Whoosh! Issue 18 - March 1998

IAXS project #411
By John C. Blanken
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1604 words

Introduction (01-03)
A Brief History of Amphipolis (04-08)
Dinars and Dinarius (09-12)
Coinage (13-18)

Coinage of Amphipolis

The rejected Susan B. Anthony design #73

A silver tetradrachm, portraying Alexander the Great as Zeus.


[1] I am a big fan of Xena: Warrior Princess and, to a lesser degree, numismatics. One of my areas of interest is ancient coins. In this article, I would like to share with Whoosh! a little bit about the coins that Xena and Gabrielle may have used in Amphipolis, and elsewhere, on their journeys.

[2] We will first take a glance at a little ancient history and try to fix Xena's time in this history. Then, we will look at the denarius and relate it to other denominations of coins used in Xena and Gabrielle's time. Finally, we will examine the denarius itself.

[3] The denarius was very common in ancient times and the two ladies would have used it regularly. Other coins, like the gold aureus, they probably would have seen rarely. All these ancient coins still exist today. Even though they are not in use for trade, they can be purchased from dealers at reasonable prices.

A Brief History of Amphipolis

[4] Let's start with a very brief history of Xena's birthplace, Amphipolis (a.k.a. Amfipolis). This is an extremely old town. It lies on the River Strymon near the mouth of the river as it flows into the Strymonic Gulf of the northern Aegean Sea. The general area has been populated continuously since at least 850 BCE. Today, Amphipolis is not a major city like Athens or Rome, but in ancient times, it was an important center.

[5] In 465 BCE, the Athenians made their first attempt to conquer Amphipolis. They were cut to pieces at Drabeskos, know today as Drama. The Athenians were finally successful in 436 BCE and ruled for the next 79 years when a Macedonian, King Philip II, became the leading power. Philip II was succeeded in 336 BCE by his more famous son, Alexander the Great. The next 200 years would see invasions followed by more invasions.

[6] June 22, in 168 BCE, saw the end of Macedonia when Rome crushed King Perseus and his army. Macedonia was then divided into four administrative districts called merides, each with its own capital. Amphipolis was the capital of the First Meris.

[7] Unrest and internal strife followed for the next 20 years until, in 148 BCE, Roman domination became a permanent reality as Macedonia became a Roman Province. The Romans were obligated to defend their new province and there were many outside tribes willing to challenge them. Uprisings and invasions again became the norm for the next century. When the Roman Civil Wars began in the last half century BCE, Macedonia was again a main theatre of operations.

[8] We have seen Xena with Julius Caesar before he ascended to the highest office so we can place her in this period full of fighting. Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March in 44 BCE, so the time we are seeing could be more than 10 years on either side of that infamous date. Through the magic of television, however, Xena may be found elsewhere. If I am not entirely correct here, I beg your pardon. Any errors or omissions are my responsibility.

Dinars and Dinarius

And if you place it on a railroad track, Nero becomes Leno.

A bronze sesterce depicting Nero.

[9] In more than one episode, Xena and Gabrielle have mentioned "dinars". They refer to the denarius, one of the main coins of the Roman Republic and Empire. This name is still in use, in some form, even today. The English use the symbol "d" for penny. United States nails are know by their weight, in pennies, and use the "d" to denote this. Afghanistan, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Serbia, Syria, and more, still use the dinar as a form or a denomination of currency. The denarius is only one denomination of coin in use during Xena's time. Other denominations, in order of decreasing value, are: gold aureus, silver denarius, quinarius, sestertius, dupondius, as, semis, triens, quadrans, sextans, and uncia.

[10] The denarius was a silver coin initially valued at 10 of the coins called "as" (plural, asses). The name translates to mean "containing ten". By 140 BCE, the value had changed. A denarius in Xena's time would have been worth 16 asses. Since a sestertius equaled 4 asses, it also would have equaled a quarter denarius. A dupondius was worth half of that, 2 asses or < sestertius. Then, the brass or bronze as was broken down into smaller units:

as  1 AS  12 ounces (1 Roman pound)
semis  1/2 AS  6 ounces
triens  1/3 AS  4 ounces
quadrans  1/4 AS  3 ounces
sextans  1/6 AS  2 ounces
uncia  1/12AS  1 ounce
[11] As you can see, the values were based on the weight of the metal being used. Going up in value, a gold quinarius aureus would have equaled 12 silver denarii. A gold aureus was valued at twice that, 25 silver denarii. These gold coins were used primarily by the governments, monarchies, dictatorships and imperials, to fund their military campaigns and as a way to pay their debts, taxes and loan repayments. This is similar to the way gold bullion is used today.

[12] There is no doubt that these coins occasionally fell into the wrong hands and, thereby, moved into general circulation. Xena has certainly been around people who may have had access to these golden coins and she may have had some herself. This would have been extraordinary, not the norm. The denarius and lower denominations of coins are the most likely to have been in her possession.


On summer mornings, the Romans would sit at home and fondle their coins.

A Roman coin minted in Syracuse, regarded as the elite centre of coin-making, depicting the nymph Arethusa.

[13] There are two parts to a coin, the obverse or "heads" and the reverse or "tails". Because of the high illiteracy rate, most of the coins from that time and place depict on the obverse an easily recognized deity such as Herakles, Apollo, or Zeus. Often the man in charge, usually the Emperor or Dictator, is also presented on the obverse. The reverse is usually adorned with objects, animals, people, or a combination of these.

[14] They usually had a deep meaning to the residents, and this continues into modern times. On the obverse of a current US half dollar coin is an easily recognizable likeness of slain President John F. Kennedy. On the reverse is an eagle with 13 arrows clasped in its left talon, a branch with 13 leaves and 13 berries in its right. There are 13 clouds above and a shield with 13 stripes on its breast. There are 13 letters in the legend on the banner carried in the eagles beak. The eagle is the national bird and a national symbol. The number 13 symbolizes the 13 original colonies. The arrows, berries and leaves all have meanings too. Even if someone cannot read the legend on the coin, by seeing President Kennedy's visage and the national symbols he or she would know it is a US coin and that its value is guaranteed by that government.

[15] Now consider a Roman coin minted after 168 BCE in Amphipolis. On the obverse is a profile portrait of Zeus, a major god certainly well-known throughout the ancient Greek and Roman world. The reverse shows the goddess Artemis on a bull. Artemis was the principal deity of Amphipolis and would unquestionably be recognized in that town. Another, much older, coin from Amphipolis, ca 360 BCE, shows the facing head of Apollo. Great Julius Caesar had his portrait on many coins before he died.

[16] One of the most famous ancient Roman Coins is a denarius. The obverse shows a likeness of Brutus while the reverse has a cap of liberty between two daggers. The legend "EID - MAR," or Ides of March, refers explicitly to Caesar's murder on that date. It is almost as if Brutus were bragging about his involvement in the homicide. Since this coin is believed to have been minted in Greece or Asia it is possible that Xena or Gabrielle, or even Joxer, may have come across it. Today, one of these Ides of March coins in fine shape is valued at hundreds of US dollars.

[17] Amphipolis has a long history marked by invasions and wars. When the Romans came to stay in 168 BCE, they brought their money with them and, for a time, even minted coins there. The Romans and their coins would stay for many centuries to come.

[18] The denarii had many different looks, the obverse portraits changing as often as the ruler. The reverses were as different and varied as the areas from whence they came. All throughout the Roman Republic and Roman Empire the denarius, or "dinar" was accepted (it was "everywhere you wanted to be" and you did not have to "leave home without it"). Rome paid her legions in denarii and the citizens paid their taxes with them. Xena and Gabrielle had to use dinars, and probably the lesser denominations as well, for their purchases. A gold aureus would likely have been familiar to them too, though not used by them. The Romans had such a good idea with the denarius that it lives on even today, albeit changed somewhat from the form Xena would have used.


For a much more authoritative reading, I suggest David R. Sear, ROMAN COINS AND THEIR VALUE, and, E. A. Sydenham, THE COINAGE OF THE ROMAN REPUBLIC (London, 1952)

For ancient coin dealers, look for their advertisements in the popular coin collecting magazines.


John C. Blanken John C. Blanken
A mysterious kind of guy!

Return to Top Return to Index