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Important Roman Coins

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Roman coins were adopted from those of others, especially the Greeks, but quickly developed to suit the political agenda of Roman leaders. These coins provide insight into the upper echelons of the Roman political systems of the Republic and Empire.

In Chapter eleven of A Companion to Roman Religion, "Religion and Roman Coins," Jonathan Williams says the earliest Roman coins, from the late fourth and early third century B.C., resembled their Greek counterparts in showing the head or profile bust of a god or goddess on the obverse and religious symbols on the reverse. Starting with the introduction of the denarius, in about 212 [sometime after 269, according to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law, by Adolf Berger, "Denarius"; Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 43, No. 2 (1953), pp. 333-809.] -- and then worth ten copper asses or four sestertii nummi -- the reverses of the denarii displayed action scenes. Almost a century later, in about 130, coins began to change annually, when Rome instituted a panel of new magistrates, the tres viri monetales (the board of three in charge of the mint).

Take a 5-question self-grading Denarius Quiz

1. Roman Elephant Denarius

Caesar Denarius c. 49 B.C.
CC Flickr User Portableantiquities
Although numismatists can interpret this coin in a variety of ways, in most, Caesar, as symbolized in the elephant, is trampling something and he securely holds the physical power to do so thanks to the shown insignia of the highest pontifical office in Rome.

2. The EID Denarius

Ides of March Denarius
CC Flickr User Ancient Art
This coin, issued by the conspirators, commemorates a day they considered a day of liberation, but most others thought one of infamy.

3. Augustan Era Silver Denarius

Augustus Divus Iulius Coin
© Classical Numismatic Group/ www.cngcoins.com via Joe Geranio
What a change! Less than two decades later, Rome had its first emperor who would emblazon a coin with his likeness wearing a band associated with monarchs and highlight his relationship with the assassinated, deified dictator.

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