Introduction to Julio-Claudian Roman Imperial Coins


Last updated: 15 September 2018

[Julio-Claudian coin photo]
Relative denomination size and value comparisons
Not actual sizes due to computer screen display variances

Left to right - Top to bottom

Aureus (gold/AU) - average .75" (20 mm) dia. = 25 denarii
Denarius (silver/AR) - average .75" (20 mm) dia. = 16 asses
Sestertius (bronze/AE) - average 1.5" (38 mm) dia. = 4 asses
Dupondius (bronze/AE) - average 1.25" (32 mm) dia. = 2 asses
As (copper/AE) - average 1.125" (28 mm) dia. (base denomination)
Quadrans (copper/AE) - average .75" (20 mm) dia. = ΒΌ as

Much less frequently encountered denominations were Quinarius (gold/AU) & (silver/AR) - approx. half the size and value of the Aureus and Denarius respectively, and Semis (copper) - somewhat larger than the quadrans and twice its value.

Julio-Claudian Gold & Silver coins were very pure (98%+) making them soft and subject to significant wear in everyday use.

Fabrication (minting): First, a blank (planchet) of the correct metal composition and of the right size and weight was cast. This blank was then heated to an almost plastic state and placed on a pre-cut hardened die (the coin reverse) and the pre-cut hardened upper die (the coin obverse) positioned over it and maintained in place by by a holder (supposator) using metal tongs. A worker wielding a heavy hammer (malleator) then endeavored to strike a full square blow to the upper die on the signal of the supervisor who was sometimes the die engraver (signator). If the hold was secure and the blow of the hammer precisely administered, a perfectly round coin resulted, otherwise, the coin would be out of round which could result in partial or double struck depictions and inscriptions. The labor force of the mint consisted mostly of slaves.

Contemporary counterfeit gold and silver coins were produced by using stolen mint dies to strike copper cores which were then wrapped with a thin envelope of gold or silver. Bankers and merchants would often check the integrity of precious coins via a punch mark (shown in the Aureus photo below) or a revealing scratch (shown in the Denarius photo) in the surface of the coin.

The bronze (sometimes listed as brass) used in Roman Coinage of this time was a beautiful yellow, natural alloy of copper and zinc (in the proportion of four to one), called orichalcum.

There were two main mints: Rome and Lugdunum (modern Lyon, France). Additional Colonial mints were established from time to time.

Depictions of normally encountered coin surface coloration and appearance
All coins shown same size for clarity

[Julio-Claudian coin photo][Julio-Claudian coin photo]
Aureus - Augustus - RIC 206 (c. AD 1) - Lugdunum

[Julio-Claudian coin photo][Julio-Claudian coin photo]
Denarius - Augustus - RIC 38b (17 BC) - Spain (Colonial)

[Julio-Claudian coin photo][Julio-Claudian coin photo]
Sestertius - Claudius - RIC 99 (AD 41-50) - Rome

[Julio-Claudian coin photo][Julio-Claudian coin photo]
Dupondius - Caius (Caligula) - RIC 56 (AD 40-41) - Rome

[Julio-Claudian coin photo][Julio-Claudian coin photo]
As - Claudius (Germanicus) - RIC 106 (AD 50) - Rome

[Julio-Claudian coin photo][Julio-Claudian coin photo]
Quadrans - Claudius - RIC 88 (Ad 42-44) - Rome

Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

Go to the Julio-Claudian Roman Imperial Coins Directory