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This is the second chapter in my series on the history of money. The first one covers the Stone Age to Roman Republic.

The inventionn of coins in Lydia around 460 BCE revolutionized commerce. No longer must gold and silver be weighed out in financial transactions. Coins were minted in standard weights and the purity guanteed by the state. The use of coins spread rapidly into Greece and throughout the ancient world. Marketplaces began to spring up. No longer did people need to seek out the seller of goods when they needed something. Both buyers and sellers concentrated at the marketplace. Trading and commerce began to explode. All trade goods could be valued in coin. People then began to put prices on labor and services. The first known public brothels were in Lydia.

Roman Bank
Roman relief showing a moneychanger (argentarius) with his "bank" (bench) for counting. approx. 4th century C.E.

Money is : 1) a medium of exchange  2) a measure of account  3) a store of value

Augustus realized the importance of controlling the currency. He decreed that the minting of all gold and silver coins were to be controlled by the emperor. He let the senate control the bronze and copper coinage so that they wouldn't feel left out. Rome was one of the first civilizations to put mint marks on their coins,Greece being the first. Some mint marks had not only the city but the number or letter of the workshop within the mint. This was done so that if the purity of the coins weren't what they should be the emperor would know whose head to cut off.

coins of Rome
coins of Rome
coins of ancient Rome
denominations of Roman coins
Below is a gold aureus of emperor Septimius Severus (193-211 CE). The aureus was the highest denomination Roman coin. Gold coins were rarely used in everyday transactions but were mainly used as a means of storing wealth. The obverse of Roman Imperial coins always depicted the head of the emperor (with rare exceptions) along with his name and all of his titles. The Roman emperors tried to maintain the fiction that Rome was still a republic so all the titles of the old republic were still used. The difference was that the emperor either held the titles himself or appointed one of his cronies to the office.

In order for the engravers to get all of this on the coin they had to use abbreviations and run them all together without spaces. The engraving on the obverse reads:  
IMPCAELSEPSE  VPERTAVG IMP(imperator)CAE(caesar)L(Lucius)SEP(Septimius)SEV(Severus)PERT(perpetuus,meaning eternal)AVG(Augustus). On the reverse we have LEGXIIII GEM M V  TRP COS which translates LEGXIIII(14th legion)GEM M V(Gemina Martia Victrix,meaning the twin legion)TRP(Tribunicia Potestate,meaning Tribune power)COS(Consul). Legionary eagle between two standards. Note the use of IIII instead of IV for the number 4. These were used interchangeably. The location on the reverse bottom below the line where TRP COS appears is called the exergue. This is where the mint marks will be on later coins.

A historical footnote on the 14th legion. This was an elite legion originally recruited by Julius Caesar. After the end of the civil war between Octavian and Marc Antony it was reinforced with men from one of Antony's disbanded legions. This is why it was called the twin legion. This legion had been in many famous battles throughout its' history. It was commanded by Septimius Severus and it was the first legion to declare for him during the civil war following the assignation of Commodus. Commodus is the bad emperor portrayed in the movie Gladiator with Russel Crowe.

                                                         Gold Coins

aureus of Septimius Severus 193 CE
aureus of Septimius Severus 193 CE
In 312 CE the smaller solidus replaced the aureus as the highest denomination gold coin. Below is a solidus of Julian II (361-363 CE).
FL(Flavius)CL(Claudius)IVLIANVS(Julianus)PP(Pater Patriae,father of our country)AVG(Augustus)
Reverse: Julian II advancing right, dragging captive and holding trophy
VIRTVS(Virtus,virtue,bravery)EXERCITVS(Exercitus,Army)ROMANORVM(Romanorum,of the Romans)
Exergue: SIRM (Sirmium,mint mark)
The Roman alphabet didn't contain a J or U so I and V were used. The letters were all hand engraved so a lot of times it is hard to tell letters apart. The mint mark on this coin looks to me like it says STAN but is actually SIRM. R's,A's and H's are particularly difficult to tell apart as are M's and N's among others.
gold solidus of the emperor Julian 361-363 CE
solidus of Emperor Julian 361-363 CE
A tremissis was 1/3 of a solidus.
This one is from Emperor Avitus (455-456 CE).

D N (Dominus Noster,our lord)  AVITVS(Avitus)  PERP(Perpetuus,eternal)  AVG(Augustus)
Reverse: Cross within wreath CONOB (Rome mint) in exergue

tremissis gold coin from ancient Rome
tremissis of Emperor Avitus 456 CE
Romulus Augustus Last Emperor of the West 476 CE
Tremissis. Rome mint. D N ROMVLVS AVGVSTVS P F A, pearl-diademed, draped & cuirassed bust right / cross within wreath, COMOB (Rome mint) in exergue
Gold coin of Romulus Augustus
Romulus Augustus
If you would like to try to translate the legends on the coins below this will help.

                                                      Silver Coins

Silver Denarii of The Twelve Caesars.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar Denarius. CAESAR IMP, laureate head right, lituus & simpulum behind

silver denarius of Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar  obserse
M METTIVS, Venus standing left with Victory & scepter, shield resting on globe; control letter to left.
silver denarius of Julius Caesar reverse
Julius Caesar reverse
Julius Caesar Denarius. 46-45 BC, Spanish mint. Diademed head of Venus right, Cupid on her shoulder / CAESAR below Gallia & Gaulish captives seated beneath trophy of Gallic arms.
Julius Caesar silver denarius
Julius Caesar
Augustus 27 BCE - 14 CE

Augustus Denarius. Minted at Emerita, Spain, 25-23 BC, by P Carisius. IMP CAESAR AVGVST, bare head right / P CARISIVS LEG PRO PR, trophy of Celtiberian arms erected on heap of shields & lances.

silver denarius of Augustus
Tiberius 14 CE - 37 CE

Tiberius Denarius. TI CAESAR DIVI F AVG F AVGVSTVS, laureate head right / TR POT XVI, IMP VII in ex, Tiberius riding quadriga right, holding branch & eagle tipped sceptre.

silver denarius of Tiberius
Caligula 37 CE - 41 CE

Caligula and Agrippina Senior denarius. C CAESAR AVG GERM P M TR POT, Laureate head right / AGRIPPINA MAT C CAES AVG, draped bust right, hair in plait behind.

silver denarius ofCaligula
Claudius  41 CE - 54 CE

Claudius Denarius. Rome mint, 41-42 AD. TI CLAVD CAESAR AVG GERM P M TR P, laureate head right / EX • S C / OB•CIVES / SERVATOS, three lines in wreath of oak leaves

silver denaarius of Claudius
silver denaarius of Claudius
Nero 54 CE - 68 CE

Nero Denarius. NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS, laureate head right

silver denarius of Nero obverse
silver denarius of Nero obverse
AVGVSTVS AVGVSTA, Nero, radiate, standing left holding patera & sceptre; to right, Empress Poppaea standing left holding patera & cornucopiae.
silver denarius of Nero reverse
silver denarius of Nero reverse
Galba 68 CE - 69 CE

Galba denarius. Spanish Mint, 68 AD, IMP GALBA, laureate bust right, globe at point / HISPANIA, draped Hispania standing left, holding corn ears and poppy, round shield and two vertical spears.

silver denarius of Galba
silver denarius of Galba
Damn Galba...lighten up buddy.

Otho 69 CE

Otho Denarius. Rome Mint. IMP M OTHO CAESAR AVG TR P, bewigged head right / SECVRITAS P R, Securitas standing left, holding wreath & scepter.

silver denarius of Otho
silver denarius of Otho
Vitellius 69 CE

Vitellius Denarius. Spanish mint. A VITELLIVS IMP GERMAN (counterclockwise), laureate head right, globe at point / FIDES EXERCITVM above & below clasped hands.

silver denarius of Vitellius
silver denarius of Vitellius
Vespasian 69 CE - 79 CE

Vespasian Denarius. 69-70 AD. IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head right / Captive Jewess seated right, hands tied before, trophy of captured arms behind, IVDAEA in ex.

silver denarius of Vespasian
silver denarius of Vespasian
Titus 79 CE - 81 CE

Titus, as Caesar,Denarius. 72-73 AD. T CAES IMP VESP PON TR POT, laureate head right / NEP RED, Neptune standing right, foot on globe, holding acrostolium & sceptre

silver denarius of Titus
Historians have been able to glean a lot of information from coins. The world is always portrayed as a globe on Roman coins. Therefore we know that they knew the earth was round.

Domitian 81 CE - 96 CE

Domitian Denarius. CAESAR AVG F DOMITIANVS, laureate head right / COS V, She-wolf and twins left, boat below.

silver denarius of Domitian
silver denarius of Domitian
                                                        For the Ladies

For a woman to have her head on a coin was very rare. Emperors usually struck memorial coins for their mothers after their death,but for a living woman to have her head on a coin like the emperor did was unheard of. These women wielded some serious power.
It is no coincidence that they were all named Julia. Roman names had three parts,the middle name was the clan or gens.  Julius Caesars' full name was Gaius Julius Caesar.

Julia Domna

Julia Domna, Septimius Severus & Caracalla Denarius. Struck 201 AD. Draped bust of Domna right / AETERNIT IMPERI, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust of Septimius right vis à vis laureate, draped & cuirassed bust of Caracalla left.

silver denarius of Julia Domna
Julia Domna
Julia Maesa

Julia Maesa Denarius. Antioch mint, 218-220 AD. IVLIA MAESA AVG, draped bust right / IVNO, Juno standing left, holding patera and sceptre; peacock at feet left.

silver denarius of Julia Maesa
Julia Maesa
Julia Mamaea

Julia Mamaea,quinarius 230 AD. IVLIA MAMAEA AVG, diademed, draped bust right / FELICITAS PVBLICA, Felicitas seated left, holding caduceus and cornucopiae.

silver denarius of Julia Mamaea
Julia Mamaea
Julia Saomias

Julia Soaemias Denarius. 220 AD. IVLIA SOAEMIAS AVGVSTA, draped bust right / IVNO REGINA, Juno standing right, holding scepter & palladium.

silver denarius of Julia Soaemias
Julia Soaemias
Julia Paula

Julia Paula,quinarius, 219-220 AD. IVLIA PAVLA AVG, diademed, draped bust right / CONCORDIA, Concordia seated left, holding patera and resting left arm on chair; star in upper left field.

silver denarius of Julia Paula
Julia Paula
Julia Titi 91 CE. Daughter of Titus. This is a memorial coin struck after her death following childbirth by her uncle Domitian. DIVA means goddess (transformed into a goddess by a vote of the senate).

Diva Julia Titi Cistophoric Tetradrachm of Ephesus mint. IVLIA AVGVSTA DIVI TIT F, draped bust right / VESTA, Vesta seated left, holding palladium & scepter.

denarius of Julia Titi
Julia Titi
In 211 CE Emperor Caracalla introduced the antoninianus. It was supposed to be a double denarius but only contained 1 1/2 times the silver of a denarius. People started to hord denarii until there were no more in circulation. The antoninianus continued to be debased until it only contained 5% silver in 274 CE at the time of the currency reforms of Emperor Aurelian. During the currency reforms of Diocletian it was discontinued altogether. From that point on Rome produced no more silver coins. The quality of the emperors' portrait had been steadily declining during this period. Diocletian stopped trying to portray the emperor on coins and went with a one image fits all general portrait. From then on the images of the emperors looked pretty much alike. The quality of the coins of Rome declined with the empire.
the debasement of Roman silver coins
debasement of Roman silver coins
                                                        Bronze Coins

I think that the reverses of Roman coins are much more interesting than the obverse.

Elagabalus, AVT K M AVR ANTWNINOC, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / NIKOPOLITWN PROC ICTRWN, Priapus standing left, drawing back his cloak to expose his phallus, right hand extended.

coin of Elagabalus with Priapus on reverse holding erection
The vast majority of the coins in my Roman coin collection are late Roman bronzes. Roman coins of this era are fairly common and therefore reasonably cheap. Many can be bought for less than $10. The coins of Constantius II are the most common. Here is one currently up for auction on Ebay. CONSTANTIVS II

                                     Coins below are from my collection

It's difficult to get a handle on just what kind of man Constantine was. On the one hand he was the first Christian emperor. On the other hand he had his wife locked in a sauna and cooked alive. There is some question of how serious he was about being a Christian.

bronze coin of Constantine
follis of Constantine the Great 318 CE
The coin below is a barbaric imitation of the one above. People outside the empire with no coins of their own copied Roman coins. They weren't counterfeits. They were accepted both in and out of the empire just like they were real. They were usually of poor quality. Some so bad that they make the emperor look like a cartoon character. Historians still don't fully understand the story on these coins. Some think that they were unofficial mints operated by Romans on the frontiers of the Empire where there was a shortage of coins. Blundered means that there are misspelled words.
barbarian imitation of Roman coin
barbaric imitation of Constantine coin
 Ancient Roman Artifacts

I have a few ancient Roman artifacts to compliment my coin collection. Below are a couple of iron arrowheads.

Roman iron arrowheads
Roman iron arrowheads
When people think about Roman engineering they generally think about the coliseum or the aqueducts. But the Romans also invented many everyday items that we still use today. The buckle comes from the Latin word buccula meaning "cheek strap'. Before the buckle Roman soldiers tied their helmets on their heads. But imagine this,you're in the middle of a vicious battle. Slashing and bashing and stabbing going on all around. You get jostled around a little and your helmet comes loose and falls down over your eyes. Wouldn't that be just peachy. It wasn't long after the Romans starting buckling their helmets on that they discovered how useful buckles really were. They starting using them to strap on their armor and gear, make harnesses for their horses, and many other things also. This allowed the legions to get ready for battle or movement much quicker. They didn't have to worry about their helmets and armor coming loose during a battle. IMHO this little guy contributed just a much as the arrowheads to the battle worthiness of the legions. Hard to conquer the world with your helmet in your eyes. Below is a bronze buckle from the 3rd or 4th century CE.
ancient Roman bronze buckle
Roman bronze buckle

Next up...Ancient Greece.

Originally posted to rmonroe on Fri Sep 21, 2012 at 11:58 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

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