What Is The Currency Of Ancient Rome

From coins to glass beads, paper checks to megacurrencies, the world has seen many forms of money throughout history. One of the earliest forms of abundance was used by the Ancient Romans. What was the currency of Ancient Rome?

Ancient Romans had an agrarian economy. Barter was the accepted form of exchange, but they also used Delian League coins and other forms of ancient currency. Coins called aes grave (or “heavy money”) were made of bronze, iron and silver. They were so heavy that sacks were used to transport them. The most prized coins were gold aurei. These coins were a symbol of wealth and were often used by the wealthy to buy luxury items.

Roman currency was composed of two main parts: the denarius and the sestertius. The denarius was the standard silver coin used in everyday transactions. It was divided into 4 sestertii, the base unit of Roman currency. The sestertius was a copper or bronze coin that represented one-quarter of a denarius. Other coins, such as copper and bronze asses and gold aurei, existed but were not commonly used.

Ancient Roman currency was closely tied to the government. Not only did the government set the value of coins and regulate the money supply, but it also used coins to pay the salaries of government officials and soldiers. The money was also used to finance public works and fund holidays. Coins were also a way for the Roman government to display its power and influence.

By the 4th century CE, the denarius had become the main currency of the Roman Empire and would remain so until the fall of the empire in 476 CE. Despite the fact that it was the most common coin in circulation, it was still largely limited to the upper classes. For most people, barter was the preferred form of exchange. Peasants might use food, tools, or animals to trade, while artisans and merchants used raw materials and finished products.

The Roman Empire also introduced new forms of currency. Glass beads, called spintriae, were used for small transactions and for tax payments. Paper checks, called notae, were used for large purchases. These instruments of exchange provided a convenient and secure way for large sums of money to be transferred between individuals and provinces.

Though the Roman Empire eventually fell, its currency left a lasting legacy. The Greek drachma and the Roman aes were the first coins ever used in Europe. Coins were a source of immense power and influence, allowing governments to expand their rule and raise money to fund projects. Even today, many countries use the same coins and forms of money that were used by the Ancient Romans.

The Currency System

The Roman Empire used a complex monetary system, relying on both coins and paper notes. Coins were made primarily of precious metals such as silver and gold, with some also featuring copper. Paper notes were also used, though these were primarily used by large businesses or individuals to complete large purchases. The value of coins and paper notes was fixed by the Roman government, with one denarius equivalent to four sestertii.

Roman coins were inscribed with designs that could vary from emperor to emperor, with some coins depicting the face of the current ruler or other symbols associated with imperial authority. The coinage system was also used to communicate the power of the Roman Empire and its rulers, with coins issued to symbolise military victories and other accomplishments.

In addition to coins, the Roman Empire also used other forms of payment such as barter and taxation. Barter was not uncommon and was used to exchange food, livestock, raw materials and finished goods. The Roman taxation system was highly organised, with citizens required to pay a tax on property, income, and even certain commodities. This taxation system was necessary to help fund wars, as well as to pay government officials and soldiers.

Decline of the Roman Currency

The downfall of Roman currency was due to a combination of factors. The political instability caused by the fall of the Roman Empire led to a weak economy, causing people to lose faith in the currency. Additionally, inflation caused the coins to lose their value. By the end of the 5th century, Roman coins had lost most of their value.

The Roman government began issuing coins with a face value that was less than their metal content which led to hoarding of coins as people sought to protect their wealth. Furthermore, ‘token’ coins were introduced which were only accepted in specific locations or shops. This further weakened the Roman currency and caused economic chaos.

The introduction of the Byzantine gold solidus in the 6th century CE led to a revival of Roman currency, though it was mostly used for international trade as opposed to everyday purchases. However, the currency was not as influential as it had been in earlier times.

Impact on Modern Currency

The Roman currency system had a major impact on modern currency. The denarius became the basis for the French franc and German mark, and its influence can be seen in the introduction and standardisation of the United States dollar. Roman coins also inspired the designs of many modern coins and some of the features of their currency, such as the use of precious metals, have been adopted by countries around the world.

The Roman system of taxation also had an impact. The collection of taxes and use of coins to fund wars, public works, and holidays are still used today, as are taxation systems such as paying income tax or property tax. The Roman system of taxation also allowed them to finance the infrastructure and armies that helped the Roman Empire to thrive and expand.


The Ancient Romans had a complex currency system that relied on coins, paper notes, and bartering. All three of these methods are still used today. The Roman Empire also had a complex taxation system which allowed them to finance the military and public works. The legacy of the Roman currency lives on today in the coins and paper notes that are used in many countries around the world.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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