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. with a weight of 6.8 grams on average at the time or 1⁄48 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 Metapontion 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. 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.
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 1⁄72 of a Roman pound of silver. It was the backbone of Roman currency through the Roman Republic with fair consistency at this weight. 
The denarius began to experience slow debasement towards the end of the Republic. Under the rule of Augustus its silver content fell to 3.9 grams (a theoretical weight of 1⁄84 of a Roman pound). It then remained at near this weight until the time of Nero, when it was reduced to 1⁄96 of a pound, or 3.4 grams. Regular debasement of the silver began after Nero. Later Roman emperors reduced it to a weight of 3 grams around the late 3rd century.
The value at its introduction was 10 asses, giving the denarius its name which translates to "containing ten". In about 141 BC it was re-tariffed at 16 asses, to reflect the decrease in weight of the as. The denarius continued to be the main coin of the Roman Empire until it was replaced by the antoninianus in the middle of the 3rd century. The last issuance for this coin seems to be bronze coins issued by Aurelian between 270 and 275 AD, and in the first years of the reign of Diocletian. For more details, see the article 'Denarius' in A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins by John R. Melville-Jones (1990).
Comparisons and silver content
It is problematic to give even rough comparative values for money from before the 20th century, due to vastly different types of products and of the impossibility of making an accurate price index based on vastly different spending proportions. Its purchasing power in terms of bread has been estimated at US$21, from 2005, in the first century. Classical historians regularly say that in the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire the daily wage for an unskilled laborer and common soldier was 1 denarius without tax, or about US$20 in bread (by comparison, a laborer earning the minimum wage in the United States makes US$58 for an 8-hour day, before taxes). The actual silver content of the Denarius was about 50 grains, or 1⁄10 troy ounce under the Empire. In June 6 2011, this corresponds to approximately US$3.62 in value if the silver were 0.999 pure (which it wasn't).
Even after the denarius was no longer regularly issued, it continued to be used as an accounting device and the name was applied to later Roman coins in a way that is not understood. The Arabs who conquered large parts of the Roman Empire issued their own Gold dinar, from which the name dinar of various present-day Arab currencies is derived. The lasting legacy of the denarius can be seen in the use of "d" as the abbreviation for the British penny prior to 1971. It survived in France as the name of a coin, the denier. The denarius also survives in the common Arabic name for a currency unit, the dinar used from pre-Islamic times, and still used in several modern Arabic-speaking nations. Currency unit in former Yugoslavia and nowadays in Serbia is dinar which also has its origins in the Latin word denarius. The Macedonian currency denar is also derived from the Roman denarius. The Italian word denaro, Spanish word dinero, the Portuguese word dinheiro, the Slovene word denar and the Catalan word diner, all meaning money, are also derived from Latin "denarius."
The gold aureus seems to have been a "currency of account," a denomination not commonly seen in daily transactions due to its high value. Numismatists think that the aureus was used to pay bonuses to the legions at the accession of new emperors. It was valued at 25 denarii.
The Bible refers to the denarius as a day's wage for a common laborer (Matthew 20:2 ; John 12:5 ).The value of the denarius is referred to, though perhaps not literally, in the Bible at Revelation 6:6: "And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius [Latin Vulgate: bilibris tritici denario et tres bilibres hordei denario, δηναρίου in the original Greek]; and do not damage the oil and the wine.'"
- As (coin)
- Denarius of L. Censorinus, for the detailed description of a specific Roman denarius
- French denier
- Gold Dinar
- Greek drachma
- Macedonian denar
- Roman currency
- Solidus (coin)
- Tribute penny
- ^ A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, William Smith, D.C.l., LL, D., John Murray, London 1875 Pg 393, 394
- ^ The Numismatic Circular, Volume 8-9, Spink & Son, 1899-1900 Piccadilly West, London
- ^ Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins. Oxford University Press, New York 1994.
- ^ As the Romans Did, Jo-Ann Shelton. Oxford University Press, New York 1998
- ^ Plutarch's Lives, Vol 2, John Langhorne, DD, William Langhorne, AM, London 1813
- ^ The New Deal in Old Rome, HJ Haskell, Alfred K Knoff New York 1939
- ^ Ancient coin collection 3Wayne G Sayles Pg 21-22
- ^ Aurelian, Roman Imperial Coinage reference, Thumbnail Index, http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/ric/aurelian/t.html, retrieved 24 August 2006
- ^ Aurelian Æ Denarius. Rome mint. IMP AVRELIANVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right, http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/sear/s3272.html, retrieved 24 August 2006
- ^ Katsari, Constantina (2002). "The Concept of Inflation in the Roman Empire". http://ideas.repec.org/p/wpa/wuwpeh/0204001.html. Retrieved 2006-12-06.
- ^ English Coinage 600–1900 by C.H.V. Sutherland 1973 ISBN 0-7134-0731-X p.10
Currencies named dinar or similar Circulating Obsolete As subunit See also
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