How To Identify Ancient Roman Coins

The Roman Empire was a big empire that lasted centuries. Though it had to meet its end, the Empire was able to mint millions of coins for use in its economy. So many of those ancient coins from the days of the Empire have survived the centuries and are easy to acquire.

What is not very easy to do, however, is identifying the authenticity of such coins. To a professional coin collector, such a task should be easy to do, though it requires delicate precision. Amateurs, however, can also identify ancient Roman coins, provided clear examples are given. The main trick is in identifying the precise emperor stamped on the obverse side of coin. Here are tips on how to identify ancient Roman coins.

  • Examine the coin's obverse side. Your goal at this step is to gather information about the emperor, in whose name and honor the coin was minted. Many coin collectors use a magnifying glass to see the detail more easily. Once the letters are clear to your sight, note them down. Some of the letters may appear slightly off the center because almost all ancient Roman coins were minted by hand. It is also likely that your coin may be from the later part of the Roman empire. If you cannot view the letters clearly, you can try to rub an impression by using paper and pencil. Place a thin sheet of white paper on top of the coin and rub the pencil tip sideways on the surface of the coin until the image of the stamped detail appears.
  • Pay attention to the letter inscriptions. You will often find the complete name of the emperor, including the customary Roman honorific titles reserved only for emperors. Thus, you will often find not just the name of the emperor (e.g., Octavian, Diocletian, Julian, etc.) and the honorific titles such as "Augustus" and "Caesar," which can often be abbreviated to AVG (for "Augustus") and NOB C or NC (for "nobilissimus Caesar," which means "Most Noble Caesar").
  • Determine the unique name of the Roman emperor inscribed on the coin. Roman emperors coming from the same family often take on similar names. The family of Constantine the Great, for example, shared similar names among his sons. Often, one emperor distinguishes himself from another by just one or a few letters on his name.
  • Turn over the coin so that you can examine the reverse side. Look for mint marks or characters at the bottom of the reverse side. The Roman Empire established numerous imperial mints all around its territories. Each of those mints stamp their respective identifying marks on the coins that they produce. Once you've identified the mint mark, look up information about it on sites that maintain lists of the various Roman mints.
  • While you're examining your coin, learn a little bit more of its history. The condition of the Empire is often reflected in the coin inscriptions. For instance, in times of struggle with invading barbarians, the current Roman emperor at the time often instructs the Roman mints to depict his image spearing barbarians. If you find something like that, you would know that the coin was minted during a time of war and conflict.

Both professionals and amateurs alike enjoy identifying ancient Roman coins. With the foregoing tips, you should find it easier and more enjoyable to evaluate the one that you currently have.


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