Brad's Introduction to Ancient Coins

Introduction Brief History Roman Coins Buying and Storage
Fakes and Authentification Identification Roman Coin Denominations Grading
Coin of the Month

Kyzicus (Turkey) Now let me give you an informal introduction into the history of ancient coins. Coins were first made in the seventh century BC, in the Greek world. At first, there was a design on only one side, usually showing an animal. The other side had a punch mark from the production of the coin. The development of coinage allowed people to know that they were receiving a standard amount of metal in exchange for their goods. As with all coins made during the next 2300 years or so, each coin was produced by hand. In ancient times, this was usually done by placing a piece of metal between two dies, and striking with a hammer.

Sardinia Sardinia Within a couple hundred years, coins had designs on both sides. By the fourth century BC, the artwork on some coins was magnificient -- perhaps its highest level at any time in history. Scanning coins, especially those made with bronze, is very difficult, and the images on these pages do not do the coins justice.

Coins also began to be used outside the Greek domain, in Persia, for example, and bronze (or similar copper alloys) coins appeared in addition to the silver and rarer gold coins. Coins also began to include inscriptions, usually indicating the city the coin was minted in.

As the Romans became the dominant force in the Mediterranean, their coins were produced in greater numbers and with a wide variety of designs. When the Roman Republic evolved into the Roman Empire in the late first century BC, their coins began depicting the Emperor on the obverse, and including their name and copious titles in the inscription. The reverses often show gods or personifications of colonies that had been captured.

As the Roman Empire declined, so did the quality of the artwork on their coins. By the fall of Rome in the late fifth century AD, it had become almost cartoonish, and this is normally thought of as the endpoint for ancient coins.

Continue to More About Ancient Roman Coins.

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Last updated January 25, 2001.