The Antoninianus, or radiate, was a coin used during the Roman
Empire thought to have been valued at 2 denarii. It was initially
silver, but was slowly debased to bronze with a minimal silver
content. The coin was introduced by
Caracalla in early 215, and was a
silver coin similar to the denarius except that it was slightly larger
and featured the emperor wearing a radiate crown, indicating that it
was a double denomination. Antoniniani depicting females, usually the
emperor's wife, featured the bust resting upon a crescent moon.
Even at its introduction the silver content was only equal to 1.5
denarii. This helped to create inflation: people rapidly hoarded the
denarii (see Gresham's law), while both buyers and sellers recognised
the new coin had a lower intrinsic value and elevated their prices to
Silver bullion supplies were running short since the Roman
Empire was no longer conquering new territory, the Iberian silver
mines were exhausted, and a series of soldier emperors and usurpers
needed coin to pay their troops and buy their loyalty. Each new issue
Antoninianus thus had less silver in it than the last, and each
contributed to ever-increasing inflation.
Aurelian increased the average weight of the Antoninianus. This
was carried out for a short time. This period was also when the
enigmatic 'XXI' was first marked on the reverse of the Antoninianus.
The true meaning of this series of numbers is still a topic of debate,
but it is thought to represent a 20:1 silver ratio (4.76% silver,
which may originally have been 5%, if silver enrichment on the surface
which has been worn away is allowed).
By the late 3rd century the coins were almost entirely made of bronze
from melted down old issues like the sestertius. Vast quantities were
being minted, with a large proportion of the stocks being contemporary
forgeries, often with blundered legends and designs. Individual coins
were by then practically worthless and were lost or discarded by the
Today most of these coins are extremely common finds, with a few more
scarce examples including Aemilianus, Marcus Aurelius Marius, Quietus
and Regalianus. The situation was not unlike the hyperinflation of the
Weimar Republic in 1920s Germany, when paper money was printed in
reckless abundance. The coin ceased to be used by the end of the 3rd
century when a series of coinage reforms attempted to arrest the
decline by issuing new types.
Modern numismatists use this name for the coin because it is not known
what it was called in antiquity. An ancient Roman document called the
Historia Augusta (of generally low reliability) refers to silver coins
named after an Antoninus on several occasions (several Roman emperors
in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries bore this name, among others).
Because Caracalla's silver coin was a new issue, and he had taken
Antoninus as part of his imperial name, an association was made with
it, and although the association is certainly false, the name has
^ Abdy, Richard (2012). "The Severans". In Metcalf, William. The
Oxford handbook of Greek and Roman coinage. New York: Oxford
University Press. p. 507.
^ "Ancient Coins - Roman
Silver Antoninianus". www.24carat.co.uk.
Media related to
Antoninianus at Wikimedia Commons
The rapid decline in silver purity of the antoninianus.
Currencies of Ancient Rome
Bronze and copper
Dupondius (2 asses)
Antoninianus (32 asses)
Denarius (10; 16)
Quinarius (5; 8)
Double sestertius (8)
Sestertius (2½; 4)
Copper and bronze
Ancient Rome Portal