A Glossary of Coin Terms

Terms Collectors Should Know

New collectors of ancient coins are presented a bewildering array of new terms to learn if they are to read a catalog or price list intelligently. A previous page illustrated some of the most frequently encountered terms applied to Roman portrait heads. Here, I hope to add similar listings on other sets of numismatic terms. The popularity of my Grading Page suggests that some people enjoy this 'laundry list' format. It has the advantage of being easily amended. .

The terms presented on this page are those that did not seem to fit either the Grading Page, Heads Page, Denominations Page or Abbreviations Page. Many of them relate to reverses or technical terms that have been used elsewhere on this site. As with all of my 'beginner' pages, I risk boring many for the benefit of those who have not been exposed to these terms. As this is being typed I have no intention of an order for these terms. Perhaps they will group themselves as we go along.

2 denarii
Unlike modern coins made to stack neatly, some ancient coins show design raised in high relief. Even less high coins (left) are usually higher relief than modern coins. Our two examples of the same Empress show the variety to be found in Roman portraits of the late 2nd century AD. These images were made directly on a flatbed scanner (no camera).
Marcus Aurelius
The area below the ground line on the reverse of a coin is termed 'exergue' It was the common location for mintmarks or some special legend not part of the encircling legend. Our example shows a coin using the space to identify the captive as ARMENian.
Across Field
Another placement for 'special' legends is in the reverse fields. Longer words, here PIETAS, were split between the left and right areas. As we will see below, the fields can contain elements of the mintmark and various other devices.
Constantine   I
In the exergue it is common to find a mint mark that identifies not only the mint city (here OSTia) but the workshop (here Secundus=2). This example also has Moneta (money) so the entire mark reads 'money of the second workshop at Ostia.
Field Letters
Here the mint city ALExandria is separate in exergue. The fourth workshop is designated by the Greek numeral D in the right field. XXI in the left field designates the proportion of copper and silver in the alloy. Other coins show XXI in exergue and the city in the field, all components in exergue or omit one or more. In mintmarks, just about anything goes!
Licinius II
Denomination Mark
A few coins bear a mark of value. An unusual example is this coin with 12 1/2 (XIIV)in the right field. This is thought to indicate the value of the coin in denarii of account. This would make the coin worth half of a follis of 25 denarii. In exergue is 'Sacred Money of ANTioch Z (7th) workshop'
Incuse Design
A few coin types show part of the design recessed below the field rather than raised. This was most common in Southern Italy during the 5th century BC and before. The Brockage, a striking error caused by the failure to remove a previously struck coin from the dies, results in a similar appearing coin.
Incuse Punch
Many early Greek designs were one sided with the reverse provided by an incuse punch. Some of these were plain while others were segmented or patterned. Division into four parts was particularly common.
Vologases VI
Beaded Border
Many, perhaps most, ancient coin designs enclosed the designs in a border of dots. It is unusual for a coin to be well centered enough to show a complete border. Even more unusual is this design showing the king's beard overlapping the border.
Serrate Edge
Some Roman Republican denarii were issued with the edges of the flans notched. This predecessor of modern reeded edges was cut individually on each coin and varies greatly in depth even on the same coin. Presumably to prove the coin was not plated, this did not work. Fourrees exist.
Frequently Greek coins bear the names or initials of magistrates responsible for the issue. In some cases these names can be used to date the issues. This example bears the abbreviation of the city name P-O at the sides and the magistrate (A**AGOGAS) in tiny letters above the flower.
Minor Type
In addition to the major design (here a head of Athena) many coins bear a minor type (lion head) that distinguished the issuing official or performed some other mint function. This term should not be applied to small design elements (e.g. an eagle with Zeus) that are part of the major scene.
Epirote Republic
Monograms were used on coins for various purposes. Like minor types and spelled out magistrate names, monograms identifying responsible mint officials were common. Many were so complex that they are difficult to decipher.
Ptolemy I
Signed Die
Rarely were diecutters allowed to sign their work. Most exceptions are large and beautiful coins but a few lesser examples are known. The D behind the king's ear is thought to identify the artist.
Soter Megas
Fields of coins often contain designs that are hard to classify. This symbol identified the Kushan king Vema Takha who until recently was know only by his titles Soter Megas.
Vologases IV
This coin is year dated to the year 464 of the Parthian era (152 AD) by the Greek numeral DXU. Many coins bear year dates expressed in some fashion - the founding of a city or dynasty, the regnal year etc. More unusually, this coin is also dated to the month November (APELLIOU).
Septimius Severus
AE30 of
A popular collecting specialty involves coins in some way related to games. This can be athletes in action or, as here, an agonistic table with prizes and other accessories.
Most legends of Roman coins read from the lower left clockwise around the edge with the tops of the letters near the edge. During the first century AD, many coins were produced with legends reversing this standard. Usually it is only mentioned when the ruler issued coins both ways. Note the final G here overlaps the point of the bust and suggests the legend was cut after the portrait.
A coin design with no legends is termed 'anepigraphic'. While many coins have lost their legends due to wear, this term is applied only to coins (or sides of coins) that never had a legend.
Continuous Legend
A legend is termed continuous when there are no breaks from start to end. Roman coins showing continuous legends were often issued for junior rulers. This is, however, not a consistant point. Some senior rulers regularly used the unbroken format.
Julia Domna
Broken Legend
Legends could be broken anywhere, not just between words. In some cases the break points were set by design elements but more often they were preset as a matter of policy. For example, I have seen only one denarius die where DO-MNA is not split in the manner shown. It was considered a sign of higher respect for legends to be broken.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith