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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Themes & Provenance ▸ HistoryView Options:  |  |  |    ▷▷

Collecting History through Ancient Coins

Holding an ancient coin is holding history in your hands. Some coins actually depict historical events. Many include the image of a historic king or emperor. Every ancient coin relates to the people and events of the time and place it was struck. Every ancient coin relates to an interesting historical story. The stories on this page are a primary source of our ancient coin obsession. We hope you enjoy them.


Julia Livilla, Sister of Caligula, Mytilene, Lesbos

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Julia Livilla was the the youngest child of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder and the youngest sister of Caligula. She was born on Lesbos, where this coin was struck, in early 18 A.D. Early in Caligula's reign, Livilla, and her elder sisters Agrippina the Younger and Drusilla, received considerable honors and privileges, such as the rights of the Vestal Virgins (with the freedom to view public games from the upper seats in the stadium), inclusion in the oath of loyalty, and depiction on coins. Suetonius and Cassius Dio accuse the insane Caligula of incestuous relationships with his sisters, including Livilla, and say he prostituted them to other men. Livilla and Agrippina were banished in 39 A.D. after unsuccessfully conspiring to overthrow Caligula and replace him with their shared lover (Drusilla's widower). After becoming emperor, Claudius recalled the sisters from exile. He soon married Agrippina Jr., but exiled and then executed Julia Livilla, apparently by starvation, without a defense and on unsupported charges.
SH74029. Brass AE 18, RPC I 2348; SNG Fitzwilliam 4387; Trillmich pl. 14, 1; Cohen I 1; Vagi 576; BMC Troas -, F, well centered, obverse legend on left weak, porous and grainy, weight 6.244 g, maximum diameter 18.4 mm, die axis 0o, Mytilene mint, struck under Caligula, 18 Mar 37 - 39 A.D.; obverse IOYΛIAN NEAN ΓEPMANIKOY, draped bust left, M-Y/T-I in two divided lines low in field; reverse Γ KAICAPA CEBACTON, Caligula standing left, with toga drawn up over head (capite velato), patera extended in right, M-Y/T-I in two divided lines low in field; the only coin type featuring Julia Livilla's portrait alone; extremely rare, only about a dozen known, with the majority in museums; $2700.00 (2349.00)


Byzantine Empire, Constantine VI and Irene, 8 September 780 - 19 August 797 A.D.

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In 790, Constantine VI took control and forced his mother, who had been his regent, into exile. A little more than a year later Irene was back as co-ruler. In 797, Irene had her son deposed and blinded and assumed sole rule.

Feg has the obverse and reverse opposite. Other than Feg 4.7, the referenced examples all have either incomplete or illegible inscriptions, or have variations from this coin.
SH90887. Gold solidus, Feg 4.7 (C.4.6/Ir.4.1); cf. Wroth BMC 1; DOC III, part 1, 2; Morrisson BnF 2, Tolstoi 1; SBCV 1591; Sommer -; Ratto -, VF, remarkable for complete inscriptions, weight 4.413 g, maximum diameter 21.4 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople mint, 15 Jan 792 - 793; obverse COnSTAnTInOS CA - SIR, crowned facing busts of Constantine IV, wearing chlamys and holding globus cruciger in left hand; and Irene, wearing loros, cruciform scepter in her right hand; cross above center; reverse SVn IrInI AVΓ mITHRΛ, Constantine V, Leo III, and Leo IV (the boy emperor's deceased father, grand-father and great grandfather) seated facing, each bearded and wearing crown and chlamys; ex Numismatik Lanz (eBay auction, 4 Feb 2011, sold for 3027); rare; $2500.00 (2175.00)


Didia Clara, 28 March - 2 June 193 A.D., Daughter of Didius Julianus

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Didia Clara, the only child of Didius Julianus and Manlia Scantilla, was made Augusta the day her father became emperor. She survived her father's downfall, but was stripped of her title and the details of her life thereafter are unknown. Due to the short reign of her father, coins of Didia Clara are extremely rare.
SH72535. Silver denarius, RIC IV 10, RSC III 3, BMCRE V 14, VF, lightly toned, porous, weight 2.393 g, maximum diameter 18.35 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, first issue, 28 Mar - May(?) 93; obverse DIDIA CLARA AVG, draped bust right, hair in bun; reverse HILAR TEMPOR, Hilaritas standing left, long palm branch in right hand, cornucopia in left; ex CNG auction 337, lot 450; extremely rare (R4); $2400.00 (2088.00)


Byzantion, Thrace, c. 210 - 195 B.C., Restoration of Lysimachos' Type

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In the years following his death Alexander the Great came to be the subject of cult worship throughout the Mediterranean basin. His corpse was appropriated by Ptolemy I who transported it to Egypt, initially interring it at Memphis, then to a mausoleum and center of worship in Alexandria. It survived until the 4th century AD when Theodosius banned paganism, only to disappear without trace.
SH71721. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Berry 411 (same dies), Mller 142 - 146 var (monogram), Thompson -, SNG Cop -, Meydancikkale -, Armenak -, Arslan-Lightfoot -, Black Sea Hoard -, aEF, a few weak areas, weight 16.731 g, maximum diameter 30.2 mm, die axis 0o, Byzantion (Istanbul, Turkey) mint, c. 210 - 195 B.C.; obverse diademed head of Alexander the Great wearing the horn of Ammon; reverse BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΛYΣIMAXOY, Athena enthroned left, left arm on shield decorated with Gorgoneion, transverse spear against right side, Nike crowning name in right, monogram left, BY on throne; rare; $1200.00 (1044.00)


Claudius and Messalina, 24 January 41 - 48 A.D., Knossos, Crete

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Messalina was Claudius' 3rd wife and mother of Britannicus and Claudia Octavia. They were married when she was 14. In 48 A.D., while Claudius was away in Ostia, even though she was married to the emperor, Messalina married her lover, Gaius Silius. Silius was executed and Messalina driven to suicide.
SH67600. Bronze AE 20, RPC I 1001 (rev legend ending IIIVIR) or 1002, Svoronos Crete 214 corr (IIIVIR) or 212, SNG Cop -, BMC Crete -, VF, edge chipped, weight 4.045 g, maximum diameter 19.9 mm, die axis 180o, Crete, Knossos mint, 41 A.D.; obverse TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS, bare head of Claudius left; reverse VALERIA MESSALINA [CAPITONE CYTHERONTE IIIVIR] or [CYTHERO CAPITONE] (end of legend off flan), draped bust of Messalina right; extremely rare; $630.00 (548.10)


Faustina Junior, Augusta 146 - Winter 175/176 A.D., Wife of Marcus Aurelius

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In Roman religion, Concordia was the goddess of agreement, understanding, and marital harmony. The cult of Concordia Augusta ("Majestic Harmony") was of special importance to the imperial household. She is usually depicted wearing a long cloak and holding a patera (sacrificial bowl), a cornucopia (symbol of prosperity), or a caduceus (symbol of peace).
RB26685. Orichalcum sestertius, SRCV II 4710, RIC III 1368, BMCRE IV 2198, VF, weight 19.689 g, maximum diameter 31.5 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 157 - 161 A.D.; obverse FAVSTINA AVGVSTA, draped bust right; reverse AVGVSTI PII FIL S C, Concordia standing left, patera in exergue right, cornucopia in left; $600.00 (522.00)


Julia Domna, Augusta 194 - 8 April 217 A.D., Hadrianopolis, Thrace

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Hadrian refounded a Thracian tribal capital, changed its name to Hadrianopolis, developed it, adorned it with monuments, and made it the capital of the Roman province. The city is Edirne, Turkey today. From ancient times, the area around Edirne has been the site of no fewer than 16 major battles or sieges. Military historian John Keegan identifies it as "the most contested spot on the globe" and attributes this to its geographical location. Licinius was defeated there by Constantine I in 323, and Valens was killed by the Goths during the Battle of Adrianople in 378.
SH65237. Bronze AE 25, Jurukova p. 157 & pl. XXII, 244 (V137/R244); Mionnet, Suppl. II, 658; BMC Thrace -, SNG Cop -, SNG Hunterian -, VF, green patina, weight 7.837 g, maximum diameter 24.7 mm, die axis 180o, Hadrianopolis (Edirne, Turkey) mint, obverse IOYΛIA ∆O CEBACTH, draped bust right; reverse A∆PIANOΠOΛEITΩN, galley left with four oarsmen and steersman in stern; very rare; $600.00 (522.00)


Faustina Junior, Augusta 146 - Winter 175/176 A.D., Wife of Marcus Aurelius

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Venus (Aphrodite) can be faulted for the Trojan War. Upset that she was not invited to a wedding, she went anyway and maliciously left a golden apple inscribed "For the fairest" on the banquet table. The goddesses, as Aphrodite expected, argued who was the rightful possessor of this prize. It was determined the most handsome mortal in the world, a noble Trojan youth named Paris, would decide. Each of the three finalists offered Paris a bribe. Hera promised he would rule the world. Athena said she would make him victorious in battle. Aphrodite guaranteed the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. This was Helen, who was married to the king of Sparta. Paris awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite. Aphrodite enabled Paris to elope with Helen, Helen of Troy. Helen's husband raised a Greek army to retrieve his wife, starting the Trojan War.
SH73705. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC III AP1388b; BMCRE IV AP2147; Hunter II p. 300, 30; Cohen II 268; SRCV II 4720, VF, nice style, well centered, flan crack, weight 24.039 g, maximum diameter 35.1 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, struck under Antoninus Pius, 148 - 152 A.D.; obverse FAVSTINAE AVG PII AVG FIL, draped bust right with head bare, hair waived and coiled chignon tied with double band of pearls on back of head; reverse VENVS, Venus standing half left, apple in right hand, grounded rudder in left hand, dolphin coiled around rudder, S - C low across field; $600.00 (522.00)


Odessos, Thrace, c. 125 - 70 B.C., Civic Issue in the Types and Name of Alexander the Great

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Odessus surrendered to Alexander the Great in 335 B.C. Rule passed to his diadochus Lysimachus, but in coalition with other Pontic cities and the Getae, Odessus rebelled in 313 B.C. After Lysimachus' death in 281, the city reverted to striking in the types and name of Alexander the Great and continued to strike Alexandrine tetradrachms until at least 70 B.C.
SH63508. Silver tetradrachm, Price 1179, VF, toned, weight 15.721 g, maximum diameter 29.8 mm, die axis 0o, Odessos (Varna, Bulgaria) mint, c. 125 - 70 B.C.; obverse head of Herakles right, wearing lion-scalp headdress; reverse AΛEΞAN∆POY BAΣIΛEΩΣ, Zeus seated left, eagle in right, long scepter vertical in left, ∆H under arm, monogram below throne; $500.00 (435.00)


Roman Republic, Q. Pomponius Musa, 66 B.C.

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Many of the Roman moneyers had a solid sense of humor and word play with homonyms was very popular. Pomponius Musa, playing on his name, issued ten types each depicting Hercules Musagetes (Conductor of the Muses) or one of nine different Muses, creating one of the most interesting and sought after series of the Republican coinage. This coin depicts Clio, the Muse of History.
SH90301. Silver denarius, RSC I Pomponia 11, SRCV I 353, Sydenham 813, Crawford 410/3, gF, banker's marks, weight 3.585 g, maximum diameter 18.4 mm, die axis 45o, Rome mint, 66 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Apollo right, scroll tied with cord behind; reverse MVSA on left, Q POMPONI on right, Clio, Muse of History standing left, reading from open scroll which she holds in both hands, left elbow rests on column; ex CNG auction 233 (26 April 2010), lot 315; $490.00 (426.30)


Hadrian, 11 August 117 - 10 July 138 A.D., Roman Provincial Egypt, Arsinoite Nome

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While the names of various districts appear on the Nome coinage, all the Nome coins were struck at the Alexandria Mint.
SH90859. Bronze obol, Geissen 3381; Dattari 6210; BMC Alexandria p. 357, 73; Milne 1229; SNG Cop 1083; Emmett 1221, VF, well centered, some minor pitting, earthen highlighting desert patina, weight 4.807 g, maximum diameter 18.6 mm, die axis 0o, Alexandria mint, 29 Aug 126 - 28 Aug 127 A.D.; obverse AYT KAI TPAI A∆PIANOC CEB, laureate bust right with slight drapery on left shoulder; reverse head of pharaoh (Arsinoe II as pharaoh?), wearing uraeus, linen veil, and (false?) beard, APCI upward on left, LIA (year 11) downward on right; rare; $450.00 (391.50)


Tetrarchy of Chalkis, Coele Syria, Lysanias, 40 - 36 B.C.

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Lysanias is called Tetrarch of Abila by Josephus. Lysanias' father Ptolemaios was married to Alexandra, Mattathias Antigonus' sister. Lysanias offered the Parthian satrap Barzapharnes a thousand talents and 500 women to depose Hyrcanus and put his uncle (or step-uncle) Antigonus on the throne of Judaea (Josephus B.J. 1.248). When Lysanias continued to support Antigonus against the Roman nominee Herod the Great, Mark Antony had him executed, and gave his territory to Cleopatra VII.
GB90942. Bronze AE 19, Herman 11.g, RPC I 4769, HGC 9 145 corr., Lindgren III 1243, BMC Galatia -, VF, weight 3.505 g, maximum diameter 18.6 mm, die axis 0o, Chalkis sub Libano mint, c. 40 B.C.; obverse veiled female bust right, no inscription; reverse double cornucopia, flanked by four ligatures ΛYCA, TETP, APX, IΦ (Lysanias tetrarch and high priest); very rare; $400.00 (348.00)


Tranquillina, Augusta, May 241 - 25 February 244 A.D., Alliance of Perga and Side, Pamphilia

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Perga was renowned for the worship of Artemis, whose temple stood on a hill outside the town, and in whose honor annual festivals were celebrated. Side's Temple of Apollo was located at the end of the city's peninsula site, overlooking the sea.
RP73194. Bronze AE 26, SNG Paris 500 (same dies), Franke-Nolle 1669 (same dies); BMC Lycia p. 142, 107, aVF, well centered, nice jade green patina, weight 11.610 g, maximum diameter 26.5 mm, die axis 0o, Perga mint, consular legate Tertullianus, May 241 - 25 Feb 244; obverse CΑΒΕΙ ΤΡΑΝΚVΛΛΕΙΝΑΝ CΕΒ, draped bust of Tranquillina right, crescent behind shoulders; reverse ΠΕΡΓΑΙΩΝ CΙ∆ΗΤΩΝ ΟΜΟΝΟΙΑ, Artemis of Perga on left, standing right, quiver over shoulder, long torch in left hand, clasping right hands with Apollo of Side, he is turning right, looking back left, long scepter in his left; $400.00 (348.00)


Brettian League, Bruttium, Italy, c. 211- 208 B.C., Time of Hannibal

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The success of Hannibal at Cannae proved too much for the Bruttians' fidelity; they were among the first after the battle to declare in favor of the Carthaginian general. Some towns at first remained with Rome, but Petelia and Consentia were speedily reduced by other Bruttians and a small Carthaginian force, and the more important cities of Locri and Crotona followed not long after. Rhegium alone remained firm, and was able to defy Carthage throughout the war. The region became a Carthaginian stronghold, but the Romans, though avoiding any decisive engagement, continually gained ground by the successive reduction of towns and fortresses. The ravages of war were a severe blow to Bruttium. Punishment by the Romans after the war completed their humiliation. They were deprived of most of their territory, and the whole nation was reduced to near servitude. A praetor with an army was sent annually to watch over them. Colonies were established at Tempsa, Crotona, and Hipponium (renamed Vibo Valentia). A fourth was settled at Thurii on their frontier. From this time the Bruttians as a people disappear from history. All coinage of the Brettii was issued while they were allied with Hannibal.
SH72544. Bronze quarter unit, SNG ANS 120 - 122; Scheu Bronze 50; HN Italy 1990; BMC Italy p. 332, 106 var (no controls), Choice gVF, attractive green patina, weight 1.755 g, maximum diameter 13.2 mm, die axis 180o, Bruttium mint, 211- 208; obverse head of a sea goddess (Amphitrite or Thetis) left, with crab headdress, fulmen (thunderbolt) below neck; reverse BRET/TIWN, crab, bunch of grapes (control symbol) above between claws, linear border; rare; $350.00 (304.50)


Macedonian Kingdom, Seleukos, Satrap in Babylon, 311 - 306 B.C., In the Name of Alexander the Great

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Struck in the name of Alexander, this coin also bears the personal badge of Seleukos, an anchor. Seleukos was first appointed satrap in Babylonia in 320 B.C. but was put to flight by Antigonus in 315. He returned in 311 only to be forced to evacuate later that year by a counterattack by Antigonus' son, Demetrius. Not long after, however, Seleukos again recovered the city.
SH60135. Silver tetradrachm, Houghton-Lorber I 293, Price 3449 (Marthus), Mller Alexander 1512, aVF/F, weight 16.601 g, maximum diameter 27.0 mm, die axis 225o, uncertain mint, c. 311 - 305 B.C.; obverse head of Herakles right, wearing Nemean lion scalp headdress; reverse AΛEΞAN∆POY, Zeus seated left on throne, right leg drawn back, eagle in extended right, long scepter vertical behind in left, anchor flukes up flanked by ∆ - I in left field, monogram under throne; $290.00 (252.30)


Salonina, Augusta 254 - c. September 268 A.D., Roman Provincial Egypt

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Tyche (Greek for luck; the Roman equivalent was Fortuna) was the presiding tutelary deity that governed the fortune and prosperity of a city, its destiny. Increasingly during the Hellenistic period, cities had their own specific iconic version of Tyche, wearing a mural crown (a crown like the walls of the city).
SH66838. Billon tetradrachm, Dattari 5342; Geissen 2982; Kampmann-Ganschow 91.47; SRCV III 10716; BMC Alexandria p. 2266; Milne 4140, Choice aEF, weight 11.345 g, maximum diameter 23.7 mm, die axis 315o, Alexandria mint, 29 Aug 266 - 28 Aug 267 A.D.; obverse KOPNHΛIA CAΛWNEINA CEB, diademed and draped bust right; reverse tyche reclining left on couch, kalathos on head, rudder in right hand, LI∆ (year 14) above; $280.00 (243.60)


Trajan, 25 January 98 - 8 or 9 August 117 A.D.

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Personification of the siege of Sarmizegetusa! In 106 A.D., Trajan besieged Sarmizegetusa, the Dacian capital. With the aid of a Dacian traitor, the Romans found and destroyed water pipes supplying the city. Running out of water and food the city fell and was burned to the ground. Decebalus fled but, followed by the Roman cavalry, committed suicide rather than face capture. The river-god on the reverse is usually described as Tiber, however, the reverse likely personifies the impact of the Roman destruction of the Dacian's water supply. Dacia's own water supply has betrayed her, knocked her to the ground, and is choking her.
SH63939. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC II 556, BMCRE III 793 note, Cohen II 526, aF, weight 20.524 g, maximum diameter 32.9 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 103 - 111 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES NERVA TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P COS V P P, laureate bust right, slight drapery on far shoulder; reverse S P Q R OPTIMO PRINCIPI S C, River-god, cloak billowing behind, leaning left with right knee on supine Dacia, forcing her to the ground, choking her with his right hand, reeds in left; very scarce; $270.00 (234.90)


Carthago Nova, Roman Occupation, Scipio Africanus, c. 209 - 206 B.C.

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In order to force Hannibal to retreat from Italy, Scipio Africanus attacked Carthaginian Spain and took Carthago Nova in 209 B.C. References most often identify this type as Punic, struck before 209 B.C., but they also note that the head is "Roman style." Some authorities believe, as we do, that this type was struck after 209, under Roman rule. Carthaginian coins sometimes depicted Barcid generals. This coin possibly depicts the Roman general Scipio Africanus.
GB60657. Bronze AE 23, Villaronga MCH 282, Burgos 552, SNG BM Spain 127 - 128, VF, porous, weight 9.096 g, maximum diameter 22.8 mm, die axis 0o, Carthago Nova mint, 209 - 206 B.C.; obverse bare male head (Scipio Africanus?) left; reverse horse standing right, palm tree behind; rare; $250.00 (217.50)


Severina, Augusta spring 274 - November 275 A.D.

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This type is sometimes attributed as an as, but it is more likely a reduced sesterius.
SH65365. Bronze sestertius, RIC V 7, Cohen 9, SRCV III 11711, VF, weight 8.682 g, maximum diameter 24.8 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 274 A.D.; obverse SEVERINA AVG, diademed and draped bust right; reverse IVNO REGINA, Juno standing slightly left, head left, patera in right, long scepter vertical behind in left, peacock left at feet on left; $250.00 (217.50)


Faustina Sr., Augusta 25 February 138 - Early 141, Wife of Antoninus Pius

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Faustina I was the wife of Antoninus Pius. Little is known of her, except that she was regarded as vain and frivolous, though this may have just been malicious gossip. Antoninus Pius loved her greatly, and upon her death in 141 A.D. she was deified and a temple was built in her honor.
SH65151. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC III 1118, BMCRE IV 1514, Cohen 88, SRCV II 4614, Nice VF, green patina, small patina edge chip on rev, weight 27.399 g, maximum diameter 32.6 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, posthumous, 147 - 161 A.D.; obverse DIVA FAVSTINA, draped bust right, pearls in hair and hair in elaborate bun on top; reverse AVGVSTA, Ceres standing facing, veiled head left, torch raised in right hand, stalks of grain downward in left, S - C flanking across field; $225.00 (195.75)




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