In the Roman currency
system, the denarius
) 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 denarius was first struck in or about 211 BC during the
and at the same time
as the Second Punic War
, with a
weight of 4.5 grams on average at the time or 1/72 of a Roman
Pound. It remained at this weight for a while and then decreased to
about 3.9 grams during the second century BC (a theoretical weight
of 1/84 of a Roman pound). It then remained at almost this weight
until the time of Nero
, when it was reduced to
1/96 of a pound, or 3.4 grams. Debasement of the silver began under
Nero. Later Roman emperors reduced it to a weight of 3 grams around
the late 3rd century . The value at its introduction was 10
, 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 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
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).
Comparisons and silver content
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. (By comparison, a laborer earning the minimum wage in the United
makes US$58 for an 8-hour day, before taxes.) The actual
silver content of the Denarius was about 50 grains
, or 1/10 troy
under the Empire.
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.
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
who conquered large parts of the Roman
Empire issued their own Gold Dinar
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
prior to 1971. 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.
Macedonian currency denar is
also derived from the Roman denarius.
, the Portuguese
word and the Catalan
, all meaning
money, are also derived from Latin "denarius".
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.
1 gold aureus
= 2 gold
= 25 silver denarii = 50 silver quinarii
200 bronze dupondii
= 400 copper as
= 800 copper
= 1600 copper quadrans
The Bible refers to the denarius as a day's wage for a common
laborer (Matthew 20:2 
; John 12:5 
).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
]; and do not
damage the oil and the wine.'"
6. Denarius - A roman soldiers daily pay!