How Much was a Denarius Worth (& What Could it Buy?)

Throughout Rome’s long history, the denarius and sestertius were the longest lived and most widely used currencies in both the republican and imperial eras.

This raises the question: how much was a denarius worth? What could it buy? How much would it be worth in today’s money?

From 200 BC to 64 AD, the silver in a denarius would be worth $3 today. After that, successive Roman emperors reduced the silver contents so that by 271 AD, a denarius would only be worth $0.13 in today’s money. However, the purchasing power of a denarius was much higher.

Before reading further, it’s important to note that just the republican era of Rome lasted 482 years, which is almost twice as long as the USA’s post-independence history of 247 years. 

Rome’s economy was a living and breathing one, and just like our modern economies, it suffered periods of recession and inflation but also long stretches of stability.

This means the value of a denarius fluctuated wildly over the centuries. For this reason, the more useful historical question would be:

How much would a denarius from year XYZ be worth?

Value of a denarius in the republican era (509 BC to 27 BC)

The Roman Republic introduced both the denarius and sestertius in 211 BC as part of a currency reform to help with convertibility of the Greek drachma, which was still widespread in the Italian peninsula at the time.

In terms of value, 1 denarius was worth 4 sestertii or 10 as (a bronze or copper coin widely used before the reform).

In terms of silver content, between 200 BC to about 64 AD, a denarius weighed 3.9 grams with a silver purity of 95–98%. In today’s terms, the almost 4 grams of silver in an early denarius cost around $3.

However, the actual purchasing power of a denarius at that time would have been many multiples of that, as you’ll see below.

During the Punic Wars (264–146 BC), regular Roman infantrymen were paid 2 obols, or 1 denarius, per day, but only for as long as they were under arms, which could range from months to years.

In 51–50 BC, Julius Caesar increased the pay for the low ranking, professional soldiers to 225 denarii (900 sestertii) per year, which presumably would be sufficient to keep the infantrymen happy enough not to commit mutiny. 

225 denarii a year doesn’t sound like a lot, so what exactly could a denarius buy during the late Republican era of Caesar’s time?

Unfortunately, the Roman Republic of the time didn’t keep detailed economic statistics, but archaeological evidence from places such as Pompei gives us some interesting prices:

Average wine glass1 as (0.1 denarii)
Loaf of bread2 as (0.2 denarii)
1 kg/2lbs of butter8 as (0.8 denarii)
Modius (8.73 liters) of grain3 denarii
Pot1 as (0.1 denarii)
Plate1 as (0.1 denarii)
Drinking cup2 as (0.2 denarii)
Bucket9 a (0.9 denarii)
Tunic cleaning4 sesterces (1 denarius)
New tunic15 sesterces (4 denarii)
1 mule130 denarii
1 slave630 denarii
Prostitute servicesOn average 2 – 8 as (0.1 to 0.8 denarii)

Note that none of the prices above mention the price of rent or how much a house or insulae apartment would cost. 

This is due to the fact that, aside from transactions made by extremely wealthy Romans, very little information about land prices and transactions in Republican Rome has survived. 

For example, in 62 BC, Cicero took out a sizeable loan to buy a large, luxurious villa in Rome on the Palatine Hill from Marcus Crassus for a whopping 3.5 million sesterces, or 875,000 denarii.

Out of the total price Cicero paid for the villa, 376,250 represented the cost of the land, while the rest was the cost of the building itself.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that Cicero’s villa was located on the Palatine Hill, exactly in the middle of antiquity’s greatest city. In short, it was the equivalent of modern-day Manhattan.

Other historical resources mention that in 50 BC, an iugerum of land (0.25 hectares or 0.6 acres) belonging to a certain C. Albanius, located on the Campus Vaticanus, was worth some 2900 denarii, or 11500 sestertii

In short, Mr. C. Albanius’s plot of land cost 13 years-worth of salaries for the lowest ranking Roman soldiers of the time.

As for rents, in the year 50 BC, rents for the poorest people in Rome cost 2000 sesterces per year, or 500 denarii a year, compared to 125 denarii per year for inhabitants outside of Rome.

We know this based on the fact that Caesar imposed a one year policy of rent remission, where the poorest of renters were not obligated to pay rent. 

However, this policy discriminated between renters in Rome and those outside of it, most likely because Rome was vastly wealthier than any other city, and so renters could afford a higher threshold.

In any case, it’s important to note that Rome was a place of immense wealth concentration and that for nearly all of its history, most Romans would live and die as renters, and only the lucky few would become property owners.

Value of a denarius in the Imperial era (27 BC  – 476 AD)

After Rome became an empire, the denarius and sestertius remained the main currencies of the realm for almost three hundred years.

However, because of massive inflation and debasement, both denarius and sestertius lost most of their value by the end of the 3rd century AD.

As a result, by the year 300 AD, both coins had largely disappeared from circulation and were replaced by other coins such as the Solidus, Miliarense, Nummus, etc. 

Starting in the year 64 AD, Roman Emperors gradually initiated a policy of debasing the denarius, meaning they reduced the silver content available in the coin. 

Below is a table that shows the gradual reduction of silver content in the Roman denarius, and how much that silver would be worth in today’s dollars.

YearWeight / Silver PuritySilver Worth in $
14 AD3.9 g / 97.5%$3
64 AD3.41 g / 93.5%$2.52
148 AD3.41 g / 83.5%$2.24
241 AD 3.41 g / 48%$1.29
271 AD3.41 g / 5%$0.13

Thus, within the span of some 200 years, the previously stable Roman currency lost most of its value.

This debasement of the currency was caused by prolonged periods of political instability, civil wars, and economic mismanagement, particularly in the period 235–284 AD, better known as the Crisis of the 3rd Century.

During this time, dozens of warlords tried to become emperors of Rome. 

However, to become Emperors, they needed loyal troops, but the loyalty of the troops cost denarii, and lots of them.

The easiest way for a would-be Emperor to gather enough denarii to buy the loyalty of his troops was to make more denarii. 

However, Rome didn’t have enough silver for how many denarii it wanted to make, so it decreased the silver purity to compensate.

So, on paper, the soldiers received more denarii than they did before, but in practice, the denarii were worth far less since there was almost no silver left in them.

In short, a classic case of hyperinflation.

After the crisis was over and political authority was reestablished, Emperor Diocletian tried to rein in the hyperinflation and reestablish economic stability. 

To this end, Diocletian promulgated a price-fixing law that historians call the Edict of Diocletian.

This Edict is very comprehensive and contains the maximum allowed prices for some 150 products, plus the maximum daily salaries for a wide range of professions:

Product prices in 301 AD:

  • Grain – 100 denarii for about 17 liters
  • Barley – 60 denarii for 17 liters.
  • Sesame – 200 denarii for 17 liters
  • Normal wine – 8 denarii for 0.5 liters
  • Sabine wine – 30 denarii for 0.5 liters
  • Wheat beer – 4 denarii for 0.5 liters
  • Pork – 12 denarii for about 300 g
  • Beef – 8 denarii for about 300 g
  • Beef sausage – 10 denarii for about 300 g
  • Slaves ages 16-40: 30,000 denarii.

Grain, in particular, is an excellent measure of the inflation of the time.

Based on findings from Pompei, just before the first major debasement in 64 AD, a modius of grain, or 8.73 liters, was worth 3 sestertii, or 0.75 denarii.

Thanks to prices listed in the Edict of Diocletian, we know a modius of grain in 301 AD cost 50 denarii, or 66 times more than 240 years prior.

Similar price increases for other products make it clear that the denarius lost a significant amount of its purchasing power during this time frame.

Finally, wages are also a great way to see this inflation in action:

Wages of artisans in 301 AD:

  • Manual worker, with maintenance – 25 denarii per day
  • Mason, with maintenance – 50 denarii per day
  • Wall painter, with maintenance – 75 denarii per day
  • Constructor of terracotta figurines, with maintenance – 75 denarii per day
  • Baker, with maintenance – 50 denarii per day
  • Shepherd, with maintenance – 25 denarii per day
  • Hairdresser – 2 denarii per client
  • Mule driver, with maintenance – 25 denarii per day
  • Veterinarian, hoof clipper and hoof grooming – 6 denarii per animal
  • Armorer, for sharpening a sword used – 25 denarii for a sword
  • Notary for writing a petition or drawing up a document – 10 denarii for 100 lines
  • Tailor, for cutting and finishing the coat (type caracalla) – 25 denarii apiece
  • Gymnastics instructor – 50 denarii for a month of care for the mentee
  • Arithmetic teacher – 75 denarii for a month of care
  • Cloakroom in a private bathhouse – 2 denarii for each patient

Thus, in 301 AD, a manual worker who only had a job for 180 days of the year could earn 4,500 denarii, or exactly 20 times more than the yearly salary of a Roman soldier in 50 BC.

However, keep in mind that the prices in Diocletian’s edict were the maximum. If economic history has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t solve a hyperinflation problem by mandating fixed prices.

Even during Diocletian’s time, the Edict was widely ridiculed, and many people ignored it.

This means the real prices for everything mentioned above were likely to be much higher, although we don’t know exactly how much.


By the time Diocletian had come to power, both the denarius and sestertius were on their way out, since most people deeply distrusted the currency and the inflation it brought.

In any case, the story of the denarius in many ways mirrors the fate of Rome and should act as a warning for how a government should not treat its currency.

This is especially for the denarius, a currency that brought prosperity, but also its slow demise when it became weak.


  1. Martial, Epigrams, II.53.7
  2. Seneca the Younger, Letters, 18.7-8.
  3. Martial, Epigrams, I.117
  4. Pliny the Elder, Natural history, XIII.29
  5. Cicero, Pro Caelio, 26;
  6. Pliny the Younger, Letters, VI.3
  7. Pliny the Elder, Natural history, VII.39
  8. Cicero, Pro Sexto Roscio Amerino
  9. Bruce Woodward Frier, The Rental Market in Early Imperial Rome
  10. Scott E. Craver, Urban Real Estate In Late Republican Rome
Atlas Mythica

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