Your guide to Roman coins

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12 July 2021
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Roman coinage was used across a vast area of the world and across centuries, meaning there is much for collectors to learn and collect. Discover more about Roman coins in this introductory guide.

Your introductory guide to collecting Roman coins

Roman coins are hugely popular with collectors of all levels and since they were issued across the world for many hundreds of years, there are many different varieties to collect. The subject is very complex but also hugely rewarding! 

Roman currency can generally be split into two categories:

  • Roman Republic: c. 500 – 27 BC
  • Roman Empire: 27 BC - AD 476

Influenced by the Greek, the first coins of the Roman Republic often featured images of mythical animals, gods and goddesses, or particular symbols. Meanwhile, the Roman Empire saw the coins feature portraits of leaders, increasingly whilst they were still living, such as Julius Caesar. The Romans discovered coins could be used as propaganda, underlining the power and wisdom of a leader and even suggesting they had god-like qualities.

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Which type of Roman coins should you collect?

You can find gold, silver and copper Roman coins and, as you would expect, gold and silver coins are generally more expensive to add to your collection, depending on condition and rarity. As ever, you should set yourself a budget first and then work within that.

Such is the wide range of Roman coins available, there are a number of different ways to form a collection:

  • Collect a particular period
  • Focus on a particular leader
  • Choose a theme, such as gods or animals
  • Form a collection of provincial Roman coins, from particular mints
  • Look for coins that reflect a historic event
  • Focus on a specific denomination

What different denominations were there?

Over the years, the Roman monetary system was affected by debasement and financial instability, meaning that the currency system was revised, with denominations being changed.

Some of the most popular denominations are described below:

  • As (plural 'assess') – this bronze, and later copper, coin was used throughout the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. The As reduced in size over the years but was generally around 2.6 to 3 cm in diameter.
  • Dupondius (plural 'dupondii') – many examples look similar to the as, but is actually worth 2 asses and its name means 'two-pounder'.
  • Sestertius (plural 'sestertii') – this coin was silver during the Roman Republic and increased in size during the Empire, when it was created using bronze. The Sestertius was worth 4 asses.
  • Denarius (plural 'denarii') – perhaps the most well known Roman coin, the silver denarius was originally worth 10 asses, its name literally means 'containing ten'. As inflation took hold and the value of the as decreased, the denarius was worth 16 assess.

Where can I find Roman coins for sale?

Starting a Roman coin collection is straightforward, and whilst the coins you can buy cheaply may be of a low quality, there is something very exciting about owning these small pieces of history and gradually finding out more about the coins.

Budget Roman coins can be found on internet sites such as eBay and delcampe.net, whilst you can also find low quality items in dealers' 'bargain buckets' at coin fairs.

There are many dealers that specialise in Roman coins, you the advice and confidence you need to take the next step and buy a more valuable Roman coin. Find a dealer in our online directory.

Looking to buy Roman rarities or invest in gold or silver Roman coins? Many of the world's top auction houses offer rare Roman coins, so keep your eye on forthcoming sales.


Want even more coin collecting information, market insight and in-depth collecting guides? Try the latest issue of Coin Collector magazine today! Click here to order a copy.