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RRC 130/1a, Rome, 206-200 BCE, JIAAW 030.01.05, 3.39g


Can you describe this coin for us?

This coin is a struck silver denarius. It weighs 3.39 grams and since it was likely minted between 206 BCE and 200 BCE it is very likely over 2,200 years old. On the “heads” side of the coin, which is generally what numismatists call the “obverse” and doesn’t always feature a head, is a head of the goddess Roma facing to the right. Roma was the deified personification of the city of Rome and the Roman state and she had appeared on Roman coinages since the earliest cast bronze coins of the early 3rd century BCE. Here she appears wearing an Attic style helmet though in earlier coinages dated to before 225 BCE she wore a different Phrygian style helm. In front of the head of Roma is a vertical rod, perhaps a Roman measuring rod called a decempeda or ten foot rod. This rod is a control mark and such marks are common on ancient coinages, Roman and otherwise, and this particular mark occurs on other issues of denarii and coinages of other denominations as well. Behind the head of Roma, if one looks closely the letter X, a Roman numeral ten, is to be found. This is a denominational mark indicating that this coin was worth ten asses, an as beings the largest common denomination of Roman bronze coinage. The whole obverse design is surrounded by a dotted line border also common on Roman coinages. On the other side of the coin, the tails or “reverse” side, is an image of the sons of Zeus, the twins Castor and Pollux known as the Dioscuri. The young brothers are riding a pair of galloping horses towards the right with their lances leveled and they each are wearing their characteristic round cap known as a pileus. This scene is thought to represent the divine twins charging to the Romans’ aid at the Battle of Lake Regillus in 496 BCE, when legend has it that Dioscuri fought alongside the Romans against their enemies the Latin League and the old Etruscan king Tarquinius Superbus. Underneath the image of the riders is a feather, another control mark, and below that, beneath a horizontal line, in a position numismatists call “in exergue,” is the word ROMA, the name of the city and goddess. This inscription is typical of Roman coins, appearing on either side from very early in the history of Roman coinage. The whole of the reverse design is encircled in a solid ring a common feature like the ring of dots surrounding the obverse design.

Can you tell us something about the context in which your coin was minted?

This coin, minted in end of the 3rd century BCE, is one of the issues from the earliest phase of the denarius coinage, produced in the context of the 2nd Punic War (218 – 201 BCE) a struggle for the existence of Rome itself. This variety of denarius has been found in hoards in throughout Italy where they are concentrated in the central and southern regions on the west and east coasts though one even was found north of the Po Valley, in addition to locations all over the Iberian peninsula and one even on the island of Sardinia. All these regions are either areas that the Romans struggled for control of with the Carthaginians in the 2nd Punic War or, in the case of Sardinia, in the 1st. These early denarii and the whole denarius system can in many ways be considered to be Rome’s war coinage. In this early phase of the denarius coinage denarii were minted in Rome, central Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Luceria, Canusium, Corcyra, and perhaps even other locations. The mint location of this particular coinage is, however, unfortunately unknown so it is perhaps best to think of it as being minted in the greater context of the 2nd Punic War.

What is the most interesting thing you have discovered doing research about this coin?

The silver denarius was minted by Romans from about 211 BCE until the 3rd century CE so it is difficult to know its exact purchasing power as it changed overtime. While this denarius has a denominational mark of X, or ten, some minted after the coin was retarrifed to sixteen asses have a mark of XVI. Evidence for the purchasing power of the denarius comes from ancient Greek and Roman authors as well as documentary sources like inscriptions and papyri. To give an example of the coin’s worth the Bible testifies that a denarius may have been the typical wage for a day laborer (Matthew 20:2; John 12:5) and the elder Pliny, a great scholar who died in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, tells us that a sort of peach or perhaps nectarine called a duracinus imported to Rome from parts of Asia and Gaul sold for about a denarius a piece (Natural History 15.40).

Mahmoud Samori
h o m e
late 3rd c BCE
2nd c BCE
1st c BCE