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Measures of Value

632. The money of the Romans was in early times wholly of copper. The unit was the as, which was nominally a pound in weight, but actually somewhat less. It was divided into twelve unciae (ounces).

In the third century B.C. the as was gradually reduced to one-half of its original value. In the same century silver coins were introduced—the dēnārius and the sēstertius. The denarius = 10 asses; the sestertius = 2 1/2 asses.

633. The Sestertius was probably introduced at a time when the as had been so far reduced that the value of the new coin (2 1/2 asses) was equivalent to the original value of the as. Hence, the Sestertius (usually abbreviated to HS or HS) came to be used as the unit of value, and nummus (coin) often means simply sēstertius. As the reduction of the standard went on, the sestertius became equivalent to 4 asses. Gold was introduced later, the aureus being equal to 100 sesterces. The approximate value of these coins is seen in the following table.

2 1/2 asses = 1 sēstertius or nummus.

10 asses or 4 sēstertiī = 1 denarius

1000 sēstertiī = 1 sēstertium

Note— The word sēstertius is a shortened form of sēmis-tertius, (the third one, a half). The abbreviation HS or HS = duo et sēmis (two and a half).

634. The sēstertium (probably originally the Genitive plural of sēstertius depending on mīlle) was a sum of money, not a coin; the word is inflected regularly as a neuter noun: thus, tria sēstertia = $150.00.

When sēstertium is combined with a numeral adverb, centēna mīlia (hundreds of thousands) is to be understood: thus deciēns sēstertium (deciēns HS) = deciēns centēna mīlia sēstertium = $50,000. Sēstertium in this combination may also be inflected: deciēns sēstertiī, sēstertiō, etc.

In the statement of large sums sēstertium is often omitted as well as centēna mīlia.

sexāgiēns (Rosc. Am. 2) = sexāgiēns [centēna mīlia sēstertium] = 6,000,000 sesterces = $300,000 (nearly).

635. In the statement of sums of money in Roman numerals, a line above the number indicates thousands; lines above and at the sides also, hundred-thousands.

HS DC = 600 sēstertiī

HS DC = 600,000 sēstertiī, or 600 sēstertia

HS | DC | = 60,000,000 sēstertiī, or 60,000 sēstertia


Measures of Length

636. The Roman Measures of Length are the following.

12 inches (unciae) = 1 Roman Foot (pēs: 11.65 English inches).

1 1/2 Feet = 1 Cubit (cubitum)

2 1/2 Feet = 1 Step (gradus)

5 Feet = 1 Pace (passus)

1000 Paces (mīlle passuum) = 1 Mile

The Roman mile was equal to 4850 English feet. The iūgerum, or unit of measure of land, was an area of 240 (Roman) feet long and 120 broad; a little less than 2/3 of an English acre.


Measures of Weight

637.The Measures of Weight are:

12 unciae (ounces) = one pound (libra, about 3/4 lb. avoirdupois.)

Fractional parts (weight or coin) are:

1/12 uncia 5/12 quīncunx 3/4 dōdrāns
1/6 sextāns 1/2 sēmis 5/6 dextāns
1/4 quadrāns 7/12 septunx 11/12 deunx
1/3 triēns. 2/3 bēs or bēssis 12/12 as

The Talent (talentum) was a Greek weight (τάλαντον) = 60 librae.


Measures of Capacity

638. The Measures of Capacity are:

12 cyathī = 1 sextārius (nearly a pint)

16 sextāriī = 1 modius (peck)

6 sextāriī = 1 congius (3 quarts, liquid measure)

8 congiī = 1 amphora (6 gallons)

Suggested Citation

Meagan Ayer, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.