Roman Money

Roman Money

The pound, the lira, dinero, the dinar – they all come from Roman money.

Early in the Roman Empire the Romans used Greek coins as their currency, in keeping with how the Romans “borrowed” lots of Greek culture. Eventually they replaced Greek coins with bronze ingots, replaced those with lumps of bronze called aes rude (aka “rough bronze”), and finally started seriously producing bronze coins called “as” (plural, and amusingly, “asses”) around 280 BCE.

In addition to bronze coins, the Romans started to produce silver coins around 226 BCE which became the denarius (plural, “denari”). The denarius became the standard currency and was worth 10 asses. As the Roman empire spread across the world their currency went with them which formed the basis of other currencies.

Mucho Dinero

Denarius, the name of the Roman silver coin, became the basis for the word “money” in several languages.

  • Italian = denaro
  • Slovene = denar
  • Portuguese = dinheiro
  • Spanish = dinero
  • Denarius also became dinar, the name of the currency still used today in several North African and Middle Eastern countries.

Weight

The Romans called one pound of weight a libra, related to why the Zodiac symbol for Libra is a set of scales. Unfortunately the Romans had a confusing problem of semi-regularly changing their weight and coin values. To create order from centuries of changes, Charlemagne created a new system in the 780s CE where one pound (a libra) of silver equaled 20 solidi (gold coins) which equaled 240 denari.

As the Roman system spread, the word libra was translated to local languages. The local translations became the names of multiple world currencies.

  • Turkey, and formerly Italy (among others) = lira
  • France before the revolution = livre
  • In English we abbreviate 1 pound of weight as 1 lb, the “lb” coming from the word libra. As for the pound currency, the pound uses a stylized “L” which also comes from the Roman libra. This is why the pound symbol is an “L” and not a “P”.

Beyond just getting the £ symbol from the word libra, countries that used the pound system frequently also took the three-tiered Roman monetary system of libra to solidi to denari. This became the basis of the pound, shilling, pence system of money. This triple system eventually was eliminated as the decimal system of currency became the standard. The British converted to the decimal system in 1971 but only eliminated the shilling in 1991.

Added info: In the Harry Potter series the wizarding world also uses the Roman inspired three-tiered monetary system, but features galleons, sickles, and knuts instead of libra, solidi, and denari (or pounds, shillings, and pence to keep it British). In this system 1 galleon equals 17 sickles which equals 493 knuts.

  • Post category:History