Antoninianus

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7antoninianii.jpg
Row 1: Elagabalus (silver 218-222AD), Trajan Decius (silver 249-251AD), Gallienus (billon 253-268AD Asian mint) Row 2: Gallienus (copper 253-268AD), Aurelian (silvered 270-275AD), barbarous radiate (copper), barbarous radiate (copper)

The antoninianus was a coin used during the Roman Empire that was valued at 2 denarii. It was initially silver, but was slowly debased to bronze.

The coin was introduced by Caracalla in early 215 AD and was a full silver coin similar to the denarius except that it was slightly larger and featured the emperor wearing a radiate crown, indicating that it was valued twice as much. Antoninianii depicting females (usually the emperor's wife), featured the bust resting upon a crescent moon. Although valued twice as much as a denarius, the antoninianus never weighed more than 1.6 times what a denarius weighted. The denarius continued to be issued along side the antoninianus, but during the middle of the third century AD it was rapidly debased to fund the constant warfare of the period.

The antoninianus replaced the denarius completely after the reign of Gordian III, and the latter was no longer struck in significant quantities. As political and economic conditions worsened the coins were debased by simply adding copper and tin to produce a billon alloy that looked similar to silver. By the middle of the reign of Gallienus new methods were introduced so that coins continued to appear silver. The flans were produced of very low silver content (about 5-10%) and then pickled such that the copper on the surface of the coin was leached away producing a spongey high silver content layer. When struck these coins had a thin silver layer that quickly wore away to reveal the copper beneath.

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An Antoninianus from the reign of Philip the Arab 244 - 248 AD

These coins are usually referred to as "silvered" as opposed to "silver" by numismatists. Eventually even these measures weren't enough to maintain a silver appearance of the coins, prompting Aurelian to reform the antoninianus, setting it at a distinct fineness of twenty parts copper to one part silver. This was marked on the reverse of some of the coins by XXI in the west and KA is the east. These coins are called aurelianii by some numismatists. The silvered antoninianus continued to be issued until the coinage reform of Diocletian at the end of the third century AD.

During the third century (and perhaps also during the fourth century) many locally made imitations of the antoninianus were produced. These are usually referred to as barbarous radiates, although most were probably produced within the empire and probably filled the need for small change. These coins are characterized by blundered and poorly engraved portraits and designs on small flans of copper. The most frequently imitated coins are those of the Gallic emperor Tetricus I.

The word antoninianus is a modern term based on the name of Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius Antoninianus), who was the first to issue such a coin; the ancient name of the coin is not known. The coin is also referred to as a radiate, from the radiate crown worn by the emperor, although this is less precise. Several non-antoninianii denominations were also produced that featured radiate bust, such as a coin produced following the Diocletians reform usually known as a post-reform radiate. Since antoninianii were issued in large numbers, they are second only to Constantinian bronzes in abundance on the collector's market.

See also: Roman currency.

de:Antoninian it:Antoniniano pl:Antoninian

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