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Reference Tables of Roman Coins

Dr H S Preston

Coin types and denominations changed over the years of the Roman Empire and Roman coinage can be usefully grouped into a number of historical periods as set out in Tables 1 and 2. A grasp of these periods (and the associated coin denominations) is important for an understanding of Roman coinage, making it relatively easy to assign an approximate date to the coin, and to know where to start looking in the reference books.

It should be noted, however, that the tables are an outline, necessarily simplified, and should only be treated as a starting point. The coinage of the more turbulent periods of Table 2 is quite complex, having been subject to a number of short-lived reforms, and the table does no more than illustrate some key features. The denomination "antoninianus", for example, has been used here as a catch-all for base silver and base metal coins (often silvered) where the emperor wears a radiate crown and the diameter is in the region of 19-23 mm.

Table 1 Roman coinage BC 300 - AD 192

Period Principal coins History and People Images
BC 300-212
"Greek" looking didrachms with ROMANO or ROMA legends, large cast bronzes and some struck token bronze. $1200-3000 (didrachms)2 Rome begins to emerge on the western Mediterranean scene. Greek colonies in Italy are gradually absorbed. Period of the (Punic) wars with Carthage.
Mars didrachm ca BC 300
Middle Republican
BC 211-140
"Roma head" denarii, mainly with Dioscuri or chariot reverses. Coin types are fairly static; moneyers names appear. Some struck bronze, the as and its fractions. $70-150 Rome takes control of the Mediterranean region. Macedonia becomes a Roman province. Roman interest in literature, history and philosophy is evident.
Roma head BC 209
Later Republic
BC 139-50
Denarii often display images referring to past events or Rome's foundation mythology, and glorifying the aristocratic families of the moneyers. Some bronze. $90-220 Roman wealth increased, literature flourished but social problem led to civil wars, such as the conflict between Marius and Sulla.
Head of Apollo BC 96
Imperatorial Period
BC 49 -27
Denarii with portraits of living Romans appear. Some gold aureii and bronze. Legends bearing name and title appear. Portrait coins $600-2000 Corrupt and stagnant structures provided opportunities for ambitious and powerful figures and spelled the end of the republic. Pompey, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Octavian (Augustus) are important figures of this period.
Julius Caesar BC 44
Julio-Claudians to the Civil War
BC 27 - AD 68
The five principal denominations (aureus, denarius, sestertius, dupondius, and as) were struck in quantity, though not for each emperor. Portrait coins of empresses and other notables appear and continue for the rest of the Roman series. $300-2000 Included here are the issues of the Julio-Claudian emperors (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero) and civil war emperors Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. Much Roman literature comes from this and the preceding period.
Caligula AD 37
AD 69-96
The five principal denominations continue. $100-250 The Flavian Emperors were Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.Old-fashioned values were re-established after the turmoil of the late Julio-Claudian period.
Titus AD 79
Adoptive Emperors
AD 96 - 137
The five principal denominations continue. $80-180 The adoptive emperors were Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian. The first half of the second century AD is considered to be Rome's golden age.
Hadrian AD 136
AD 138-192
The five principal denominations continue. Large numbers of coins were issued with the portraits of the empresses Faustina I and II and Lucilla. $70-140 The Antonine emperors are Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus.Traditional Roman culture was reinforced during this period. Marcus Aurelius is considered an important ancient writer.
Faustina II ca AD 150

1Obverse images of silver coins. 2An indicative retail price for common silver coins in very fine condition. All are denarii except where indicated.

Table 2 Roman coinage AD 193 - AD 491

Period Principal coins History and People Images
Civil war and the Severans
AD 193-235
The five principal denominations continue, with relatively less bronze coinage. Silver denarii issued in larger numbers, but with reduced silver content. $60-$1201 Pertinax, Didius Julianus and Percenius Niger had short reigns during a civil war from which the Severan dynasty (Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Geta, Elagabalus and Severus Alexander) emerged. The Severan period was interrupted by the 14-month reign of Macrinus in 217-218.
Septimius Severus AD 207
Military Anarchy
AD 235-285
Mass production of the silver denarius ceased in the 240s.It was replaced by the antoninianus, a double denarius that rapidly became debased to bronze and reduced in size.Bronze sestertii, asses etc were discontinued by 270. Gold Aureii continued. $20-$602 Rome was ruled by a series of soldier emperors, mainly from the Balkans. There are too many emperors to list here. Maximinus I, Gordian III, Philip I, Valerian, Gallienus, Claudius II, Aurelian and Probus are some of the more important. A low point in the history of the empire and the decline is reflected in the coinage.
Valerian ca AD 257
The Tetrarchy
AD 284-313
The gold aureus was gradually replaced, after AD 309, by the lighter solidus. The antoninianus continued until around AD 300 when billon/ bronze follis was introduced. $20-$60 2 The period began with one of Rome's great emperors, the reformer Diocletian.Other Major figures of this complex period were Maximinianus, Galerius, Maxentius, Licinius, and Constantine the great.
Maximinianus ca AD 290
The Constantinian Era
AD 313-364
The main denominations were the gold solidus, the follis (bronze or billon) and the AE3 (a sometimes silvered bronze coin of around 20mm in diameter). Various silver denominations also appeared. $10-$503 Rulers include Constantine the Great, his sons Constantine II, Constans, Constantius II, nephew Julian II and the rebel Magentius. During the period Christianity became the state religion and Christian symbols begin to appear on coins.The capital was moved from Rome to Byzantium.
Constantius II ca AD 330
The House of Valentian
AD 364-395
The main denominations were the gold solidus, the silver siliqua and the AE3. $20-$604 The empire was on the wane and split into eastern and western divisions. It was under continual pressure from invaders such as Goths and Huns.The throne was dominated by the extended family of Valentian (Valens, Gratian, Valentian II and Theodosius the Great).
Valens ca AD 375
The fifth century and the end in the west
AD 396 - 491
The main denominations were the gold solidus and tremissis. Bronze coins of the period are tiny and hard to decipher. $150-$3005 The Theodosian dynasty continued into this period with a number of weak emperors including the sons of Theodosius, Arcadius, Theodosius II and Honorius.Other important rulers include Valentian II, Marcian, Leo I Majorian and Zeno. Rome was sacked in AD 410 by the Visigoths and in 455 by the Vandalls. The Roman empire survived in the east as the Byzantine.
Valentian III AD 428

* An indicative retail price for common issues in very fine condition; 1 a silver denarius; 2 a base metal antoninianus, 3 an AE3, 4 a silver siliqua, 5 a gold tremissis

Table previously published in the Australasian Coin & Banknote (2000 Yearbook).