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Artifact: Roman Denarius Volume 60 Number 5, September/October 2007
by Kevin Mullen
A Roman denarius, showing the god Apollo wearing a laurel wreath; on the back, Jupiter holds the reins of a quadriga, or four-horse chariot, in one hand and a lightning bolt in the other hand

Minted in 86 B.C.

Torre d'en Galmés, Menorca, Spain


One day's wage for an unskilled laborer or common soldier, about $20 in today's terms

1.9 cm in diameter



The denarius was one of the most common of all Roman coins. What makes this one special is where it was found: in an ancient Talyotic house excavated by a Boston University team in the town of Torre d'en Galmés on the island of Menorca, Spain. The Talyotic culture occupied the Balearic Islands, including Menorca, from about 2500 B.C. until the Roman period began in 123 B.C. That year, the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus conquered the Balearics, claiming that pirates were based there, taking the honorific name Balearicus for his efforts. Literary sources tell us that much of the island's population was killed off and that many Talyotic sites were abandoned. But recent excavations show there was considerable continuity in Talyotic life.

This coin, unremarkable in itself, comes from excavation layers at the Talyotic house dated to between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100, after Metellus is supposed to have devastated the island. The humble denarius, together with a bronze sestertius and Roman-style roof tiles also found in the house, indicate the local population was slowly incorporated into the Roman Empire, and that they gradually adopted some Roman customs.

Photos: Courtesy Boston University Menorca Field School

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America