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Uncleaned Ancient Coins 101
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The bronze coin hoards were of much lower value than most of the Republican silver hoards of denarii (fig 7). These silver hoards are very important for the dating of the moneyers who worked in specific years. For the hoard coins shown in fig 7 for example, moneyer Lucilius worked in 101 BCE, Silanus in 91 BCE and Licinius Macer in 84 BCE. Thanks to hoard evidence, combined with sequences deducted from overstrikes, it is possible to date the introduction of the denarius to around 211 BCE. During the first century BCE, the denarius was the main high value hoard coin. Sulla introduced the gold aureus around 85 BCE, but only Caesar started to mint some larger volumes. The denarius was also used for long distance trade, even outside the empire. An interesting example is a coin hoard from India described in a separate NumisWiki article (Triton X Hoard). Among the 175 Roman denarii of Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE) and Tiberius (14 – 17 CE) the hoard contained some local imitations (fig 8). The Roman denarii were in India appreciated for their high silver content. The Roman looks of the coins functioning as a kind of quality stamp.
Fig 9. A hoard of 40 Greek-Illyrian drachms of the Adriatic coast, probably buried around 60-48 CE in the Balkan. Sold by Forum Ancient Coins lot nr. LT24268.
Fig 10. Four obverses of the hoard of fig. 9, all showing the cow suckling a calf facing to the left as minted in Apollonia. Above the cow names: NIKWN (Nikoon), MAARKOS (Maarkos), NIKHN (Niken), TIMHN (Timen). Sold by Forum Ancient Coins lot nr. LT24268.
The denarius was not the only silver hoard coin at this time. In the Balkan, for example, the Greek-Illyrian drachms of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium played an important role from the end of the third century BCE until the middle of the first century BCE during a period of about 160 years. Recent studies of coin hoards have largely increased the knowledge of these drachms. They were minted by two Adriatic coastal cities: Dyrrhachium in Albania and Apollonia about 50 km to the south, both at that time under Roman protectorate. The weight standard for these coins was about 3.3 grams, comparable to the denarius. As these coins predominately show up in hoards, they probably mainly have been used for trade like the acquisition of slaves. These drachms are almost exclusively found in hoards in the Balkan, what probably also was the case with the hoard shown in fig 9. This lot from the trade contained 40 pieces of what may have been an even larger hoard. The coins show on the obverse a cow sucking a calf and a name on top in Greek like MAARKOS (Maarkos), or NIKHN (Niken), a name known form Apollonia (fig 10). In the first issues the cow was always facing to the right. Later, the mint of Apollonia shifted to a cow facing left. The reverse shows a square pattern with on top the abbreviation of the city name in Greek DUR (Dyr) for Dyrrachium and APOL (Apol) for Apollonia. The remainder of the reverse legend is a name again. One of the hoard coins from Apollonia, for example, reads: APOL - AUTO-BOU-LOU (Autoboulou) (fig 11). The combination with the name Niken on the obverse is known from Apollonia. Although not sure, it is assumed the name on the obverse referred to the moneyer and the name on the reverse to the town magistrate.In this case, the coins are hastily minted with uneven strikes and centering (fig 11). This is characteristic for the last stage of the production around 60 BCE. At all visible obverses of the sample, the cow looks to the left, typical for Apollonia. The visible reverses also fit Apollonia with the abbreviation of the city name or known personal names. The dominance of one of the two cities in coin hoards is typical for the last hoards of these drachms. It is assumed that minting stopped in 48BCE when first Pompey entered the region and later Caesar produced his own denarii. So the most likely burial date is somewhere between 60 and 48 BCE. Distribution patterns of this type of hoard teach a lot about the development of trade relations in this period in this region.
Fig. 11. Two reverses of the hoard of fig 9. One coin with the abbreviation of the city name Apollonia, followed by the name of a person Autoboulou: APOL - AUTO-BOU-LOU. The other reverse only shows part of the personal name. Double stellate pattern within double linear square with sides curved inwards. Sold by Forum Ancient Coins lot nr. LT24268.
Fig 17. Group of eleven Flavian bronze coins countermarked with the letter B and the letters TOM. The last combination is interpreted as the abbreviation of Tomis, the Roman city at Constanta in Romania. Sold by Forum Ancient Coins lot nr. LTL0015
In the next decades, fights related to the extension of the Roman Empire continued. An example is the Balkan. Very worn bronze coins were countermarked to continue their lives. Interesting is a small group of eleven Flavian bronze coins countermarked with the letter B and the letters TOM (fig 17). The last combination is interpreted as the abbreviation of Tomis, the Roman city at Constanta in Romania on the Black Sea shore
Fig 18 Two worn denarii minted in 41 BCE, from the Moesia hoard buried around 107 CE in the Balkan. On top denarius of Mark Antony and Octavian (3.64 gram, maximum diameter 19.1 mm); at the bottom denarius of Brutus (3.28 gram, maximum diameter 19.7 mm). Sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. RR06308 (top) and SH08484 (bottom).
In the early second century CE the local leader Decebalus (87 – 106 CE) started a war against the Romans. In 101-102 CE he was defeated during the first Dacian War, but recovered and launched a second attack in 105 CE. This time he was finally defeated in the summer of 106 CE. In the aftermath of the Second Dacian War, large sums of money had to be paid to Rome. In 107 CE, or a little later, a large hoard of about 4,000 denarii was buried somewhere in Moesia Inferior, mainly part of current Romania and Bulgaria. The hoard contained many worn coins, some even Republican (fig 18), including some interesting mistrikes, so called brockages (fig 19). Hoarding of these old coins accelerated after Trajan reduced the silver content of newly minted denarii in 107 CE. This currency reform set the standard for almost half a century. The historian Cassius Dio states that Trajan called in old worn coins to be reminted. Later hoards confirm that denarii minted before 64 CE were reminted, and also the denarii Domitian (81-96 CE) minted briefly at the old standard. During 81-85 CE his coins were purer and heavier (fig 20). Three silver hoards form Moesia Inferior buried in this period have been published like the Gradeshnitsa III (Bulgaria) of 771 silver coins until Trajan, of which 435 Republican.
Fig 20 A denarius of Domitian (81-96 CE) minted in 82 CE in the period he tried to revive the old standard with heavier, purer and well struck denarii, like this one from the Moesia hoard buried around 107 CE in the Balkan. This coin is a good example with full circle centering on a huge flan with a maximum diameter of 21.1 mm. Obverse IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG P M, laureate head right; reverse TR POT IMP II COS VIII DES VIIII P P, Fortuna standing left, holding rudder and cornucopia. Weight 3.37 gram. Sold by Forum Ancient coins nr RS08483.
Fig 21 Denarius of Trajan (98 – 117 CE) minted in Rome in the last minting year (107 CE) represented in the Moesia hoard. Obverse IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P COS V P P, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right, from behind; reverse S P Q R OPTIMO PRINCIPI, Annona standing left, holding grain over modius in right, cornucopia in left, prow right. Weight 3.471 gram, maximum diameter 19.0 mm. Sold by Forum Ancient coins nr SH11455.
Fig 22 Mint state denarius of Trajan (98-117 CE) minted in Rome in 101-102 CE, from the Moesia hoard buried around 107 CE in the Balkan. obverse IMP CAES NERVA TRAIAN AVG GERM, laureate bust right, aegis on far shoulder; reverse P M TR P COS IIII P P, Statue of Hercules, holding club and lion-skin, set on low base; light die break at 6 o'clock on reverse. Weight 3.420 gram, maximum diameter 18.2 mm. Sold by Forum Ancient coins nr SH01668.
The last minting year represented in the hoard is 107 CE. (fig 21). There are Mint State or almost uncirculated coins of Trajan minted in 98-103 CE, of which five examples among the 52 coins acquired by Forum Ancient Coins, a selection of the best coins available (fig 22). And there is an about mint fresh denarius minted in 79 CE, almost three decades before the burial date (fig 23). A denarius of Domitianus as emperor minted in 95-96 also hardly circulated and ten denarii of Nerva (96-98) in the sample are in the condition Extremely Fine, minted about a decade before burial This may indicate the owner started to hoard little worn coins already during the reign of Domitian and continued up to the first Dacian war of 101-102 CE, increasing the average yearly amount saved step by step. The monetary reform may have been a reason for adding more old worn coins at a later stage. Or they may for example have been the payment for the sale of a large possession. Like other hoards from this period, the sample of 52 coins contains (next to seven worn Republican denarii), only silver coins minted after the Neronian reform of 64 CE. Al emperors are represented, the rarer emperors probably being overrepresented in this selective sample: Nero (3x), Galba (2x), Otho (3x), Vitellius (2x), Vespasian (4x), Titus (4x), Domitian (4x), Nerva (10x) and Trajan (13x). Most coins in the sample of 52 coins are minted in Rome, with the exception of the denarius of Mark Antony and Octavian (Ephesus, fig 18), a denarius of Octavian minted around 36 BCE in Africa, a denarius minted in 69-70 in Ephesus for Vespasian (RIC II 315) and two drachms minted in 98-99 for Trajan in the mint of Masicytes, Lycia, referring to his second consulship on the reverse, showing two lyres.
Fig 23 About mint state denarius of Domitian as Caesar, minted in 79 CE, from the Moesia hoard. Obverse CAESAR AVG F DOMITIANVS COS VII, laureate bearded head right; reverse PRINCEPS IVVENTVTIS, clasped hands holding legionary eagle on prow; weight 3.46 g, maximum diameter 18.4 mm. Sold by Forum Ancient coins nr SH05486.
Fig. 24 Lot of about 150 denarii, mostly minted in 193-198 CE in Rome. Next to coins for emperor Septimius Severus (192-211 CE) himself, there are denarii he minted for his wife Julia Domna and his sons Caracalla and Geta. Sold by Forum Ancient Coins lot nr. SPS29583.
The next import reform of the denarius is reflected in another hoard. The monetary reform of Septimius Severus in 194/195 CE started a process of accelerated debasement. The weight was temporarily reduced in the period 194-196 CE, reflected in a smaller size of the flans as the Forum Fire Hoard illustrates, discussed in a separate Numiswiki article (fig 2). The average maximum diameter of the 89 denarii in the Forum Fire Hoard (besides the 3 antoniniani) was 18.64 mm. The maximum diameter for the two hoard denarii of Septimius Severus minted between 194-196 CE was 7 to 11% less: 17.3 and 16.5 mm. The diameter was increased again after 196 CE. However the flans became thinner and the silver content was further reduced from still close to 80% in the early days of Septimius Severus to about 56.5% in his last years, meaning that the weight of the amount of silver in a denarius decreased about 1/4th. As a result, older coins were hoarded and the new coins of Septimius Severus quickly started to dominate the coin circulation. A lot of about 150 denarii may reflect this situation at the end of the second century CE (fig 24). The lot contains mainly denarii minted between 193-198 CE.Forum Fire Hoard mentioned earlier probably was buried around 225 CE. The hoard showed that at that time the denarius was still the main silver coin in circulation, next to small amounts of the antoninianus or double denarius minted between 215 and 219 CE. The small find of 3 denarii of fig. 3 was also from this period. A little more than a decade later, Balbinus and Pupienus during their brief reign in 238 CE reintroduced the antoninianus. Gordian III (238-244 CE) continued this new monetary policy. Now the antoninianus was minted in large volumes and stimulated the hoarding of older denarii. The result is clearly visible in the hoard horizon of the middle of the third century. This again was a time of political unrest and a lot of hoarding occurred. A lot of fifty antoniniani from a hoard buried shortly after 250 CE, mirrors the new circulation of new coins: mainly antoniniani of Gordian III (238-244 CE) and Philip I (244-249 CE) (fig 25).
Fig 27. Antoninianus of Gallienus (253-268 CE) from the Braithwell hoard, with the damaged very thin silver remains covering the bronze coin. Obverse GALLIENVS AVG, radiate head right; reverse SECVRIT PERPET, Securitas standing left leaning on column, legs crossed, holding scepter, H right; weight 2.480 gram, maximum diameter 19.6 mm. Sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. BB49241.
Fig 28. Two antoniniani from the Braithwell hoard of the rulers of the Romano Gallic empire, Victorinus (268-271 CE, top) and Tetricus II (271-273 CE, bottom). Victorinus obverse IMP C VICTORINVS P F AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right; reverse INVICTVS (Invincible), Sol walking left, raising right, whip in left, star left (2.578 gram); Tetricus obverse IMP C TETRICVS P F AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right; reverse VICTORIA AVG, Victory walking left, wreath in right, palm frond in left (2.629 gram). Sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. BB52923 (Victorinus, hoard #155) and RB56134 (Tetricus, hoard coin # 169).
This dominant role of the antoninianus is also included in the Antioch Hoard of Gallienus described in a separate NumisWiki article (fig 26). This hoard of 539 antoniniani was buried in 274 CE or shortly after. It most probably was a composite hoard buried in the neighborhood of Antioch. The composition of the first part of the hoard started around 253 CE in Viminacium, a town close to Kostolac in Serbia, and continued until about 257-260 CE. Around that time, the money moved to the region of Antioch where the accumulation continued. Already the first part collected around 253-260 CE consisted of antoniniani only. Clearly, at that time, most denarii were forced out of circulation. The hoard offered interesting information about the minting of regional antoniniani in a mint close to Antioch. The closing date of 274 CE was related to the political unrest that threatened the Roman Empire. Another product of this landmark in Roman history is the Braithwell hoard of 1,331 antoniniani unearthed in 2002 in the UK. An Antoninianus of Gallienus (253-268 CE) of this hoard shows how this coin became a bronze core with a very thin layer silver (fig 27). The silver content was reduced to about 5% compared to around 40% in the middle of the third century CE. Two younger antoniniani of the Romano Gallic emperors Victorinus (269-271 CE) and Tetricus (271-273 CE) show how the antoninianus deteriorated further to a silver content below 2.5% (fig 28).The Roman emperor Aurelian (270 – 275 CE) at first stage continued to mint weak antoniniani of about 2.5% silver and an average weight of about 2.8 gram. His first aim was reuniting the Roman Empire. He faced the independent part in the west (Romano Gallic Empire) and also an independent part in the east. He first gained control over the eastern part and next in 274 CE defeated Tetricus and his son in the west. Aurelian was proclaimed Restitutor Orbis (restorer of the world) and launched his monetary reform in 274 CE. He introduced a new improved antoninianus, by some authors called ‘Aurelianus’: a coin of about 3.85 gram and about 4% silver content. It has been suggested that the new aimed silver content is indicated with the number XXI on the reverse (KA = 21 in Greek versions): XX parts bronze versus I part silver: a silver content of 1/21st (4.75%).
Fig 29 Lot of about 50 antoniniani of Probus (276-282 CE), minted in Tripolis and Antioch. All the coins of Probus minted in Tripolis are the same except for a minor difference in the obverse legend. Sold by Forum Ancient Coins lot nrs. 11186-89.Fig 29 Lot of about 50 antoniniani of Probus (276-282 CE), minted in Tripolis and
Fig. 31 Antoninianus of Probus (276-282 CE) minted in Cyzicus from a hoard. Obverse IMP C M AVR PROBVS P F AVG, radiate bust left in consular robe, eagle tipped scepter in right; reverse SOLI INVICTO, Sol in a spread quadriga facing, radiate, cloak billowing out behind, raising right hand, whip in left, CM in center, XXIQ in ex. Weight 4.01 gram, maximum diameter 23.4 mm. Sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. RB03757.
Fig 33. Two very rare antoninianii of Tacitus (275-276 CE) minted in Siscia, sharing the same dies and same nice green hoard patina. Obverse IMP C M CL TACITVS AVG, radiate and cuirassed bust right; reverse PAX AVGVSTI, Pax advancing left holding olive branch in right and transverse scepter in left, VI in ex. Weight 3.830 gram, maximum diameter 22.6 mm (top) and 3.847 gram and 21.8 mm (bottom). Sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. SH12555 (top) and RB24462
The Cyzicus mint in eastern Turkey was a serious mint during the reign of Probus. This is shown by a small lot of antoniniani. They were part of a coin hoard with a very characteristic patina with stunning red, yellow and black toning (fig 31-32). The coins are in the condition Extremely Fine and all of the same reverse type”. This suggests they have been hoarded shortly after being minted, probably close to the mint in Cyzicus (Turkey). The average maximum diameter of seven coins is 23.3 mm in a range of 22.1 to 24.7 mm. The average weight is 4.1 gram in the range of 4.01 and 4.91 gram, with one little worn coin of only 2.88 gram (nrs. RB 3755-58, 3761-62 and 4630). Hoards with such recently minted coins may provide coins minted by the same dies, especially in case of rare issues. An example is two antoniniani of Tacitus (275-276 CE) of almost the same weight (3.8 gram) but a different flan size (21.8 versus 22.8 mm), shown in fig 33. In some cases the silvering is still visible, as two antoniniani of Probus show from a large hoard from France (fig 34).
Fig 34. Two antoniniani of Probus (276-282 CE) minted in Lyon with clear silver look, part of a large hoard from France. Obverse IMP C M AVR PROBVS AVG, radiate draped and cuirassed bust right; reverse COMES AVG, Minerva standing left holding olive branch and spear, left hand on shield set at feet, A left; weight 3.73 gram, maximum diameter 21.1 mm, RIC V 115(top) and weight 3.50 gram, maximum diameter 21.7 mm, RIC V 116 (bottom). Sold by Forum Ancient Coins nrs. RB08079 (top) and BB08078 (bottom).
Fig 35. Four argenteii of the Sisak hoard of the four co-rulers, buried around 295/296 CE. Obverse laureate head of the co-ruler right; reverse VIRTVS MILITVM, the four tetrarchs sacrificing in front of six-turreted enclosure (city or castrum). Sold by Forum Ancient Coins nr. SH53585 and 53596-53598
In 294 CE, the silver argenteus was introduced. This silver laureate coin was an imitation of the old denarius. As other coins at that time hardly contained any silver, these new silver coins were quickly hoarded as the Sisak Hoard illustrates. This hoard was discovered in 1953 in Siscia (Sisak in Serbia) together with silver vessels. Unfortunately, this very important hoard was dispersed before being catalogued. Until this find, the silver coins of this period were very rare and the hoard contained one single type. All hoard coins show the bust of one of the four co-rulers (tetrarchs) on the obverse and the praetorian camp on the reverse (fig 35). And the patina of the hoard coins was quite characteristic with a special rainbow iridescent toning. As a result, Jelocnik succeeded in reconstructing a large part of the hoard. In 1961 he published a catalogue of 1415 of the hoard coins (142 with photos’), estimated to be about 2/3rd of the total hoard. The hoard analysis is still the standard work for this numismatically important silver coin, summarized in RIC volume VI. About 1/3th (37.7%) of the hoard coins was minted in Siscia, another 1/3th (37.4%) was minted in Rome and close to 1/4th in Ticinum (Pavia in Italy). For the rest, a few coins were minted in Heraclea (1%) and Trier (0.3%). The hoard included one ancient imitation. Based on the hoard pattern, Jelocnik concluded the hoard was concealed around 295/296 CE. The coins were very well preserved and only a few showed signs of wear. Of the four coins in fig 33 the average weight is 3.1 gram in a range of 2.969 to 3.417 gram. The average maximum diameter is 18.8 mm, three coins in a small range of 18.1 – 18.5 mm and one much larger with 20.5 mm at a normal weight of 3.007 gram. The coins are beautiful and nicely reflect the failed attempt to revive the old denarius.
Fig 36 Part of a hoard of at least 50 tetradrachms minted in Alexandria in the period 285 – 310 CE, including the coins shown of Diocletian (right) and Maximian (left). Sold by Forum Ancient Coins nrs. SP27056 and 27058.
The reign of the tetrarchs was a political success. In 305 Diocletian and Maximian retired voluntary, an unique development. The next period would become less stable after the successors started a fight for the power in 306 CE. In 306 CE Maxentius was proclaimed emperor in Rome. He would be finally defeated by Constantine the Great in 312 CE. This period of unrest generated again many coin hoards. In Egypt, for example, Lucius Domitius Alexander, also known as Alexander Tyrannus, declared himself emperor in 308 CE while he was praetorian prefect in Africa. When he stopped the corn supply to Italy, emperor Maxentius (306-312 CE) decided to act and send an army. He took control in 311 CE and usurper Alexander was killed. A hoard of tetradrachms minted in Alexandria and possibly buried around 310 CE may be related to this period of political unrest (fig 36).
Fig 37 Small part of a large hoard of large bronze coins, some with silvering, most with a little encrustation and dirt remaining. In this sample minted by Constantine the Great with his laureate head to the right and a legend like IMP CONSTANTINVS PF AVG. The reverse for examples shows Jupiter standing left, chlamys across left shoulder, holding Victory on globe and sceptre; eagle left and below the line the mint name SIS(cia) and in the field the officina sign like G (3) and the legend IOVI CONSERVATORI. Sold by Forum Ancient Coins lot nr. SP01351.
During the reform of 294 CE, next to the silver argenteus of the Sisak hoard, also a large bronze coin was introduced. This was the follis of about 10 gram, with about 3% silver and now a laureate head and not a radiate. Started as a heavy coin of about 10 gram, the weight was quickly reduced after 305 CE to just over 3 gram around 317 CE. Around 317 CE again many so called nummi-hoards were buried, this time in reaction to a further deterioration of the monetary system (fig 37).
In this way, the coin hoards provide an interesting overview of the development of the monetary system from the first century BCE until the 4th century CE. It is interesting to notice that especially in the UK the number of catalogued coin hoards has increased last decades. The Nether Compton Hoard of 22,700 late Roman coins buried around 339 CE, as described by Lee Toone, was still an example how information can be lost. The hoard was discovered in 1989 and offered for study to the local museum. There the coins remained undescribed and after five years, in 1994, the finders decided to sell the coins via te trade. Fortuntately, the government developed a registration system that motivates finders to report their find and get the coins catalogued before they are dispersed in trade. An example is the Braithwell Hoard mentioned in this overview, all coins having reference numbers of the primary catalogue (fig 27-28). Museums get the opportunity to acquire some characteristic examples for future research. As a result, the finder is still rewarded and at the same time important historical information is recorded. For most other countries the description of such hoards depends on the willingness of dealers to spend time on an overall description. As the examples illustrate, this is of great historical interest. There are many more hoard stories to tell.
- Braithwell Hoard by Antony Wilson
- Antioch Hoard of Gallienus by A. Malloy, D. W. Sorenson and W. Percical
- The Antioch and Braithwell Hoards: a Comparison by Tom Buijtendorp
- Triton X Hoard by Tom Buijtendorp
- Forum Fire Hoard by Tom Buijtendorp
- Nether Compton Hoard by Lee Toone