The Romans began to mint coins in the 6th century B.C. and continued to do so until the fall of the last western emperor in 476 A.D. Because the Romans produced hundreds of different coins, it can be a challenge to correctly identify them.
Most Roman coins feature a portrait of a Roman emperor, or a member of his family, on the obverse (front). Because these portraits are nearly identical, the best way to identify your coin is by reading its inscription. Usually, the inscription contains the name of the emperor as well as royal titles and offices. These are oftentimes abbreviated. For example, Domitian becomes Domit, Titus becomes T, Claudius becomes Claud, and so on.
Royal Titles and Offices
Here is a list of common royal titles and offices, and their translations:
Aug: "Augustus" or "Sacred" (an imperial title) Caes: "Caesar" (originally a family name; became an imperial title) Cens Per: "Censor Perpetuus" or "Perpetual Censor" Cos: "Consul" F: "Filius/Filia" or "Son/Daughter" Ger: "Germanicus" (honorary and hereditary name) Imp: "Imperator" or "Emperor" PM: "Pontifex Maximus" or "Head Priest" PP: "Pater Patriae" or "Father of the Country" TP: "Tribunicia Potestas" or "Tribunal Power"
Gods and Personifications
The reverse of Roman coins contains images of gods and personifications. Personifications are human figures that represent qualities such as justice, fortune, honour or happiness. Few reverses contain inscriptions, so look for certain attributes to correctly identify the figures. For example, Jupiter (Zeus in the Greek tradition) holds a lightning bolt; Justice holds scales.
The Romans did not date their coins. However, you can determine the year that a particular coin was struck using two methods. First, you can date the coin based on the reign of the emperor depicted. Second, you can specifically date coins if they reference a particular term of office, such as a consulship or tribunal power.
Different denominations or "values" of Roman coins were introduced over the years. These values fluctuated depending on the economy. However, the six most common denominations are as follows:
Aureus: This was the standard gold coin of the Roman empire. Denarius: This was the standard silver coin of the Roman empire, worth one-twentieth of an aureus.
Sestertius: worth one quarter of a denarius Dupondius: worth one eighth of a denarius As: worth one sixteenth of a denarius Quadrans: worth one sixty-fourth of a denarius
- Reading and Dating Roman Imperial Coins; Zander H. Klawans; 1959