Getting Into Roman Coins

It's like Starting all over again!

Information about my early experiences with the fascinating hobby of Roman coin collecting and provide pictures of the coins in my new collection and links to 'Superior' Roman coin websites.

I like to think of myself as having a good general knowledge of Modern British coinage. At least from the re-coinage in 1816 until full decimalisation in 1971. I feel I know most of the rare or scarce dates and roughly what each coin type is worth. I'm on a learning curve again, and I've chosen Roman coins!

Roman coins are different to modern British coins for obvious reasons. Firstly they were made over a much longer period of time than just 200 years, so there are more types and varieties. The fact they were not all made in one central place also leads to different variations. There were different rulers for different realms and many different busts were used on coins, so this again leads to many different variations. The manufacturing process was not as automated and mechanical (although probably just as organised) as it has been over the last 200+ years so in some cases the coins were struck using inferior equipment or by inferior mint staff! Leading to guess what....More variations. In just the first few weeks of being interested in Roman coins I have learned that it's very unlikely I'll ever find two identical Roman coins.

Over the years I have acquired about 20 Roman coins while going about my Modern British Coin Business. I got them usually it lots or as part of collections with other mainly modern coins. Most of them are caked in 1500 - 1700 years worth of muck and only 6 of the 20+ have been identified (3 of them by a London coin dealer, who wrote the emperor names on a scrap of paper for me and the other by my dad who managed to read the Emperor name!). I started looking at them recently and wondering how best to clean them to make the writing visible to aid identification.

While looking around on the internet for Roman coin cleaning instructions I started reading about the different Emperors and about the geographical area of the Imperial Roman Empire and the influence it had on Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. I have also recently published a piece on Roman coins on this site. Within in a short time I was Imperially bitten by a Roman bug and am now determined to identify all the identifiable little mysterious Roman coins I have left.

I'm also all of a sudden in need of more little Roman challenges too, so I have purchased 50 dirty unidentified Roman coins from eBay to aid my quest and give me practice on cleaning techniques. I don't expect any of them to be valuable but for only £17.00 (US$27.20) including the postage I thought I'd give them a go.

The discovery and mystery is repeating itself just like it did concerning British coins as a child. When the number of coins gets high enough I will put them in some kind or order, in the mean time they are listed in order of discovery.

Below are pictures and information about the 6+ coins I have identified so far: (Click on the images for larger pictures)

claudius.jpg (24265 bytes)

A Claudius II Gothicus coin 268-270 AD. Irregular shape but measures about 20mm across the widest diameter. I got this coin in the early 90's. My friend Neil and I went to visit a man in Sidcup Kent who wanted to sell a few old coins he had and this was one of them. I didn't pay that much attention to it and had no idea who or what it showed until my dad managed to read 'Claudius' on the obverse side. I took it to a leading London coin expert (in Blackheath) and he confirmed it was Claudius II Gothicus and that he ruled from 268-270 AD. From looking on the internet I leaned that Claudius was born on May 10th, either 213 or 214 and according to some slightly far fetched contempory literature was descendant of the son of Zeus.

maximianis.jpg (24586 bytes)

A Maximinus Herculius coin 286-305 AD. Not completely round, measuring 23mm across the widest part. I bought this coin for about a pound from the same London dealer that helped me identify the Claudius Coin above.

On the internet I have learned that Maximinus Herculius' full name was Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximinus and that he was probably born in either 249 or 250 in what is now the modern Balkan region.

contantinopolis.jpg (25386 bytes)

Constantinopolis Commemorative 334-335 AD. This 18mm coin presented a few problems for me at first. I was quite sure I could read 'Constan' on the left next to the head so searched for information on all the Emperors with names starting with 'Constan' and there are many that begin with 'Constan'! None of them seemed to look similar and it wasn't until I was reading about commonly found Roman coins that I saw a picture of an identical coin to mine. The 'Constan' part is actually continued on the right of the head and reads 'Constantinopolis'. This coin is a commemorative coin to honour the founding of the city with the same name. The head represents the city and the reverse shows 'Victory'.

I learned not to scrub Roman coins too much as I scrubbed this one too hard with a soft brass brush and removed the patina, which is desirable on Roman coins. Unlike with Modern coins, you really can't avoid cleaning Roman coins and I still have a lot to learn regarding this skill.

constantineii.jpg (20183 bytes)

Constantine II 337-340 AD. 17mm Diameter. This coin was also sold to me and identified by the London dealer in Blackheath. Constantine II was responsible for a large area including Spain, France and Great Britain (Not Scotland or NI, of course), so it's highly likely this coin was found in England. I have learned that Constantine was probably born in the summer of 317. His full name was Flavius Claudius Constantinus and he died in battle trying to seize some of his brother Constans (below) realm.

Constantius II 337-361 AD. Constantinus II was the Augusti of most of the Eastern empire and also 'acquired' Great Britain and other western areas in 350 due to the murder of his brother (Constans I, see below). Full name: Flavius Julius Constantius, born in Illyricum 7th August 317.

I think this is my favourite coin of the 6 identified because I have learned that Constantius was probably responsible for the mass murder of most of the male members of his own family when his father died in 337AD! Maybe I'm a sadist, and I don't recommend killing any members of your family for personal gain, but the fact that he did that (and got away with it) makes this coin historically interesting. The reverse shows a battle scene (not an image of Constantius killing his family!) and depending on which mint the coin was made at, the 'fallen' soldier was often made to look like the current real life enemy of the region!

Imagine the modern equivalent with the Queen on the Obverse. I wonder who would be the 'fallen' on the reverse? I'll leave that to your imagination!

honorius.jpg (16497 bytes)

Honorius 393-423 AD. About 16mm at the widest diameter. Honorius was Emperor of the Western region between 393-423 although born in the Eastern region in 384. Maybe at first it was just a title because I fail to see how a nine year old could successfully run half of Europe!

This coin was identified and sold to me by the same Blackheath, London dealer for a pound or so. A quite interesting coin for me being British because Honorius was the emperor when Roman Rule finished in 'Britannia' (Great Britain). Despite pleas from the people Honorius left the island to fend for itself due to rebelling Britons, invading forces and poor finances.

constans.jpg (24008 bytes)

Update: 23rd May 2003

Constans I 337-350. Constans was the brother of Constantine II and Constantius II (Above). The third and youngest son of Constantine the Great and Fausta.

I scrubbed this coin carefully and after a little work was able to read most of the obverse legend. I verified it online as being Constans I.  I have a coin from each of the 3 sons of Constantine the Great and Fausta and I had no idea! This coin has a wonderful head side with great hair detail, really very good definition and even pretty dark green patina. Unfortunately there's a quite deep scratch on the reverse.

I learned online that Constans' full name was Flavius Julius Constans and that he was born between 320 - 323. Apparently he was an overbearing emperor towards the end of his reign, and was assassinated in 350 after being dragged from a temple where he was seeking refuge and murdered by a band of men. Interestingly, he was also homosexual and with attitudes as they were over 1600 years ago (and still are in many places!) in contempory literature this was strongly condemned.

Valens Coin

Update: 24th May 2003
Full steam ahead on the imperial train, another 2 identified!

Valens 364-378 AD. Flavius Valens was co emperor with his brother Valentinian. Valens realm was the eastern empire.

Irregular edge, not the best cleaning job done on this one (by me). I was able to identify it by scouring the internet looking at pictures. The legend is not very readable but the letters that can be seen matched the legend listing for a low value Valens coin and the bust looks the same, so I will assume it's Valens.

I have also learned that Valens and Valentinian were the first of the Pannonian dynasty which was the dynasy after the Constantinian dynasty. Valens met an unfortunate demise when he was burned to death in a tower by Gothic marauders in 378. During the late 4th century the Roman empire had begun a slow slip from the control of power. The Goths being just one of many 'barbarian' groups.

postumus.jpg (35205 bytes)

Postumus I 260-269 AD. Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus led a successful rebellion against the Imperial Roman Empire and formed his own 'little' Empire called the Gallic Empire which included the whole of France and Great Britain.

I scrubbed this coin before really knowing what I was doing and have removed any tone that existed and revealed bare metal (very bad). Identification was easy when I put my mind to it and knew some of the emperor names, in fact even from here you can see 'Postvmvs' starting in the top left area. Postumus' new splinter empire only lasted until 273 when the area was won back by Roman HQ.

tetricus.jpg (21159 bytes)

Tetricus I 271-273 AD. Pius Esuvius Tetricus was the last Emperor of the splinter 'Gallic Empire'.

I didn't need to clean this coin at all, it was already quite detailed. The problem was it was struck on small flan and some of the legend was missing. After a little research using the letters that remained and the very detailed bust I was able to identify this coin as Tetricus.

Interestingly the leader of a rebellious splinter empire didn't meet with a horrific death like many Roman emperors. He was captured in a battle and his life was spared. He then 'retired' to Italy and lived out a normal life.

Roman Coin information 'Superior':

I'll try to update this page as I identify and acquire more Roman coins. In the mean time if you require further reading you might be interested in this book and the links below:

Roman Base Metal Coins - A Price Guide (Links to Amazon, similar book on Silver coins, also available).

Covers most Roman base metal (ie non Silver or Gold) coins struck between 241BC - 518AD. Features pictures of common reverse types and 100's of accurate line drawings of the various Emperors. See the Book section.

"Great value when you consider how much most Roman coin valuation books cost."

Does not cover Gold or Silver coins or coins from the Byzantine era (after 518AD).

The Ancient coin Forum - Coins for sale, a great search facility for identification purposes among other things. I have spent hours on this site.
Brief History on Roman coinage - The article published here about Roman Coins.
Roman - A great source for emperor biographies, dates, relationships and regions.
Fantastic Roman coin site. - Everything covered from cleaning techniques, to cheap commonly found coins, to starting a collection and denominations used by the Romans.

Chris Perkins 21st May 2003. Converted to PHP format 20th December 2005, updated 28th July 2015.