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coins and currency -- penny, denarius, solidus, soldier, as --

From:tomhchappell <tomhchappell@...>
Date:Sunday, January 8, 2006, 22:56
In response to Nik Taylor's latest message and Tristan McLeay's
latest message, in addition to others on this and related threads
that have mentioned "inflation";

The penny was abbreviated "d" in English currency before
decimalization, because "d" stood for "denarius".  In Christ's time,
a "denarius" was about a day's wage.

The denarius was originally a silver-containing coin worth 10 asses
(211 BCE, Republic); its name comes from words meaning "containing
ten".  But the as was devalued faster than the denarius, which
eventually came to be worth 16 asses.

The value of the denarius, as well as its silver content and its
total weight, were gradually reduced.  In the middle of the 3rd
century CE, under Caracalla if I am not mistaken, it was replaced as
the lowest-value coin by the antonianus.

Wikipedia says "The lasting legacy of the denarius can be seen in the
use of "d" as the abbreviation for the old French denier and the
British penny prior to 1971. The denarius also survives in the common
Arabic name for a currency unit, the dinar ÏíäÇÑ, used from pre-
Islamic times, and still used in several modern Arabic-speaking
nations. The Spanish word dinero (money) is also derived from
Latin "denarius""

The as itself was originally introduced (280 BCE, Republic) as 12
ounces of bronze; there were coins worth fractions of an as down to
1/12 (an ounce). According to Wikipedia, there were;
fractions, the bes (2/3), semis (1/2), quincunx (5/12), triens (1/3),
quadrans (1/4), sextans (1/6), uncia (1/12, also a common weight
unit), and semuncia (1/24);
and multiples, the dupondius (2), tressis (3), quadrussis (4),
quinquessis (5), and denarius (10).

In 23 BCE Augustus reformed the coinage; the as had been so devalued
that it was the smallest coin produced.  It was pure copper (red),
but some of its smaller multiples were "orichalcum" (an alloy of
copper containing gold, and "golden"-in-color.)

The as remained the lowest valued coin until the 3rd century CE.  As
its value declined, it was produced less and less frequently, until
it had ceased to be produced by the time Marcus Aurelius succeeded to
the purple.

Constantine I ("the Great") in 309 or 310 CE introduced the solidus,
a gold-containing coin worth 1/72 of a (Roman) pound of gold.  It was
used until the 10th century CE and both its weight and its gold-
content remained nearly constant during that time.  The Empire began
to pay its soldiers in solidi; hence they became known by terms
cognate with "soldier".

By the 1200s CE the solidus was changed to a silver coin instead of a
gold coin.  By the 1700s CE it was changed to a copper coin instead
of a silver coin.  During this time it was worth 12 to 15 deniers in
France, so it was worth about 1/20 of a "pound" (whatever the heck
a "pound" was in the region involved.

In England, for instance, a solidus == a shilling was worth 12
denarii == 12 pennies, and worth a twentieth of a livre=pound (of

In 1803 France decimalized its currency (part of the metrication
begun in the 1790s as part of the Revolutionary program), and the
solidus (now the sou) came to be worth 1/20 of a franc, that is, 5

So consider that 5 English pounds sterling was recently worth 1000
francs; a sou wasn't worth much then.


Historically, then, we could expect that a coin such as the
Krugerrand, or the American double-eagle, or any such, would by a
process of debasement and inflation over the centuries eventually
come to be worth about one hundredth of a modern American cent.  In
around two thousand years, it would have been eclipsed, then its
successor would have been eclipsed, then that successor would also
have been eclipsed; "paper money" would eventually approach face
value; in fact, printing a dollar will soon be a waste of paper,
since the linen-rag paper it's printed on will be worth more than a


Tom H.C. in MI