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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.[1] with a weight of 6.8 grams on average at the time or 148 of a Roman pound. Contact with the Greeks prompted a need for silver coinage in addition to the bronze asses the Romans were using at that time. This was a Greek-style silver coin, very similar to didrachm and drachma struck in Metapntum 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.[2] 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.[3][4][5]

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 172 of a Roman pound of silver. It was the backbone of Roman currency through the Roman Republic with fair consistency at this weight. [6]

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 184 of a Roman pound). It then remained at near this weight until the time of Nero, when it was reduced to 196 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.[7]

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