Interesting Facts about Ancient Roman Coins

The Roman Empire lasted over a period of about five centuries. Besides keeping back a number of historic wars and other important political events, Rome experienced great economic prosperity under various Emperors. This is evident from the variety of coins they issued throughout the lifespan of the Empire. We have gathered some important facts about the coins of Ancient Rome which you should know.

  1. Roman coins were issued in all the three principal metals- bronze, gold and silver.
  2. These coins were of various sizes. These coins were valued on the basis of their weight. The earliest of the Roman coins discovered was made of bronze and it was issued around 269 BC.
  3. These coins were minted in over 40 different cities. The name of the mint in Rome was Juno Monet and it is from here, that the term ‘money’ came into being.
  4. Similarly, the term ‘coin’ came from the word ‘consecratio’ which was issued by the Emperor in order to pay homage or tribute to their deceased family members.
  5. The ancient Roman gold coins were called Aurei which contained about 95% of pure gold. The silver coins were called Denarius, which consisted of 85% silver.
  6. The copper coins were known as As which was stamped on one side carrying the image of the beak of a ship. Two types of silver coins were Denarius Sestertius and Denarius Victoriatus. Some other notable silver coins were Smebella, Teruncius and Libella. Libella has the same value as that of the As. The principal gold coin was Aureus Denarius.
  7. Roman coins bear the name of the issuing emperor. We find a lot of emperors issuing coins in their names. Some of the famous emperors were Constantine, Marcus Antonius, Septimius Severus. Some of the Roman coins also included women in the impressions. These were of Antonia, Valeria Messalina, Cleopatra Selene and also many of the daughters of the ancient Roman leaders.
  8. At first, the portraits of Pagan Gods and Goddesses were used by the Romans in their coins. This idea was copied from the Greeks. Later on, they started to put impressions of buildings on the coins. Symbols like stars and eagles were also used in the coins. In order to make an emperor popular, the images of the kings were also used in the coins.
  9. Rome was one of the most powerful political as well as economic powers of the ancient world. Romans had trading connections with ancient India, Iran, Mediterranean world and northern Africa. Thus, in the archaeological excavations a large number of Roman coins have been unearthed from various parts of the aforementioned areas.
  10. The ancient Roman coins are prized possessions for the modern collectors. Thus, a large number of forged coins are circulated in the market. You can only differentiate between a fake and real ancient Roman coin with the help of a test kit. Some of the important fake symbols of the coins include incorrect marks of the mint, wrong lettering on the coins and variation on the thickness in the coins. You can also detect the fake coins from the original one collected from a reliable source.

Numismatics: The Study of Coin

Now-a-days most of our economic transactions are controlled by electronic technology. However, the importance of hard cash has not been diminished. Since c.700 BCE human beings are using pieces of metals in exchange of goods or services. We called these pieces of metals as coins. Coins are everywhere in our daily life even in this age of plastic money. We used them in malls, markets, restaurants, and in numerous other places. The scientific study of coins is known as Numismatics. Also the hobby of collecting various types of coins is included within the discipline of numismatics.

The term ‘numismatics’ is derived from Latin numismatis which means coin. Its earliest use in English can be traced back to 1829.

The numismatists analyzed the materials of the coins. Their study also included the identification of the source of metals used, the classification of the coins according to their shape, time period and issuing authority. Ancient coins are generally found in hoards, or sometimes as stray individual finds. The numismatists study those coins and prepare their report. These scholarly reports are of immense importance to the historians. Numismatists provided the historians with the raw data about the material condition of people of the past. The historians used those data in writing his accounts of the past. On the basis of the information supplied by the numismatists the historian can determine the chronology of a particular ruler, the extent of his rule, the material condition of the common people under his rule, the condition of trade and commerce, etc.

The numismatists used several scientific methods to study the metal content of the coins. These included the use of modern X-ray Fluorescence spectrometry. The increasing use of modern technologies in the field of numismatics is greatly beneficial to obtain accurate results quickly.

The Renaissance in Europe witnessed an enthusiasm among the people to collect antiques of the Classical age. This is the same age when we met the first of the numismatists. Although there must have been earlier instances of collecting coins, they were not sufficiently documented. The famous Renaissance personality Petrarch is often credited as the first of the coin collectors during Renaissance. Guillaume Bude wrote the first authoritative text on coins in the year 1514. His book came to be known as ‘De Asse et Partibus’. Several famous royal personalities were interested in numismatics. Even the Pope Boniface VIII (1230-1303) was a collector of coins. Some of the famous modern numismatists included Charles Seltman, the British archaeologist; David Hendin, the American expert of Jewish and Biblical coins; and Guido Bruck, an Austrian numismatist specializing in late Roman period.

In modern days, both the professional scholarly activities of the scientific study of coins and  the amateurish enthusiasm of collecting coins is largely dominated by organized bodies. Most of these organizations came into being during the 19th century or early-20th century. Some of the famous organizations dealing with numismatics are The Royal Numismatic Society and The British Numismatic Society in Britain and The American Numismatic Society. The Royal Numismatic Society published a renowned scholarly journal, the Numismatic Chronicle. The American Journal of Numismatics is also a critically acclaimed scholarly journal. It was first published in 1866.

Besides these bodies almost all the governments patronized numismatics through their respective Archaeological departments. As numismatics is an integral part of the archaeological explorations, almost every archaeological department has separate sections to deal with the coins.

Numismatics is growing in its popularity worldwide. Many local societies and clubs all over the world are facilitating its growth. Certainly, the “hobby of the kings” is no more confined only within the palaces and among the royalties.