The smallest Roman denomination

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Valentinian, Jul 6, 2021.

  1. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    During the first and second centuries of the Roman imperial period the smallest denomination is usually the quadrans, four to an as, sixteen to sestertius, and sixty four to a denarius. I have a site on that denomination:

    However, if we include products of Rome stuck for distribution in the east, there is a still smaller denomination. We are not certain what it was called then. Several names for the denomination have been proposed: "uncia," "semis," [I don't think it is a semis], "chalkous," and "half-quadrans."


    Trajan. 12 mm. 1.02 grams. Very small.
    Struck from Roman mint dies for distribution in Syria
    RPC III 3681 Antioch, chalkous
    RIC II Trajan 443 "semis" page 276 "Probably 101-103"
    McAlee, Antioch, 526 "rare" page 214 "half-quadrans/chalous"
    Sear II 3250 "copper uncia"

    To give you a better feeling for its size, here it is compared to a 19 mm US cent.


    Of course, there are small very late Roman AE4s, but this type is more than two centuries earlier.

    Show us some small Roman coins!
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Arcadius, A.D. 383 - 408

    AE 4 or nummus, Antioch mint


  4. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

  5. Heliodromus

    Heliodromus Well-Known Member

    That's a neat little Trajan - never seen that denomination before.

    Seeing as I collect Constantine, all I have are LRB fractions.

    This is RIC VI Trier 681b, a 1/8 nummus measuring 13mm and 1.32g. This is probably one of the first coins issued by Constantine, QVIES AVGG, issued for both Maximianus and Diocletian. Later Constantine would issue QVIES AVG for Maximianus (as a regular nummus) when he re-retired.

    Maximianus fraction Qvies Avgg Trier 306-307 (TR, RIC VI Trier 681b R4).jpg
    Qvies group.jpg

    Here's another similar sized coin, RIC VI Trier 906, measuring approx. 13.5mm. This one's a 1/4 nummus, but now based on the reduced size nummus of Constantine's coinage reform in 310 AD.
    Constantine I VO-TIS X compare.jpg

    Constantine I VO-TIS X vs Cent.jpg

    Yeah - your Trajan is tiny !
  6. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Great thread Warren, thank you. Although not as tiny, this is my lowest Roman denomination…

    1/4th of an Uncia… the Quartuncia:

    Roman Republic
    217-215 BCE,
    AE Quartuncia
    15.2 mm, 2.56 grams.
    Obverse: Head of Saturn right.
    Reverse: ROMA - Prow, right .
    Reference: Crawford 38/8
  7. ancientone

    ancientone Well-Known Member

    Does this coin straddle the line between Roman and provincial seeing as it was manufactured in Rome but used primarily in Antioch?
  8. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

  9. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    These certainly get small. Even before the traditional nummus/follis distinction, there were some tiny 12mm "nummi" of the late empire.
    Valentinian III RIC 2126 S (2020_11_18 03_38_31 UTC).JPG
    Claudius_Gothicus and Bing like this.
  10. sand

    sand Well-Known Member

    Here are group photos of my small 5th century Roman bronze coins.
    And here is an essay, which I wrote, based on what I've learned so far. I am not an expert on this subject. Comments, corrections, and additional information are welcome.
    I think it's interesting to see, how the Roman bronze coins decreased in size in the 4th century AD and 5th century AD (on average, although there were exceptions). It seems like this was because of inflation in the Roman Empire. The average "nummus" bronze coin declined from 10 grams in weight and 30 mm in diameter with 5% silver during the time of the Tetrarchy including Diocletian in 294 AD, to approximately 1 gram in weight and 10 mm in diameter with no silver by the time of Anastasius I in 498 AD. Then, in 498 AD, Anastasius I created a 40 nummi bronze coin, called a "follis" by present day numismatists, which was supposed to be worth 40 of the old small nummus coins (therefore it had the Greek numeral for 40, the letter "M", on the reverse). However, the first version of the 40 nummi coin weighed only 3 grams to 10 grams, and had a diameter of 20 mm to 25 mm. Ordinary citizens were unhappy with it, because its weight was nowhere close to the weight of 40 of the old small nummus coins. Therefore, in 512 AD, Anastasius I created a larger version of the 40 nummi coin, which weighed between 15 grams and 20 grams, and had a diameter of 31 mm to 40 mm. This coin still did not weigh as much as 40 of the old small nummus coins, but it was large enough and impressive enough that ordinary citizens accepted it. The 40 nummi coin represented further inflation, because it weighed way less than 40 of the old small nummus coins. But at least the average bronze coin was large again, and therefore more useful as coinage, along with new 20 nummi coins, 10 nummi coins, and 5 nummi coins. After reaching a maximum diameter of up to 45 mm in 540 AD under Justinian I, the 40 nummi coin gradually shrank to 14 mm to 18 mm in diameter by the end of the 8th century AD, and lost the letter "M" on the reverse, as the Byzantine Empire lost northern Africa including Egypt, most of Italy, and the Holy Land. The 40 nummi follis coin grew larger again in the 9th century AD (Why? I don't know), growing to a diameter of 25 mm to 30 mm. In 1092, the 40 nummi follis coin was replaced by small tetarteron bronze coins (16 mm to 21 mm diameter) and larger, thin, cup shaped trachy bronze coins (initially 30 mm or so, initially with 6% or 7% silver, but eventually having almost no silver, and then shrinking during the 14th century AD). Toward the bitter end of the Byzantine Empire, in the 14th century AD and 15th century AD, there were other, mostly small, bronze coins, called "assarion" (small), "follaro" (small), "stamenon" (sometimes larger), and "tornese" (small).
    Some interesting info about the nummus coin :
    Coin 1 : Honorius AE3, Western Roman Empire, Minted From 401 AD To 403 AD, Antioch Mint, RIC X 99, Weight = 2.45 grams, Diameter = 15 mm, Obverse Has Honorius Facing Front Holding Spear And Shield With Cross, Reverse Has Constantinopolis Seated On Throne Holding Sceptre And Globe With Victory
    Coin 2 : Arcadius AE3, Eastern Roman Empire, Minted From 401 AD To 403 AD, Antioch Mint, RIC 97, Weight = 2.1 grams, Diameter = 16 mm, Obverse Has Arcadius Facing Front Holding Spear And Shield With Cross, Reverse Has Constantinopolis Seated On Throne Holding Sceptre And Globe With Victory
    Coin 3 : Valentinian III AE4, Western Roman Empire, Minted From 425 AD To 435 AD, Rome Mint, RIC X 2123, Weight = 1.34 grams, Diameter = 13 mm, Obverse Has Valentinian III Facing Right, Reverse Has Camp Gate
    Coin 4 : Leo I AE4, Eastern Roman Empire, Minted From 457 AD To 462 AD, Constantinople Mint, Sear 21461, RIC X 674, Weight = 1.11 grams, Diameter = 10 mm, Obverse Has Leo I Facing Right, Reverse Has Lion With Body Facing Left And Head Turned Toward Right
    Coin 5 : Anastasius I Nummus, Eastern Roman Empire, Minted From 491 AD To 498 AD, Constantinople Mint, Sear 13, Weight = 0.99 grams, Diameter = 8 mm, Obverse Has Anastasius I Facing Right, Reverse Has Monogram
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2021
  11. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Small Provincial

    Roman Provincial
    AE Dichalkon
    Laureate hd L
    Rhinoceros walking L LI-Z yr 17
    CE 113-114
    12.9mm 1.25g
    Emmet 719 var. rhino right
  12. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    This Trajan also exists in Hadrian but, since there is no legend, the portrait is the only way to distinguish. Until recently, I had one I thought was a Hadrian but it belongs to one of you now. Valentinian's example is exceptional.

    I made this composite to illustrate how Anastasius 'reformed' the single nummus into the standard Byzantine 40. It seemed like a good idea.
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  13. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Here's an "uncia" with a sestertius - both Hadrian, I had written down that this was 1/12 of an As, which would seem to make sense with a quadrans in the 4g neighborhood. Some or all of these small bronzes may be from the mint of Antioch in Syria. There was apparently a metalurgical analysis that showed the metal was closer to that of coins minted in Rome than provincial coins.
    Big & Little Hadrian.jpg
    Hadrian, 117-138 AD, Æ Uncia (9.6mm, 0.95g)
    Obv: Laureate head right
    Rev: S C in wreath
    Ref: RIC II 629b
    and a little coin from ~4 centuries earlier from Bruttium - which I also don't know how to name properly? Æ Onkia? Bruttium Lion AE.jpg
    Bruttium, Rhegion, circa 450-425 BC, Æ, 12.5mm, 1.12g
    Obv: Lion head
    Rev: R-E; sprig of leaves between, all in a circle of dots
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2021
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  14. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Here is an uncia (if that is the right name for the denomination) of Hadrian:

    10 mm. 1.18 grams.
    Sear II 3705. "Rome 117-8". RIC 629b "without date"
    BMC page cvi says "very probably not of Roman mintage--possibly Antioch."
    Butcher 239-248 "twelfth unit (?)" [Still another attempt to identify the denomination.]

    I like the Sear date which is at the beginning of the reign of Hadrian because I see the type as a continuation of the Trajan type and it is uncommon enough that it probably wasn't minted for long.
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