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Roman Coin Denominations

It is not very difficult to get a grasp on the various common
denominations used in theRoman Empire. Different periods used different
coins, which can be distinguished by their sizes or appearance, as
discussed below. The main metals, just like today, were gold, silver and
copper or bronze. It should be understood that this is a very
complicated subject though, and it gives many people a headache; just
like in our times we go through periods of recession, depression and
inflation, so did the Romans (sometimes at an accelerated pace!). Hence,
the coins varied in sizes, metals and values during the long history of
the Empire. A discussion of gold coins, as well as 4th century AD
silver coins will be omitted in what follows, as they are not common and
are quite expensive.

First, of confusion to beginners, are the letters AV, AR and AE which
are often found in the description of a coin, or in a catalog. They
simply refer to the metal used in the manner shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: AV, AR and AE : Metal Designations

Abbreviation Latin WordTranslation
AVAureumGold
ARArgentumSilver
AEAesBronze/Copper/Orichalcum

Hence, an “AE Antoninianus” means a bronze Antoninianus (often
abbreviated to just AE Ant). An “AR Denarius” is a silver denarius.

Many beginner collectors will start with the common 4th century
bronze pieces, both the follis and AE denominations, but sooner or later
will end up getting the pretty silver and/or the large copper/bronze
pieces from early 3rd century AD and before. The most common
denominations are listed in Table 2 below, along with the metal from
which they were made and approximate dates of most common use. Simple
descriptions can be
found below.

Table 2: Coin Denominations

Denomination Metal UsedIn Circulation
AureusGold 
DenariusSilverc.200 AD
As, Dupondius, SestertiusBronze/Copper/Orichalcumc.300 AD
AntoninianusSilver/Bronzec.300 AD
Follis, AE1-4Bronze (silver wash)c.400 AD

Table 3 below summarizes the relation of the coin denominations to
one another, during the period of the Empire up to the beginning of the
4th century. As will be seen from the below descriptions, the values
changed over time, however, this table will be valid for most of the
Empire’s history (some changes occurred during the period of the
Republic). The fractions of As are not very common and will not be
discussed.

Table 3: Relative Coin Values

Denomination Value
Aureus [gold]25 silver denarii
Antoninianus [silver]2 silver denarii
Denarius [silver]16 copper asses
Quinarius [silver]8 copper asses
Follis, AE1-4Bronze (silver wash)
Sestertius [orichalcum]4 copper asses
Dupondius [orichalcum]2 copper asses
As [copper]1
Semis [brass]1/2 as
Quadrans [copper]1/4 copper as

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