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Sesterce of Gallienus

The sesterce [lat. sestertius , plural sestertii (abbreviation SS. )] was coin and the main unit of account (monetary) in the Roman Republic (3rd century BC) and imperial times up to the emperor Diocletian (3rd century AD). The sesterce originally had the value of two and a half As , hence the designation "the third (As) half" = semis tertius (as) . From about 130 BC. BC it was then 4 aces or 2 dupondias.

The original value of two and a half As corresponds to the symbol IIS: II for "two" + S for semis "half". The assumption that this resulted in the $ sign has turned out to be incorrect.

IIS later became HS . Larger sums such as 10 HS were z. B. as HSX (decem sestertii), 1000 HS as HSM (mille sestertii) or 2000 HS as HSMM (duo milia sestertii) in written records.

Development of the coin unit

The sesterce first appeared in the 3rd century BC. BC in the Roman Republic, was struck in silver at this time and weighed just over a gram. In the 1st century BC The sesterce was first struck in bronze under Julius Caesar and given in large quantities.

With the coin reform under Augustus , the sesterce took on its final form. From then on it was minted from Aurichalkum , a brass-like copper-zinc alloy, had a diameter of 27 to 35 millimeters and a weight of about 27.3 grams (one ounce ). This sesterce determined the coin economy for the next two hundred years. Although the weight and zinc content decreased steadily, the appearance and the value of the coin remained constant as a dividing coin .

The sesterce was also the book currency until the coin reform of the emperor Diocletian. Public expenditure, cashless business and bookkeeping were carried out using the sesterce as the unit of account. Like the other coins of the first two centuries of the imperial era, the sesterce fell victim to inflation , as the face value soon exceeded the material value several times over, especially since the silver content of denarius and antoninian sank constantly. The last brief bloom experienced the sesterce under Postumus , the Augustus of the Gallic Empire, who issued double sesterces struck in Cologne .

The regular production of sesterces - like that of all other bronze coins - was stopped due to inflation with the issue of the year 264, both under Emperor Gallienus in Rome (Sear, Roman Coins and their Values ​​III, p. 310 ff.) And under Postumus in the Gallic Empire (Sear, p. 373 ff.). The last bronze coins of a comparable size were minted 269 in Cologne (Sear, p. 376, no. 11106) and 275 in Rome (Sear, p. 437, no. 116969), although these may be special mintings not used for regular payment transactions acted.

The larger of the bronze coins produced between 268 and 284 are sometimes referred to in the specialist literature as reduced sesterces because of their much smaller format , but they could also have had the value of aces.

The sesterce was also often referred to as a numus . In Greece it was called tetrassar (i) on or noymmos .

Values ​​(imperial period) up to around 200 AD

Roman coins in circulation from the early Imperial Era arranged according to their value (total value: 211.75 pp.)
( Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln )

Purchasing power

The interpretation of historical wages and prices is generally difficult, since the traditional information mostly relates to different times or regions. As a guide, the following information is given for the 1st century AD for the Germanic provinces:

job Merit
Legionnaire (team) 1 sesterce per day
Legionnaire (NCO) 1.5–9 sesterces per day
Centurion 30 sesterces per day
Craftsman (bricklayer, carpenter, blacksmith, baker) 1-1.5 sesterces per day
Teacher 1–4 sesterces per student and month
Lawyer 40 sesterces per court date
Financial procurator (for Germania and the Gallia Belgica ) 200,000 sesterces per year
Governor of the province of Gallia Belgica in Trier 300,000 sesterces per year
Would Sesterces Would Sesterces
Mules 520 Olive oil (0.5 L) 0001
pig 020th Dry cheese (1 pound) 0000.5-0.75
Fattening goose 004th tunic 0015th
chicken 001-2 Cleaning a tunic 0004th
Wheat (1  mode = 8.73 L) 004th 1 pair of shoes 0012-16
Country wine (0.5 L) 000.25-0.5 Plate, lamp 0000.25
Falerner wine (0.5 L) 001 Drinking vessel 0000.5
Pork (1 pound) 000.5-0.75 Entry to the thermal bath 0000.06
Beef (1 pound) 000.5 slave 2000


Web links

Commons : Sestertius  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Franz X. Weilmeyr: General numismatic Lexicon, or coin-operated dictionary. Second part. Mayer'sche Buchhandlung, Salzburg 1817, p. 20 digitized version of the Bavarian State Library
  2. The Sestertius . Article on
  3. ^ Karl-Josef Gilles: The Trier Gold Treasure , Theis, Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, ISBN 9783806200034