Roman Coinage Links

To pair with the ‘cultural unit’ I presented from the later pages of Allen and Greenough, I’ve done some fishing and found two great online galleries of ancient Roman coins.

First, my favorite, the Roman Coins Database, has everything arranged in chronological order, and small screen captures of ever coin, which lets you click on whatever interests you to get a closer look. A lot of these online galleries have a text box with a link to the corresponding picture, which I wouldn’t consider a ‘gallery’ of very low…currency.


Next, there’s the Roman Numismatic Gallery, which has all the perks of the site above, it’s just a little less forbidding at first glance. It also has some links to other things (Greek coins, Roman military artifacts, etc.) which you might find interesting.

Roman Currency

Units of Currency

The Rise of the As

The Roman as was, at first, a specific weight: one pound of bronze

This pound was divided into twelve unicae (ounces)

Please note, the noun (3rd / m.) declines as follows:

  • as, assis, assī, assem, asse
  • assēs, assium, assibus, assēs, assibus

Introduction of Silver Coinage

During the Republic (late third century BCE), two new coins were introduced: the dēnārius and the sēstertius, these made of silver

One sēstertius was valued at 2.5 assēs, and one dēnārius at 10 assēs

“The sēstertius was probably introduced at a time when the as had been so far reduced that the value of the new coin was equivalent to the original value of the as.” (AG, 633)

  • Debasement was a persistent threat to Roman coinage

During the early Empire, a gold coin, the aureus, was introduced, at the value of 100 sēstertiī

Height of the Sēstertius

The sēstertius became the common coin of the Roman Republic and Empire

  • Where Roman authors say nummus, coin, they typically mean sēstertius

The word, sēstertius, is an elision of sēmis-tertius, ‘the third a half’

  • Picture the Romans counting three assēs, the third of which is at half value, for a total value of two and a half

Sēstertius vs. Sēstertium

The sēstertium was a unit of value, not a coin, equivalent to 1,000 sestertiī

  • It likely derived from the genitive plural in the phrase mīlle sēstertium 


The sēstertius could be cataloged as HS or HS, a confusing symbol until one considers its evolution

  • The symbol began as IIS (viz. 2S), or duo et sēmis, two and a half, and the H became standard somewhere along the way

Where a line appears above an abbreviated sum, it indicated thousands

  • The sum HS CC = 200 sēstertiī, but the sum HS ̅c̅c̅  = 200,000 sēstertiī, or 200 sēstertia 

Roman Wages

Sampled from the end of the Republic, consider and compare these wages

  • A typical legionary was paid 900 sēstertiī per annum
  • A day-laborer might make 3 sēstertiī per dīem 
Review of Values

aureus = 25 dēnāriī = 100 sēstertiī = 250 assēs

dēnariī = 4 sēstertiī = 10 assēs 

sēstertius = 2.5 assēs

as = an ever-decreasing weight of bronze (or, later, of copper)

sēstertium = 1 mīlle sēstertium = 1,000 sēstertiī 


The Essential AG: 632


Famous Phrase: crescit amor nummī quantum ipsa pecūnia crēvit

(love of money grows as much as money itself is known)

-Juvenal, Satires, 14.139