The denarius was the standard Roman silver coin for five hundred years and formed the backbone of Roman currency throughout the Roman republic and the early empire.
The word denarius is a Latin adjective that means “of ten” or “containing ten.” As a monetary unit, the denarius was originally a silver coin valued at 10 asse.
It was introduced in the Second Punic War c. 211 BC and used until the reign of Gordian III (AD 238–244). Continuous debasement of the Denarius caused its replacement by in the Antoninianus, or double denarius, which became the principle Roman coin by AD 238
The Denarius contained originally 4.5g silver (100 denarii would weigh about one pound), though throughout the centuries, war and economic crises precipitated weight decreases and silver debasement as a way to increase money.
The Value of the Denarius
25 silver denarii
2 silver denarii
16 copper asses
8 copper asses
Bronze (silver wash)
4 copper asses
2 copper asses
1/4 copper as
How much was a Denarius worth?
During Julius Caesar reign in 44BC a legionary’s pay was doubled to 225 denarii per year. A centurion was earning between 3,750 denarii and 15,000 denarii
In the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire (~27BC) an unskilled worker or a soldier earned about one denarius per day, which was considered a decent wage for a commoner.
The value of the denarius varied over time, depending on factors such as inflation, debasement, and supply and demand. According to some estimates, based on the average weight of the coin and the price of silver, one denarius would be equivalent to about $0.74 USD today. However, this does not take into account the differences in living standards, wages, and prices between ancient Rome and modern times. A more meaningful way to measure the value of the denarius is to compare it with the average daily wage of an unskilled worker or a soldier in Roman times.
What does the Bible say about the worth a Denarius?
According to parable of the laborers in the vineyard found in the Bible Matthew 20:2, was hired at one denarius for the day. That would make and annual income of about 312 denarii a year for 6 days work week.
In the Book of Revelation, during the Third Seal: Black Horse, a choinix (“quart”) of wheat and three quarts of barley were each valued at one denarius.
What could a Roman denarius buy ?
Same as today, back then, the value of a daily wage is determined by its capacity to purchase the basic needs for daily survival. In the Roman Empire, this included wheat, oil, and wine.
Historians estimate a cost of 200 denarii a year in first century (ca. AD 75–125) Rome and 100 denarii a year outside of Rome to purchase the dietary necessities like wheat, oil, wine for a family.
This means that one denarius could buy about a day’s worth of basic necessities, such as food and clothing. For example, one denarius could buy:
– About 3 kg (6.6 lbs) of wheat, enough to make bread for a family of four for a day.
– About 15 kg (33 lbs) of barley, enough to make porridge or beer for a large group of people.
– About 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) of meat, such as pork, beef, or chicken.
– About 500 g (1.1 lbs) of cheese or butter.
– About 4 liters (1 gallon) of wine or vinegar.
– About 2 liters (0.5 gallon) of olive oil.
– About 250 g (0.55 lbs) of salt or spices.
– About 10 eggs or 20 figs.
– A pair of sandals or a simple tunic.
– A haircut or a shave.
– a cow = 100-200 denarii
– a male slave = 500 denarii
– a female slave = 2,000-6,000 denarii
Of course, these prices are only approximate and could vary depending on the region, season, and quality of the goods. Some items were more expensive or cheaper in different parts of the empire, depending on their availability and demand. For example, wine was cheaper in Italy than in Gaul or
Britain, while olive oil was cheaper in Spain than in Egypt or Syria. Some items were also subject to taxes or tariffs, which could increase their cost.
In addition to buying goods, one could also use a denarius to pay for services or entertainment. For example, one denarius could pay for:
– A night at a cheap inn or a brothel.
– A seat at the theater or the circus.
– A visit to the public baths or the gymnasium.
– A consultation with a doctor or a lawyer.
– A sacrifice at a temple or a donation to a charity.
Again, these prices are only indicative and could vary depending on the quality and reputation of the service provider. Some services were also regulated by law or custom, which could affect their price. For
example, doctors were forbidden to charge more than one denarius for treating a wound or an illness.
As we can see, one denarius could buy quite a lot in ancient Rome, depending on what one wanted to buy and where one lived. However, one should also keep in mind that most people did not have access to a steady income of one denarius per day. Many people lived in poverty and had to rely on charity or patronage to survive. Others had to spend most of their income on taxes or debts. Only a few people enjoyed wealth and luxury and could afford to spend more than one denarius on a single item.
How much would a Denarius be worth today?
Depending on whether we try and draw equivalences between minimum wage, or purchase parity, it would be worth somewhere between $10 and $100.
The most expensive Denarius sold
The most expensive Denarius is a what may be the most famous ancient coin ever, the “Eid Mar” silver denarius from 42 B.C.,
In 2014 The Coin reached a record price of $517,000, including the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee.
The extremely rare gold version of the ‘EID MAR’ denarius of Brutus, probably the most famous ancient coin out there, was sold on 30 October 2020 at Roma Numismatics Auction XX for a record-breaking sum of 2.7 million pounds (approx. $2,988,360).
The circa late autumn 42 B.C. silver denarius is known as the Eid Mar or “Ides of March” coin for the Latin legend EID MAR on the reverse. The reference is to the assassination of Julius Caesar two years earlier, on March 15, 44 B.C. The coin is also famous for the image of one of the assassins, M. Junius Brutus, on the obverse.
The coin in the Goldberg auction is “boldly struck with an incredible, well defined portrait on a full broad flan with minor porosity, all lightly toned,” according to the auction house.
It was accompanied by a photo-certificate from Numismatic Guaranty Corp., which states the coin is the only example it has certified. NGC graded the coin Choice About Uncirculated, noting that its strike quality is 5/5, that surface quality is 3/5 and the coin is of Fine Style.
Below a picture of the beauty.