Ancient Coin Facts
There’s so much to know about ancient coins and the ins and outs of collecting them that it would – and often does – take a lifetime to learn just a small fraction of it. There are, however, some fascinating facts and bits of trivia that stand out amidst all the technical information that you’ll find. Here’s a handful of some of the most interesting facts about ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins.
- About 99% of the 14,000 Athenian coins unearthed in the Agora (the marketplace of ancient Athens) were bronzes, the smallest denominations.
- Over 100,000 coins were found in the archaeological excavations at the Athenian Agora. Of those, only 14,000 were of Athenian issue, which strongly supports the international trade that took place there.
- The Roman silver denarius, usually marked with the head of Roma, goddess of the city of Rome, was a day’s salary for a Roman soldier. Thus, the reward offered for information leading to the arrest of Jesus in Biblical times was the equivalent of a month’s salary to a Roman soldier.
- The widow’s mite, the bronze coin mentioned in the Bible, may have been the smallest denomination of coin ever minted.
- Silver or gold coins were seldom used in everyday transactions or sales. They were more likely to have been used in payments to or from the state – salaries, taxes and tariffs or fees. Thus silver and gold coins are found more often in good condition as opposed to bronzes or coppers, which were used in everyday commerce.
- Counterfeiting is not a new phenomenon. In Athens, anyone suspecting that a coin was a forgery could bring them to testers in the marketplace or the port. If a coin was found to be a forgery, it was marked with a deep cut and dedicated to the Mother of the Gods.
- It wasn’t unusual for a merchant to notch a coin to check its authenticity, making sure that it was silver all the way through. Some ancient counterfeits have been found already notched in an effort to fool people into thinking that they’d already been tested and found to be genuine.
- The inscriptions and pictures on many Greek coins were puns on the names of the cities that issued them. For instance, coins from Rhodes bore a rose, and those from Leontinoi bore a lion.
- Roman coins often bore the image of the emperor or local ruler, as well as his name. Greek coins, by contrast, usually bore images symbolic of the city – its deity or something associated with it – and the name of the city, rather than its rulers.
- After the fall of Western Rome, the coins of the Byzantine Empire gradually evolved from the traditional Imperial types to a uniquely Byzantine style of design that included depersonalizing the Emperor and adding Christian symbols to the reverse side of coins. Eventually, Justinian II became the first Byzantine emperor to put a portrait of Christ on his coins.