The Aureus: Building an Empire

Room 19, showcase 1 Aureus of Augustus. Colonia Patricia? (Córdoba), about 19 BC. Gold. Pulse para ampliar Aureus of Augustus. Colonia Patricia? (Córdoba), about 19 BC. Gold.

Coinage was one of the pillars of the Roman Empire and an indispensable tool for its inhabitants. Salaries, taxes, public works and payments of all kinds were settled with pieces minted in gold, silver, brass or bronze: aurei, denarii, sestertii, dupondii or asses.

Produced in enormous quantities and sent from the capital to the provinces, coins were also one of the state’s most important propaganda instruments. Portraits of emperors were accompanied by great public works, military victories and allegories of effective government, a repertory of images designed to spread the grandeur of Rome.

The highest denomination in the system was the gold aureus. Used for large payments and commercial transactions beyond the empire’s borders, it had a direct connection to Hispania, as much of the metal used in the mass minting of this coin came from the mines of Las Médulas in León. A few exceptional issues were also struck in Colonia Patricia (Córdoba), Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza) and Tarraco (Tarragona).

The passing years brought changes. The various crises and social and economic transformations of the third century eventually undermined the value of coins in circulation. The aureus was replaced by the gold solidus, a bridge to the early medieval world.