius had the value number IIS (in documents often also written as HS) for "2 ½". The nominal values ​​were given from around 100 BC. Chr. Omitted again. Only in some late Roman bronze coins do Roman numerals appear on Follis coins, apparently as multiples of the value of counter pennies ( denar communis ), which can, however, also be interpreted as the weight of a bronze coin base .


Value and depreciation

From about 211 BC. Chr. Until the 3rd century n. Chr. Was the denarius, the main silver coin of Rome with initially moderate purchasing power. The purchasing power of a denarius, measured against today's goods and services, was with Emperor Augustus around 13 BC. BC, still around 15 to 25 euros and fell to a few euros by the end of the 2nd century AD, only to expire in the 3rd century AD with the silver content dwindling further to almost zero . Today 's pure silver price in 2019 of around 2 euros with around 4 to 4.5 g gross weight of an early denarius cannot be compared with the purchasing power of that time. The cost of silver mining in Rome and thus the silver price at that time were much higher than today due to the significantly lower productivity in ore mining and further processing.

The late, almost silver-free denarius, together with its copper piece As, disappeared from circulation in the 3rd century AD as a result of inflationary processes, but appears to have remained in use for a long time as a counting denarius, the denar communis as the “equivalent” for about 1/6000 to 1/8500 of an aureus or about 1 / 50,000 of a pound of gold weighing 327.45 g. Until around AD 200, amounts of money in contracts, wages, prices, etc. were almost always only given in “good” quarter denars, the sesterces. In late Roman price lists, for example with Emperor Diocletian around 301, the large amounts of the already canceled counted denarii no longer had any concrete reference to the early, cheap denarius and sesterce prices.

Top row: around 157 BC ( Roman Republic ), around 73 ( Vespasian ), around 161 ( Marcus Aurelius ), around 194 ( Septimius Severus )
Bottom row: around 199 ( Caracalla ), around 200 ( Julia Domna ), around 219 ( Elagabal ), around 236 ( Maximinus Thrax )

The first minting of a denarius as a Kurant coin took place during the Roman Republic from around 211 BC. BC, probably during the Second Punic War . Its predecessor was probably the one in or for Rome after about 241 BC. Silver quadrigatus embossed in the Greek style with the inscription ROMA. The denarius formed together with the as until the currency reform under Emperor Augustus , from around 27 BC. BC, a silver-bronze currency system with a value ratio of about 1: 120. Until the Roman Empire , around 64 AD, the denarius was almost always a high-fineness silver coinage without intentional copper alloy with a rough weight of around 4.55 g (1/72 Roman pound). Later the rough weight decreased to 3.89 g (1/84 pound). In Nero's time , the weight was reduced again to 3.4 g (1/96 pound), which was equivalent to the rough weight of three scripula or about one drachma at that time .

The fluctuation ranges of the rough weight of many Roman coins, including those of the same minting batch, can be described as very high compared to today, at ± 5–20%, whereby coin trimming or material removal was certainly the order of the day. The cast pellets were apparently not adjusted in terms of weight either . Up until around AD 200, when times were still economically stable, deteriorations in the fineness had no notable influence on the purchasing power of the denarius within a generation. The denarius was treated like a modern dividing coin - i.e. at face value and not according to material value - and therefore was rarely reweighed. It was only with the decline of West Rome in the 3rd century, when state authority fell and copper money arose en masse, that purchasing power collapsed.

The value of the denarius initially corresponded to that of 10 bronze aces and thus the daily wage of a worker; later, from around 130 BC. Chr., The value of 16 diminished asses. With regard to the silver content, the denarius was mistrusted early on, which is why "sawn" coins ( serrati ) were issued at times , which also offered optical protection against the value-reducing circumcisions. The later fluting of the edges of coins with knurling machines from around 1700 had its origin in the Serratus.

In times of war it also officially happened that silver-plated copper denarii were issued at the compulsory rate, which, however, are said to have been exchanged for real silver denarii after the end of the war; see also Subaeratus . In the course of the imperial era, the silver content was reduced only slightly after about AD 64 by increasing the addition of copper and then further and further. By 200 AD it was only around 40 to 50 percent, so the denarius was a billon coin . As a result, it finally became the legal divisional coin with reference to the aureus . In addition to copper, tin or lead was also partly alloyed with the silver. As a result, the coins did not turn dark and reddish quite as quickly as with a high copper content; In addition, the silver saved could be used for further denarius issues. The rough weight of the aureus has also been reduced over the decades, partly also in terms of fineness, which is visible in specimens with a "darker appearance". In contrast to the denarius, however, it always remained a Roman curant coin.

Due to the constant decrease in weight and fineness of the denarius, a currency catastrophe occurred in the middle of the 3rd century when silver was struck. The fineness of the denarius is reduced from 1/100 to 1/140 of the Roman pound. After that the denarius appeared only rarely and was only a silver-plated copper coin, for example under Gallienus . The early Siliqua of late antiquity could be seen as an attempt at denarius reform after the Argenteus had failed.

The coin deterioration of the denarius, the aureus and other denominations was not even. There were also brief increases in gross weight and fineness, perhaps because more precious metals were available for a short time (prey metal) or because the standard weights fluctuated. These short-term improvements in coins occurred every now and then in all denominations until the fall of West Rome, but this did not affect the tendency to decline in value over the centuries.

Double denarius: the Antoninian

As a result of increasing inflation, double denars were first minted under Caracalla (the post-ancient name is Antoninian ; the original name is unknown, according to recent research it is supposed to be Bicharactus ). The Antoninian also took the path of devaluation - like the denarius before. Especially in Aurelian's time , a thin silver surface was applied to the antoninians, which were now only copper, by means of a special acid treatment, the silver brew (also known as white boiling), which was almost equivalent to state coin fraud. The contemporary merchants - money changers ( nummularii ), bankers ( argentarii ) and traders - knew very well how to differentiate between the fineness and thus the true values ​​of the various coins and also made their profit from them.


The early republican denarii after 211 BC. At the beginning of the 4th century BC were almost always provided with the head profile of the god Mars , the Roman city goddess Roma , Bellona or Diana , which is not always easy to distinguish from the helmeted head profile alone. At that time it was not yet common to depict living people. The tradition of depicting mostly female deities or patron saints has continued to this day: from Britannia , Germania , Helvetia , Marianne , Franconia and other female allegories for countries, regions and cities to the figureheads on the bow of sailing ships and the battleships of the First World War . Eagles, crowns, sceptres, horns of plenty, laurel and oak leaves can still be found on currency today.

Under the Roman dictators Sulla and Pompeius , and later especially with Caesar , the head of the now “godlike” mint was added to the name instead of the Roma or another god, even if not on all denarii. Early on it was customary to also emboss the name of the mint master, who as a high republican official guaranteed the quality of the coins, and various stamps. Today these are interpreted as "serial numbers" of embossing dies. Later there were only small, symbolic mint master marks , as the place on the coins was increasingly reserved for the imperial mint master.

It was not until the imperial era that denarii were almost regularly provided with the natural, that is, unadorned portrait of the mint owner (which, however, no longer "aged" in Augustus ') and with the mostly extensive, now abbreviated title. This allows a fairly precise dating of the coins and thus often also the archaeological finds. Most of the portraits were decorated with a laurel wreath during the entire imperial period. Often coins were also issued with the portrait of the wife or mother of the emperor - or with the portrait of his (adoptive) son and the Caesar title of this future successor.

Coin treasure: 1136 denarii from the Ober-Florstadt fort , mainly from the 2nd century AD.

The backs of the coins are designed very differently and were used in particular for propaganda , for example by using allegories to refer to the care of the emperor or his heroic deeds ( cornucopia , clementia , providentia , indulgentia , securitas etc.) or to pay homage to certain Roman legions after military victories . During the time of the soldier emperors , the legions that had proclaimed the new emperor were also honored .

In general one can say that especially the Roman coins in a time of widespread illiteracy were provided with allegorical figures that had a high symbolic power and were also a hallmark of the face value. In the absence of any other visual communication, all ancient coins had the character of a leaflet. In addition to the image of the dictator or emperor, deities, cult objects, weapons, tools, buildings, ships, animals, and horse-drawn cartoons were particularly popular in mostly high artistic quality.

In the imperial era, the coin rack and thus the right to design precious metal coins (such as aureus and denarius) lay directly with the emperor. The Senate had the right to design brass and bronze coins (such as Sesterz, Dupondius, As, Semis and Quadrans), as indicated by the abbreviation SC ( senatus consulto , "on Senate resolution"). Occasionally, the emperor helped to determine the size of the coins when it came to the image of a person or a process important to him, since the bronze coins were particularly suitable for propaganda purposes due to their mostly larger diameter.

Embossing quality

The high reproduction quality of the coins from permanent mints was lost with the collapse of the Roman Empire and was only achieved again from around 1500 - for the taler coins of the modern era. The coins from the mobile field mints of the military legions were of poorer quality. There was either a lack of good die cutters or simply the time for careful coinage , as the troops constantly had to be supplied with fresh money.

With the extensive Roman denarius mintings, a rough distinction can be made between real coins minted in Rome or Italy, imperial privileged provincial mintings, military mintings on campaigns and “barbaric” imitations. Although the denarius pieces, such as the bronze ace, were minted much more frequently than the denarius at that time, they have relatively seldom survived in good to very good condition to our times due to their greater susceptibility to corrosion and long circulation . A “normal” silver denarius can therefore be acquired relatively inexpensively from collectors today compared to the well-preserved brass and bronze pieces.

Parallel currencies

The denarius (like the aureus) was practically the uniform, dominant currency in the entire Roman state until around AD 200. At the same time, however, there were even older regional currencies in some provinces, based on the Greek drachma or the Hebrew shekel , for example . The regional currencies were mostly very popular in Rome as tribute payments. Their transfer rate was designed in such a way that they still brought in a lucrative treasure trove after remelting and redesigning. For example, the cistophorus of the province of Asia was officially considered to be three denarii as regional money, although three denarii contained around one gram less silver. So 100 cistophori could be exchanged for 300 denarii and converted into 347 new denarii.

middle Ages

Silver denarius of the Count of Barcelona Alfonso I, ca.1180
Silver denarius of the Ascanian electors Johann I and Otto III. from around 1250, depicting an elector with two trees

The denarius was successfully reintroduced as the main coin of the Carolingian Empire through the coin reform of Charlemagne in the 8th century (→ Carolingian coin system ). In the Middle Ages , the denarius was synonymous with the penny . This also explains the abbreviation “d”, which was used in Great Britain until 1971 for the “old” penny . The symbol “₰” used for the penny in German-speaking countries is also a stylized “d”. The names for the French denier , the Portuguese dinheiro and the dinar are derived from the medieval denarius. In the early Middle Ages, a denarius was roughly the value of ten chickens.

Early modern age

Outside the Holy Roman Empire, the denarius remained in circulation as a small silver coin in some countries in the early modern period. It was minted in the Kremnitz Mint for the Kingdom of Hungary under Emperor Leopold I (1658–1705) .


Web links

Commons : Denarius  - collection of images
Wiktionary: Denarius  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations