Coin Legends

Coin Legends Basics

Reading your Roman coins is a lot of fun and it will allow you to better understand what your coins are saying or what is being shown. The legends will often allow the dating of a coin, often the exact year of production, and finding the place where it was made.

By reading the inscriptions off a coin one will be able to tell the emperor’s name, which titles he held and for how long, which nations he conquered or with what gods he associated himself with. This section discusses the most common examples of Latin words and various abbreviations that are found on Roman Imperial coins. Roman Provincial coins, which were used in the Greek-speaking regions of the Empire, have Greek inscriptions and are not dealt with here.

It takes a little practice to learn how to read the legends. What you need to know to get started is a handful of abbreviations, and have some patience. Most legends did not have breaks between the abbreviations, but this poses no problems if you can remember a few abbreviations like IMP, C, DN, PF or AVG. Note that Latin used the letters V and I for U and J, which are used in translating, Hence, IVLIVS=Julius.

The words on legends were often abbreviated, and were used in many combinations; this makes them tricky to read sometimes. Also, words can have slightly different meanings, depending on what context they are being used in, or the Latin grammar. Finally, a letter (or few) may be missing or be worn off on your coin – this is no problem if you know what the word should say, and it actually adds to the fun of reading a coin.

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