Aureus minted in 193 by Septimius Severus to celebrate XIV Gemina Martia Victrix, the legion that proclaimed him emperor.

The aureus (pl. aurei — "golden") was a gold coin of ancient Rome valued at 25 silver denarii. The aureus was regularly issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century, when it was replaced by the solidus. The aureus is about the same size as the denarius, but is heavier due to the higher density of gold.

Before the time of Julius Caesar the aureus was struck very infrequently, usually to make large payments from captured booty. Caesar struck the coin more frequently and standardized the weight at \tfrac{1}{40} of a Roman pound (about 8 grams). The mass of the aureus was decreased to \tfrac{1}{45} of a pound (7.3 g) during the reign of Nero.

Aureus of Octavian, circa 30 BC.

After the reign of Marcus Aurelius the production of aurei decreased, and the weight was further decreased to \tfrac{1}{50} of a pound (6.5 g) by the time of Caracalla. During the third century, gold pieces were introduced in a variety of fractions and multiples, making it hard to determine the intended denomination of a gold coin.

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Roman and Byzantine coinage

The solidus was first introduced by Diocletian around 301 AD, struck at 60 to the Roman pound of pure gold (and thus weighing about 5.5 g each) and with an initial value equal to 1,000 denarii.[1] However, Diocletian's solidus was struck only in small quantities, and thus had only minimal economic effect.

The solidus was reintroduced by Constantine I in 312 AD, permanently replacing the aureus as the gold coin of the Roman Empire. The solidus was struck at a rate of 72 to a Roman pound of pure gold, each coin weighing twenty-four Greco-Roman carats,[2] or about 4.5 grams of gold per coin. By this time, the solidus was worth 275,000 increasingly debased denarii.

The solidus was maintained essentially unaltered in weight and purity until the 10th century, though in the Greek-speaking world during the Roman period and then in the Byzantine economy it was known as the nomisma (plural nomismata).[2] Whenever the coin was taken in by the treasury, it was melted down and reissued. This maintained the evenness of the weight of the circulating solidi, since the coin did not tend to be in circulation long enough to become worn.[2]

Minting of the gold coin—unlike the base-metal coins of the time—had no permanently established minting facility. Due to the requirement that taxes be paid in gold, solidus minting operations tended to follow the emperor and his court. For example, solidi were minted in Milan in 353, and in Ravenna after 402. These locations were imperial residences at the respective times.[2]

Although merchants were forbidden to use solidi outside the Byzantine Empire, there was sufficient trade in these coins outside the empire that they became a desirable circulating currency in Arabian countries. Since the solidi circulating outside the empire were not used to pay taxes to the emperor they did not get reminted, and the soft pure-gold coins quickly became worn.[2]

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In the Roman currency system, the denarius (plural: denarii) 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 word denarius is derived from the Latin dēnī "containing ten", as its value was 10 asses; it may also be the origin of the word dinar (see that page for further discussion).

An early form of the denarius was first struck five years before the first Punic War, in 269 B.C.[1] with a weight of 6.8 grams on average at the time or 148 of a Roman pound. Contact with the Greeks prompted a need for silver coinage in addition to the bronze ases the Romans were using at that time. This was a Greek-style silver coin, very similar to didrachm and drachma struck in Metapntum and other Greek cities in Southern Italy. These coins were inscribed for Rome, but closely resemble their Greek counterparts. They were most likely used for trade purposes and seldom used in Rome.

Around 225 B.C. the first distinctively Roman silver coin appears.[2] Classic historians often cite these coins as denarii, but they are classified by modern numismatists as quadrigatus. The name quadrigatus comes from the quadriga or four-horse chariot on the reverse, which was the prototype for the most common designs used on Roman silver coins for the next 150 years.[3][4][5]

Rome overhauled its coinage around 211 B.C. and introduced a standardized denarius alongside a short lived denomination called the victoriatus. This standardized denarius contained 4.5 grams on average at the time or 172 of a Roman pound of silver. It was the backbone of Roman currency through the Roman Republic with fair consistency at this weight. [6]


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