Coins of Roman Britain 1st & 2nd century

Many different denomination of coins were issued for use in the Roman Empire, but only a relatively small section found their way to Britain. The sestertius was actually introduced as a silver coin at the same time as the denarius. It was only issued intermittently, however, until it was struck as a base-metal coin under Augustus. The Portable Antiquities Scheme website has a very good section on identifying Roman Coinage which you can find here

A silver coin, of about 20mm in diameter, issued from before 200BC to about 280 AD , making it the longest surviving denomination of the Roman Empire. During this period , the Denarius was the only coin that could be used for paying state taxes. To give some idea of its value in present day terms, during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD Roman Legionaries were paid 300 Denarii per year.

A large coin of about 30-35 mm in diameter, usually struck in orichalcum (a Roman brass type alloy) and valued at 4 to a Denarius. First issued by the Emperor Augustus in the early 1st century, it remained in use until the late 3rd century.

A coin of about 25-30 mm in diameter, also made from orichalcum and with a similar period of issue - valued at 2 to a Sestertius. From the time of Vespasian, AD69-70, the portrait of the Emperor was usually depicted wearing a "radiate" crown representing the rays of the sun.

A similar coin to the Dupondius both in size and period of use but struck in copper - valued at 2 to a Dupondius. It is often difficult to distinguish between the two coins, particularly when found with the green patina common to copper alloy coins found in British Soil conditions. The As was the most common coin of the 1st and 2nd centuries and was extensively copied, probably by the Roman Army. When in circulation, the As would buy a haircut - so it would be worth a few pounds at today's values.


Similar in size and appearance to a Denarius but struck in brass - valued at 2 to an As. Never a common coin even when in circulation.

Coins of Roman Britain - 3rd and 4th Centuries
The coinage of the 3rd and 4th Centuries is complex and confusing. It was a time when the Roman Empire was under attack on many fronts and the economy was in decline. Many reforms of the coinage were attempted and few lasted more than a short time. The most significant coin issues are described below:

First introduced by the Emperor Caracalla in AD 214, this coin was initially struck in silver and valued at 2 Denarii. The coin was named after Caracalla's official name - "Antoninus" and showed the Emperor wearing the radiate crown, hence its more common name "Radiate". When first issued, this coin was about 22mm in diameter and struck in reasonably good silver (about 50% fine). As the 3rd Century progressed, inflation reduced it, both in size and silver content until it became a bronze coin, sometimes only 10 mm in diameter, until production finally ceased at the end of the century. This coin was issued in vast quantities by both legitimate and usurper Emperors. Many illegal copies were produced, mainly of poor quality, hence their common name "Barbarous Radiates"

Issued by the Emperor Diocletion in about AD 295, this was, initially, a large coin of about 2530 mm diameter struck in bronze with a thin silver was applied. Within 20 years or so the Follis had been reduced to a small bronze coin of about 18-20 mm with no attempt at silvering.

Coins of the 4th Century
The names of the common 4th century denominations have not been recorded in history so modern terminology is used to classify the coins struck as Ae1, Ae2, Ae3 and Ae4, Ae1 being the largest. All these coins were struck in bronze with no silver content.

from 25-30 mm diameter, this coin was issued by the Emperor Julian II, AD 360-363, possibly in an attempt to revive the original Follis.

About 22mm in diameter, issued by the Emperors Constantius and Constans in AD 348, possibly known as a Centenionalis, but discontinued in AD 354.

About 18mm in diameter, this coin was probably the final version of the Follis , although coins of this size continued to be issued well into the 5th Century.

Below 17mm in diameter, coins of this size were issued throughout the 3rd Century and almost to the end of the 5th. Found in large quantities on most Roman sites their value must have been very small.

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