Collecting Roman coins is a fascinating way to get a glimpse into ancient Roman history. The main currency of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire was used from the middle of the second century BC through to the middle of the third century. Roman coins include the gold aureus, silver denarius, bronze sestertius, bronze dupondius, and copper as. The denarius was replaced by the double denarius, now often referred to as the antoninianus or radiate, during the third century.
During the Roman Empire, coins were struck by hand. The engraver would have to create two punches, one each for the "heads" side and "tails" side, and then carve the coin's design into each punch. The currency maker would then sandwich a metal disk between the two punches and strike the coin with a hammer to join them all. Not unsurprisingly, many Roman coins were struck off-center, resulting in coins that lost part of their design or were not of uniform thickness.
Since emperors added their titles to coins as they earned them, it is relatively easy to date Roman coins by comparing the emperor's title with known historical facts. Inscriptions were often written clockwise with the tops of the letters closest to the edge of the coin. In order to fully understand the inscriptions, you'll need familiarize yourself with Roman names, titles and numbers. Mint marks on Roman coins are most often found at the bottom of the reverse side of the coin, in an area referred to as the exergue, which is usually separated by a straight horizontal line. Roman coin quality varies greatly, often dependant upon where the coins were discovered. Beware of "bargain" coins. Oftentimes, they are no bargain at all.
Collecting ancient coins can offer a fascinating look at history, and can provide a peek into the hidden lives of the private person in these long-lost cultures. They can also offer the thrill of knowing that these very coins may have been used by the very pillars of Western civilization. Names like Plato and Socrates often come to mind when handling coins from the glorious Greek ages, connecting the collector to the great minds of the ancient past.
Enthusiasts of ancient coins claim that, aside from the historical value, these pieces of antiquity are more beautiful from an aesthetic point of view than modern coins. Personal preference, surely, but the attraction is undeniable to those in the know. Gods and goddesses, political greats and military heroes all grace these coins, and the variety is stunning.
You might think that these ancient coins are rare; in reality, more coins are unearthed every year as construction projects and archaeological digs unearth them by the handfuls. Their value comes in their historical authenticity, and not necessarily their rarity.
If you are serious about pursuing the art of ancient coins, you may want to connect with the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. According to their website, their mission is to "promote the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity." The organization has something for everyone, including programs for kids, information on legislation that impacts the coin industry, and valuable resources. Membership starts at $35/year.
Long called a "hobby of kings," ancient coin collecting doesn't necessarily take a king's ransom to begin. Many beautiful and historical coins can be purchased for $10-20 dollars, and it's generally easy to find coins to add to your collection. Visit coin shows, coin shops, estate auctions, or search online for ancient coin dealers. You'll soon be immersed in the fascinating world of ancient and historic coins.