Identification of Ancient Coins

I have had some interesting discussions recently with my kids on identification of ancient coins.

We happen to be looking at an ad in a coin publication for an upcoming ancient coin auction, and my kids wanted to “test me” on the ability to classify ancient coins only by looking at the photos.

I was able to identify most of the coins with pretty good accuracy.  The ad had imperial Roman coins, some Greek, and a few Byzantine.

Near the bottom of the ad were a few Roman Provincial and a Seleucid coin.

They were amazed.

After reveling in the accolades – I confessed to them (and now to you)…it is not that hard to learn the skills needed for identification of Ancient Coins.

Not if you know what you are looking at.

Ancient Coins at first may seem very overwhelming but if you take you time to understand you can begin to put coins in a virtual “type bucket” where things will become easier.

Obviously these rules do not apply a 100% of the time, but I will say they apply most of the time.

You see, with some quick training you can begin to sort coins stylistically.

Take Roman Imperial Coinage, which are coins struck during the Roman Empire and in Rome. Typically they all feature the Emperor of a family member on the Obverse and the legends are written in Latin.

In this coin of Emperor Vespasian, notice the Latin letters.

Vespasian-RIC-29-obverse identifcation of anicent coins

Understand that Latin was really only used in Rome as the official language.  Greek was used everywhere else in the empire – Greek was really the lingua-franca.

A coin depicting a Roman Emperor but with Greek Legends, would most probably be a Roman Provincial coin. That would be a coin struck under Roman authority but struck at a provincial mint somewhere else in the empire.

Notice this Roman Provincial coin of Emperor Nero, notice the Greek letters.  This was struck in Alexandria, Egypt.

Nero-egypt-obverse identifcation of anicent coins

Notice that on both of these issues the portraits are realistic.

Compare that to this coin of Emperor Maurice Tiberius.

identifcation of anicent coins

Notice the abstract version of his portrait, notice the eyes. Now notice the legend. The letters are in Greek.

This is a coin of the Byzantine Empire.

That is the period, when Roman shifted to Constantinople, and the Roman Empire had become the Byzantine Empire.

I’ll talk about Byzantine Coinage next week.

Until then – happy collecting!

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