Roman Bronze Coins 294-364 AD,
from Paganism to Christianity

by Victor Failmezger ------- Images by Doug Smith

A Somewhat Biased Review
(or Blatant Infomercial, depending on your point of view)
by the Photographer

While the images on this page are compressed for web use and reduced in size, the number of them will still make this page very slow to load using a dial up Internet connection. Patience will be required.

Roman Bronze Coins 294-364 AD, from Paganism to Christianity by Victor Failmezger is a book aimed at the collector of the coins most often found in uncleaned ancient coin lots and the area of specialty of many collectors new to the hobby. Certainly, uncleaned coins come from many other periods but this survey of the bronze issues of the time from Diocletian's coinage reform in 294 AD to the end of the House of Contantine will prove extremely valuable to those whose interests or budgets have directed their collecting efforts to this period. The book will be faulted for not including the period of bronze (looking) antoniniani or coins of the time of Valentinian and later but the intent of the author was to provide the collector a firm foundation in his area of expertise rather than to write a beginners' survey on cheap Roman coins.

This book approaches its subject from a completely opposite direction of other well known works. RIC (The Roman Imperial Coinage) covers the same material in Volumes VI, VII and VIII. Certainly RIC is more extensive, not to mention more expensive. Victor Failmezger chose to address the subject with emphasis on the types rather than cataloging the coins mint by mint as was done in RIC. Originally, the title of the new book was to be "Types, Varieties and Themes of Fourth Century Roman Bronze Coins" but the change was made, correctly, to avoid confusion from the fact that the period covered begins a bit before the start of the 4th century and ends only 70 years later. This seems particularly fortunate due to the situation of the other low priced book on the subject Late Roman Bronze Coins by Carson, Hill and Kent. LRBC lists (again, by mint) coins from the death of Licinius in 324 AD to 498 AD (the traditional start date of Byzantine style bronzes). Therefore, LRBC lacks all the coins of the Tetrarchs and of Constantine issued before he defeated Licinius.

The author made this book much more than a catalog of existing coins. While there is a numbering system, it does not parallel the traditional systems well enough to allow easy concordance. Mintmarks and officinae are relegated to minor roles. While covered in a way that provides understanding, they are omitted from the numbering system. Emphasis is on understanding of the 'why' and 'how' the coins relate to the times that produced them. Such matters as where the legends split are not considered to be of importance. Fine points of great importance to 'flyspeck' collectors (rows of stones on watchtowers or knots on laurel ties) pass with mere mention. So, the questions arise: Does the Failmezger book replace RIC? Sorry, the answer is "No!" Does it replace LRBC? No, again, but not quite so emphatically. Will the book make RIC easier to use and understand? Probably. Will the reader of this book be better prepared to understand the coins in the collection? Definitely! Do I need to buy it? That, friends, is the subject of the rest of this page. Short answer: Yes! Perhaps it is time for a little disclosure here. As photographer, I have no financial interest in this book. I do get a free copy (maybe two) but I get no bonus if you buy all they are printing. I might profit someday if someone is willing to pay more for the few coins in the plates that came from my collection (one illustrates this paragraph) but I have no intention of selling them so that will be of no immediate importance. I will try to be objective here but you have to realize that the author is my long time friend and the photos are (mostly) my own work. Can I be objective? Read on.

Hardly a page of the book fails to contain a table of some sort giving great volumes of information. The first chapter is a year by year record of the history of the times and the coins that reflect it. The main sections of the book are organized on three levels with a numbering system invented expressly for the book. The first level number denotes a "type". The definition of "type" is not perfectly consistent but for the most part types differ from each other by having a distinct reverse legend and subject combination. These were numbered 001 to 475 but a few were added after renumbering was impractical resulting in a few numbers like 353A. At the end of the number is a code denoting the ruler whose image appears on the coin. These were selected to be easy to remember but the number of rulers with similar names will still require a short 'break-in' period for the system before it becomes second nature. For example: Constantine I is CI while Constantine II is CII. Constantius I is C, Constantius II is CS, Constantius Gallus is CG, Constans is CN and Crispus is CR. The system might be faulted for format inconsistency since Maximianus is M, Maximinus II is M2 and Maxentius is M3 but Magnentius is MG. This change of format recognizes that the 'M' crowd had different names and not just numbers but purists will argue that MX or M4 might have been more consistent. Others, D, G, F, H etc. are pretty obvious and soon learned.

Between the type number and the ruler code, SOME types were broken down into varieties lettered with lower case a, b c .... up to ii in the case of coin type 398 (buy the book to find out which type has so many varieties). The differences that separated varieties were mostly minor additions of devices in the fields or a change in attributes of a figure. For example, on 258a, Sol holds a globe. On 258b, Sol holds Victory. On 258c, he is with a bare headed captive. On 258d, the captive wears a Persian cap.

The coin that illustrates this paragraph is type 191 which is distinguished from type 190 (both GENIO AVGVSTI with standing Genius) by the addition of the ligature CMH at the end of the reverse legend. It is 191a since it is the larger diameter 26mm version from Nicomedia. The 20mm Nicomedia coin is 191b. Again the book may be criticized for lack of consistency since some size reductions (e.g. in the Urbs Roma series) were assigned different type numbers rather than variety letters. This reader does not understand all of the factors that led to the distinctions between types and varieties but offers the opinion that it is a relatively minor matter compared to the book's great information on what exists and how they are related. Our example here rounds out its number 191aG with the G for Galerius. The exact type and variety was also issued in the name of Licinius I and appears in the tables as 191aLI. The meaning of CMH is discussed in a paragraph marked 'speculative'. In several instances, the author presents material that he notes is based on speculation that might not be accepted by all students.

Some issues will lack a ruler code since they do not bear a portrait. The most common of these will be the numerous versions of Urbs Roma and Constantinopolis commemoratives. These coins will still bear type numbers and variety letters. Our example is the Urbs Roma (364) from Arles with triple branch above the wolf (k). One advantage of the new numbering system is how easily it can be applied to coins in poor condition. Many coins of the period found by 'uncleaned' enthusiasts lack enough detail to identify ruler or mint mark and can not be attributed to ruler or minor variety. Some collectors will not care about minor varieties and choose to attribute a coin only to type or type and ruler. The numbering system is quite flexible and easily used by collectors of varying degrees of expertise. A major advantage over the mint based systems is that issues shared by several mints appear together in the listings rather than scattered over the whole book as in RIC. This makes it easier to see the overall picture of coin production.

The book is very 'reverse' oriented. Relatively little attention is directed toward varieties of portrait type for most issues. A major exception to this is the case of type 299 BEATA TRANQVILLITAS which is divided into 27 varieties of which 299pCII is shown here. Including an obverse descriptor would have made the ID number longer and harder to understand while some will suggest that the current three part number is complex enough. Relatively few issues are various enough on the obverse (299 is an outstanding example) that this omission will be a problem. The tables on 299 are separated from the main body of reverse varieties and could easily be missed by those unwilling to learn to read this book properly. These are decisions any author must face realizing that any choice will be criticized by a percentage of readers. Still, it would have been nice if the numbering system provided a means of separating out coins with special portrait busts. It would have been nice to include full indices that would make everything easily found. Readers may well want to add index tabs to significant pages. Using this book fully will involve much page turning.

The book is illustrated with 42 color plates, each containing 15 coins (obverse and reverse). Not every type is illustrated and some types are represented by several coins. This is explained mostly by the decision to add as many images as possible to show that there is great variety available even within a type and variety. Some were included even though they were ugly but were the best available to us on the two days images were shot for the book. Some will criticize the book for this unevenness of coverage. As the photographer, I must take much of the responsibility for this. It was Victor's and my opinion that there is more to be gained by images included than in images omitted so we put in quite a number of photos that many would consider unnecessary. Some of the ugly coins are terribly rare and we felt fortunate to have one to show despite the condition. In a few cases we showed two rather poor examples which together showed more of the desired detail than either would separately. Condition oriented collectors may find the number of ugly coins excessive. I wish all the coins were EF. They are not.

Some coins were included simply because they were beautiful. In fact, there are enough pretty coins in the plates that looking at the images is not at all unpleasant. Unlike most coin books (certainly those selling for under $50) the images were done in color. Compared to the plaster cast images in RIC and LRBC, most readers will be pleased. The images are a presented in a consistent format on a 900x500 pixel space. This results in smaller coins being surrounded by an excess of white space while larger coins are crowded by the edges. This consistent size maintains relative size proportions between coins and allowed the plates to include a millimeter scale reproduced at the same proportions as the coin images.

Some coins are rare enough that many readers will not be aware that the type exists. Some rarities are only rare as a variety within a relatively common type. The author chose to limit his observations on rarity to the type level. Our example here is only R (on a scale of C, S, R and RR) but is not something we see every day. The book and the plates are full of items that may be found in any uncleaned lot by a fortunate coin scrubber. It is hoped that the book will return some emphasis to rarity on the type level and detract from the artificial ratings in RIC based on limited observations of specific workshop and mintmark combinations.

The plates intentionally included one fake coin. This was an ancient counterfeit cast in a clay mold of the type sometimes offered for sale on the coin market. The image clearly shows surface bubbles and an area at the bottom where the sprue was detached. These counterfeits were most common in the East during the period of the tetrarchies. The book may be faulted by its lack of coverage of unofficial coins, barbaric replicas and the question of fakes in general. A few barbaric coins were included to fill out the last plate and a few of the coins of Magnentius may be argued to be questionably barbaric. Otherwise, an effort was made to include images of genuine coins from the official mints. Specialists in this area will be disappointed in the book.

Using color images of actual coins avoids one serious fault of the illustrations in most ancient coin books. It is relatively easy to distinguish between detail of the coin itself and material added or removed by patina or corrosion. Some coins show silvering; others uneven patina or some other surface irregularity that might be confusing in a black and white image. Using actual coins (rather than plaster casts) also makes the book prettier. The down side to this was that it was necessary to have the coins themselves present to be photographed. Plaster casts can be mailed one way. Assembling actual images of all 475 types would have required enough registered mail or airline tickets that the cost of the book would have skyrocketed even if we had been able to locate a willing specimen of each.

A few very special coins were included even though they were not able to be photographed with the group. These were imaged on a flatbed scanner and resized to match the format of the digital camera images. They are identifiable in the plates by the small black shadow under the coin that is missing on the other coin images. While the fine points of these images are different from the rest, few will doubt the value of including these really special coins in the book.

When I was first asked to make the images for this project, I expected the book would be issued with few (or no) printed images and be accompanied by a CD ROM bearing the images. This was still my belief at the time the images were taken. It was hoped that the price of the book could be kept low enough that it would be attractive to beginning collectors and those hobbyists whose main source of coins are uncleaned lots at no more than a dollar a coin. How much can one expect someone to pay for a book if the total cost of the collection is under $100? It turned out that the cost of publishing the book with no photos was not sufficiently lower to make it worthwhile. To placate my desire to be involved with an ancient coin book illustrated with a CD ROM, the author has agreed to allow as an option the CD version of the plates. This will be most valuable with the small coins that really can not be expected to reproduce clearly at the (nearly actual) size provided by the printed plates. This paragraph shows such a coin. The small image is proportional to the others on the page while the larger is the smaller of two sizes available of this image on the CD. Peeking in at the right is the face of Apollo cropped from the 'larger' size file on the disk. (The book includes listing and several photos of coins of this Anonymous Pagan series which were omitted, in error, from RIC.)

The image CD allowed inclusion of some special images that I hope will be found interesting by some readers. Included here are inset views of special details from the coins. Our example here shows a coin with a fancy shield that is shown in an inset close-up. More often, coins of special note (mostly due to condition like the example in the above paragraph) were added to the CD in the full size possible with the digital camera used for the images. These 'larger' images average 3000x1500 pixels in size and can be used in several ways. They allow on screen examination of microscopic details of the coin revealing a wealth of information to those willing to look. The detailed images also will support printing out of large enlargements for decorative use. Purchase of the book includes the permission to use the images in any way for personal, non profit use. This might prove valuable to Latin teachers with a classroom to decorate or anyone who wants a pretty picture to hang on the wall. One of the 'larger' image files is linked at the bottom of this page. Those with broadband connections are encouraged to look at it. Dial up readers are warned that the download will take quite a while. On the CD, larger images will load in a few seconds on any Windows compatible computer.

Those familiar with my website will know that I have a preference for images on a black background. For this book, I had to learn to work with a white background to make it easier on the printers and individual readers who desire to make their own prints without using up an entire ink cartridge on each one. The images vary in quality partially due to my learning to work in this new (to me) format as the work progressed. Compromises were made in the brightness and contrast levels in the hope that the result would be usable by a variety of users. Those with flat panel monitors may find the images a bit harsh but this added contrast will benefit those with older equipment and those wishing to print out images on plain paper. As with the text of the book, the images require decisions and compromises that I hope will prove reasonable to most. I doubt that more that a quarter of those who buy the book will ever want to own the CD but those who have computers and desire it will be able to view or print enlargements of each of the images. The CD was made to work with most Windows compatible computers. Compatibility to MAC and other systems seems to vary depending on individual systems and settings. No guarantee of compatibility is made.

The revised book title included "from Paganism to Christianity" in recognition that the period covered spans the last years of the Pagan Roman Empire including the last Great Persecution to the time of Constantine the Great, through the first Roman Emperor to be baptized a Christian to the reigns of the Christian sons of Constantine and the attempt at pagan restoration under Julian II the Apostate. By the end of the period covered, Christianity was firmly established as the religion of Rome. While this book is not a religious text, non collectors may be quite interested in the progression from pagan to Christian coin types.

At this point we will break for a few more pretty pictures. Below them are links to sample pages from the book plates and CD enlargements.

Click here to see a sample plate with a few 'working' enlargeable images. On the sample, only the four images with colored borders have been posted to this webspace. Click on one of these small images to see the enlargement. On the CD, all 15 images on each of the 42 plates are enlargeable. One of these four (011M) has 'larger' following the image number. Click on 'larger' to view the coin in microscopic detail. This sample was selected her as one of the smaller files of the 'larger' series. This will conserve bandwidth use and allow slightly faster loading than some of the other images. When finished viewing an image, use 'back' on your browser to return to the plate.

Click here to view the above mentioned 'larger' image. If your browser is IE6, you may need to click on the box in the lower right corner to expand the image to full size. This box only appears when the cursor is over it so you may have to search a bit.

Click here to see the CD title page.

Click here to see the CD instructions as they appear on the CD.

Visit the Publisher's Website While the book can be ordered from the publisher, it will also be available from better numismatic book sellers and coin dealers at shows or by mail. While you are encouraged to patronize these dealers who have agreed to stock the book, it may also be ordered through major book chains.

PHOTOS COPYRIGHT 2002-2003 Doug Smith