Ancient Roman coins, relics of one of the greatest empires in history, hold a unique allure for collectors worldwide. Their value ranges dramatically, from modestly priced pieces accessible for a few tens of dollars to rare specimens auctioned for thousands. This article explores the captivating world of Roman coins, shedding light on their historical significance and the factors influencing their worth in today’s market.
And, as always, I’ve got you covered with a video:
The Historical Context of Roman Coins
Roman Republic: Between c. 500 – 27 BC
The journey of Roman coinage begins in the Roman Republic, roughly from 500 to 27 BC. This era marked the birth of Rome’s monetary system, with early coins crafted primarily from bronze. These coins were more than mere currency; they were storytellers, depicting gods, animals, or symbols, narrating tales of Rome’s history and beliefs. Coinage played a pivotal role in enhancing trade and economic growth during this critical period of Roman expansion.
Imperial Period: 27 BC – AD 476
The Imperial period, stretching from 27 BC to AD 476, signified a transformation in Roman coinage. Coins minted during this era offer a window into the rich history and culture of the Roman Empire. The designs on these coins were diverse, featuring emperors, gods, and significant events. They serve as fascinating artifacts for history enthusiasts, providing a tangible connection to the ancient Roman civilization.
Roman Coins as a Symbol of Power
Throughout its history, Roman coinage was a symbol of status and power. Emperors like Julius Caesar utilized coins as a medium to cement their god-like status and commemorate important events like victories and festivals. These coins were not only a means of transaction but also a tool for propaganda, showcasing the might and reach of the Roman Empire during its heyday.
Political and Geographical Expansion
The Roman Republic’s expansion, both politically and geographically, led to a plethora of interesting coin designs, reflecting the empire’s growing influence over the Mediterranean world. This period of expansion was critical in shaping the diversity and reach of Roman coinage, as it became an instrument of political power and subjugation.
How much are Roman Coins Worth?
Like all coins for all of time, it depends. We’ll get into exactly what determines the values of these coins later on, but let’s look at some of the main Roman coins you might come across:
As (Bronze/Copper Coin)
The as was a foundational coin in the Roman currency system, used for basic, everyday transactions. Back in 2014, 7 of these coins went for $80.
Not quite enough to get you that Colosseum in your backyard…
Dupondius (Bronze Coin)
Worth two asses or half a sestertius, the dupondius was made of bronze.
These sell for a good amount, as you can see below:
Sestertius (Brass Coin)
The larger brass Sestertius was valued at four times an As. And, as you’d expect, these coins can sell for some good money:
Roman Denarius (Silver Coin)
The Roman Denarius, made of silver, stood as the standard coin of the empire, equivalent to 16 asses. As you’d expect, these can get you big money:
Aureus (Gold Coin)
The aureus was a high-value gold coin, typically worth about 25 silver denarii, used for large and important transactions. As for their worth today, one of these went for a whopping $87,000 back in August 2023:
The Role of Metal and Condition in Value
The intrinsic value of Roman coins varied, influenced by their metal content and condition. Gold coins like the Aureus, due to their material, were generally more expensive. The state of preservation also significantly affected their worth, with well-preserved coins fetching higher prices. For instance, a denarius in good condition could be valued around $100, while rarer specimens, like those commemorating significant events, could reach much higher values.
The market for Roman coins is dynamic, with prices fluctuating based on rarity, historical significance, and condition. While some specimens are available for just a few dollars, others, particularly those from significant historical periods or featuring famous emperors, can command prices in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. This variability is what makes collecting Roman coins both challenging and rewarding for enthusiasts.
Iconography and Themes on Roman Coins
The designs and symbols on Roman coins are more than mere decorations; they are a form of storytelling, reflecting the beliefs, values, and achievements of the Roman Empire. These coins serve as a window into the past, offering insights into the empire’s political and cultural landscape. The iconography on these coins often includes depictions of gods, goddesses, emperors, military victories, and significant events in Roman history.
Depictions and Symbolism
Roman coins frequently featured emperors or members of the imperial family, symbolizing their power and authority. This imagery was a potent tool for rulers to assert their dominance and communicate their achievements to the populace. In addition to rulers, coins also depicted important events or victories, such as military conquests or religious ceremonies. Symbols and allegories, like personifications of virtues or gods, were common, adding a layer of depth and meaning to these artefacts.
Reading Roman Coins
Understanding the iconography on Roman coins requires a bit of historical knowledge and research. The obverse (front) of a coin typically features the image of the current Emperor or, in earlier coins, Roman gods. This imagery helps in dating the coin and understanding its context. The reverse (back) often showcases allegorical symbols, such as Victory or an eagle, and can also help in dating the coin. These symbols often commemorate popular religious festivals or victorious armies in battle, revealing much about the empire’s priorities and values.
Historical and Cultural Significance
The common themes and symbols found on Roman coins provide a rich tapestry of the empire’s history and culture. Each coin is a piece of art and a historical artefact, encapsulating the values and ideals of the Roman Empire. Collectors and enthusiasts can glean valuable insights into Roman society and its evolution over time through these designs.
Buying and Collecting Roman Coins
For those interested in the world of Roman coin collecting, the market offers a plethora of choices, ranging from rare, high-value coins to more accessible pieces for beginners. The key to a successful collection lies in understanding the market and knowing where to find authentic, quality coins.
Recommended Platform: Whatnot
One highly recommended platform for collectors is Whatnot, renowned for its live video auctions. This interactive platform allows collectors to participate in real-time auctions, offering a dynamic and engaging way to acquire Roman coins. Whatnot’s live format adds an element of excitement to the collecting experience and provides collectors with the opportunity to see coins up close, ask questions, and make informed decisions before placing a bid.
And the best part? You can get $15 in Whatnot credit free when you sign up using my link.
Maintenance and Storage of Roman Coins
Importance of Proper Storage
The preservation of Roman coins is crucial for maintaining their historical and monetary value. These ancient artifacts, being centuries old, are susceptible to damage if not properly cared for. Hence, understanding and implementing correct storage methods is key to ensuring your collection withstands the test of time.
Controlling Environmental Factors
Humidity is one of the main culprits in the deterioration of ancient coins. It’s essential to store your Roman coins in a cool, dry place, shielded from direct sunlight. In humid climates, using silica gel packets near your collection can help reduce moisture levels. This precaution is particularly important for coins made of bronze, which are prone to bronze disease, a form of corrosion accelerated by humidity.
Physical Storage Solutions
When it comes to physically storing your coins, individual storage is recommended to prevent scratches and damage from contact with other coins. This can be achieved using coin flips, holders, or trays, ensuring that each coin is separated. It’s important to use storage materials that are acid-free and PVC-free to prevent chemical reactions that could damage the coins. Archival-safe materials are designed to be inert and not react with the metals in your coins.
Handling Roman coins requires care to avoid physical and chemical damage. It’s advisable to handle coins by their edges, using clean, dry hands. While gloves are not always necessary for ancient coins, they can provide an extra layer of protection, especially for more delicate or higher-value pieces. Avoid using latex or PVC gloves, as they can leave residues; cotton or nitrile gloves are better options.
Cleaning ancient Roman coins is a topic of debate among collectors. Generally, it is recommended to leave the patina (a natural protective layer that forms over time) intact, as it is part of the coin’s character and history. Harsh cleaning can decrease a coin’s value. If cleaning is necessary, such as to remove dirt from newly excavated coins, it should be done minimally and cautiously, ideally by a professional conservator.
Start Your Empire – How much are ancient Roman coins worth?
The realm of Roman coin collecting is a fascinating journey through history, offering a unique blend of art, culture, and investment. From the modestly priced coins accessible to beginners to the rare and valuable specimens sought after by experienced collectors, Roman coins provide a tangible link to one of history’s greatest empires.
To this subcategory of coin collecting, I have only one final thing to say: