Aureus: Difference between revisions

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({{Roman coinage}})
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[[File:Aureus Septimius Severus-193-leg XIIII GMV.jpg|thumb|300px|''Aureus'' minted in 193 by [[Septimius Severus]] to celebrate [[Legio XIV Gemina|XIV ''Gemina Martia Victrix'']], the legion that proclaimed him emperor.]]
The '''''aureus''''' (pl. '''''aurei''''' — "golden") was a [[gold coin]] of [[ancient Rome]] valued at 25 silver ''[[denarius|denarii]]''. The ''aureus'' was regularly issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century AD, when it was replaced by the ''[[solidus (coin)|solidus]]''. The ''aureus'' iswas about the same size as the ''denarius'', but is heavier due to the higher [[density]] of [[gold]] (as opposed to that of [[silver]].)
 
Before the time of [[Julius Caesar]] the ''aureus'' was struck very infrequently, usually to make large payments from captured booty. Caesar struck the coin more frequently and standardized the weight at <math>\tfrac{1}{40}</math> of a [[Roman pound]] (about 8 [[gram]]s). [[Augustus]] (r. 29 BC – 9 AD) tariffed the value of the ''[[sestertius]]'' as <math>\tfrac{1}{100}</math> of an ''aureus''. The mass of the ''aureus'' was decreased to <math>\tfrac{1}{45}</math> of a pound (7.3 g) during the reign of [[Nero]] (r. 54–68).
 
[[File:Octavian aureus circa 30 BCE.jpg|thumb|left|''Aureus'' of [[Augustus|Octavian]], c. 30 BC.]]
After the reign of [[Marcus Aurelius]] (r. 161–180) the production of ''aurei'' decreased, and the weight was further decreased to <math>\tfrac{1}{50}</math> of a pound (6.5 g) by the time of [[Caracalla]] (r. 211–217). During the 3rd century, gold pieces were introduced in a variety of fractions and multiples, making it hard to determine the intended denomination of a gold coin.
 
The ''solidus'' was first introduced by [[Diocletian]] (r. 284–305) around 301 AD, struck at 60 to the Roman pound of pure gold (and thus weighing about 5.5 g each) and with an initial value equal to 1,000 ''denarii''. However, Diocletian's solidus was struck only in small quantities, and thus had only minimal economic effect.
The solidus was reintroduced by Constantine I in 312 AD, permanently replacing the aureus as the gold coin of the Roman Empire. The solidus was struck at a rate of 72 to a Roman pound of pure gold, each coin weighing twenty-four Greco-Roman carats, or about 4.5 grams of gold per coin. By this time, the solidus was worth 275,000 increasingly debased denarii.
 
The solidus was reintroduced by [[Constantine I]] (r. 306–337) in 312 AD, permanently replacing the ''aureus'' as the gold coin of the Roman Empire. The ''solidus'' was struck at a rate of 72 to a Roman pound of pure gold, each coin weighing twenty-four Greco-Roman carats, or about 4.5 grams of gold per coin. By this time, the solidus was worth 275,000 of the increasingly debased ''denarii''.
However, regardless of the ''size'' or ''weight'' of the aureus, the coin's purity was little affected. Analysis of the Roman aureus shows the purity level usually to have been near to 24 [[Carat (purity)|carat]] gold in excess of 99%. The [[Sovereign (English coin)|English Sovereign]] (1489–1604) consisted of 23 carats of 95.83% gold for 14.9 grams gold content. The [[British sovereign coin|British Sovereign]] (1817–1917, 1925, 1957–present) is made of 91.7% of 22 carat gold for 7.3 grams gold content. The [[Eagle (United States coin)|American Eagle]] from (1795–1833) consisted of crown 22 carat gold of 21.6 carat with 16.04 grams gold content. The Eagle of 1834-1836 had 21.58 kt (.8992 fine) for 15.74 grams gold. And between 1837-1933 it had 90% gold for 15.06 grams gold. The [[gold dollar|United States Gold Dollar]] (1849–1889) had 1.5 grams gold.
 
However, regardless of the ''size'' or ''weight'' of the ''aureus'', the coin's purity was little affected. Analysis of the Roman ''aureus'' shows the purity level usually to have been near to 24 [[Carat (purity)|carat]] gold in excess of 99%. The [[Sovereign (English coin)|English Sovereign]] (1489–1604) consisted of 23 carats of 95.83% gold for 14.9 grams gold content. The [[British sovereign coin|British Sovereign]] (1817–1917, 1925, 1957–present) is made of 91.7% of 22 carat gold for 7.3 grams gold content. The [[Eagle (United States coin)|American Eagle]] from (1795–1833) consisted of crown 22 carat gold of 21.6 carat with 16.04 grams gold content. The Eagle of 1834-1836 had 21.58 kt (.8992 fine) for 15.74 grams gold. And between 1837-1933 it had 90% gold for 15.06 grams gold. The [[gold dollar|United States Gold Dollar]] (1849–1889) had 1.5 grams gold.
 
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Due to runaway inflation caused by the Roman government issuing base-metal coinage but refusing to accept anything other than silver or gold for tax payments, the value of the gold ''aureus'' in relation to denariithe ''denarius'' grew drastically. Inflation was also affected by the systematic debasement of the silver [[''denarius]]'', which by the mid-3rd century had practically no silver left in it.
 
In 301, one gold ''aureus'' was worth 833⅓ denarii; by 324, the same ''aureus'' was worth 4,350 ''denarii''. In 337, after Constantine converted to the [[''solidus (coin)|solidus]]'', one solidus was worth 275,000 ''denarii'' and finally, by 356, one solidus was worth 4,600,000 ''denarii''.
 
[[Constantine I (emperor)|Constantine]] introduced the [[solidus (coin)|solidus]] in 309, replacing the aureus as the standard gold coin of the [[Roman Empire]]. The solidus was a larger diameter and flatter coin, while the aureus was smaller, thicker and similar to the denarius in fabric. Today, the ''aureus'' is highly sought after by collectors because of its purity and value, as well its historical interest. An ''aureus'' is usually much more expensive than a ''denarius'' issued by the same emperor. For instance, in one auction, an ''aureus'' of [[Trajan]] (r. 98–117) sold for $15,000, and a silver coin of the same emperor sold for $100. Two of the most expensive ''aurei'' were sold in the same auction in 2008. One ''aureus'', issued in 42 BC by [[Marcus Junius Brutus]], the assassin of [[Julius Caesar|Gaius Julius Caesar]], had a price realized of $661,250.<ref>http://images.goldbergauctions.com/php/chap_auc.php?site=1&lang=1&sale=46&chapter=2&page=1</ref> (There is an example of this coin on permanent display at the [[British Museum]] in London.) The second ''aureus'', issued by the emperor [[Alexander Severus]] (r. 222–235), has a picture of the [[Colosseum]] on the reverse, and had a price realized of $920,000.<ref>http://images.goldbergauctions.com/php/chap_auc.php?site=1&lang=1&sale=46&chapter=2&page=2</ref>
 
==See also==
{{Portal|Numismatics}}
{{Commons|Aureus}}
*[[Roman currency]]
*[[Guilder]]
*[[Polish złoty]]
*[[Solidus (coin)]]
 
==References==
 
==External links==
{{Commons|Roman currencyAureus}}
*[http://monetaoro.unicatt.it/ Online numismatic exhibit: "This round gold is but the image of the rounder globe" (H.Melville). The charm of gold in ancient coinage]
{{Roman coinage}}
[[Category:Coins of ancient Rome]]
[[Category:Gold coins]]
 
{{italic title}}