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The Sestertius


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The Sestertius was an extremely important coin for the majority of Roman Citizens during the Imperial period following the death of Julius Caesar.


During the Republic, the Sestertius was a smaller silver coin but we are concerned here with the subsequent larger brass coin.

The name sestertius means “two and one half” referring to its nominal value of two and a half assess, an ass being a smaller denomination struck in bronze, the sestertius being struck in brass. It had a very useful value in trade and commerce as it was worth a quarter of a denarius, a coin worth 10 asses. The average roman citizen would be paid one denarius a day.

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In or about 23 BC, with the coinage reform of Augustus, the denomination of sestertius was introduced as the large brass denomination. The sestertius was produced as the largest brass denomination until the late third century AD.


Most were struck in the mint of Rome but from AD 64 during the reign of Nero (AD54- 68) and Vespasian (AD69- 79), the mint of Lyon (Lugdunum), supplemented production. Lyon sestertii can be recognised by a small globe, or legend stop), beneath the bust.

The brass sestertius typically weighs in the region of 25 to 28 grammes, is around 32-34 mm in diameter and about 4mm thick. The distinction between bronze and brass was important to the Romans.


Their name for brass was orichalcum, a word sometimes also spelled aurichalcum (echoing the word for a gold coin, aureus), meaning 'gold-copper', because of its shiny, gold-like appearance when the coins were newly-struck.

Orichalcum was considered, by weight, to be worth about double that of bronze. This is why the half-sestertius, the dupondius, was around the same size and weight as the bronze as, but was worth two asses.

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Collecting Sestertii is an interesting facet of numismatics as they were struck to recognise every Roman Leader and their spouses for more than three centuries and their reverses were used to advertise political, military, religious and natural events.


It is possible to acquire high grade Sestertii that were probably lost to general circulation in hoards that were secreted in respect of wars or disasters but the bulk are in circulated condition and worn as they were well used.

Many Sestertii collectors enjoy the fact that the wear gives an attachment to history that is simply not the same with mint condition flawless coins, these coins were used by Romans and their subjects to conduct their daily business and the wear was created by frequent use and their passing through many hands.

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It is difficult to compare with modern day values but in the early days of the Empire a loaf of bread in expensive cities like Rome would cost one dupondius or an as in the provinces so comparing modern prices today, one denarius was worth around £20 in modern day terms. It may not seem credible in a Western Society that a person could live well on £20 a day but of course we have seen inflation and a trend for consumerism that was not evident in those times. The value indicates the prosperity of the Empire.


We always have an interesting selection of Sestertii in stock and our criterion is that they are Good Fine or better and can be easily identified. All of our coins carry a lifetime guarantee and we describe them to the best of our ability.


 These are large interesting and evocative artefacts of an ancient civilisation and we should be thankful to the previous curators that preserved them for us to enjoy over 1500 years later.

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