Roman Money


     While the development of the roman coinage system was heavily influenced by its Greek and Etruscan predecessors, it progressed slowly; the Roman kings operated without coinage and the Republic did not regularly issue coinage until the Pyrrhic War.  Coins were generally minted in bronze, silver and gold, and the denarius, introduced in 211 BC, was the preferred silver coin although the bronze retained its status as the main coin in the system.  After the Second Punic War, Roman coinage began to emerge as the primary Mediterranean coinage, evidencing both the growing economic and political power of Rome. 

      Coins also serve as an effective canvas for self-promotion and propaganda; the types on Roman coinage often display imagery that reflects the agenda of the minter.  Roman republican types often showed imagery regarding the moneyers ancestral achievements, but Caesar was the first to produce coins with his own image.  Brutus and Antony continued this trend, but Augustus refined the use of coins to promote his own status and the idea of a single leader.


Basic system of coinage

as (pl. asses)  bronze coin, the basic unit
 4 asses = 1 sestertius
 10 asses = 1 denarius
sestertius (pl. sestertii)  silver coin
 4 sestertii = 1 denarius
denarius (pl. denarii)  silver coin, occasionally minted in gold
aureus (pl: aurei)  gold coin
 1 aureus = 25 denarii


N.B. a non-inclusive list of incomes of the Roman citizenry during the time of Augustus.

legionary: 225 denarii / year
praetorian guard: 375 denarii / year
centurion: 3750 - 15000 denarii / year

  • Senator?s Census?1,200,000 sestertii (Augustus increased the census for Senators from 800,000 sestertii)
  • Knight?s Census?400,000 sestertii
  • Legionaries pay per annum?1,200 sestertii (12,000 bonus on discharge)
  • Carpenters and bakers ?60 denarii per day
  • Sewer cleaners?25 denarii per day
  • Daily cash dole (sportula) for clients?6 ? denarii
  • Admission to public baths?? as
  • Value of small farm?100,000 sestertii
  • Pliny?s estimated fortune?15,000,000?20,000,000 sestertii

N.B. the following can only be estimates, due to the extreme differences between the Roman market and the modern American economy.

Roman prices

Modern prices

Loaf of bread ? 2 as Loaf of Bread- 2 dollars
Pound of Pork?12 denarii Pound of Pork? 4 dollars
Sextarius (~0.5 liter) table wine ? 1-5as Half-liter wine? 5 dollars
Olive oil (1 kg) ? 3 sestertii Olive oil (1 kg) ? 5 dollars
Seaside Villa (Bay of Naples) --3,000,000 sesterces Seaside Villa (Bay of Naples) --600,000 dollars