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p182 Aurum

The Roman section only (p182)
of an article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on pp180‑182 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

AURUM (χρυσός).

[. . .]

Roman Gold Money.— The standard gold coin of Rome was the aureus nummus, which, according to Pliny (H. N. XXXIII.3 s13) was first coined 62º years after the first silver coinage [Argentum], that is in the year 207 B.C. The lowest denomination was the scrupulum, which was made equal to 20 sestertii. The weight of the scrupulum, as determined by Mr. Hussey (Ancient Weights and Money) was 18·06 grs. In the British Museum there are gold coins of one, two, three, and four scrupula, the weights of which are 17·2, 34·5, 51·8, and 68·9 grains respectively. They bear a head of Mars on one side, and on the other an eagle standing on a thunderbolt, and beneath the inscription "Roma." The first has the mark XX (20 sestertii); the second, XXXX (40 sestertii); the third, zzzX (60 sestertii). Of the last we subjoin an engraving:—

Pliny adds that afterwards aurei were coined of 40 to the pound, which weight was diminished, till under Nero (the reading of this word is doubtful) they were 45 to the pound. This change is supposed, from an examination of extant specimens, to have been made in the time of Julius Caesar. The estimated full weight of the aurei of 40 to the pound is 130·1 grains, of those of 45 to the pound 115·64 grains. No specimens exist which come up to the 130·1 grains; the heaviest known is one of Pompey, which weighs 128·2 grains. The average of the gold coins of Julius Caesar is fixed by Letronne at 125·66 grains, those of Nero 115·39 grains. Though the weight of the aureus was diminished, its proportion to the weight of the denarius remained about the same, namely, as 2 : 1 (or rather, perhaps, as 2·1 : 1). Therefore since the standard weight of the denarius, under the early emperors, was 60 grains, that of the aureus should be 120. The average weight of the aurei of Augustus, in the British Museum, is 121·26 grains: and as the weight was afterwards diminished, we may take the average at 120 grains. There seems to have been no intentional alloy in the Roman gold coins, but they generally contained a small portion of native silver. The average alloy is 1/300. The aureus of the Roman emperors, therefore, contained 120/300 = ·4 of a grain of alloy, and therefore 119·6 grains of pure gold. Now a sovereign contains 113·12 grains of pure gold. Therefore the value of the aureus in terms of the sovereign is 119/113 : 6/12 = 1·0564 = 1l. 1s. 1d. and a little more than a halfpenny. This is its value according to the present worth of gold; but its current value in Rome was different from this, on account of the difference in the worth of the metal. The aureus passed for 25 denarii; therefore, the denarius being 8½d., it was worth 17s. 8½d. The ratio of the value of gold to that of silver is given in the article Argentum. The following cut represents an aureus of Augustus in the British Museum, which weighs 121 grains.

Alexander Severus coined pieces of one-half and onethird of the aureus, called Semissis and tremissis (Lamprid. Alex. Sev. c39), after which time the aureus was called solidus.

Constantine the Great coined aurei of 72 to the pound; at which standard the coin remained to the end of the empire (Cod. X tit. 70 s5; Hussey, On Ancient Weights and Money; Wurm. De Pond. &c.).


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