How to Identify Ancient Roman Coins

Ancient Roman coins are surprisingly easy to buy. The Roman Empire spanned centuries and hundreds of millions of coins were minted. Identifying ancient Roman coins takes practice and good reference sources. Professional identification of Roman coin identification is very precise, but with a clear example, most amateurs should be able to identify the Roman emperor on the obverse after a few hours. Read on to learn how to identify ancient Roman coins.

Read the obverse. Use a magnifying glass to read the letters and write down the letters exactly. Some of the letters may be stamped slightly off center since Roman coins were hand minted. Many of the ancient bronze Roman coins available to amateurs will be from the later empire emperors. If the letters are not clearly legible, use a pencil and paper to make a rubbing.

Study the series of letters carefully. The entire title of the emperor is used to identify the emperor and can also narrow down the age of the coin. Follow the inscription around the coin and look for the letters AVG (Augustus) or "NOB C" or "NC" (Caesar).

Identify the unique name of the emperor. Emperors from the same family, such as Constantine the Great and his sons, have very similar names. There may only be a difference of a few letters separating one emperor from another.

Find the mint mark on the reverse at the bottom. Rome had official mints all over the Empire, and each, like the American D-Denver, S-San Francisco, or P-Philadelphia, had its own identifying mark. A list of the most common marks can be found in the Resources section.

Enjoy the rich stories found on the reverse of Roman coins. The citizens of Rome used coins like a newspaper to understand the state of the Empire. For example, Roman emperors loved to be portrayed spearing barbarians in times of turmoil.

Things You'll Need

  • Roman Coin Reference Book
  • Magnifying Glass
  • Pencil
  • Paper
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