attributing ancient coins

Attributing Ancient Coins, and proving it with only a few dollars…

attributing ancient coinsYears ago, I had picked up a few brutally worn pieces from a dealers “junk box” for a few dollars.  I knew attributing ancient coins is a skill that must be tested. In the group that I picked was this strange coin, nearly completely obliterated as to details, making attributing it nearly impossible. But strikingly unique – it was holed in the center.  This must have a story and I was determined to learn what it was. Challenge accepted!

There I was at home for hours… staring… and staring at the coin or lump of metal. Where to begin?

I put it away.

That’s the beauty of this hobby, it must all always be enjoyed on your terms.  Occasionally I picked it up and stared some more and eventually I detected something, there was definitely something struck on it, at least on one side – it was not a lump of metal. What it was though, I could not say.

So on to serious examination…

I knew by the fabric of the coin it probably was not a Roman Imperial coin or one from a non-classical culture.  My guess would be Byzantine of some sort. But why the hole in the center.

The thing about holed coins – most “Holed Coins” are holed at the 12 O’clock position so that it could be worn around the neck.

But I have never seen a coin that someone holed in the center. This is different than coins struck with holes in the center – Check out my selection of Ancient Chinese Coins to see that in actionattributing ancient coins Michael IV Byzantine Emperor, or coins with center depressions typical of some the Ptolemaic coins of Egypt.

From time to time I would get back to attributing ancient coins and I would examine that coin, and each time I would see something new. I noticed that the obverse (I called it that at the time, as the “reverse” had absolutely no detail) had a cross through it, making four quadrants.  In each quadrant there were some faint details.  I made out what I believed were an “X” and “C”.

And that was it…

Why you need of a good numismatic reference library when attributing ancient coins.

With that information, I immediately rushed to my numismatic library, looking at Byzantine coins, I discovered The Greek contraction/abbreviation for Iêsous (Jesus) is IC, which is the letters Iota and Sigma. The Greek abbreviation for Christos/Kristos (Christ) is XC, which is the letters Chi and Sigma.

I made out a “K” in another quadrant – references told me about “NIKA” the Greek word for “conquers.”

Some more research and I as luck would have it – only one ruler issued a coin like that… Byzantine Emperor Michael IV. When you are attributing ancient coins you probably will not get that lucky.

Michael IV ruled from 1034-1041 and issued what are known as “anonymous” issues because neither his name nor likeness appeared on the coin. Instead, with the dots connected, the coin was the following:

In each of the quadrants, there are two Greek letters, “IC”, “XC”, “NI”, and “KA”. These letters are separated by a cross. The letters “IC|XC” (with the bar above them) is the Greek abbreviation for “Jesus Christ”. The Greek contraction/abbreviation for Iêsous (Jesus) is IC, which is the letters Iota and Sigma. The Greek abbreviation for Christos/Kristos (Christ) is XC, which is the letters Chi and Sigma. The word “NIKA” is the Greek word for “conquers” or the verb for “victory”, a possibility is “is victorious. The word “nike” is the name of the Greek god of victory. The usual literal translation of IC|XC NIKA” is “Jesus Christ conquers”. The translation is interpreted as “Jesus Christ is victorious”.

Properly attributed now, the coins is:

Anonymous Follis of Christ, Class C. 28mm  S-1825

Constantinople Mint

Obverse worn complete

Reverse Jeweled Cross, in the angles IC XC / NI KA

(May Jesus Christ Conquer)

Notice I was wrong, according to the standard references, it was the reverse that has the IC/XC and NIKA and my obverse was completely worn but would have an image of Christ on it at the time.

Returning to the issue of the hole… It is my belief that the center hole facilitated the nailing of the coin to a door or door post.  Coins that are typically holed at the 12′ O’clock position are worn around the neck and used as necklaces. But a hole in the center is unusual, and the center of this cross may have provided the owner with a spot to display and broadcast the message: “IC XC / NI KA”

I share this story to underscore why research is so important and why with, even a few dollars, you could open yourself up to hours of fun and enjoyment attributing ancient coins.

There is still so much left to discover and learn.


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