Coins not the only Currency in Ancient Rome One of the reasons the currency of the Roman Empire was embossed and decorated with images of its leaders and culturally signigicant symbols and landmarks was, as today, to remind users that coins had exchange value because the rulers of the empire had decreed this fact to be so.

Coins not the only Currency in Ancient Rome

One of the reasons the currency of the Roman Empire was embossed and decorated with images of its leaders and culturally signigicant symbols and landmarks was, as today, to remind users that coins had exchange value because the rulers of the empire had decreed this fact to be so.

In the third century BCE, Rome introduced a new currency system based around a silver coin called the denarius. The growth of the empire meant that Roman money was used across the Mediterranean – the only currency to be employed across Europe until the introduction of the euro in 1999. However, given the size of the empire, cities (such as Pompeii, which had many regional coins) often struck their own metalic currency for use within smaller local economies.

Alternatives to government-issued money also existed. Gold, jewels, even lead, was used in trade, in addition to small objects, such as carved semi-precious gemstones.

Reference: Reference: Emma Mason. “From bes to Bitcoin: alternative currencies in the ancient Roman world,“ BBC History Magazine, 24 October 2016.


Cosmographia Scoti, Notitia dignitatum. Folio Nr. 070r., 1436. Panels showing Roman coins and the Roman personalities associated with them.
The manuscript is modelled after the lost Carolingian Codex Spirensis, a late antique manuscript. This manuscript is the earliest copy of this text to survive complete, made at Basel in 1436 by an Italian scribe and a French illuminator (Peronet Lamy) for Petrus Donatus, bishop of Padua. The Notitia Dignitatum, a hand-book dealing with the military and civil organisation of the late Roman Empire, contains views on all important imperial officials, both military and civil, including their insignia of rank, office staff and administrative subordinates. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Shelfmark: MS. Canon. Misc. 378.

Sesterius with Galba, Emperor of Rome in veristic style, 68-69. Yale Univesity Art Gallery, Coins and Medals. Accession Number 2001.87.579. ID Nr. 96964.

Lapus lazuli Imperial Eagle, c. 200, (10.5 x 6.6 x 4.6 cm). Findspot: Torre Del Greco, Italy. The Walters art Museum, Nr. 42.1406.

Coins from Mt. Ingio, Perugia, Italy. Museo comunale di Gubbio / Scala Archives, Florence.


Further Reading: Michael Grant. Roman History from Coins: Some uses of the Imperial Coinage to the Historian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.

William E. Metcalf. The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Posted by Jean Marie Carey

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