Decline of Roman Imperial Silver Coinage

A pre-reform denarius of Nero, about 98% pure silver.
For the first 90 years of the Roman Empire the purity of Rome’s silver coinage was 98% or higher. That standard was kept by the emperors Augustus, Tiberius (14-37), Caligula (37-41) and Claudius (41-54), and even the first decade of Nero's reign (54-68).

The Great Fire of Rome in 64 marked the start of a debasement that would eventually bring Rome’s silver coinage to unfathomable depths. Nero chose the quickest possible pathway to raising funds – re-coining old money.
Post-reform denarius of Nero, about 93% pure silverNero decreased the purity of silver denarii by 5%, dropping it from about 98% to about 93%. At the same time he reduced the weight of the denarius by about 12.5%, which further reduced silver weight. Nero also reduced the weight of his gold aurei.
Nero was overthrown in 68 giving rise to the infamous Year of Four Emperors in 69. Vespasian (69-79), came to power and reduced the purity of the denarius again, to about 90%.
In 107 Trajan (98-117) reduced the purity of the denarius to 88% silver. From there the purity slid until 148, when the emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) removed about another 5%. The denarius was now about 84% or 83% pure.

The denarius continued its slide, reaching about 71% near the end of the incompetent reign of Commodus (177-192)
Under Septimius Severus (193-211) the purity of the denarius dropped to about 57%. Over the next four decades, the purity of imperial silver coinage continued to slide, dropping steadily until it had reached about 41% purity under Trajan Decius (249-251). Under Trebonianus Gallus (251-253) and Aemilian (253), it sank to about 35% pure. By 268, the double-denarius had slid to a silver content of 5% or less – in some cases dropping to about 2.5%.
Emperor Nero
Nero is among the best-known of all Roman emperors – but not for good reasons. During his reign, from 54 to 68 CE, Nero had few accomplishments and many failures.

Nero's mother, Agrippina the Younger, (Caligula's sister) dominated Nero's early life until he cast her off. Five years into his reign, he had her murdered. Nero's rule is usually thought that of a tyrant and most Romans thought him corrupt.

Silver denarius of 55/56
He was suspected of starting the Great Fire of Rome in the year AD 64 in order to clear the way for his new palace complex, the Domus Aurea. It caused widespread devastation and countless mansions, homes and temples were destroyed. The fire is reported to have burned for over a week.

Nero seized Christians as scapegoats for the fire and burned them alive.
Nero was famous for devaluing Roman currency for the first time in the Empire's history. He reduced the weight of the denarius from 3.85 grams to 3.35 grams. He also reduced the silver purity from 99.5% to 93.5%—the silver weight dropping from 3.83 grams to 3.4 grams. He also reduced the weight of the aureus from 8 grams to 7.2 grams.
In 65 a conspiracy against Nero failed after being discovered. In March 68, Gaius Julius Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, rebelled against Nero's tax policies. The discontent of the legions of Germany and the continued opposition of the popular Galba in Spain, despite his being officially declared a public enemy were Nero's undoing.

The prefect of the Praetorian Guard also abandoned his allegiance to the Emperor. When the Senate declared Nero a public enemy it was the end. Nero could not bring himself to take his own life but instead forced his private secretary to perform the task. He died on 9 June 68.
In 2017 excavations at Mount Zion in Jerusalem for the first time discovered a gold coin bearing the likeness of Roman Emperor Nero. The coin had been struck in either 56 and 57 AD. The gold coin (aureus) bears the bare-headed portrait of the younger Nero as Caesar.

The coin would have been minted before the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The archaeologists hypothesized that the gold coin was part of a Jewish store of wealth, amassed before their mansions were razed – along with the rest of the city – by Titus and the Roman legions.

The coin was likely hidden prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and overlooked by looting Roman soldiers.
The Siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 was the decisive event of the First Jewish–Roman War. The destruction of both the first and second temples is still mourned annually as the Jewish fast Tisha B'Av.

The Arch of Titus, celebrating the Roman sack of Jerusalem and the Temple, still stands in Rome.

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Surviving under tyrants like Caligula or Nero was a difficult task if you belonged to the Roman upper class. They tended to consider prominent members of the Senate their rivals, and thus found need to dispose of them. Anyone who did not master the art of survival didn't last long. Galba mastered it, for a while.

Galba was 73 when the governor of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis contacted him in the winter of 67/68. Gaius Iulius Vindex put himself at the forefront of those who no longer wanted to fund Nero’s massive extravagances.

Galba, 68-69. Denarius April to late 68.

Galba Sestertius, Rome 68-69
When Nero learned about the rebellion of Vindex, he immediately assumed that Galba could become a threat. The murder attempt failed. It made clear to Galba that his tactics would not protect him from another assassination attempt by Nero.

On April 2, 68, he stepped in front of the army on the forum of Cartagena. The army did what it was expected to do: it proclaimed Galba emperor. The Senate dismissed Nero on June 9, 68, and sentenced him to death. Galba was appointed his successor.

Galba, Aureus July 68-January 69
Instead of concentrating on his army, Galba focused on the seriously depleted state coffers. He tried to recover the 2.2 billion sestertii Nero had given away as gifts. The tide was turning for Galba on January 1, 69, when all the legions were requested to renew the oath on the emperor.

The Roman army on the Rhine refused. The legionaries were upset that Galba had not rewarded them for their support during the rebellion. Galba vainly tried to take up the fight. A bad decision. Galba was killed and more conflict followed. The eventful year 69 AD went down in Roman history as the 'Year of the Four Emperors'.
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Rare Constantine I Solidus
A rare Roman solidus of Emperor Constantine I was dug up from a field in Somerset. It carries an estimate of £10k-12k. On the reverse is a rare portrayal of Constantine riding his horse in battle holding a spear and shield with two fallen enemy soldiers. It commemorates a victory over Maxentius at Milvian bridge outside Rome on October 28, 312. Constantine the Great ruled between 306 and 337 AD.
Constantine enacted reforms. To combat inflation he introduced the solidus, a new gold coin that became the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than a thousand years. Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, which he did on his deathbed.
Constantine was a ruler of major importance, and a controversial figure.

Constantine had his eldest son Crispus seized and put to death by "cold poison" at Pola (Pula, Croatia) sometime between 15 May and 17 June 326. In July, he had his wife Empress Fausta killed in an overheated bath. Constantine was succeeded by his three sons born of Fausta, Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans. More bloodshed followed.

Possibly the earliest coin to depict Hermes is a silver stater of Kaunos dated to c. 490 BCE
To the Greeks he was Hermes. To the Etruscans, he was Turms. To the Romans he was Mercurius.

He played many different roles in the myths and beliefs of ancient people, but as a god of profit and commerce, he was often represented on money.

Populonia, an important center of iron production, was one of the few Etruscan cities that issued silver coinage in the fourth century BCE. A magnificent didrachm – one of only three known examples – depicts the god Turms.
The facing head of Hermes, dated to c. 402-399 BCE.

Perhaps the finest image of Hermes on any ancient coin appears on the reverse of a silver stater of Pheneos, c. 360-350 BCE

C. Mamilius Limetanus denarius serratus c. 82 BC. Bust of Mercury
One of the last appearances of Mercury on Roman coinage came during the brief reign of the emperor Trajan Decius. (249-251)

Pheneos produced a small silver obol c. 370-340 BCE
Hermes was often depicted as a young man, wearing traveling clothes, a flat hat known as 'petasus' and winged sandals on his feet. Often, he was depicted having wings attached to his shoulders and hat.

He usually held a caduceus, a winged staff with snakes wrapped around it so he could gain access everywhere. This staff helped Hermes to charm the gods. The staff is often mistakenly used as a symbol of medicine.
Roman road unveiled beneath McDonald's restaurant
Two thousand years after legionaries tramped along its well-worn paving stones, an exceptionally well-preserved stretch of Roman road has been opened to the public – beneath a McDonald’s restaurant. The 150ft-long stretch of basalt road has been cleared, cleaned and made into a permanent attraction at Frattocchie, south of Rome.

Customers in search of cultural heritage along with their Big Macs and fries can descend underground and view the Roman road, as well as three skeletons. The bodies are believed to have been buried in the period after the road was abandoned. The skeletons belong to three men, the oldest of whom was aged 35-40.

McDonalds customers view the Roman road, as well as three ancient skeletons that were found buried in the culverts either side of it.
The find came to light in 2014 when the area was being excavated for a new McDonald’s restaurant. Archaeologists were summoned and the US fast food chain contributed 300,000 euros to the three-year restoration of the site. Experts say the paved road connected with the Appian Way.

Named after the Roman official who conceived it, Appius Claudius Caecus, it became known as the “regina viarium” or queen of roads.

The stretch of road is about 150ft long and more than 7ft wide. It was built in the 2nd century BC but fell into disuse by the 3rd century AD and remained buried for more than 1,700 years.
Hoard of Pompeii charms found
Archaeologists in Pompeii have discovered a treasure trove of good luck charms and fertility amulets which they think may have been used for casting spells by an ancient Roman sorcerer. Most of the items would have belonged to women. A room with the bodies of 10 victims, including women and children, was excavated in the same house.
The trove was found in what remained of a wooden box. The wood itself had decomposed and only the bronze hinges remained, preserved by the volcanic material which hardened over it. The objects included crystals, amber and amethyst stones, buttons made of bones, beetles from the orient, amulets, dolls, bells, miniature penises, fists and even a tiny skull. They were found at the Casa del Giardino.
Caracalla, known as Antoninus, was Roman emperor from 198 to 217 AD. He was a member of the Severan dynasty, the eldest son of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna. Co-ruler with his father from 198, he continued to rule with his brother Geta after their father's death in 211. He had his brother killed later that year.
Ancient sources portray Caracalla as a tyrant and as a cruel leader. Caracalla became known for the construction of the Baths of Caracalla, and for the massacres he ordered against the people of Rome and elsewhere in the empire. In 216, Caracalla began a war against the Parthian Empire. He did not see this campaign through due to his assassination by a soldier in 217. The aureus shown carries an estimate of $25k to $30k
Macrinus succeeded him as emperor three days later.
McDonald's fast food outlets are ubiquitous, but Italy's culture ministry has banned the chain from building another restaurant near the Caracalla Baths. The baths date from the 3rd century and sit near the center of the city, close to the Coliseum and other famous sites.

Despite the decision, visitors to Rome will not have to travel far to get their Big Mac. The Italian capital already has 40 McDonald's restaurants.
Roman Emperor Nerva
Nerva was Roman emperor from 96 to 98. Nerva became emperor at age 66 after a lifetime of imperial service under Nero. On 18 September 96, Domitian was assassinated in a palace conspiracy involving the Praetorian Guard. On the same day, Nerva was declared emperor by the Roman Senate.

A gold aureus of Nerva reflects the delicate balance of power in ancient Rome at the time. The circa A.D. 97 gold coin features a portrait of Nerva on the obverse, with clasped hands holding a legionary eagle set upon a prow on the reverse.
Nerva’s reign was greatly assisted by his predecessor’s decision to increase wages for soldiers from 225 denarii to 300 denarii, annually. In addition, the coins used to pay the wages were of increased weight and purity compared to previous coins, so the payout was even better.

Nerva's reign was marred by financial difficulties and his inability to assert control over the Roman army. A revolt by the Praetorian Guard in October 97 forced him to adopt an heir. Nerva adopted Trajan, a young and popular general, as his successor. Nerva died of natural causes shortly after and was succeeded by Trajan.
Coins of Marcus Antonius
Following the assassination of Caesar in 44 BCE, Rome was plunged into chaos. Many of Caesar’s conspirators and assassins, including M. Junius Brutus and C. Cassius Longinus, (Brutus and Cassius) fled Rome in fear of reprisal. Caesar’s closest ally, M. Antonius (Marc Antony) seized control during the power vacuum, with the conspirators on the run and Caesar’s designated heir, G. Octavius Thurinus, (Octavian) still with an army in Macedonia.

The young heir returned to Rome with a new name, G. Julius Caesar Octavianus, and found himself with the task of controlling Marc Antony.
In the spring of 43 BCE, Octavian, along with the consuls Aulus Hirtius and G. Vibius Pansa Caetronianus, confronted and conquered Antony and his five legions at the Battle of Mutina in Cisalpine Gaul. Though victorious and causing Antony to retreat, Octavian did suffer a setback in that Hirtius was killed and Pansa succumbed to possible poisoning. This left Octavian in command of all of their eight legions.
Octavian began secret negotiations with Antony. Octavian, Antony, and M. Aemilius Lepidus met and established a three-man dictatorship.
Antony, desperate to retain troops, began to strike one of the more iconic series of coinage in Rome’s history, the legionary denarius. These coins allude directly to the events of the day, as they feature a praetorian galley.

On September 2, 31 BCE, the forces of Octavian and M. Vipsanius Agrippa defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, a promontory between the Ambracian Gulf and the Ionian Sea. The result was a decisive victory with Antony and Cleopatra forced to retreat for Egypt. A final defeat at the Battle of Alexandria on August 1, 30 BCE was the last. It was the official end of the Roman Republic and the formation of the Roman Empire.

Aureus bearing the portraits of Mark Antony (left) and Octavian (right). Struck in 41 BC, this coin was issued to celebrate the establishment of the Second Triumvirate.
Marcus Antonius portrait. Denarius from 42 B.C.Mark Antony and Cleopatra. 34 BC. Denarius
The Roman shoe hoard of Vindolanda
1,800 years ago the Roman army built one of its smallest but most heavily defended forts at the site of Vindolanda.

The small garrison of a few hundred soldiers and their families took shelter behind a series of large ditches and ramparts, while outside the walls a war was raging between the northern British Tribes and Roman forces.
Once the war was over around 212 AD the troops and their dependents pulled out of the fort, and anything that they could not carry was tossed into the ditches. In 2016, archaeologists excavated the ditch and discovered an incredible time capsule of life. With the debris were dog and cat skeletons, pottery, leather and 421 Roman shoes.
The shoe hoard gives an indication of the affluence of the occupants in AD 212 with stylish and well-made shoes, both adults and children’s.

They are the best preserved Roman shoes ever found.