Getting Started with Roman Coins - Thoughts on Collecting Roman Coins

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Getting Started with Roman Coins
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The previous sections can paint a complex and slightly depressing picture of Roman coinage, from the 200 year decline of the As (329g to 11g), to the scam that was the Antoninianus; from the fall of the Denarius (95-98% silver to 5% silver) to the sheer complexity from Diocletian onwards as they continually tried to find a solution that worked.

While the Romans themselves may have been unhappy with the situation, it’s actually a boon for coin collectors and numismatists. The constant change of the denominations over the years means we will never run out of different coins to collect, and for those who enjoy studying their coins, our understanding of the later periods is so poor in places that we don’t even know what the coins were called or how they related to each other. There are so many areas for a collector or numismatist to focus on that you could spend your life, and all your money, on just one emperor or coin type.

Deciding what to collect is a very personal decision, and the standard advice of “collect what calls to you” holds (and if nothing Roman calls to you, that’s fine – perhaps other areas such as Greek or Celtic might). The following thoughts are intended as general guidance to help you navigate the immense field of Roman coins and help you start on areas that might appeal.

If You Like Story Coins …

Then look at the Imperatorial to mid Empire eras. Many of the most famous people from history come from this time: Julius Caesar, Brutus, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Octavian (Augustus), Nero, Claudius, Caligula, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius to name a few.

Many famous places and events are also linked to the coins from these times such as Romulus and Remus, coins buried at Pompey, the coin that killed Caesar, the defeat of Britain, the Eid Mar denarius, the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum.

Coins from earlier in the Roman Period are generally rare due to the fact that coins were recalled and remade over time. The fact that many of these rare coins also deal with famous people, places or events, puts them in great demand, and just having one can be a story in itself.

If You Like Famous Emperors …

Then look at coins from the Imperatorial to Mid Empire eras.

Many of the most famous people from history come from this time: Julius Caesar, Brutus, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Octavian (Augustus), Nero, Claudius, Caligula, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius.

If You Like Great Quality at Low Prices …

Then look at Late Roman Bronzes (LRB). Coins from the end of the Roman Empire are cheaper and easier to get than the earlier ones. Due to the ongoing debasement and currency changes, many coins weren’t in circulation for long so didn’t suffer from circulation wear. The “good” coins (the ones with precious metal in them) were hoarded, and the “poor” ones weren’t always worth recalling for reuse. You can pick up mint state coins for under £30:

This sold for £27

If You Like Watching How Coins Evolve Over Time …

Then look at any denomination that was used for a substantial period of time or any denomination in use during periods of rapid debasement and inflation. Try getting one of each Aes Grave denominations from each weight standard, or an Antoninianus from each emperor, or decade, to show how it degraded over time.

If You Like Art and Eye Appeal …

Then look at Imperatorial to Mid Empire Gold coins, or the Imperial bronze Sestertius.

Many Roman coins are works of art and have great eye appeal, but the Aurei and Sestertius are particularly sought after. The gold Aureus is an obvious coin to have great art and eye appeal [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6], but the bronze Sestertius might be more surprising (it’s bronze after all). However, these coins were big – over 3cm in diameter – which gave the engravers plenty of space to work with. The Sestertii of Nero are some of the most sought after [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6].

Be aware that you might need deep pockets if this is what you choose to collect.

If You Like Type Sets …

You can define type sets from any era. For example:

  1. Get a complete set of Aes Grave denominations from a single weight standard
  2. Choose one Aes Grave denomination and get one from each weight standard
  3. Get one of each Marc Antony Legionary issues
  4. Collect lifetime portraits of the 12 Caesars, or the Five Good Emperors, or those from the Year of the Five Emperors
  5. Get all bust types for one emperor
  6. Get all the coins depicting the Circus Maximus
  7. Get one of each coin featuring Britannia
  8. Get one of each recurring reverse, such as Liberalitas (examples) or Consecratio

The list of sets you can define for yourself is endless. Keep in mind that it can be difficult to impossible to complete some ancient coin type sets, so it’s worth doing some investigations before commiting money to one (unless you are the type of set collector who doesn’t mind not completing a set).

Late roman bronzes [1, 2] provide several interesting collecting opportunities:

  1. Fallen Horsemen
  2. Campgates
  3. Captives [1, 2, 3, 4]

These coins are generally in great condition, plentiful, cheap, and not in great demand, so are some of the easiest ones to collect.

If You Like Research …

Then look at anything from Diocletian onwards. Our knowledge of Roman coinage really breaks down at this point, to the extent that we don’t know what the coins were called or what they were worth. Roman Republican coins also offer research opportunities.

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