Object: Coin

Tunisia, Carthage
AD 203
Materials: Silver

This object is a Roman coin that is made of silver. Roman coins were made in mints by many different workers. Roman coins had minting marks on them to inform the people that used them where the coins were made. Silver coins in the Roman Empire were used from around 800 BCE until the fall of the Roman Empire. During this period, coins were used similar to the way that newspapers are used today. The coins spread throughout the Empire to inform people about the Emperor and depict events during his reign. This specific coin, struck in AD 203, has a depiction on the front of the coin of the laureate head of Denarius of Septimus Severus. The reverse of the coin has Fortuna seated with a rudder in her right hand, a cornucopia in her left, and a wheel under the chair (Brown et al.).

Coins in the Roman Empire tell a story about Roman life and economy at the time that they were minted. This coin would have been valued as a denarius because it was made from silver.  Most Romans would have been paid using denari. For example, a fortune teller, or Haruspex, would make around 10 denari per month. A Roman guard, or Praetorian, would make about 60 denari per month. One denari was equal to four sestertii. One denarius was equal to sixteen “as.” The sale of food and other items were denominated in as and the price of food in the Roman economy  was very high. The price of wheat, which was a primary source of food, could sell for as high as 32 as for one modius! A modius is a unit of weight used to measure the wheat. A modius is equal to 6.67 kilograms in today’s measurement.  A typical Roman male ate about two pounds of bread a day, or 16 to 20 pounds per month! Thus, a typical Roman would need four modii per month to produce the 16 to 20 loaves of bread that they ate. Today, wheat is not as much of a staple food as it was in the Roman economy and it sells for $3.00 per 170 metric tons!

[Sarah Dumas]

References: Brown,Frederick L., Mario A. Del Chiaro, Barbara L. Gunn, A.J. Heisserer, A. Jamme, Daniel C. Snell. Classical Antiquities. The Collection of the Stovall Museum of Science and History . A.J. Heisserer. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, pg. 115-135.

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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