Roman Coins Basics

Ancient Coins

The term ’ancient coins’ as a general term describes coins dating back from their early days, around 650BC, to around 1500AD. Well, to be exact, coins fromwestern Europe after c.800 AD are considered medieval, however, those in the east (from the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire) are still considered ancient to a much later date, because of their style and continuity. That is over 2000 years of coins and history.
Many different empires (Greek, Carthagean, Roman, Parthian…) struck coins during this time period, and you may choose to collect whatever interests you to collect. It was the Greeks who are responsible for the wide spread of coinage in the ancient world, but it is not certain whether it was them, or the Lydians (who lived across the Aegean from the Greek mainland, what is now western Turkey), who first introduced the idea of a coin in the seventh century BC. These ’archaic’ Greek coins are quite interesting, but not the subject of this work. The idea of using coins eventually caught up with the Romans, who started making their own coins during the time of the Republic, around 270 BC.

By the time of the Empire things were in full swing. To give you an idea, these are the different periods of Rome’s history as they are referred to:
• Roman Kingdom (Romulus: 753BC – Lucius Tarquinius Superbus: 510BC)
• Roman Republic (T. Larcius: 510BC – Julius Caesar: 49BC)
• Imperatorial Period (Julius Caesar: 49BC – Octavian: 27BC)
• Roman Empire (Augustus: 27BC – Anastasius I: 496AD)
• Byzantine Empire (Anastasius I: 496AD – Constantine XI: 1454AD)

It is the time of the Empire that this work deals with. Coins of this period are called Roman Imperial. Coins from the Republic are available, but considerably more expensive in nice condition, as are coins of the Byzantine (often called the Eastern, late-Roman or Romanion) Empire. Greek coins are also more expensive since they were minted on the small islands of Greece and used locally, hence less of each type were made. Also,due to their highly artistic nature, they are quite desirable for collectors who can afford them (however, cheap Greek bronzes can be obtained starting at around $10 and cheap silver for about $20 or so; the really nice ones go for hundreds of dollars or more!). It is therefore easiest to collect the Roman Imperial coins, unless you can afford to jump into other periods. There are also other reasons for starting with this period. Attributing your coins is much easier during this period than any other, and, there are many interesting types available. Roman coins have inscriptions in Latin which are quite easy to read with some practice, and the emperor’s name can be found on the coin (as compared with early Greek coins for example, which had no inscriptions whatsoever, or ones of a culture whose language you cannot read). Being also at its greatest extent, the Roman Empire was minting coins by the millions. People used to bury their coins for safekeeping, soldiers used to bury them before battle (for good luck) and today throughout Europe and Asia Minor people keep digging them up, sometimes by the thousands. Museums are overflowing with them, so the rest hits the collector’s market and to people like us!
As you can see, even though these coins are much older than what you might be used to collecting, they are not rare and do not cost more than many modern coins which are less than a 100 years old (they are certainly not priceless as some people might think!).
Go to eBay and under Coins, Ancient, Roman and Imperial, look for coins selling of the famous emperor Constantine, or other common emperors like Valens, Gratian, Probus or Aurelian just to name a few (type in the emperor’s name to see what is listed under each one).