Top row left to right: A.D 157 BC Roman Republic, A.D AD 73 Vespasian, A.D 161 Marcus Aurelius, A.D 194 Septimius Severus;
Second row left to right: A.D 199 Caracalla, A.D 200 Julia Domna, A.D 219 Elagabalus, A.D 236 Maximinus Thrax

In the Roman currency system, the denarius (plural: denarii) was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus. The word denarius is derived from the Latin dēnī "containing ten", as its value was 10 asses; it may also be the origin of the word dinar (see that page for further discussion).



An early form of the denarius was first struck five years before the first Punic War, in 269 B.C.[1] with a weight of 6.8 grams on average at the time or 148 of a Roman pound. Contact with the Greeks prompted a need for silver coinage in addition to the bronze ases the Romans were using at that time. This was a Greek-style silver coin, very similar to didrachm and drachma struck in Metapontion[citation needed] and other Greek cities in Southern Italy. These coins were inscribed for Rome, but closely resemble their Greek counterparts. They were most likely used for trade purposes and seldom used in Rome.

Around 225 B.C. the first distinctively Roman silver coin appears.[2] Classic historians often cite these coins as denarii, but they are classified by modern numismatists as quadrigatus. The name quadrigatus comes from the quadriga or four-horse chariot on the reverse, which was the prototype for the most common designs used on Roman silver coins for the next 150 years.[3][4][5]

Rome overhauled its coinage around 211 B.C. and introduced a standardized denarius alongside a short lived denomination called the victoriatus. This standardized denarius contained 4.5 grams on average at the time or 172 of a Roman pound of silver. It was the backbone of Roman currency through the Roman Republic with fair consistency at this weight. [6]

The denarius began to experience slow debasement towards the end of the Republic. Under the rule of Augustus its silver content fell to 3.9 grams (a theoretical weight of 184 of a Roman pound). It then remained at near this weight until the time of Nero, when it was reduced to 196 of a pound, or 3.4 grams. Regular debasement of the silver began after Nero. Later Roman emperors reduced it to a weight of 3 grams around the late 3rd century.[7]

The value at its introduction was 10 asses, giving the denarius its name which translates to "containing ten". In about 141 BC it was re-tariffed at 16 asses, to reflect the decrease in weight of the as. The denarius continued to be the main coin of the Roman Empire until it was replaced by the antoninianus in the middle of the 3rd century. The last issuance for this coin seems to be bronze coins issued by Aurelian between 270 and 275 AD, and in the first years of the reign of Diocletian. For more details, see the article 'Denarius' in A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins by John R. Melville-Jones (1990).[8][9]

Comparisons and silver content

Flavia Domitilla, wife of Vespasian and mother of Titus and Domitian.

It is problematic to give even rough comparative values for money from before the 20th century, due to vastly different types of products and of the impossibility of making an accurate price index based on vastly different spending proportions. Its purchasing power in terms of bread has been estimated at US$21, from 2005, in the first century. Classical historians regularly say that in the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire the daily wage for an unskilled laborer and common soldier was 1 denarius without tax, or about US$20 in bread[citation needed] (by comparison, a laborer earning the minimum wage in the United States makes US$58 for an 8-hour day, before taxes). The actual silver content of the Denarius was about 50 grains, or 110 troy ounce under the Empire. In June 6 2011, this corresponds to approximately US$3.62 in value if the silver were 0.999 pure (which it wasn't).[citation needed]

The fineness of the silver content varied with political and economic circumstances. By the reign of Gallienus, the antoninianus was a copper coin with a thin silver wash.[10]


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 Arabs who conquered large parts of the Roman Empire issued their own Gold dinar, from which the name dinar of various present-day Arab currencies is derived. The lasting legacy of the denarius can be seen in the use of "d" as the abbreviation for the British penny prior to 1971.[11] It survived in France as the name of a coin, the denier. The denarius also survives in the common Arabic name for a currency unit, the dinar used from pre-Islamic times, and still used in several modern Arabic-speaking nations. Currency unit in former Yugoslavia and nowadays in Serbia is dinar which also has its origins in the Latin word denarius. The Macedonian currency denar is also derived from the Roman denarius. The Italian word denaro, Spanish word dinero, the Portuguese word dinheiro, the Slovene word denar and the Catalan word diner, all meaning money, are also derived from Latin "denarius."


Quintus Antonius Balbus (c. 82-83 BC)

The gold aureus seems to have been a "currency of account," a denomination not commonly seen in daily transactions due to its high value. Numismatists think that the aureus was used to pay bonuses to the legions at the accession of new emperors. It was valued at 25 denarii.[citation needed]

1 gold aureus = 2 gold quinarii = 25 silver denarii = 50 silver quinarii = 100 bronze sestertii = 200 bronze dupondii = 400 copper as = 800 copper semisses = 1600 copper quadrans

The Bible refers to the denarius as a day's wage for a common laborer (Matthew 20:2 [1]; John 12:5 [2]).The value of the denarius is referred to, though perhaps not literally, in the Bible at Revelation 6:6: "And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius [Latin Vulgate: bilibris tritici denario et tres bilibres hordei denario, δηναρίου in the original Greek]; and do not damage the oil and the wine.'"

See also


  1. ^ A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, William Smith, D.C.l., LL, D., John Murray, London 1875 Pg 393, 394
  2. ^ The Numismatic Circular, Volume 8-9, Spink & Son, 1899-1900 Piccadilly West, London
  3. ^ Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins. Oxford University Press, New York 1994.
  4. ^ As the Romans Did, Jo-Ann Shelton. Oxford University Press, New York 1998
  5. ^ Plutarch's Lives, Vol 2, John Langhorne, DD, William Langhorne, AM, London 1813
  6. ^ The New Deal in Old Rome, HJ Haskell, Alfred K Knoff New York 1939
  7. ^ Ancient coin collection 3Wayne G Sayles Pg 21-22
  8. ^ Aurelian, Roman Imperial Coinage reference, Thumbnail Index,, retrieved 24 August 2006 
  9. ^ Aurelian Æ Denarius. Rome mint. IMP AVRELIANVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right,, retrieved 24 August 2006 
  10. ^ Katsari, Constantina (2002). "The Concept of Inflation in the Roman Empire". Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  11. ^ English Coinage 600–1900 by C.H.V. Sutherland 1973 ISBN 0-7134-0731-X p.10

6. Denarius – A roman soldiers daily pay!

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • denarius — ancient Roman silver coin, 1570s, from L. denarius, originally an adj., containing ten, and short for denarius nummus the coin containing ten (aces), from deni by tens, from decem ten (see TEN (Cf. ten)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Denarius — De*na ri*us, n.; pl. {Denarii}. [L. See 2d {Denier}.] A Roman silver coin of the value of about fourteen cents; the penny of the New Testament; so called from being worth originally ten of the pieces called as. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • denarius — [di nar′ē əs] n. pl. denarii [di nar′ē ī΄] [ME < L, orig., adj., containing ten < deni, by tens < decem, TEN] 1. an ancient Roman silver coin, the penny of the New Testament 2. an ancient Roman gold coin, worth 25 silver denarii …   English World dictionary

  • DENARIUS — I. DENARIUS S. Petri, pecunia, quae ab Anglis quotannis Sedi Romanae pensitabatur a temporibus Inae West Saxonum Regis seu ut aliis placet, Offae Merciorum Regis seu Ethelwolfi, ut nonnullis visum: quorum sententias sic conciliat Polydor. Virgil …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Denarius — Der Denar (lat. denarius von deni: je zehn) war ein antikes, mittelalterliches, neuzeitliches und anfänglich noch feinsilbernes, mittleres durch inflationäre Prozesse immer kleiner werdendes kupfernes Münznominal und galt ursprünglich als… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • denarius — /di nair ee euhs/, n., pl. denarii / nair ee uy /. 1. a silver coin and monetary unit of ancient Rome, first issued in the latter part of the 3rd century B.C., that fluctuated in value and sometimes appeared as a bronze coin. 2. a gold coin of… …   Universalium

  • denarius — A silver coin which bore the image of the Roman emperor (Mark 12:16); it was equivalent to the Greek drachma as known in the east, which was the cost of a sheep. The parable [[➝ parables]] of the Labourers in the Vineyard indicates that one… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • denarius — de•nar•i•us [[t]dɪˈnɛər i əs[/t]] n. pl. nar•i•i [[t] ˈnɛər iˌaɪ[/t]] 1) anq+num a silver coin of ancient Rome, orig. equal to 10 asses 2) num a gold coin of ancient Rome equal to 25 silver denarii • Etymology: < L dēnārius, orig. adj.:… …   From formal English to slang

  • Denarius — Sanct Denarius (Geld) hat die meisten Anbeter (Verehrer) …   Deutsches Sprichwörter-Lexikon

  • Denarius Moore — Moore in the 2011 NFL season. No. 17     Oakland Raiders Wide receiver Personal information …   Wikipedia

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