In this article you can find valuable historical information about ancient Roman coins, as well as a list of the most sought after and collected coins.
If you are only interested in the list of the most expensive and sought after Roman coins, click here to go directly to the corresponding section.
On the other hand, if you are a passionate numismatic enthusiast you can read on, and you will find valuable information about the history and evolution of the ancient coins of the Roman Empire.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What types of Roman coins are there?
It is difficult to answer this question precisely. First we must be clear that the history of Roman numismatics extends approximately from 280 BC to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD.
The earliest ancient Roman coins are known as As. These are generally known as aes rude, and are very rustic pieces with little detail, as they were cast and not minted.
It must be said that at the beginning the whole issue of coins was a bit chaotic, since their value was determined by weight. Therefore, at the time of the exchange the pieces had to be weighed to know how much was actually being paid.
Luckily, King Servius Tullius in the middle of the 6th century B.C. created a true monetary system, centered on the As Libral, also called aes grave. The system was composed of the As, and 5 other fractional coins. These would be the first ancient Roman coins.
The monetary system of Roman coins based on the As, are:
|Minerva||Triens (1/3)||four points||91g|
|Hercules||Quadrans (1/4)||three points||68,25g|
|Minerva||Sextans (1/6)||two points||45.5g|
|Bellona||Uncia (1/12)||one point||22.75g|
As you can see in the table above, the As underwent constant depreciation, which led to the minting of other stronger coins in later stages.
Next, the two most important periods, as far as Roman coinage is concerned, are the Republican Period and the Augustan Period.
In the Republican Period, the official Roman currency was the denarius argentum, which many specialists consider a replica of the Greek Drachma. The Denarius, as it happened with other Roman monetary systems, had a unitary piece and several fractional pieces of the same.
In fact, in this period, the As did not disappear, but was considered a tenth part of the denarius. In other words, 10 As were equivalent to 1 Denarius.
The ancient Roman coins of the Republican Era, and their equivalence with the denarius, are:
- Denarius = Monetary unit
- 4 Sestertius = 1 Denarius
- 5 Dupondio = 1 Denarius
- 10 As = 1 Denarius
- 20 Semis = 1 Denarius
- 30 Triens = 1 Denarius
- 40 Quadrans = 1 Denarius
- 24 Quincunx = 1 Denarius
Eventually the denarius also lost value due to inflation and new Roman coins of higher denominations were created.
An example of this is the Roman coin Aureo, equivalent to 10 or 25 denarii, depending on the date taken as a reference. We can also mention the Quinario Aureo, with a value corresponding to half an Aureo.
The Aureus was replaced by the Solidus, by Emperor Constantine I the Great. The Solidus, Byzantine Solidus, or Solidus Aureus, by its various denominations, was a Roman coin minted in gold highly valued for its purity and weight always stable.
The Solidus reached a value of approximately 1000 to 2000 denarii, depending on the date taken as a reference. It was the most common Roman coin during the period known as the Lower Roman Empire, and is currently a favorite among collectors.
How to identify authentic Roman coins?
To identify authentic Roman coins it is always best to have the opinion of a numismatic specialist. However, some common elements in coins of this period and geography will help you to quickly recognize whether or not you are in the presence of a Roman coin.
Most ancient Roman coins have on one side the bust of the emperor who ruled at the time they were minted. If you can recognize who is depicted, you will be able to locate the period in which the coin in question was put into circulation.
Some collectors go so far as to focus on collecting as many coins of the same Roman emperor as possible. Others try to build a collection in which the various hierarchs of the Roman Empire are represented.
Another important element on Roman coins is that their legends are written in Latin. The different phrases, either on the obverse or reverse, will be of great help in recognizing the coin in question.
Also, many Roman coins feature the inscription CS.
What does CS stand for on Roman coins? These acronyms represent the words “Senatus Consulto”, and mean that this piece had the recognition and support of the Roman Senate. It is worth noting that some pieces do not have the initials, and are still considered authentic.
If you have an ancient coin, and you think it could be an ancient Roman coin, the first step is to compare it with an online catalog; or better, consult a specialist who can certify the authenticity of the piece.
You may not know it, but there are many forgeries of ancient Roman coins, since they are easier to recreate than modern coins.
These are the most valuable and sought-after Roman coins.
Now that you have some numismatic knowledge of ancient Rome, let’s review what are the most interesting Roman coins to collect and invest in.
Denarius: The Roman coin of reference.
Denarius are very popular among Roman coin collectors, as for a long time it was the backbone of the Roman Empire’s monetary system. Many of the known Denarius were minted in Silver.
We must recognize that the preference of collectors for Denarius is also motivated by the great popularity and demand for these pieces. Other denominations are not as well known as Denarius.
Many Denarius pieces include some of their faces, busts of deities or emperors, which makes them very attractive to collectors.
What is the value of a Roman Denarius?
The reality is that the prices of Roman denarii are very variable and depend on several different factors: date of minting, availability of other specimens, collector demand, among others.
Prices can range from a few hundred euros or dollars to several thousands.
I share with you some of the Denarius auctioned at Aureo & Calico and their prices:
Antoninianos: mysterious Roman coinage
It is known as Antoninianos to the ancient Roman coins minted in the third century, of which the real name at the time is unknown. These coins, originally minted in silver, were equivalent to 2 Denarii, although specialists say they were never worth more than 1.6 Denarii.
The Antoninians suffered successive devaluations that forced them to be minted in bronze. For this reason, coin collectors can have pieces in both metals, equally authentic, depending on the period in which they were produced.
How much are Roman antoninian coins worth?
Antoninians, or double denarii, can be had for a few tens of dollars and hardly any collector is willing to pay more than $200 for one.
The Antoninianus of Pacatianus alone, supposedly can reach the value of several thousand dollars.
Stertii: the Roman silver coin par excellence.
We enter again in the Roman coins best valued by collectors. The sestertii, minted in silver, are both striking and accessible to those who enter the world of ancient coin collecting.
Most of them are very beautiful Roman coins in which the busts of emperors can be appreciated in a very visual way. The most sought after Sestertii are:
- Sestertius of Marcus Aurelius,
- Sestertius of Trajan,
- Sestertius of Claudius and
- Sestertius of Alexander Severus
What is the current price of a Sestertius?
In good quality, they can be found starting at $100, but some specimens exceed thousands of dollars at numismatic auctions.
Now let’s review some auctioned pieces and their prices.
Aureus: Gold coins for high-end collectors.
When it comes to collecting Roman gold coins, the Aureus takes the place of honor. In fact, it is one of the most prized ancient gold coins by collectors and numismatists.
Although the Aureus is the same size as the denarius, both in its time and today, the value of the Aureus surpasses the denarius by a considerable amount. Buying an Aureus is always a good decision, either as a form of investment or simply for collecting.
How much does a Roman Aureus cost today?
Believe me when I tell you that the price of a Roman Aureus can surprise you a lot, as they are very valuable and well paid pieces. I would say that they are most certainly among the most expensive Roman coins in the world.
Below, I show you some auctioned Aureans and their prices:
What is the most expensive Roman coin ever sold?
The most expensive Roman coin ever sold or auctioned to date is a Sestertius of Emperor Hadrian, which reached the value of $2 million.
The aforementioned Roman coin was auctioned by the Swiss house Numismatica Genevensis, in December 2008.
Of course, the piece auctioned by Numismatica Genevensis is one of the best preserved specimens of the Roman period, among the known sestertii. And we must consider that the imperial medal-type sestertii are among the most coveted Roman coins for their unusual artistic quality.
A curious fact is that many of the sestertii are attributed to the work of a single engraver, known among numismatists and collectors as “Master Alpheus”.
It is speculated that the engraver of the most expensive ancient Roman coins ever sold might be the sculptor Antonianus of Aphrodisias, for his style of Greek classicism promoted by Hadrian. Unfortunately this is only conjecture, and has not been conclusively proven.
Where to buy valuable Roman coins?
To conclude this article, let’s review the most common places where you can buy or sell Roman coins, as long as they are attested and have great value.
Certainly, this type of coins cannot be found in popular markets, nor in neighborhood auction houses. Ancient Roman coins are usually in the hands of collectors or higher level sellers.
So, if you are interested in buying Roman collector coins, I recommend you to find out which are the existing auction houses or numismatists.
Also, you can access online auctions, although in this case, I recommend that you make sure about the history of the site. If it is a safe site, if there are accurate opinions about it, how many auctions they have done and what are the results of them.
In future articles I will be going deeper into this topic, so keep checking the blog, as there are many news coming soon.