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June 11, 2019 2 min read

“A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius” states Revelation 6:5, at the appearance of the third horseman of the Apocalypse. But what exactly is a denarius, what did this ancient verse mean and what is the history of the coin?

A denarius is a silver Roman coin and during the first century CE represented a day’s wages, so the verse was predicting a tenfold increase in prices, probably the earliest economic prediction of inflation. The earliest coins discovered date from around 269 BC during the days of the Roman Republic and were initially made of bronze, but later also made in silver and gold denoting their value. Coins were minted in over 40 cities and were hand struck. The Republican coins often depicted mythological figures, but on later Imperial coins of the Empire depicted reigning leaders.

The coins struck between the death of Roman dictator Sulla in 78 BC and the rise of Octavian (who became known as Augustus) connected the Republican and Imperial eras and were called transitional coinage. During this time generals raised huge armies, striving for power. Julius Caesar rose to power during this period (60-44 B.C.), bringing stability and replacing the old Republic with his Imperial rule. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and marched on Rome he secured the loyalty of his troops by striking silver Denarii. These Denarii have his name on one side and an elephant trampling a snake on the other. The snake represents Salus, the god of safety, and the elephant represents the deposed Roman ruler Pompey.

Although it may not have decreased tenfold, during the third century CE, the silver Denarius was replaced by the "Double Denarius", also known as the Antoninianus.

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