The Other Coin: The Roman Denarius

The Roman denarius, a small silver coin about the size of a dime, was the most
common coin in circulation. The daily wage for a unskilled laborer was one
denarius. The denarius was first struck in 211 BC 10 bronze asses, giving the
denarius its name which translates to "containing ten". The denarius continued to be
the main coin of the empire until it was replaced by the antoninianus in the middle of
the 3rd century AD. The fineness of the silver content varied with political and
economic circumstances. Even after the denarius was no longer regularly issued, it
continued to be used as an accounting device and the name was applied to later
Roman coins in a way that is not understood. The lasting legacy of the denarius can
be seen in the use of 'd' as the abbreviation for the British 'penny'. The medieval
French Denier and also survives in the common Arabic name for a currency unit,
the dinar.
The Republican denarius began with a common head of Roma obverse and the twin
mounted Dioscuri on the reverse, closely followed by a chariot reverse with various
gods driving various chariots. Around 140 BC the reverse became more varied and
by 120 BC both the obverse and reverse were used to honor gods, ancestors, voting
(the coins were often distributed as bribes to vote), or anything that struck one’s
fancy. Julius Caesar was the first living Roman to put his portrait on a denarius, and
this was one of the many reasons that people regarded him as seeking to become a
king of Rome. After him all the emperors put their portraits on the obverse and their
political statement on the reverse.

Numismatically yours, David Elliott