Thursday, September 11, 2008

The DaVinci Code

Judaea, First Jewish War. AE Prutah, 18mm (2.91 gm). Struck AD 67-68.

Amphora with broad rim and two handles, legend around (year 2) / Vine leaf on small branch, legend around ("the freedom of Zion"). H-661; Meshorer-197.

I know you're asking, what does this coin have to do with The DaVinci Code? Bear with me as I discuss the bronze coins struck in Judaea during this war. The 'messages' these coins impart help paint a picture of the tides of this war. They also provide a convenient segue into my discussion of the relational aspects of The DaVinci Code.

Prutot were not struck in the first year of the First Jewish War... only shekels and their fractions were struck. However, prutot were struck in the second and third years of the Jewish War and 'other' bronze denominations in the fourth. The following is a list of those coins, by Hendin reference number:

Year 2 (AD 67-68)
H-661 AE Prutah

Year 3 (AD 68-69)
H-664 AE Prutah

Year 4 (AD 69-70)
H-668 AE Half (26mm)
H-669 AE Quarter (22mm)
H-670 AE Eight (20 mm)

It is interesting to note that the reverse legend on the prutot of the second and third years issues carried the words, "Freedom of Zion". As David Hendin states in his Guide to Biblical Coins, 4th Edition, "That slogan represents a kind of rallying cry for the Jews." However, that 'slogan' is replaced by "For the redemption of Zion" on the reverse legends of year 4 bronze coins. This signalled an acknowledgement of Rome's impending victory, and as Hendin suggests, a change in tone from that of a 'rallying cry' to one more spiritual.

The First Jewish War began in AD 66 as an uprising... a reaction to mistreatment by the Roman procurator Gessius Florus. Initial Jewish victories shocked the Romans. Nero, fearing that a prolonged rebellion would signal Roman weakness, tapped his top general, Vespasian, to quell the uprising. By the middle of AD 68, Vespasian's forces had stamped out the rebellion in all but Jerusalem, Masada and a few other areas.

The year AD 68 saw the death of Nero and the beginning of a civil war that brought about 4 emperors: Galba (AD 68-69), Otho (AD 69), Vitellius (AD 69) and finally Vespasian (AD 69-79). Vespasian's marching on Rome meant that the Jewish War would have to be handed off to another capable general and Vespasian chose his son Titus to finish the job. The changing fortunes of the Jews are evident by the legends on the bronze coins they issued. Recall that the legends change from a tone of a 'rallying cry' to one more spiritual on the year 4 bronze coins, which were issued in AD 69-70.

The Arch of Titus in Rome commemorates Titus' conquest of the Jews in this First Jewish War. One of the more famous reliefs on the Arch depicts the triumphal procession of Romans carrying the looted treasure from the Second Temple. Included in this treasure were the sacred Menorah, the Table of the Shewbread and the trumpets which called the Jews to Rosh Hashanah.

Now here is where The DaVinci Code comes in...

Many believe that an object more sacred was kept in the Jewish Temple. They hold that this object was hidden when it became clear that Titus' forces would breach the walls of Jerusalem. Theories abound about the nature of this object, with some refering to it as the 'Holy Grail' and others that it was the Ark of the Covenant. Still others contend this ‘object’ was not so much an object as it is a secret that contradicts the very foundation upon which the Church is based.

Theories also abound about where this object was hidden. Some believe that the Jews hid it below the Temple, in what was once believed to be Soloman's stables (the Temple Mount was thought to be the site of the Temple of Soloman). Fast forward 1,000 years to the time following the First Crusade, to the second half of the eleventh century. Crusader Godfroi de Bouillon is believed to have founded an organization called the Priory of Sion. It is believed that this secret order created the Knights Templar as its military arm.

The Knights Templar, or as they were originally called, the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Soloman, were given space for their headquarters on the Temple Mount by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. Many believe the Templars were sent to Jerusalem with the sole intention of recovering a sacred relic and that this object was found under their headquarters, under what was previously the Second Temple. Was the object the Templars were rumored to have found the 'Holy Grail', perhaps hidden as Titus' army laid seige to Jerusalem? Or did they find the Ark of the Covenant, again hidden while under seige by Titus' army? Or, even more intriguingly, did they find the ‘secret’ that contradicted Church dogma? Nobody knows for sure but this has been the subject of speculation for centuries.

The Knights Templars and Priory of Sion parted ways in 1188. The Templars were eventually dissolved at the hands of France’s king Philip IV and the pope. The Priory of Sion, however, supposedly remains to this day and has been the subject of many books and the book/movie, The DaVinci Code.

If any of this piques your curiosity, I highly recommend the book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Biagent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. In this book, the authors tell of an interview with a prominent figure of the Priory of Sion named Pierre Plantard de Saint-Claire. The authors recant that the interviewee offered to answer any questions about the order’s past history, but would say nothing of their current activities. One such bit of past history offered by Pierre Plantard de Saint-Claire was that the order was still in possession of the lost treasure of the Second Temple… that plundered by Titus’ forces at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 during the First Jewish War!

So, there you have it… the tie-in between this coin, a prutah from the First Jewish War, and The DaVinci Code.

Monday, July 7, 2008

W O W ! ! ! ! !

Trajan, Phrygia, Hierapolis

AE32 (17.46 gm)

Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust left, AV KAI ΘEOV VΩ NEPBA TPAIANΩ CEΓEPMA / Athena, holding spear and shield, standing right, and Hermes, holding purse and caduceus, standing left, IEPAΠO ΛEITΩN. BMC 129 (same obverse die).

Let me begin by reminding you that the photo above has been compressed to fit the dimensions allowed by A larger, more worthy image is available by clicking on the photo.

Occasionally, we are presented with a coin that we just can't stop thinking about. There was a large AE of Tiberius from Oea on which I truly regret not having bid just a little more. There was also a gorgeous tetradrachm of Alexander 'the Great' upon which I wish I had bid a little more! Both coins were in the same CNG auction and each diluted my chances at winning the other! I still think of those coins and how they 'got away'!

Then there was this coin. It was a 'cover coin', with it's reverse featured on the cover of the auction catalog. I couldn't get away from it! I obsessed about the coin for weeks. I finally decided I wouldn't let this one get away like the Tiberius and Alexander... and, as you can see, it didn't!

This coin bewitched me chiefly for reasons of eye appeal. First of all, it's a large coin, with full legends, and on a large flan. Additionally, the portrait of Trajan and depictions of both Athena and Hermes are of very fine style! And, to top all that off, the coin exhibits a lovely array of colors, including purple, copper, olive and gold! Unfortunately, I couldn't capture them all in my photo.

As if that weren't enough, the coin is from the city of Hierapolis in Phrygia, which was thought to be the site of an entrance into the underworld from which an offensive, noxious odor was emitted! Ah, stinky town... my kind of place! It was also known for its hot springs so I imagine the source of this odor was sulfur.

This coin is my new favorite, replacing the 'croc' coin I wish I'd never sold. This one's even sweeter though, as it's one I didn't let get away in auction!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Second of 19

Marcus Ambibulus, Roman Prefect under Augustus, AD 9-12.

AE Prutah, 17mm (2.06 gm). Struck AD 9.

Ear of barley curved to right, KAICA-POC ("of Caesar") / Eight-branched palm tree bearing two bunches of dates, L ΛΘ (Year 39) in field below. H-636; AJC II, Supp. V, 3.

You may recall that I expressed a newfound interest in the coins of the Roman prefects and procurators. A friend, Ken Baumheckel, lit this fire that has proven a true area of interest... it has passed the 'passing fad' test with true colors. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, A New Obsession?, there were 14 prefects and procurators, of which only 6 issued coins. Of those 6 who issued coins, a total of 19 different coins were issued (Hendin numbers 635-653). You can refer to my previous blog entry (link above) for a complete list of these prefects and procurators.

This coin was issued under the second such prefect/procurator... Marcus Ambibulus. Marcus Ambibulus served under Augustus from AD 9-12. Little is known about Ambibulus except that he succeeded Coponius in the role of prefect. Only one coin 'type' was issued under both Coponius and Ambibulus, differentiated only by the date indicated on the reverse. In the case of Ambibulus, coins were issued in 3 different years, including:

L ΛΘ (Year 39)
Hendin 636... this coin

LM (Year 40)
Hendin 637

LMA (Year 41)
Hendin 638

The coins of the procurators tend to be a bit crude. Finding nicer examples requires a degree of patience and forgiveness of flaw or defect. In the case of my coin, the reverse suffers from a lack of perfect centering, though the devices and date are all present. Both the obverse and reverse show wear... neither the ear of barley nor the palm tree show all the detail present when the coin was struck. The grains in the ear of barley are worn smooth showing little definition as are the palm fronds, trunk and bunches of dates. Nonetheless, this is one of the nicer examples I've seen. Perhaps it'll only be a placeholder until a nicer example comes along. Perhaps it'll hold a permanent place in my collection. In either case, it represents the second coin in my collection of the Roman prefects and procurators... a prutah of Pontius Pilate being my first.

I must add that the 'thrill of the chase' hasn't waned since I first set out on my quest to complete a type-set of the 19 coins of the Roman prefects and procurators. With age has come patience and with patience, great coins like this one!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My First Provincial

Tiberius. Celsa, Spain.

Æ 28mm (12.19 gm). Struck AD 14-37.

Baggius Fronto and Cn. Bucco, duoviri.

Laureate head right, TI CAESAR AVGVSTVS / Bull standing right, head facing, BAGG FRONT (NT ligate) above, C V I CEL to left, II VIR II to right, and CN BVCCO in exergue. RPC I 279.52 (this coin cited); SNG Copenhagen 542.

Ex CNG 73 (September 13, 2006), lot 687
Ex Alexandre de Barros Collection
Ex Classical Numismatic Auctions V (December 9, 1988), lot 350

Spanish mint provincials have always drawn my interest. There's just something about the style of portraiture that catches my eye. The portrait on this particular coin is admittedly more like a caricature of the type you'd have drawn at Disneyland... but I like it!

My early collecting interests centered mainly on imperial issues. This coin was my first real 'provincial' and set me on a course that would forever change my collecting focus. No longer was I bound to portrait denarii of the Twelve Caesars. I had opened a door to all issues of the Twelve Caesars. That door has further opened to include Judaean coins contemporary with those of the Twelve Caesars. There are many unopened doors for me in the world of ancient coins, ensuring a pursuit that'll keep my interest for a lifetime. I hope that any of my blog entries about the coins in my collection open a door for you as well!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Julius Caesar, 49-44 BC. AR Denarius, 18mm (3.86 gm). Head of Venus right, diademed, wearing earring and necklace; hair in knot / Aeneas walking left, holding palladium and bearing Anchises on his shoulder, CAESAR to right. Struck 47 BC, North Africa. RSC Julius Caesar 12; RCV I 1402; CRR 1013.

Ah, Julius Caesar, the first and most famous of Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars. Suetonius’ work, De Vita Caesarum (Lives of the Caesars), is a set of twelve biographies that begins with Julius Caesar and follows with the first eleven emperors, from Augustus to Domitian.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born to a patrician family, the Julii, in either 102 or 100 BC. The Julii were not considered politically influential, having only three consuls credited to their family name. This was unfortunate for poor Caesar, as he craved bigger and better things for himself. So young Caesar set upon building the foundation for those ‘bigger and better things’. This foundation included service in the army, where he served under Marcus Minucius Thermus in Asia and Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia. Caesar also tuned his oratory skills, studying under the same orator as that of Cicero.

Caesar’s political career began when he was elected military tribune. From there he was elected quaestor (69 BC), then Pontifex Maximus (63 BC) and finally consul (59 BC). Caesar was now heading down the path he had envisioned for himself.

Virgil’s Aeneid tell us that Aeneas was one of the few Trojans not killed or captured in the battle of Troy. Instead, he is said to have taken his father Anchises and the palladium, a statuette upon which the safety of the city was said to depend, to safety. The reverse of the denarius above depicts this event. Aeneas was the son of Anchises and the goddess Venus. The obverse of the coin above depicts Venus, so we have a coin that depicts mother (Venus), father (Anchises) and son (Aeneas).

Julius Caesar claimed to be a descendant of Aeneas, making Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome) and the first kings of Rome his ancestors. Caesar makes this claim with this denarius. This connection to the progenitor of Rome, Aeneas, is important as it establishes legitimacy for Caesar in his rule over Rome.

This coin, and the story it tells, is one of the reasons I enjoy collecting ancient coins… especially those of the Twelve Caesars. If you haven’t done so already, read The Twelve Caesars, as translated by Robert Graves. If you do, I think you’ll find collecting coins of the Twelve Caesars as interesting as I do!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Little Britain

England. George IV. 1826 Farthing.

Laureate head left, GEORGIUS IV DEI GRATIA / Britannia seated right, holding trident, with shield bearing saltire of arms, BRITANNIAR: REX FID: DEF:. S-3825.

No, I'm not writing about the BBC show, Little Britain, though I have to admit it's one of my favorites! My wife and I really enjoy the show, but our children don't seem to understand why. I'm sure those from my parent's and grandparent's generations can relate a bit... I have no idea why they found The Honeymooners so funny. "To the moon, Alice... to the moon!" What?! They used to lose it though when they heard that! It's funny how generations differ.

I degress, and this is a blog about coins. So, about this coin you ask... why "Little Britain"? Hmm, well, it's British! And, it's little! The farthing was worth 1/4 of a penny. I say was because farthings ceased to be legal tender at the close of 1960. The demise of the farthing was brought on by inflation... its buying power had eroded too much for it to retain any usefulness in commerce.

This particular coin was designed by William Wyon after Benedetto Pistrucci's design was rejected by the king. Apparently, the king thought Pistrucci's design a little less than flattering! I happen to agree with George IV and much prefer this portrait to that designed by Pistrucci.

One of my collecting goals is to obtain at least one coin for each English monarch from the time of C'nut to the current monarch, Elizabeth II. A pretty daunting task, that, and for reasons of budget, I began with the House of Hanover, which includes

George I
George II (see my previous blog entry about my George II shilling)
George III
George IV
William IV

I currently own at least one coin from each, with the exception of George I. I'm one coin away from completing my first type set!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

D O M I T I A N ! ! ! ! !

Domitian. Cilicia, Tarsus.
AR Tetradrachm, 26mm (14.00 gm). Struck AD 93-95.

Laureate head right, AYTO KAI ΘE YI ΔOMITIANOΣ ΣE ΓEP / Tyche seated right, holding palm branch, river-god (Kydnos?) swimming beneath, TAP in right field. RPC II 1727; Sear GIC 865.

Let me begin by giving proper credit where credit is due. The photograph above was taken by Merrill Gibson of Apollo Numismatics. When I purchased the coin from Merrill, I asked if I could use his photo on my collection website and in this blog... I knew I could never top his photo!

I love this coin! It's big! It's silver! It's gorgeous! And, it's Domitian!!! This is definitely the jewel of my Domitian collection. Merrill's photo is stunning, but so is the coin. The details on the face of the swimming river-god are well intact, as are those on Tyche and the palm branch she holds. Click on the image above and you'll be taken to a larger image... and there you'll see what I mean!

The portrait reveals an emperor weary from insecurity and suspicion of conspiracy in the later years of his reign. His gaze bears witness to the demons that incited his paranoia. Domitian's reign of terror began at around AD 93 and lasted until his death in AD 96... about the same time that this coin was struck.

Domitian was murdered by his own servants who feared that they themselves were slated for a similar fate. The empress Domitia, also fearing for her life during these, Domitian's unstable years, provided encouragement to his murderers.

The cruelty and executions during his reign of terror were so odius that he earned the nickname "the Beast" amongst Romans, Greeks, Christians and Jews, according to Ethelbert Stauffer in Coniectanea Neotestamentica XI in honorem Antonii Fridrichsen sexagenarii. Ethelbert Stauffer was a German Protestant theologian who held that gematria, the numerology of the Hebrew language and alphabet, could be used to explain the Biblical number 666. Stauffer computed this "Number of the Beast" using the short form of Domitian's names and titles: Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus Germanicus... which in Greek is: Autokrator Kaisar Dometianos Sebastos Germanikos. The latter abbreviates to A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE and the gematrical formula reads:

A. K A I. Δ O M E T. Σ E B. Γ E.
1+ 20+1+10+4+70+40+5+300+200+5+2+ 3+5 = 666

Stauffer further contended that "the Beast" could only refer to Domitian because he reigned during the time that the Book of Revelation was written... the Book in which the number 666 was introduced. To further the idea that the number 666 related to Domitian, Robert Graves wrote, in The White Goddess, that DCLXVI, 666 in Roman numerals, is an abbreviation for the Latin sentence “Domitianus Caesar Legatos Xti Violenter Interfecit”, or “The Emperor Domitian violently killed the envoys of Christ".

Another interesting correlation comes from The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity, by James Jeffers. In that book, Jeffers writes, "A number of New Testament commentators have seen a connection between Rome and its cult of emperor worship and the Book of Revelation. The reference in Revelation 17:9 to seven heads of the "beast", which are "seven hills on which the woman [the great harlot] sits", has been taken as a reference to the famed seven hills on which Rome was founded. The woman is identified later as "the great city that rules over the kings of the earth" (Revelations 17:18). The connection to emperor worship is seen in Revelation 13:4, 8, where this same beast is worshipped by all the people of the earth. As the emperor of Rome (eg. Nero and Domitian) had persecuted Christians, Revelation predicts that this beast will war on the people of God. In this interpretation, Revelation 14:9-10 is warning Christians not to engage in emperor worship."

Others, including Nero, have been identified with the number 666 via Hebrew gematria. However, we're not talking about a coin of Nero, now are we? If you're interested in an interesting explanation of gematria, take a look at the following webpage on Wikipedia:

Apologies for the long tangent about the theory that the number 666 refers to Domitian... I just found it interesting and thought you might too. This coin isn't without its own Biblical reference. Tarsus, the city in which this coin was minted, was the birthplace of the Apostle Paul. Isn't it ironic then, that a coin of the purported Biblical "Beast" was struck in the very city that brought us the most notable of early Christian missionaries.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

And something from my collection of Greek coins...

Aeolis, Temnus. AE14 (2.24 gm), struck 3rd century BC.

Athena in crested Corinthian helmet right / Warrior standing, wearing crested helmet and cuirass, javelin in right hand, shield on left arm; A in upper left field, Θ in upper right field, T in lower left field and A in lower right field. SNG Cop 4, 259.

Temnus was a little town in Aeolis, near the River Hermus. In early times, the Aeolians’ twelve most important cities were independent and formed a league, including: Temnus, Cyme, Larissae, Neonteichos, Cilla, Notium, Aegirosessa, Pitane, Aegae, Myrina, Gryneia and Smyrna.

Temnus was already in decline under Augustus and was destroyed by an earthquake during the reign of Tiberius. Tacitus’ Annals, ii.47 (AD 16-19) recounts, “That same year twelve famous cities of Asia fell by an earthquake in the night, so that the destruction was all the more unforeseen and fearful. Nor were there the means of escape usual in such a disaster, by rushing out into the open country, for there people were swallowed up by the yawning earth. Vast mountains, it is said, collapsed; what had been level ground seemed to be raised aloft, and fires blazed out amid the ruin.” By this time, the coin you see above was nearly 300 years old.

This tiny little coin was beautiful enough to be noticed first amongst many other, larger coins by someone with very poor eyesight (me). It immediately caught my eye because of its detail and color. The portrait of Athena is spectacular and rich in detail... and the reverse isn't so bad either! The brown-green patina with rubbed brass highlights are a personal favorite.

The level of skill and craftsmanship necessary to produce such a lovely work of art… from the engraving of the dies to the striking of such a small planchet… is remarkable to me! And with this coin I own an example of these extraordinary labors.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Don't Toss This One in the Gulf, Allen!

Constantine I 'the Great', AE Reduced Follis (AE3), 18mm (3.23 gm), Struck AD 327-328, Trier mint

Laureate head right, CONSTAN-TINVS AVG / Camp gate, two turrets, no doors, star above and 6 stone layers, PROVIDEN-TIAE AVGG; STRE in exergue. RIC VII 504 Trier (pg. 212).

I think of my friend Allen whenever I see this coin in my collection. Allen collects campgates and sometimes jokes about 'seeding' the Gulf of Mexico with the odd LRBC (Late Roman Bronze Coin) to confuse future archaeologists.

This coin holds a high place in my collection because it represents my only 'hoard' coin. It was part of the Killingholme hoard, which was unearthed by detectorists in 1993 near the village of Killingholme in northeast England. The find consisted of over 3,000 Constantinian bronze reduced folles.

But it's just a campgate! Just a campgate? Hmm... I used to think like that. I used to think, "Who cares about those things? They're so boring!" But I had to have one for my collection... a representative piece.

In performing a little research for this blog, I found a few very interesting articles on the web that discussed these 'boring' coins. Zach Beasley of Beast Coins has an informative article at: One of the more helpful aspects of Zach's article is his discussion on how to decipher the exergue and field marks on ancient coins. Using the guidance in Zach's article, the exergue can be decoded as follows: STRE, where the S = Secunda, or 2nd, officina, and where TRE = the mint at Trier.

Another interesting article was that written by Doug Smith at: In his article, Doug discusses how the depiction of the campgate was meant to provide a sense of security at a time when this was the prime concern of all Romans. Barbarian invasions were becoming more frequent. Relations between the co-emperors Constantine and Licinius were strained and eventually collapsed in civil war. The Roman people needed to know that everything was going to be okay and the campgate was a symbol of imperial strength and stability. The reverse legend, PROVIDEN-TIAE AVGG, means "foresight of the Emperors" and served to further this message of strength and stability.

An article by Victor Failmezger, published in the Celator I believe, discussed what he believes these campgates actually were. In his article, Victor discussed how the campgates depicted on Constantinian bronzes matched the milecastles at Hadrian's Wall in England. He also noted how this type of 'gate' was used throughout the Empire. This was confirmed during a Spring 1990 visit to an Aalen, Germany museum where he was able to view drawings and photos of a "Limes gate" from a Roman outpost in Germany.

The most widely accepted theory about the turrets shown atop these campgates is that they represent beacons, or signalling posts. This fits into Victor Failmezger's proposal that the campgates were milecastles. These beacons would serve to warn other campgates... other milecastles... down the line of approaching threats. It makes sense to me!

So you see, these coins are anything but boring! This particular coin comes with the added interest-factor of being from a documented hoard. Add the impressive eye-appeal and you can see why I like this coin so much! Just don't tell Allen I talked up his beloved campgates... he wants them all to himself!

Monday, March 10, 2008

'O' My!!!

Domitian, AR Denarius, 19mm (3.21 gm). Ephesus (?) mint, struck AD 76.

Laureate head right, small 'o' below neck truncation, CAESAR AVG F DOMITIANVS / Eagle standing facing on garlanded base, wings open, head right, COS IIII. RIC II.1 Vespasian 1492 (pg. 171); BMCRE II 487 (pg.102), 'o' mint-mark lost on BM example; RPC II 1466.

People are social creatures. We need to interact with one another to nourish our soul and maintain a sense of equilibrium. People need people, or as Vince Vaughn says in my favorite line from the movie Wedding Crashers, “People helping people!” That was certainly a ‘social’ moment! Those who liked the movie as I do should be enjoying a little chuckle right now.

Anyway…..... to maintain this equilibrium, one must find social outlets. Collecting coins is one of the ways I express myself. Take this blog, for example. It provides a means to convey anything and everything about my favorite past time. It allows my creative side to peek out from time to time, via the written word. My collection website, is another such means of expression. That site allows me to express my creative side in site layout/presentation, themes by which to display my collection, and so on. Both of these venues, though not obviously social in nature, have proven a surprising source of interaction... people leave comments on my blog entries and I receive comments, via email, about my collection site from time to time!

What does all this have to do with Domitian and the denarius shown above? Nothing… and everything. I belong to a small group of friends who email each other regularly. We share new acquisitions, point out interesting new listings in eBay or Vcoins, help each other with reference citations, etc. It's a great group of guys and I appreciate their friendship greatly! The denarius above was brought to my attention by one of these friends. He knows I collect Domitian and that I likely didn't have an example of this issue in my collection. It was a perfect example of "People helping people," though not like that in the movie Wedding Crashers!!

That aspect of this particular coin is enough to make it special to me. However, this coin is special in its own right! Take a look at the obverse, just below Domitian's bust. There you'll note a small "o". This coin belongs to a rare series of denarii struck at an uncertain mint, traditionally attributed to a mint in Asia Minor... possibly Ephesus. As the mint is uncertain, they are commonly referred to as o-Mint denarii. This particular series only includes coins with the following consular dates, which corresponds to AD 76 (though Domitian's COS III complicates this dating a bit):

Vespasian - COS VII
Titus - COS V
Domitian - COS III and COS IIII

Ian Carradice and T.V. Buttrey, in The Roman Imperial Coinage, Volume II Part 1, describe this series as such:

"The coins are characterised by a uniformity of style. Most portraits are broadly similar to those on contemporary coins of the Roman mint, though not close enough to suggest shared engravers, and the heads are always large, whereas Roman mint coins of thise period include many small heads. Lettering tends to be uneven, often larger and more crowded than on contemporary Roman coins..." Take another look at the photo above... the lettering is indeed uneven and noticeably larger than Roman mint issues.

Carradice and Buttrey continue, "The discovery of some new varieties since the publication of RPC in 1999 suggests that the full range of output of this issue may not yet be known..." It is the style of these o-mint denarii that lead Carradice and Buttrey to concur with the previous tentative placement of these coins at the mint of Ephesus. They cite the comparability of an Ephesian portrait of Titus (RIC II.1, 1468) to that of an o-mint portrait of Domitian (RIC II.1, 1490) as evidence to support this placement.

This is an intriguing coin. The "o" mark below Domitian's portrait begs the question, "Why an 'o'?". What does it mean? The refined portrait and eagle seem to contradict the crude-ish legends. An interesting rarity, to say the least! And, the eye appeal isn't too shabby either... look at that irridescent toning around the eagle on the reverse! To my email friend, Jack, thank you for pointing this one out to me!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"Little Boots"

Caligula, AE As, 28mm (11.75 gm). Rome mint, struck AD 37-38.

Bare head left, C CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS PON M TR POT / Vesta, veiled, draped, seated left on throne with ornamental back and legs, holding patera in right hand and long transverse sceptre in left; VESTA above, S-C to left and right. RIC I 38 (pg. 111); BMCRE I 46 (pg. 154).

Gaius, better known as Caligula, is best known to history as one of Rome's most eccentric and maniacal emperors. Michael Grant, in the Introduction to his, The Twelve Caesars, states that "Those dozen men were a fabulous series, the theme of countless legends." Caligula, no doubt, features in many of the more sensational of these legends!

Gaius and his mother accompanied his father, Germanicus, while he was stationed with the Rhine legions on the German frontier. It was during this time that Gaius was dubbed 'Caligula'. This nickname was given young Gaius when he was between the ages of 2 and 4 because he wore a miniature version of the same military boots, or caligae, that the soldiers wore. Tacitus, in his Annals I.1, wrote: "There was also her little son, born in camp and bred the playmate of the legions; whom soldier-like they had dubbed 'Bootkins' because, as an appeal to the fancy of the rank and file, he generally wore the footgear of that name."

Suetonius, in his De Vita Caesarum ("Lives of the Caesars"), wrote: "He was sound neither of body nor mind." This unstable mental state was the source of Gaius' legendary exploits. Stories of incest with his sisters, opening a brothel in the imperial palace to raise much needed money, claims of divinity and other bizzare behavior paint the history we all remember about this, Rome's third emperor.

It is this 'history' that draws our fascination. And, owning a coin of this fascinating character allows a tangible connection with that history.

Locating a coin of Caligula that I would welcome into my collection taught me patience. While asses such as this issue are relatively common, those worthy of his prominence and notoriety are not. The great thing about his hobby, though, is that there are so many other coins to collect while waiting for that one example to surface!

One of the features I like best about this coin is the portrait of Caligula. It follows the Julio-Claudian formula for portraiture, but also manages to provide a glimpse into the tortured soul of lost innocence. Though my primary collecting focus is the coinage of Domitian, this is without a doubt, my favorite coin! Can you tell?!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

By George!

George II, 1758 AR Shilling

Old laureate and draped bust left, GEORGIVS•II•DEI•GRATIA• / Crowned cruciform shields, plain angles, 17-58 M•B•F•ET• H•REX F D B• ET•D•S•R•I• A•T•ET•E• around. S-3704.

The reverse legend is quite impressive! The abbreviations, spelled out, read: Magnae Britanniae Franciae ET Hiberniae REX Fidei Defensor Brunsviciensis ET Luneburgen-sis Dux Sacra Romani Imperii Archi-Thesaurarius ET Elector. This translates to: "By the Grace of God, King of Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg, High Treasurer and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire." I'm pretty impressed, but then again, I'm only a Business Process Analyst!

I am an Anglophile... always have been... always will be! My wife and I honeymooned in England in April 2007. We're both hoping to retire somewhere in England. Heck, there's even a town named Telford. It must be a great place, right?!

I've long been fascinated with English history. Being 50% English and 50% Danish, I suppose that that fascination is only natural, if not inevitable. A good portion of England was ruled off and on by the Danes from the 9th through the 11th centuries, with England uniting under the Danish king Canute. So you see, it's in my heritage... both of 'my people' shared the same island!

I've wanted to assemble a collection of coins of the English monarchy ever since I began collecting ancient coins. I didn't start my English monarch collection, however, until just last year. I've since acquired a few beautiful English coins, mostly from the monarchs of the House of Hanover (George I, 1714-1727 to Victoria, 1837-1901). This particular coin is from George II, who ruled from 1727-1760.

This is without a doubt, the coin I enjoy most in my English monarch collection! The toning accentuates the devices and legends and it's a big enough coin for my eyes to see the detail! So far, my experience with collecting these English coins has been every bit as fulfilling as collecting ancients.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A New Obsession?

Apologies for my diversion from the stated format of this blog, which is to display and discuss the coins in my collection… one at a time. Truth be told is that I haven’t had the opportunity to photograph and research the next coin from my collection. So, I figured why not discuss coins that will be a part of my collection, sooner or later!

A friend recently announced that he had completed a collection of the coins of the Roman Prefects and Procurators. This particular friend is noteworthy for assembling interesting type sets and this one definitely caught my attention! Hungry for information about these Roman governors of Judaea and the coins they issued, I asked my friend where best to begin. He recommended David Hendin’s, Guide to Biblical Coins, Fourth Edition.

To be honest, I had previously heard of only one Roman governor, the infamous Pontius Pilate. I never really paid any attention to this area of collecting as it had only peripheral applicability to my area of focus, the Twelve Caesars. However, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to the history of the Bible. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older and nearer to meeting our Maker. Perhaps it was Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. Perhaps it has been all of the interesting stories my friend tells me about the coins in his collection in this area. Perhaps it’s a combination of all these influences. I don’t know why… but what I do know is that something is compeling me to focus in this direction right now!

So to David Hendin’s wonderful book I turned for knowledge. I learned that 14 individuals served as prefect or procurator of Judaea and that of those 14, only 6 issued coins. Of those 6 who issued coins, a total of 19 different coins were issued (Hendin numbers 635-653). The following 14 individuals served in this post:

Under Augustus
Coponius, AD 6-9
Marcus Ambibulus, AD 9-12
Annius Rufus, AD 12-15 (did not issue any coins)

Under Tiberius
Valerius Gratus, AD 15-26
Pontius Pilate, AD 26-36
Marcellus, AD 36-37 (did not issue any coins)

Under Caligula
Marullus, AD 37-41 (did not issue any coins)

Under Claudius
Cuspius Fadus, AD 44-46 (did not issue any coins)
Tiberius Alexander, AD 46-48 (did not issue any coins)
Ventidius Cumanus, AD 48-54 (did not issue any coins)
Antonius Felix, AD 52-54

Under Nero
Antonius Felix, AD 54-59
Porcius Festus, AD 59-62
Albinus, AD 62-64 (did not issue any coins)
Gessius Florus, AD 64-66 (did not issue any coins)

There was a 3 year period from AD 41-44 where Agrippa I was King of Judaea. The coins of these prefects and procurators are unique in that none of them mention the governors’ names… they mention only the emperors or imperial family members under whose authority they served. Hence, the attribution of these coins to individual prefects and procurators is achieved by the dating of the coins, which is based on imperial regnal years.

An interesting aspect of these governors is that 3 of the 6 who issued coins are mentioned in the Bible. Matthew 27:2 says, “And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.” Acts 24:24 says, “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.” Acts 24:27 says, “But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.”

In reviewing the 19 different coins issued by these governors in Hendin’s book, I see that there is little in the way of aesthetic appeal. The appeal of these coins, their attraction, comes entirely from their connection to Biblical history. I anticipate that this will be a very fulfilling pursuit! My thanks to Ken Baumheckel for lighting this fire.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Just the Right Amount of Earthen Highlights!

Aurelian, AE Antoninianus, 22mm (3.84 gm), Struck AD 270-275, Rome

Radiate and cuirassed bust right, IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG / Sol standing left, between two captives, right hand raised, left holding globe, ORIENS AVG; T in exergue. RIC V-I 61 (pg. 271); Gobl 118a3.

I remember well the day I bought this coin. I purchased it from my friend Ken Martins, the owner of Museum Surplus ( and fellow founding member of the Orange County Ancient Coin Club (OCCAC). He had two and and I bought them both at an OCACC meeting. The other now resides in the collection of a good friend! Knowing Ken, I'm sure he gave me a great deal on both!

What struck me most about this coin were the earthen highlights, which some call 'desert patina.' To me, this very common coin is so uncommon because of these highlights... however, the beautifully rendered portrait and centering also enhance the eye appeal of this coin!

Thanks to Tom Ross, the avid collector of coins of Aurelian, for the Gobl cite.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My "Croc" Coin

Augustus, AE As, 25mm (10.59 gm), Struck 16/15-10 BC, Nemausus.

Addorsed heads of Agrippa left, wearing combined rostral crown and laurel wreath, and Augustus on right, bare headed; IMP above and DIVI F below; D-D countermark / Crocodile chained to palm tip, wreath with long ties above; COL-NEM. RIC I 155 (pg. 51); RCV I 1729; RPC I 523.

RIC classifies this issue as an As, but this classification is uncertain, as indicated by the '(?)' after the listed denomination. Sear classifies this issue as a dupondius, as does David Vagi's flip ticket.

No, it's not 'the' croc coin... the coin so prominently displayed on my collection website:

and here, on the webpage on that site:

That coin is long gone, having been sold in the January 2007 Gemini auction. It's one of my biggest regrets and should it ever come to auction again, I will make it mine again!

I bought this croc coin at the January 2006 NYINC show... my first, and so far only, visit to that wonderful show. I purchased it from David Vagi for the simple reason that I didn't have a countermarked coin in my collection. This particular coin carries the D-D countermark, which is within a dotted circle and with the two D's disected by a dotted line. This countermark stands for Decreto Decurionum, which means 'by decree of the town Decuria (or Council)'. This is a common countermark on the Asses from Nemausus. The purpose of this type of countermark is to appropriate officially sanctioned Roman colonial coinage for local use in another colonial city.

This, along with a few other coins, serve as reminder of my first NYINC show and all the great people I met.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Elements of Style

Nero, AR Tetradrachm, 25 mm (14.45 gm), Struck AD 59-60, Antioch

Laureate bust right, with aegis, NEPΩNOΣ KAIΣAPOΣ ΣEBAΣTOY / Eagle standing left on thunderbolt, palm branch to left and ς - HP to right (year 6 = AD 59-60). RPC I 4180.

Sometimes you can have two coins of equal grade and centering, but one just looks better than the other. This difference is the style, or artistic quality, of the coin… an intangible quality that sets one coin apart from all the others. Eye appeal is another term to describe the style of a coin… you hear it used a lot with US coins. Style, or eye appeal, is very subjective… after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Take this coin and compare it to other examples of this issue (RPC I 4180) on ancient coin dealers sites. Sure, both coins may depict a portrait of Nero, but are both portraits of equal style? I’m not saying that the portrait on my coin is a perfect replication of Nero’s visage. I’m just saying that it’s more beautifully rendered than most other examples of this same issue (RPC I 4180). Most, for example, are a bit cartoonish, and not too different from the later portraits of Magnentius or Decentius.

This coin isn’t perfectly centered on the reverse, and that’s usually very important to me. However, the style more than makes up for this little imperfection!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Oh Those Eastern Mint Coins...

Vespasian, AR Denarius, 17mm (3.33 gm), Ephesus mint

Laureate head right, IMP CAESAR VESPAS AVG COS III TR P P P / AVG EPHE (PHE in monogram) in two lines within oak-wreath. RIC II.1 1427 (pg. 164); RSC II 40; RCV I 2265.

I bought this coin from Tom Cederlind at the Long Beach show a few years ago purely on the strength of the portrait. Mike, Tom Cederlind's assistant, didn't have to pour on the sales charm with this one... I was sold at first sight! I've come to appreciate eastern mint portraiture quite a bit and now even seek these coins out.

You'll notice that this coin is listed in my 'Top 10' on my collection site... It's listed at #6 but 'that' Top 10 was determined a couple of years ago. I've since sold some coins in my collection and added a few. The coin would still be in my Top 10, but I'm not sure if it'd still make #6.

Vespasian was, of course, one of the Twelve Caesars and father to the final two emperors of Twelve Caesars fame - Titus and Domitian. It was Vespasian who commissioned the Flavian ampitheater... or the Colosseum as it is known today. Vespasian's son Titus campaigned with him in Judaea and completed construction on the Colosseum. Vespasian is notable for having restored order to Rome, following a tumultuous period that saw four emperors ascend the throne in one year (AD 69).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Coin to Commemorate My Joining the Ancient Coin Club of Los Angeles

Germe, Mysia, civic coinage, 25.7mm (8.31gm).

Draped bust of a youthful Senate right, IEPA CYNKΛHT[OC] / Zeus seated left holding eagle and sceptre, CEΞI ΦAY-CTOY ΓEP-MH. SNG Von Aulock 1090 var. (unlisted strategos); SNG France 951 var.; RPC IV (online) 658; ANS 1971.230.6 var.

This coin can be dated to the time of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180). Ed Snible's wonderful website provided the time frame from this strategos:

In each reference cited above, the strategos differed from this coin. I submitted this coin to the authors of RPC IV online ( perhaps it'll be cited there someday! Keep a look out for "Brett Telford collection" or the mention of the strategos Faustoy at this url.

I spent quite a bit of time and enlisted the help of a couple of friends in an attempt to find a definite reference. I am not content with a reference listed as a variant if a definite might exist. However, in this case, all known references, save BMC Greek, were consulted. My thanks to Tom Mullaly and John Noory for their assistance in finding references for this coin.

I bought this coin at my first Ancient Coin Club of Los Angeles (ACCLA) meeting from Merrill Gibson of Apollo Numismatics (Vcoins). The obverse grabbed my attention immediately for its artistic rendering of Senate and because of its great patina! I suppose this coin will serve to commemorate my joining the ACCLA.

I also learned something in researching this coin. I have to admit that I had no idea what the term strategos meant. So, for those who don't know, a strategos is an army leader or general. In the Helenistic and Byzantine Empires, the term was used to describe a military governor.

This coin is one of my favorites, even though it isn't within my core collecting area of the Twelve Caesars. It's a nice coin and I had a lot of fun researching it!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Welcome to this, my initial foray into the world of blogging. The purpose of this blog is to share my collection with others in the collecting community. I began 'sharing' my collection a few years ago through my website, That site is woefully neglected though, and still displays coins sold in recent years and still incomplete in listing other coins in my collection. I intend to update that collection site, when time permits. Until then, I thought I'd share my collection here, in blog format, one coin at a time! (After all, what's another project?!) I think this will be a fun way to spend some time getting to know my coins. I hope to share a coin a week, it's attribution information, related history and anything else interesting about the coin or its acquisition. I hope others will find it as worthwhile as it will be for me!

My primary collecting interest is in ancient coins, especially those of Domitian and the 'other' Twelve Caesars. I also collect coins of the English monarchy and am attempting to acquire at least one coin from each monarch from William the Conqueror forward. To further blurry my collecting focus, I collect Thracian Chersonese hemidrachms, Morgan silver dollars, have an extensive 'wish list' of coins that I think represent a core set of ancient Greek coins, and am still pursuing a complete collection of Roman emperors and their family members. I imagine that many others struggle in trying to stay within their collecting focus... after all, this is a wonderful and fascinating hobby!