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.