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The Ancient World Collection

Category:  Ancients
Owner:  Kohaku
Last Modified:  3/9/2015
  
Set Description
The coins in this NGC Ancient Custom Set represent various cities and states, rulers, and epochs of ancient history, presented in chronological order. For ancient realms of particular importance, such as the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, multiple coins are included, representing some exemplary rulers or other details of numismatic interest. The set is open-ended, with each added coin an opportunity to learn more about cultures and personages of the ancient world.

All coins in the set are NGC graded at about uncirculated or higher. Detailed grading statistics are as follows: 1% Gem MS, 22% Ch MS, 54% MS, 17% Ch AU, 6% AU; 77% with 5/5 Strike, 20% with 4/5 Strike, 3% with 3/5 Strike; 75% with 5/5 Surface, 24% with 4/5 Surface, 1% with 3/5 Surface; 33% with Star designation; 11% granted Fine Style.

Set Goals
Discover the ancient world through numismatics.

Slot Name
Origin/Country
Item Description
Full Grade
Owner Comments
Pics
View Coin Ionia, Uncertain Mint, 650-600 BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) IONIA, UNCERTAIN MINT c.650-600 BC EL Third-Stater form of facing lion hd(?) obv pelleted pattern in NGC Ch AU Strike: 3/5 Surface: 4/5 Ionia, also known as the Ionian League or the Panionic League, was a group of 12 cities (dodecapolis) formed in mid-7th century BC. In the Histories of Herodotus, the member cities are grouped by their traditions and different dialects: Miletus, Myus, and Priene, all in Caria (a region in Asia Minor); Ephesus, Colophon, Lebedus, Teos, Clazomenae and Phocaea, in Lydia; the island of Chios and Erythrae (Asia Minor); and the island of Samos. In 650 BC, the city of Smyrna defected from the Aolis to join the Ionian League.

Bounded by Aeolia to the north, Lydia to the east, and Caria to the south, Ionia held an important economic and strategic location between rest of the Greeks and the Persian Empire. The very first coins appeared in this region about the time the Ionian League was formed. These coins were made of electrum, a naturally occurring gold and silver alloy.

Although of irregular size and shape, these coins were made to a strict standard of weight (the Lydo-Milesian standard): one stater weighed a little over 14 g. Coins were also minted in fractional denominations, such the denomination of this coin, a 1/3 stater (or Trite). The earliest coin designs were relatively simple, for example, with obverse displaying empty globular fields, parallel or crisscrossing lines, striations, or pellets, and the reverse containing an incuse (punched into the coin, rather than in relief) geometric mark.

Such traits are found on this very rare coin, minted around mid-7th century BC. The obverse is a globular surface with a cluster of pellets possibly representing a lion’s head. This stylized representation might be a transition between simple obverse designs and the lion’s head that would soon become popular on Ionian and Lydian electrum coinage. The coin’s reverse is comprised of two incuse squares, probably meant to signify exactly where and by whom it was minted, which, alas, has been forgotten.

Additional Reading: "Early electrum coins," R Glanfield, November 2012.

Coin Details: IONIA, Uncertain, ca. 650-600 BC, EL Trite – Third Stater (14mm, 4.66 g), Lydo-Milesian standard, NGC Graded: Ch AU, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: globular surface with cluster of pellets, Reverse: Two incuse squares. References: Weidauer; Traité I 3; Elektron; Rosen 253; SNG Kayhan; SNG von Aulock 7761; Pozzi 2350.
View Coin Kingdom of Lydia, 610-546 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) LYDIA c.610-546 BC EL Third-Stater rv bipartite incuse obv lion hd w/radiate sun NGC AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 The ancient Kingdom of Lydia was bounded by coastal Ionia to the west, Mysia to the north, and Caria to the south. According to Herodotus: “Lydia does not have many marvelous things to write about in comparison with other countries, except for the gold dust that is carried down from Mount Tmolus.” This inland region of Asia Minor was abounding in precious metals, gold and silver in particular. Some time around mid-7th century BC these metals were first fashioned into coins in Lydia (as also attested by Herodotus) and also neighboring Ionia.

These first coins were made of electrum, an alloy comprised mostly of gold and silver. The gold content of electrum occurring naturally in river silt had a varying gold content of 65% to 85%. Some coins were probably struck directly from this alluvial electrum, but their gold content was inconsistent. To solve this problem, the electrum (and/or perhaps pure gold) was alloyed with silver to reach a consistent gold content. Additional copper was also added, in order to achieve a more golden color.

This ingenious solution was the innovation of the Kings of Lydia, who probably set up their mints in the capital city of Sardis. Coin sizes and shapes were irregular, but weights and gold contents were highly consistent. Varying designs were employed; in Lydia the most common motif was the head of a roaring lion, as found on this coin, a one-third stater (or trite). The design is simple, yet arresting and artistic. The hatch-marked lion’s mane bisects the coin diagonally, and opposite to upper right, three dynamic elements are grouped: roaring mouth, triangular eye, and a mysterious star pattern (sometime referred to as a “nose wart”). The latter is perhaps a representation of a rising sun. The two-part incuse punch on the reverse was left over from its strike, and its exact significance remains unknown.

The lion was the symbol of the royal line of Mermnadae. At the time this coin was minted, the ruler was probably Alyattes son of Sadyattes, or his son, Croesus. Alyattes and his Kingdom became very rich by accumulating and minting coins. Moreover, the Lydians were the world’s first commercial retailers (again according to Herodotus), linking the eastern Asian kingdoms to coastal Ionia and other Hellenistic cities to the west. Alyattes used his wealth and military prowess consolidating the Lydian Kingdom. He conquered the Cimmerians (who fled to the Bosphorus), and also vanquished several Ionian cities. By Croesus’ ascension, he was so prosperous his very name became synonymous with wealth, and to this day our modern lexicon includes expressions such as “rich as Croesus.”

Additional Reading: PT Keyser and DD Clark, “Analyzing and Interpreting the Metallurgy of Early Electrum Coins,” American Numismatic Soiety, New York, 2001, pp. 105-126.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF LYDIA, King Alyattes II (or possibly Croesus), ca. 610-546 BC, Electrum EL Trite - 1/3 stater (4.76 g, 13 mm), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Head of roaring lion, “wart” or sun on nose, Reverse: Two-part incuse, References: Weiduaer Group XVI, 89; Traite I 44; SNG Kayhan 1013; Rosen 655-6.
View Coin Ionia, Miletus, 6th-5th Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) IONIA, MILETUS late 6th-5th Centuries BC AR Obol rv stellate pattern obv lion hd. NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Among the twelve cities forming Ionia in 7th century BC, Miletus was the most powerful and wealthy. Situated on the Aegean Sea at the mouth of the Maeander River, Miletus was a significant sea power and trading port. Prolific explorers, the Miletians founded dozens of new cities throughout the ancient world. Catalyzed by the confluence of stability, prosperity, and leisure, the city became the world’s premiere center for science and learning.

From 624 to 546 BC lived Thales of Miletus, considered the world’s first scientist and mathematician. Thales developed an understanding and prediction of natural phenomena without having to invoke any mythological explanations. He conducted experiments surmising the earth was round, and predicted an eclipse. Jesting about the recent adoption of coinage, he vowed to demonstrate the practicality of his work. Using his skills, he forecasted a banner olive season, cornered the market, and made a bundle of drachms.

Around the time of Thales’ death, Cyrus the Great was busy expanding his Achaemenid Empire across Anatolia via diplomacy and war. So esteemed was Miletus that no attempt was made to reduce its independence, allowing Thales’ followers to continue contemplation of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of the universe. Thales’ apprentice, Anaximander, would develop the notion of sufficient reason, namely, there is no effect without a cause (even proposing, two millennia ahead of his time, that humans evolved from lower forms of sea life). By late 6th to early 5th century BC, Anaximander’s student, Anaximenes, would take things even further and advance a strictly mechanistic cosmology. For illustration, he used the analogy of a coin: “…it is impossible that one first principle should constitute the substance of things, but an active cause is also necessary; just as silver alone is not enough to become coin, but there is need of an active cause, a coin-maker.”

One can imagine toga-clad Anaximenes lecturing, coin in hand as a teaching aid, perhaps a diobol like this one, by far the most common denomination in western Anatolia at the time. On the obverse is the head of a roaring lion, the civic badge of Milletos, its pointillist mane filling the flan. The lion’s body curves behind the head, its tail appearing to sprout from the bellowing mouth. The reverse design is a stellate pattern within an incuse square. The precise meaning of this motif is a mystery: it may represent the sun specifically (Apollo was Miletos’ patron god) or perhaps the heavens generically, in reference to Miletian cosmologies.

In early 5th century BC, Miletus’ leadership incited rebellion against Persian King Darius I. The Ionian Revolt failed, and the city was obliterated in retaliation. Some Miletians fled; the others were slaughtered or enslaved by the Persians. Miletus’ golden age came abruptly to an end. The city was re-established later, but continued in decline, never achieving its former glory. Demonstrating the inexorable march of causality, silt deposited at the mouth of the Maeander over the centuries, choking off once-busy harbors. The Miletian economy collapsed, and the city was abandoned to ruins, which today lie many miles from the sea.

Coin details: IONIA, Miletos, late 6th-early 5th century BC, AR Diobol (10 mm, 1.23 g), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Forepart of lion right, head left, Reverse: Stellate design within incuse square, References: SNG Kayhan 476-82, SNG Keckman 273, ex-Demetrios Armounta Collection.
View Coin Ionia, Erythrae, 550-500 BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) IONIA, ERYTHRAE c.550-500 BC EL Hecte rv quadripartite incuse obv Heracles hd. NGC AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 According to legend, the Asia Minor town of Erythrae was named owing its settlement by Erythrus the Red on a small peninsula jutting into an Aegean bay sharing the same name. The city became a melting pot of various tribes, including Cretans, Lycians, Carians, and Pamphylians. The vicinity was not only strategically important, but also abundant in wild animals and other resources such as timber and millstones; in particular, the rugged, insulated territory of the Erythraei produced excellent wheat and wine.

Erythrae was one of the twelve cities forming the Ionian League in the mid 7th century BC, about the same time that first coins appeared. These coins were made of electrum, usually with simple obverse designs such as globules, pellets, and lines, and with incuse punch on the reverse. About a century later (550-500 BC), this one-sixth stater, or Hekte, was produced in Erythrae. By this time a variety of obverse designs were being used, including depictions of animals and people. The obverse of this particular coin depicts Hercules’ head, donning a lion skin (Nemean, the fruit of his first labor). Hercules was an important deity to the Erythraie, who built him a large Temple. The people there worshipped him there fervently as the great Worm Killer (Ipoktonos) since he defeated a famous sort of worm (ips) that was ravaging the grape vines; Erythrae was reportedly the only location at the time free from this pest.

On the reverse of the coin is a quadripartite incuse, as found on northern Ionian coins of the period. This symbol may represent the sun, and was also associated with the goddess Athena, for whom the Erythraei also built a temple of worship. Indeed, it was written by Pausanias that here was “the finest possible climate.” It certainly made sense for the Erythraie to pray for both continued fertile soil and good climate, in order to safeguard production of their famous wines.

Over the millennia, invaders and natural disasters such as earthquakes ravaged the city. To date, some relics and ruins of red trachyte structures have been found, including those of an amphitheater and the podium on which stood the Temple of Athena, however, the location of the Temple of Hercules remains unknown.

Coin Details: IONIA, Erythrae, ca. 550-500 BC, EL Hekte – Third Stater (2.56 g), Lydo-Milesian standard, NGC Graded: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Head of Heracles wearing lionskin to left, Reverse: Quadripartite incuse, Reference: SNG V. Aulock 1942v.
View Coin Achaemenid Empire, 5th Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ACHAEMENID EMPIRE c.5th Century BC AV Daric spear. rv incuse punch. obv hero-king w/bow & NGC AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 The Achaemenid Empire was founded in 6th century BC by Cyrus the Great, a descendent of King Achaemenes of Persis. By various military, political, and economic machinations, Cyrus and his successors rapidly grew the Empire: within a century, it became the largest nation the world had yet seen, spanning three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe) encompassing over 3 million square miles and almost one half of the world’s population. Having such a diversity of subjugated cultures and religions, the Empire fostered a policy of tolerance, and on the Cyrus Cylinder was inscribed the earliest documented charter of human rights. Such rapid expansion was also facilitated by new infrastructures such as a postal system, complex road networks, and harmonization of ways and means.

To this end, Darius I (521-486 BC), ruler of the Achaemenid Empire at its very height, introduced this thick gold coin, which he named after himself. Known for their standardized weights of about 8.4 g and high gold purity of over 95%, the daric was intended to be the common currency. This coin bears the image of a great Persian warrior (probably promoting Darius himself) armed with a bow and spear, in a half kneeling, half running position.

A plethora of coins were required for bribes, military exploits, and ambitious civil projects in support
of the Empire, requiring a heavy tax burden on its constituents. As the Empire and its wealth grew, so did the difficulty in sustaining it. Local governments were delegated more powers, thus weakening central authority, and there were internal succession struggles within the Achaemenid dynasty. Most importantly, there was a juggernaut coming from the west: Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army. By 330 BC, after battles lasting a period measured in years, an Empire that flourished for two centuries was brought to military defeat. Alexander, who admired and was influenced by Cyrus, found vast stores of darics and promptly had them all melted down – probably by the millions - and had them reforged into coins of his own designs. The only surviving coins were those hidden in hoards and then latter uncovered. Thus, what was once destined a universal currency has instead become a numismatic rarity.

Coin Details: ACHAEMEDIN EMPIRE, c. 5th Century BC, AV Daric (8.33 g), NGC Graded: AU*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Persian king or hero in kneeling-running stance right, holding spear and bow, Reverse: Incuse punch, Reference: Carradice Type IIIb, group A/B (pl. XIII, 27), BMC Arabia pl. XXIV, 26.
View Coin Macedon, Acanthus, 5th-4th Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) MACEDON, ACANTHUS 5th-4th Centuries BC AR Tetrobol rv shallow incuse obv bull forepart NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Acanthus (or Akanthos) was an ancient city in Macedonia, Greece, located on the Athos peninsula. The city earned its name from the thorny bush with ornate leaves found abundantly in the area. The main use of the plant by the Greeks (and later, the Romans) was ornamental. Carvings depicting acanthus leaves can be found on columns dating back to at least to mid 5th century BC.

This coin was minted in Acanthus sometime in 5th to 4th century BC. The obverse is a portrayal of bull pointed forward, its head turned backwards to its right, kneeling, with the front legs folded to its left. The design is a marvelous employment of space filling the flan, leaving just enough room for a “PE” mint mark above the bull’s head. Like the shallow incuse grid on the verso, the exact meaning of the mark remains unknown.

This kneeling bull design is widely interpreted as portraying a sacrifice. Many ancient cultures sacrificed these animals for worship (and presumably also for food). The Greeks were no different: bulls had many associations with gods such as Hera and Dionysus, and, of course, there was also the famous Cretan Bull that grappled with Hercules, and later Theseus. No wonder the bull was a popular design on ancient Greek coinage.

Ancient communities commonly carried out bull (and other animal) sacrifices. These religious, social, and culinary events were also opportunities for trade, and it has even been proposed that striking of coins was linked to such gatherings. Perhaps, in this case, the kneeling bull design was meant to commemorate the doomed beast.

Coin Details: MACEDON, ACANTHUS, 5th-4th Century BC, AR Tetrabol (2.35 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Forepart of kneeling bull left, head looking back, Reverse: reverse shallow quadripartite incuse square, References: SGCV I 1369; SNG ANS 44 - 46; BMC Macedonia p. 153, 6 var; SNG Cop 16 var.
View Coin Bosporus, Panticapaeum, 4th Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) BOSPORUS,PANTICAPAEUM 4th Century BC AE20 rv griffin forepart; fish obv Pan or Silenus(?) NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 The Bosporan Kingdom, or Cimmerian Bosporus, was named after the strait connecting the northern coastal Black Sea to the smaller Sea of Azov. The capital, Panticapaeum, was founded on the western side (modern-day Kerch, Crimea) by Milesians sometime around late 7th or early 6th century BC. The city held a strategic position as boundary between the Hellenistic world and the Pontic-Caspian steppe. As such, it was a prosperous trading port, with goods ranging from fish and wheat to slaves.

This coin was minted in Panticapaeum at the end of the 4th century BC, during the ruling period of the Sparocid dynasty. Depicted on the coins are several symbols commonly associated with the city. For example, the coin’s reverse displays the forepart of a griffin (a chimerical creature with the front of an eagle and the back of a lion) and underneath it a fish (resembling a sturgeon, which was common in Cimmerian waters at the time).

The obverse wonderfully depicts a wreathed and bearded satyr, presumably the local favorite deity, Pan. According to Hellenistic mythology, Pan, “to pasture” in Greek, is god of the wilds, ruling over shepherds and flocks, and is associated with hunting and rustic music. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat (note the latter on the coin). Pan is connected to fertility, the season of spring, and chasing after nymphs. Notable was the lecherous pursuit of the lovely water-nymph Syrinx who, to escape from Pan’s importunities, had herself turned into a reed. Pan, not sure which one of them was his former flame, took several reeds and joined them together, forming his famous flute.

Several centuries after this coin was minted, King Mithridates VI would absorb Pantincapeaum into his Pontic kingdom. Given the city’s strategic location, this would not be its last affiliation change, as it fell under domain of the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and later, the Russian Empire. Even today, the sovereignty and control of the Crimean peninsula is subject of ongoing dispute.

Coin Details: Cimmerian Bosporos, Panticapaeum, circa 310-304/3 BC, AE (20 mm, 6.33g, 11h), NGC Grade: Ch AU*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Wreathed and bearded head of satyr right, Reverse: Forepart of griffin left, fish below left, References: MacDonald 69; HGC 6, 113; SNG Black Sea 869-871.
View Coin Mysia, Parion, 4th Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) MYSIA, PARIUM 4th Century BC AR Hemidrachm rv bull stg. obv Gorgoneion NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Further comments are pending some research.

Coin Details: MYSIA, Parion, 4th Centry BC, AR Hemidrachm (13 mm, 2.48 g, 6h), NGC Grade: MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Bull standing left, head right, PI underneath, Reverse: Gorgoneion, Reference: SNG France 1356-7.
View Coin Thessaly, Larissa, 4th Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) THESSALY, LARISSA 4th Century BC AR Drachm rv horse about to roll obv nymph Larissa NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 The city of Larissa lies in the heart of Thessaly, a Grecian territory on the Aegean Sea, south of Macedon. Various peoples lived off the fertile soils in this region, dating back to at least Neolithic times. Thessaly supplied agricultural goods throughout Greece and the rest of the Mediterranian world (and still does today). In particular, Thessaly was famous for its prized horses and cavalry that fought in ancient battles such as the Greco-Persian and Peloponnesian wars in 5th century BC.

By early 4th century BC, Thessaly had reached the peak of its influence, after being unified under Jason of Pherae. However, Jason was assassinated in 370 BC, and after a series of internal and external struggles, it was Philip II of Macedon who would take the territory under his wing, being declared Archon by the Thessalians.

Around that time, Larissa produced coins of exquisite beauty, such as this drachm accorded a “Fine Style” designation by NGC. The obverse depicts the expressive head of Larissa herself, former daughter of primordial kings who drowned in the river Peneios and was reborn as a water nymph. On the reverse is one of Thessaly’s famous horses, crouching in a dramatic pose, as if about to roll.

This particular die variety, with a thorny plant growing from the ground between the horse’s legs, was probably minted after Philip II won the Battle of Chaerone, with the subsequent formation of the Hellenic League, unifying Greece for the first time. Not surprisingly, a major factor in the victory was the charge of the Thessalian cavalry, led by Philip’s 18 year old son and successor, Alexander.

Coin Details: THESSALY, LARISSA, 4th Century BC, AR Drachm (6.10 g), Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Fine Style, Obverse: Head of nymph Larisssa, three quarters left, Reverse: Horse crouching right, ready to roll, thorny plant below, AAPE above, AKON in exergue, Reference: CC Lorber “A hoard of facing head Larissa Drachms,” Coin 61 (Plate 5).
View Coin Moesia, Istrus, 4th Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) MOESIA, ISTRUS 4th Century BC AR Drachm rv sea-eagle on dolphin obv inverted heads NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Moesia was an ancient land comprising parts of present-day Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania. A dominant feature of the land was the mighty Danube river, and where it flowed into Pontus Euxinus, the Black Sea, lies the city of Istrus, founded by Milesean settlers in 7th century BC.

Istrus and other major Black Sea coastal cities produced coinage employing the dramatic motif of an eagle perched atop the back of a dolphin, as shown on the reverse of this 4th century BC drachm. The significance of this particular design, which was probably innovated by coastal Paphlagonians, has been debated (for comparison and more comments, see the Sinope AR drachm in this set).

The obverse design of this coin is also striking: two identical young male heads facing forwards, inverted with respect to one another. Like the reverse design, the meaning is mysterious, its likewise has been subject of much speculation. Among the many theories proposed are that the young men represent two branches of the Danube, or epitomize the rising and setting sun, or perhaps are a clever solution allowing rapid coin identification from any angle (since there is no “right” side up). For certain, the design is unique, so much so that there are no similar examples in all of iconography. Whatever the inspiration was, it was probably a powerful one.

In 434 BC, Istrus was host to a nearly total solar eclipse, featuring an upside-down reversal of a horned, partially eclipsed sun. Three years later during the Peloponnesian War, there was another nearly total solar eclipse, presenting a similarly reversing, horned sun. On average at a given location, such an event occurs perhaps once per century; two instances in three years was extraordinary. Perhaps then the heads represent the sun-god Apollo, and their inversion was inspired by the eclipse(s).

Minting and circulation of coins with the inverted head design at Istrus continued for another century, and in 337 BC the city experienced yet another eclipse, this time an even more dramatic and total one. By this time, Istrus was declining in influence and, potential messaging from Apollo aside, soon thereafter ceased using the double inverted heads figure. Even so, the eagle-on-dolphin motif would continue, and later be incorporated into Roman coinage until at least mid-3rd century AD, perhaps the longest run of any ancient numismatic design.

Additional Reading: "The double heads of Istrus: the oldest eclipse on a coin?" W C Saslaw and P Murdin, J Hist Astro 36: 21-27, 2005.

Coin Details: MOESIA, ISTRUS, 4th Century BC, AR Drachm (5.70 g, 17 mm), NGC Grade: MS *, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Facing male heads, the left inverted, Reverse: Eagle left, grasping dolphin with talons, A below, References: AMNG I/1, 435; SNG BM Black Sea 240.
View Coin Cilicia, Tarsus, 361-328 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) CILICIA, TARSUS Mazaeus, c.361-328 BC AR Stater rv lion attacks bull obv Ba'al of Tarsus std. NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 The ancient land of Cilicia, situated in southeastern Asia Minor, was bordered by the Mediterranean to the south, the Taurus Mountains to the west and north, and the Amanus Mountains to the east. Through the Taurus range there was a pass, known in ancient times as the Cilician Gates, providing a connection to Cappadocia. Several other passes to the east provided access to Syria and Mesopotamia. Strategically located in between were fertile plains dominated by the rivers Pyramis, Sarus, and Cydnus, and along the shores of latter was located the capital city of Tarsus.

Cilicia was settled by various tribes dating back at least to Neolithic times. In 6th century BC, the region was conquered by Cyrus the Great, and Cilicia became a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire. The Cilician and Syrian Gates subsequently were integrated into an ancient system of interconnected roads, with an arterial passage known as the Royal Road. The Royal Road stretched almost 1700 miles from one end of the Achaemenid Empire to the other (Susa to Sardis). Persian couriers could traverse it in ninety days, and were praised by Herodotus: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

During this period as part of the Achaemenid Empire, the satrapy of Cilicia had its own local ruler, or satrap (governor). In mid 4th century BC, the satrap of Cilicia was Mazaeus (c. 385-328 BC), and this coin, a stater was minted in Tarsus during his reign, probably between 361 and 334 BC.

The obverse of this coin depicts Baal the God of Tarsus (with many alternate spellings including Baaltars) with the Aramaic legend BALTRZ. Baal is sitting on a throne, with his body to the left and his gaze directly ahead. In his left hand is a scepter, with a lotus flower at its end, and in his right hand he hold a bunch of grapes and a corn ear, not to mention a perched eagle. This imagery reflects Baal’s many attributes, including associations with fertility, agriculture, and the sky. Baal was a supreme God, and his Greek counterpart was Zeus. It is speculated that Mazaeus’ Baal obverse design was the model for the Zeus reverse employed and widely circulated under Alexander the Great and his successors.

The verso of this coin depicts the dramatic scheme of a lion ferociously pouncing on the back of a bull. The bull is kneeling, and the lion is in the process of taking a vicious bite. The imagery of lion battling/defeating a bull was prevalent in ancient Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, including on coinage. For example, the motif was employed on coins minted by Lydian King Croesus around mid 6th-century BC. There are various hypotheses regarding the design’s meaning, and it may be that more than one was intended. One theory is that the lion symbolizes summer, which defeats the bull, a symbol of winter. Another view is that the lion symbolizes Baal and the kneeling bull symbolizes Zeus; in this case, conveying the message to the Greeks that our God is powerful than yours. Whatever the minter’s intent, the lion-bull iconography is impressive and makes a profound impact on the viewer.

Divine rivalries aside, the relative potency of the Greek army, led by Alexander the Great, was soon to be proven against the Achaemenid forces led by King Darius III. In a series of battles, the Persians were beaten and forced to withdraw, including Mazaeus who fled to Babylon. In order to prevent the total destruction of the city, Mazaeus and the Persians surrendered it to Alexander in 331 AD without a fight. The great conqueror gained not only the city, but also the beautiful Persian Princess Barsine - Mazaeus’ betrothed - who became Alexander’s second wife. In reciprocation, Mazaeus was made the governor of Babylon, one of the world’s largest cities at the time, a post he held until his death in 328 AD.

Coin Details: CILICIA, TARSUS, Mazaeus, c. 361-328 BC, AR Stater (11.03 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Baal of Tarsos enthroned left holding eagle, corn ear and bunch of grapes in right hand and lotus tipped scepter in left, BALTRZ in Aramaic, Reverse: Lion left attacking with its teeth and claws, on the back of bull kneeling left, monogram, References: Sear Greek 5654-5655); SNG Levante 106var.
View Coin Paphlagonia, Sinope, Late 4th Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) PAPHLAGONIA, SINOPE late 4th Century BC AR Drachm nymph/eagle on dolphin reduced weight standard NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 Paphlagonia, in northern Asia Minor, stretches from the Pontic mountains down to the Black Sea. With rugged mountainous, fertile valleys, and rich fisheries, this diverse territory was named after its legendary founder Paphlagonus, descendant of Phoenician kings. Around 630 BC, Miletian settlers arrived, and established the coastal city of Sinope. The region was considered an ungovernable barbaricum; despite being conquered over the next several centuries by Lydians, Persian, then Macedonians, it was to retain relative autonomy, including minting of its own style coinage.

The Paphlagonians developed an unusual and dramatic design for their coins: an eagle perched atop the back of a dolphin, as on the reverse of this coin from the late 4th century BC. The significance of this design is forgotten. Perhaps the dolphin represents the sea-god, Poseidon, and the eagle symbolizes the mountain-born sky-god, Zeus, thus reflecting Sinope’s sea to sky environs. Compared to earlier coins, wherein the eagle-dolphin design was on the obverse, with an incuse punch on the reverse, this coin has the motif on the reverse side, with the obverse bearing a portrait of the nymph Sinope herself. These coins were produced under a series of magistrates, whose names appear behind the eagle’s outstretched wings, and such numismatic designs reflect an artistic and independent spirit.

About a century and a half after this coin was minted, Mithradates VI Eupator took Sinope - his birthplace - and made it the capital of his Pontic Kingdom. The next century, the city was at its heyday, until it (along with the rest of Eupator’s realm) was conquered by the Romans. Although Sinope continued to be a prosperous colony, it never recovered its former importance.

Coin Details: PAPHLAGONIA, SINOPE. Late 4th century BC, AR Drachm (5.06 g). Agreos, magistrate, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Head of nymph left, hair in sakkos, wearing triple-pendant earring and pearl necklace, Reverse: Sea-eagle standing left, wings spread, on dolphin left; AGPE[OS] above, SINO below. References: RG 25; HGC 7, 399; SNG BM Black Sea 1481–2; SNG von Aulock 6847–9 var. (magistrate); SNG Copenhagen 284–5 var.
View Coin Pamphylia, Aspendos, 4th-3rd Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) PAMPHYLIA, ASPENDUS c.325-250 BC AR Stater rv slinger, triskeles obv wrestlers NGC AU Strike: 3/5 Surface: 5/5 Pamphylia was the ancient name for the fertile alluvial plains in south central Anatolia. East of Lycia and west of Cilicia, this land was populated by Hittites tribes prior to the first millennium BC. Greeks arrived in the 7th century BC, and subsequently began trading with Pamphylia. One of the latter’s main ports was Aspendos, situated on the Eurymedon river, far enough from the Mediterranean Sea to have ready access, while being safe from surprise naval attacks. Among its products, the area was known for its fine sea salts. In 6th century BC, the region came under the dominion of the rich Lydian King Croesus, and subsequently, the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great. Over the next several centuries, control would change several times between the Persians and the Greeks, and later the Romans.

In 5th century BC, the Pamphylians started producing coins in Aspendos. The city’s mint was prolific in ancient times, reflecting the city’s prosperity. Their coinage often depicted wrestlers, and this motif is among the most dynamic of all ancient numismatics. This coin, a stater minted in Aspendos some time during the 4th or 3rd century BC, is an example of the style. On the obverse, two naked male wrestlers are intensely grappling, with their arms interlocked and heads pressed against each other.

At the time, Greek wrestling was the most popular organized sport in Ancient Greece. It was the first competition to be added to the Olympic games not involving a footrace, and it was part of the pentathlon. Wrestling was viewed as the ultimate test of an athlete’s raw strength and skill. The matches were sacred and the rules were strict: for example, no punching, kicking, biting, eye-gouging, or grasping of genitalia were allowed, upon pain of immediate whipping by the referee.

The exact significance of the Aspendos wrestlers is unknown. Perhaps the city was home to a famous wrestling club that boasted of a champion at the Olympic games? In any case, wrestlers appeared on Aspendos’ coinage for more than a century, suggesting some significance between the sport and the city.

On the coin’s verso is another athlete, this time a slinger advancing right, about to discharge a stone from his sling. It has been theorized that the slinger may be a pun, since the Greek word for slinger, sphendone, voices similarly to the city’s name, Aspendos. It may also be that Aspendos was generally renowned for great athletes, and slinging, like wrestling, was an Olympic sport (although competitions were usually held gymnos, or naked, and the slinger on the coin, unlike the wrestlers, is clothed).

Also present on the coin’s reverse is a triskeles, comprising three bent human legs extending from the symbol’s center. The triskeles, and ciphers similar to it, were popular numismatic elements in ancient times, for example used on the coins of Sicily. Unlike the meaning of the wrestlers and slinger, the exact significance of the triskeles in this context is known: it was the Aspendos city emblem.

Coin Details: PAMPHYLIA, ASPENDUS (ASPENDOS), 4th-3rd Century BC, AR Stater (10.83 g), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Two naked male wrestlers engaged, AK between, Reverse: Slinger advancing right, triskeles before, [EC]UFEDIIUC behind, all in linear-beaded square, Reference: SNG von Aulock 4561. SNG Copenhagen 231
View Coin Sicily, Syracuse, 317-289 BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) SICILY, SYRACUSE Agathocles, 317-289 BC AE24 rv lion pouncing; club obv diad. hd. of Heracles NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5 Agathocles (361 – 289 BC) was born a potter’s son in Sicily. Although he dutifully learned his father’s trade, he desired to become something greater, so he purdued a military and political career, steadily rising to prominence. Along the way Agathocles banished or murdered thousands of people, and Agathocles became known as the Tyrant of Syracuse.

In late 4th century BC in what became known as the third Sicilian War, Agathocles laid siege to major cities such as Messene, Akragas, and Syracuse, breaking the terms of (an already precarious) peace treaty with the rival city and kingdom of Carthage. Although Agathocles’ tactics allowed him to create a strong army and navy, the Carthaginians counterattacked with an equally, if not more, formidable force. Things were going badly for Agathocles, and he decided to boldly sail to the African coast, bringing the battle to Carthage itself. He was successful in reprieving Syracuse, as the Carthaginians military was forced to return and defend their homeland. For a couple years, Agathocles had some successes in taking over Carthaginian lands, but failed to take the city. In the end, Carthage regained all its lands and Agathocles fled back to Sicily. Yet another truce was settled wherein Agathocles retained Syracuse and eastern Sicily for the Greeks, and the western portion of the island once again came under Carthage’s control.

This coin, a bronze litra that has remarkably survived in mint state, was produced in Syracuse in 308-307 BC under the reign of Agathocles, shortly before signing the treaty with Carthage. On the obverse is the popular figure of Heracles, wearing a tainia, a sort of headband traditionally worn by the Greeks, that later evolved into the imperial diadema. On the reverse is more imagery representing the Heracles mythology: a proudly prancing lion, with a club above and a spear below.

For almost another two decades after this coin was minted, Agathocles reigned as King of Syracuse. He focused his military exploits on Italy, rather than Carthage, and had some successes, for example taking control of some major cities to be succeeded by his son and namesake; however, the latter was slain by his nephew, who also harbored royal aspirations. Responding to the bitter feuding, Agathocles proclaimed on his deathbed that no one succeed him as king, and instead that Syracuse be restored to a democracy.

Coin Details: SICILY, SYRACUSE, Agathocles, 317-289 BC, AE24 (Litra) (23 mm, 6.60 g, 1h), struck 308-307 BC, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Heracles right, hair bound with tainia, Reverse: Lion with raised foreleg right, club above, spear in exergue, References: BAR issue 24; CNS 151 Ds 8 Rs 63; HGC 2, 1465.
View Coin Zeugitana, Carthage, 3rd Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) ZEUGITANA, CARTHAGE c.400-350 BC AE15 rv horse stg.; palm tree Sicilian mint. obv Tanit. NGC AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 In early 1st millennia BC, the Phoenicians were a major economic power, founding cities across the Mediterranean. One notable tale is that of legendary Queen Dido, exiled from the capital, Tyre. Around early 8th century BC, her expedition landed in modern-day coastal Libya. Desiring to purchase the site, Dido made an offer, and the king agreed, but only conceding as much land as she could cover with a bull’s hide. Dido selected a large bull, and with her thrifty colleagues excised the hide so thinly they managed 120 acres, which became the city of Carthage.

Carthage became an increasingly important port for Phoenician traders. In late 4th century BC, Tyrians came in droves to the city, fleeing the rampage of Alexander the Great, and bringing their wealth with them. The city expanded rapidly, with help from tributes and slaves extracted from the surrounding areas. More territories came under the influence of the “shining city,” and it became renowned for elaborate palaces, tall towers, and two immense, artificial harbors, one for its massive navy, the other for mercantile vessels. At its height, the Carthaginian Empire ruled the Punic world, comprising hundreds of cities along the western Mediterranean.

Carthage's arch rival was the mighty city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. The two cities fought many battles over the centuries. In 409 BC, the Carthaginians occupied Syracuse, and copied their art of minting artistic coins. This coin is one such example, dating from either the 4th or perhaps 3rd century BC. The obverse depicts the popular figure of Tanit who, along with her consort Ba'al Hammon, were Carthage's key deities, ruling over sun, stars, and moon. On the reverse is another fantastic and characteristic Carthaginian motif, that of a horse standing in front of a palm tree. This image became synonymous with Carthage itself.

The motivation for Carthage to minting coins initially may have been to defray the mercenary cost of holding and further expanding her new territories. In that regard, Carthage was successful for a while, having severely weakened her rival. However, a new and even more powerful foe, namely Rome, was on the rise, and to be grappled with. In the end, Carthage was utterly destroyed, including most of its literature, art, and material culture, and the lands transformed into the important Roman province of Zeugitana. Of Carthage, all that survived was the histories of the victors (unflattering and, no doubt, highly biased), and, fortunately, the artistry of their beautiful coinage.

Further Reading: "Carthaginians borrowed Silician coin designs," J. Illingworth, NGC Ancients 10/16/2012.

Coin Details: ZEUGITANA, CARTHAGE, 400-350 BC, AE 15 (15 mm, 2.59 g, 11h), NGC Grade: AU*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Wreathed head of Tanit left, Reverse: Horse standing right before palm tree, Reference: MAA 18; SNG Copenhagen 109-113.
View Coin Euboea, Histiaea, 3rd-2nd Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) ISL. OF EUBOEA, HISTIAEA c.3rd-2nd Centuries BC AR Tetrobol rv Nymph on stern of ship obv Nymph or Maenad NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Euboea, second largest of the Greek islands (after Crete), earned its name in ancient times as the “land of the well-fed oxen.” Although the geography varies from the mountainous center to the relatively barren south, the northern region of the island comprises vast fertile plains, described by Homer as “rich in vines.” At the Euripus Strait - famous for extremely rapid tidal flows and vortex formations – the island lies only a mere 160 m away from Boeotia, mainland Greece. Overlooking this strategic spot was situated the ancient city of Histiaea.

Much of Histiaean history involves conflict with and among her Grecian neighbors. In mid 5th-century BC, the city was conquered by Athenians, who expelled the inhabitants and rebuilt a colony nearby, naming it Oreus. Following the Peloponnesian War, the Histiaeans reclaimed and re-established their city (which thereafter was known by both names). Afterwards, control vacillated between Sparta and Athens, and for a period of time, the city was even part of an Euboean League. In mid 4th century BC, Philip II and Macedonia took control of the region. Some decades later, Histiaea managed to shake off Macedonian rule and expel the ruling tyrant at the time, Philiarides.

In 313 BC, Histiaea, along with several other Euboean cities, declared themselves independent. This freedom only lasted a few decades; in the meantime, Histiaea celebrated her independence and produced exquisite coins, such as this tetrobol.

On the obverse is the bust of a beautiful female figure wearing an elaborate wreath comprised of vines and grapes. She is usually interpreted as the Nymph Histiaea, the city’s local goddess. An alternative and not necessarily contradictory view is that she is a Maenad, one the female followers of the wine-god Dionysus. The reverse of the coin also features a female figure (probably the same one as on the front), elegantly seated on the winged prow of a warship. She is holding a naval standard (another possibility is that it is a Maenad’s thyrsus). Under the ship is a curious geometric pattern, attributed as an aphlaston (also called an aplustre). The aphlaston was an important component of ancient Greek warships. A fan-shaped ornament, spreading off from the stern, it was typically crafted in the form of bird feathers or multiple beaks facing inward. It was a characteristic feature of warships at the time, and was thought to impart magical powers of protection (considering the treacherous Euripus currents, any help would be appreciated).

No doubt the gifted Histiaean engraver’s intent was to highlight the city’s importance as a commercial and naval port. It is also conjectured that this coin was commemorating the banishment of the tyrant Philiarides from the island. In any case, the design is striking, and particularly well-executed on this coin, which received a Fine Style designation.

Coin Details: ISLE OF EUBOEA, HISTIAEA, c. 3rd – 2nd cent. BC, AR Tetrabol (15 mm, 2.33 g, 10h), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Fine Style, Obverse: Head of Nymph Histiaea (or Maenad), right, wearing wreath of vines and grapes, Reverse: Nymph or Maenad seated right on prow, holding naval standard, wing on prow, aphlaston below, Referece: BCD Euboia 404 var. (entire ethnic in left field).
View Coin Kingdom of Macedon, 179-168 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGDOM OF MACEDON Perseus, 179-168 BC AR Drachm obv Helios. rv rose. Greek mercenaries issue NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Following the reign of Philip II, and conquests of his son Alexander the Great, the Greek Kingdom of Macedon became the most powerful state in the world. Afterwards, Macedon was governed by various royal lineages, the last of which was descended from Alexander’s general Antigonus I Monophthalmus (the “One-eyed”). Antigonus’ great-great grandson Philip V, trying to stem the Roman tide, sent his son Demetrius to be his ambassador. Unfortunately for Demetrius, his growing Roman sympathies led to his execution at the hands of his own family, and it was his brother Perseus who would ascend to the throne in 179 BC upon Philip’s death.

This drachm, minted towards the end of Perseus’ reign, is not the typical Macedonian issue. Although attributed to Macedon, it was probably minted to the south, in Thessaly, and is modeled after the coins of Rhodes: the obverse depicts the head of sun-god Helios facing slightly right, his hair flowing in the wind, and on the reverse is a flower, allusive to the name of the island, from the Greek word rhodon, signifying a rose. Indeed, these coins were specifically produced to entice the infamous Cretan mercenaries, who were familiar with Rhodes’ coinage, to join Perseus against the Romans in the Third Macedonia War. Thousands of Cretans enlisted in Perseus’ troops, and 500 of them were his personal bodyguards.

Mercenaries notwithstanding, the Greeks could not match the up and coming Romans: at the Battle of Pydnos in 168 BC, Perseus was defeated, and spent the rest of his life in a Roman prison. Although probably minted by the thousands, Perseus’ mercenary drachms were melted in the aftermath, thus they are relatively rare today. The Antogone dynasty, and Macedonia as an independent Greek realm, had come to an end.

Coin Details: KINGDOM of MACEDON, Perseus, 179-168 BC, AR Drachm (2.60 g), Third Macedonian War, Greek mercenaries issue, Uncertain mint in Thessaly, Hermias magistrate, struck circa 171/0 BC, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: head of Helios facing slightly right, Reverse: rose with bud to right, EPMIAS above, Z-O flanking stem. References: Price, Larissa, pl. LV, 247; SNG Keckman 795; Moratta “The Pseudo-Rhodian Drachmas.”
View Coin Bactria, Menander, 165/55-130 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) BACTRIA, INDO-GREEKS Menander, c.165/55-130 BC AR Drachm rv Athena advancing obv helmeted bust NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5 Menander I Soter (c. 160-130 BC), “Menander the Savior” was ruler over the Indo-Greek Kingdom in mid 2nd century BC. Initially, Menander’s Empire consisted of the eastern portion of Bactria, and over several decades he expanded his territories far into east and south of the Indian subcontinent, conquering a large number of different tribes. He also repelled Greco-Bactrian attacks from the west, thereby consolidating the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Menander is one of the few Bactrian kings mentioned in surviving Greek literature, wherein he is described as even more formidable than Alexander the Great (and that is saying something).

The is also numismatic evidence of Menander’s conquests. Large numbers of his coins have been unearthed, not only over former Indo-Greek territories, but also in far away lands, such as Britain. These caches attest to a flourishing commerce that existed during Menander’s reign.

This particular coin, minted probably between 160 and 145 BC, shows the bust of Menander himself, and the Greek epithet BASILEWS SWTHEROS MENANDROU or “Menander King and Savior.” On the verso is Athena Alkidemos striding left, brandishing a thunderbolt in right hand and holding a shield on her left arm. The epithet here is in Kharosthi (an ancient script used in South Asia, for example to write the Sanskrit language) and translates the same as the obverse. Menander is clearly drawing an analogy between himself and Athena Alkidemos, who was also revered as defender, or alternatively, savior of the people. The depiction mimicked famous statue in Pella (capital of Macedon), and perhaps was a statement about Menander’s resolve to defend his Empire against aggressors.

During his conquests over the Indian subcontinent, Menander became exposed to the teaching of Gautama Buddha, a great sage who lived in eastern India several centuries previously. Menander became an patron, and his conversations with the Buddhist sage Nagasena were recorded in the ancient Buddist text, the “Questions of Milinda (Menander).”

After Menander’s death in 130 BC, his Indo-Greek Kingdom waned over the next century. Although the territories faded, the awareness of Buddhism - also adopted by Menander’s successors - proliferated, as evidenced by statues and coins across the realm. Following in the way of Buddha, Menander’s ashes were divided amongst many of his cities and enshrined in monuments across his realm.

Additional Reading: Questions of King Milinda (Various English translations exist, for example TW Rhys Davids’ of the late 19th century).

Coin Details: BACTRIA, INDO-GREEK, Menander, c. 165/55-130 BC, AR Drachm (2.43 g), Minted 160-145 BC, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Helmeted, draped bust right, BASILEWS SWTHEROS MENANDROU, Reverse: Athena Alkidemos advancing left, holding shield on left arm and brandishing thunderbolt, Karosthi legend MAHARAJA TRATASA MENADRASA, PA monogram in right field, References: Sear Greek 7601; BMC 8; Whitehead 423.
View Coin Phrygia, Apameia, c. 166-133 BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) PHRYGIA, APAMEIA c.166-133 BC AR Cistophorus rv bow case, two snakes obv Cista Mystica, wreath NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 In early first millennia BC, the ancient kingdom of Phrygia dominated Asia Minor. Its prosperous cities included Midas, founded by fabled Phyrgian royalty of the same name. In late 4th century BC, these lands were conquered by Alexander the Great, who placed them under dominion of his general, Seleucus I Nicator. Seleucus married the Persian princess Apama, and in her honor was named the Seleucid seat of power, Apamea.

After a series of wars with the Roman Republic, the Seleucids signed the Treaty of Apamea in 188 BC, wherein they conceded their western lands to Rome’s ally, Pergamon. Shortly thereafter, Pergamon introduced their own new coin, the cistophorus, to distinguish from and substitute for Seleucid ones, and to trade with Rome (at the rate of one per three denarii).

The current coin, a beautiful mint state example of the style, was produced in the city of Apamea while Phrygia was under Pergamon control. The coin’s name is derived from the cista mystica, a knitted basket that was used to hold snakes, in particular for indoctrination ceremonies into the cult of Dionysus, Greek god of grapes, wine and its making, and all around ritualistic religious revelry. Ever since granting Midas his Touch, Dionysus was an important god to the Phrygian and Pergamon peoples, who built him a great theater and temple.

In 133 BC, when Pergamon’s King Attalus III died without an heir, his lands were bequeathed to Rome. The city of Apamea continued to prosper under Roman rule, and later was controlled by the Byzantines, and finally the Turks. Minting and circulation of cistophori were allowed in the region for a while, an exception to other coins which had to be produced in official mints, such as in Rome. The design devolved from its original form, increasingly incorporating Roman elements over time. Finally, the snakes disappeared, and the denomination became obsolete about a century later.

Coin Details: PHRYGIA, APAMEIA, c. 166-133 BC, AR Cistophorus (12.47 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: cista mystica, wreath, Reverse: bow in bow case, two snakes, Reference: Similar to SNGCop 147, Kleiner-Noe Series 23, but exact die match not yet found.
View Coin Aeolis, Myrina, mid 2nd Century BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) AEOLIS, MYRINA c.mid-2nd Century BC AR Tetradrachm rv Apollo stg. in wreath obv Apollo NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 According to legend, the city of Myrina was founded by the Amazon queen of the same name, and became the first settlement in the ancient region of Aeolia in northwest Asia Minor. Myrina was one of the founding twelve cities of the Aeolian League dodecapolis in 8th century BC. Over subsequent centuries, it would sequentially fall under Persian, Macedonian, Seleucid, and, at the time this coin was minted, after the Treaty of Apamea, Pergamon rule.

By mid 2nd century BC, Greek influence and culture were on the wane, and Rome was about to completely dominate the Mediterranean region. Even so, the Greeks certainly went out in style with beautiful coinage like this tetradrachm which was crafted in Myrina during this time.

This tetradrachm type is called stephanophoric, or "wreath bearer," also produced over the same period in nearby Cyme. Interestingly, these coins were produced during the time when Rome forced the Bithynians to pay enormous reparations — in silver — to the neighboring Asia Minor territories they had plundered. Perhaps this silver was used by Myrina and Cyme to produce the stephanophoric coinage as a last grasp at victory and glorification.

Regardless of the exact history behind the short-lived stephanophoric coins, their beauty is undeniable, as evidenced by this coin. On the obverse is the laureate head of god Apollo. The artistry and detail are extraordinary, particularly so on this specimen, which was given "Fine Style" designation. On the reverse, enclosed by a wreath, is the figure of Apollo, holding a laurel branch and a phiale, a Greek libation bowl, and standing before the ompalos, the "navel" or center of the world.

The coin is widely considered one the great masterpieces of Greek numismatic art, and you will remember distinctly the first time you have the privilege to hold one in your hand.

Coin Details: AEOLIS, MYRINA, c. mid-2nd Century BC, AR Tetradrachm (35 mm, 16.40 g, 12h), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Fine Style, 160-143 BC, Stephanophoric type, Obverse: Laureate head of Apollo right , Reverse: Apollo Grynios standing right, holding branch and phiale; monogram to left, omphalos and amphora at feet to right, References: Sacks Issue 29; SNG Copenhagen 222.
View Coin Mysia, Pergamum, Mid-late 2nd cent. BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) MYSIA, PERGAMUM 2nd-1st Centuries BC AE16 rv owl on palm frond obv Athena NGC Ch AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 Mysia was an ancient territory in northwest Asia Minor, bounded by water to the north (the Sea of Marmara) and west (the Aegean Sea) and land to the south (Lydia) and east (Phrygia and Bithynia). The region, more a geographic territory rather than a solidified political realm, fell under the domain of various rulers in ancient times.

In late 4th century BC, Mysia was among the lands inherited by the great general Lysimachus following the death of his leader, Alexander the Great. Lysimahcus delegated governance of the region to his trusted lieutenant, Philetaerus, who choose Pergamon (also spelled Pergamum) as the site for founding his Attalid dynasty.

Initially a fortress built atop a steel hill, the Acropolis grew over time, expanding to fill the valley below. Elaborate construction projects ensued, with the intent to impress visitors and competing cities with Pergamon’s wealth and culture. The buildings erected included temples, gymnasiums, markets, and palaces. Particularly remarkable was the Pergamon theatre, build on the steep west slope of the upper Acropolis, with a capacity of over 10,000 spectators (and the ruins are impressive to this day). In addition, a large library was raised and soon became one of the most important in the ancient world. Moreover, when the Ptolemaic Kingdom refused to export any more papyrus to Pergamon in early 2nd century BC, the reigning Attalid king, Eumenes II, ordered that a substitute be developed. The result of this ancient government-sponsored research was development of charta pergamena, otherwise known as parchment, which had a profound impact on the dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and Asia.

It was during this time, at Pergamon’s height in mid to late 2nd century BC, when this coin was struck. On the obverse is Athena, the multifaceted patron goddess of Pergamon, whose diverse associations include battle, wisdom, and handicrafts. She is donning a crested helmet, as is her wont; after all, according to myth she wore it from the day she sprang forth from Zeus, part of her attire created by her mother Metis. From underneath her helmet spills her braided hair (confirming femininity in an otherwise masculine visage). On Athena’s helmet is a star comprised of a central point and eight rays, a Pergamene adornment (not commonly found on other Hellenistic depiction of Athena’s helmet). In this context, the symbol may represent the Macedonian Star, perhaps in reference to the land of Lysimachus and Alexander. On the verso is a delightful depiction of an owl, facing forward with its wings spread, perched on a palm branch, and the epithet AQH-NAS NIKHFOROU, referring to Athena Nikephoros, or Athena bearing Nike (Victory).

The exact intent of pairing Athena with her nocturnal avian sidekick, Athene noctua, is lost to antiquity. Like Athena, the owl simultaneously projects an aura of wisdom and strength, with their large piercing eyes, extremely keen hearing, and formidable talons.

The Attalid kings, perhaps inspired by Athena and her owl, were wise rulers, known for fostering advancement and sharing of Pergamene culture and knowledge. They were also wise to align with the rising Roman Republic against Macedonia in a series of wars. The Romans prevailed, and for their efforts the Attalids gained control over many former Hellenistic domains in western Asia Minor. The last Attalid ruler, Attalus III, died heirless in 133 BC. He bequeathed Pergamon back to Rome, preventing civil war and ensuring his realm’s continued prosperity since it became the new capital of the Roman province of Asia.

Coin Details: MYSIA, PERGAMUM, 2nd-1st Centuries BC, AE16 (2.98 g, 16 mm, 12h), Mid-late 2nd Century BC, NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Athena right, star on helmet, Reverse: Owl, with wings spread, standing facing, on palm branch, AQHNAS NIKHFOROU, Reference: SNG Copenhagen 383.
View Coin Seleucid Kingdom, 138-129 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) SELEUCID KINGDOM Antiochus VII, 138-129 BC AR Tetradrachm rv eagle on prow Tyre. Yr.182 (131/0 BC). NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Early in the first millennium BC, the ancient marine city of Tyre was the flourishing center of the Phoenician world. Over the centuries, numerous enemies laid siege to its formidable150-ft walls. Perhaps most famous was the campaign of Alexander the Great, who toiled for an unprecedented seven months with heavy losses to take the city. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his conquered territories were divided amongst his generals, and Tyre came under the domain of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. In the early 2nd century BC, after a series of wars, the city came under the rule of Antioch III the Great and his Seleucid kingdom.

This coin was minted in Tyre three generations later, when the Seleucids were ruled by Antiochus VII (c. 159 – 129 AD). In 132 AD, he laid siege to Jerusalem, and, either via battle or peace treaty, was victorious; his respectful treatment of Jews afterwards earned him the nickname Euergetes, the benefactor.

This Antiochus VII tetradrachm is an example of the eagle reverse variety, also called a Shekel, and was produced specifically for commerce with the east. Another version of the coin was also produced, with Athena holding Nike on the reverse, for dealings with the west (e.g., Greeks).

Euergetes spent his final years trying to reclaim territories lost to Mithridates I and the Parthians. His Seleucid forces, including Judean mercenaries, were successfully initially, but ultimately defeated. Euergetes was either killed by his enemies, or committed suicide to avoid capture. The last important Seleucid king and last great Seleucid army had come to their end.

Coin Details: SELEUCID KINGDOM, Antiochus VII, 138-129 BC, AR Tetradrachm (14.03 g), Tyre, minted 131-130 BC (year 182), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: diademed head right, Reverse: eagle standing on prow, BASILEWS ANTIOCOU, A over RE at upper left above Tyre monogram and club, A vS over BPR in upper right field, GHR monogram between the eagle's legs, References: BMC 11; SC 2109; Hoover 1074.
View Coin Roman Republic, 137 BC ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC S.Pomp. Fostlus, c.137 BC AR Denarius she-wolf, twins; fig tree obv Roma. rv shepherd w/ NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 According to ancient mythology, the Trojan prince Paris presided as judge over which goddess was fairest: Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite. To aid the decision process, each deity paraded nude before him – inviting centuries of artistic interpretation – and offered the choice of an enticing bribe: world domination (Hera), military prowess (Athena), or the world’s most beautiful woman (Aphrodite). Paris chose the latter, missing his chance to defy fate and declare a draw. However, as always there was a catch. The most beautiful woman, namely Helen, was married to the King of Sparta. No matter, Aphrodite helped Paris to win Helen and whisk her away to Troy, earning the wrath of the Spartans and their fellow Greeks (who roused a thousand ship fleet in response), not to mention Hera and Athena. The ensuing Trojan War, the subject of Homer’s 8th century BC epic, The Iliad, involved the intrepid machinations of many mortals and deities, and, ultimately, the city’s destruction.

Though his city burned about him, the heroic Aeneas managed to escape, as told by Virgil in The Aeneid, written during Augustus’ time. This highly popular work served as important propaganda for the new Emperor who, through his adoptive father Julius Caesar, claimed descent from the hero who eventually settled Italy, leading to Rome’s founding. Along the way, Aeneas dealt with storms and mythical monsters. Among his many stopovers was Carthage, wherein he left the love-struck Queen Dido despairing to the point she committed suicide. Following these adventures, Aeneas finally arrived at the shores of Italy.

Fourteen generations later, the mythos finally turns to the subject of the twin sons born of Ilia, the niece of usurper Amulius, and daughter of the deposed and imprisoned rightful ruler, King Numitor. To secure his dynasty (or so he thought), Amulius ordered that Ilia join the Vestal Virgins, vowing chastity upon fear of death by live burial. Even so, Ilia succumbed to Mars’ seduction, and the fate of the resulting infants fell into Amulius’ hands. The latter reasoned that killing the pair by his hand might incur the god's wrath. Instead, he planned an overly elaborate and exotic death by natural elements, placing the twins in a basket set afloat in the river Tiber. As it turned out, the situation was easily escapable. Owing to divine guidance, the basket landed safely downstream entangled by a fig tree’s roots. A she-wolf turned up to suckle the twins, which, along with a woodpecker’s beak-feeding, kept the pair alive. Later, the shepherd Faustulus arrived and adopted the boys, naming them Romulus and Remus.

When the brothers came of age, they settled the score against Amulius, restoring their grandfather’s rule. Not satisfied with this success, Romulus and Remus decided to found their own realm on the hilly lands they washed ashore as infants. Romulus started building atop Palantine Hill. Remus preferred Aventine Hill, and mocked his brother’s progress. In a fit of rage, Romulus killed his brother, and then finished building the city, naming it after himself. Afterwards, Romulus expanded his city (there were several more hills to occupy), and added an organization of advisory elders and an elite guard, precursors to the Senate and the Praetorian Guard, respectively. Eventually, Romulus’ reign came to an end when he mysteriously disappeared, probably the casualty of a disaffected Senate.

The various themes woven within the fable of Romulus and Remus – the rise and fall of a usurper, exacting revenge (even decades afterwards), and even murdering one’s own kin – comprise different facets of the Roman psyche. A myriad of alternate, related mythologies exist, most comprising similar elements and suggesting Rome’s founding in mid 8th century BC.

The spirit of Rome was also personified, or rather deified, as Roma. Over time, Roma’s priesthood grew. Only males served such a role, reflecting Rome’s virility. Eventually, Roma evolved to embody the entire Roman state.

Romulus, Remus, and Roma were popular icons among ancient Romans, as evidenced by this denarius, struck around 137 BC in the Roman Republic. The moneyer’s name was Sextus Pompeius Fostlus, who leveraged the opportunity to promote his clan’s claim of descent from Faustulus. The obverse depicts the helmeted head of Roma, to her right the mark of value (X), and to her left the religious symbol of a jug. The reverse depicts all the crucial elements of Rome’s founding myth: the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus; a fig tree, whose roots snagged the twins’ basket ashore; two birds, one vertically perched upon the tree trunk, consistent with a woodpecker’s zygodactyl feet; and the arrival of Faustulus. The entire scene is encircled within the inscription of the moneyer’s name above and ROMA below.

The coin’s design is a marvel of organization and advertising, additional themes consistent with the spirit of ancient Rome.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, Sextus Pompeius Fostlus, 137 BC, AR Denarius (3.90 g, 19 mm), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma right, jug to left, X (value mark) to right; Reverse: She-wolf standing right, head left, suckling Romulus and Remus, fig tree with birds behind, SEX. PO-F OSTLVS, ROMA in exergue, References: Crawford 235/1c; Sydenham 461a; Pompeia 1a.
View Coin Thessalian League, Late 2nd-1st cent. BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) THESSALIAN LEAGUE 2nd-1st Centuries BC AR Double-Victoriatus rv Athena Itonia obv Zeus NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 In late 6th century BC northern Greece, several Thessalian communities formed a loose confederacy. For a century or so, their League dominated the region. However, over time it faded, suffering from internal rivalries and wars amongst neighbors. By the reign of Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great, Thessaly was under the control of Macedonia.

In early 2nd century BC, the Romans defeated Macedonia, and the victorious general Quinctius Flamininus declared that those Greek areas formerly under Macedonian control (including Thessaly) were now free. Moreover, Flamininus re-established the Thessalian League along the pre-Macedonian borders and then some; this new version was granted autonomy, including minting of its own coinage.

The coins of the new and improved Thessalian League all bore the ethnic epithet, along with the responsible magistrates' names, and were likely minted at Larissa, the League’s capital. This particular stater, also equivalent to the Roman Republic denomination of a double victoriatus, was a classic issue of the Thessalian League. It was produced in late 2nd to mid 1st century BC under the magistrates of Amynandros and Xenophantos. For its high quality workmanship, this coin received a Fine Style designation. The obverse depicts the head of mighty Zeus, wearing an oaken wreath, and on the reverse Athena Itonia strides across the flan, hurling spear in one hand and shield in the other.

Athena Itonia was an epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, worshiped widely in Thessaly. One of Athena’s manifestations was as a war goddess; at the time there were several sanctuaries of Athena Itonia in Thessaly, which were used for manufacturing and/or dedication of weapons. This is fitting, given Athena Itonia’s accouterments on the coin’s reverse. Alternatively, Athena could also be a goddess of the arts of peace, even poetry, depending on her mood. She may have also functioned as a patron of federal political structures, and thus citizens of the Thessalian League might have viewed worshipping her as safeguarding their independence.

Even so, the Thassalian League did not last long, at least not as a truly autonomous state, and neither, unfortunately did production of her federal coinage. The design types were few, yet striking, and carried out in artistic fashion. Coins minted by the Thessalian League are relatively rare, even by ancient coin standards, and those surviving specimens, such as this one, are a late testament to Greek artistry, just prior to Roman domination of all things, including coinage.

Coin Details: THESSALIAN LEAGUE, 2nd -1st century BC, AR Double-Victoriatus / AR Stater (23 mm, 6.37 g, 1h), Amynandros and Xenophantos, magistrates, NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Fine Style, Obverse: Head of Zeus right, wearing oak wreath, Reverse: Athena Itonia striding right, hurling spear held in right hand, shield on left arm, AMYN-ANDPOY above spear, A and monogram to inner right, EENOOANTOE in exergue, References: BCD Thessaly II 834 = Klose pp. 341 and 347, 26 (this coin); Dewing 1364.
View Coin Ionia, Ephesus, after c. 133 BC ANCIENT - GREEK CIVIC (7th CENT BC - 1st CENT AD) IONIA, EPHESUS after c.133 BC AR Cistophorus under Rome, yr.3=132/1 BC Cista/bow case, snakes NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 This coin was minted in Ephesus, the ancient city once part of the Ionian League. Well, it wasn’t exactly minted there, or, rather, the city wasn't that particular Ephesus.

After the Ionian League was founded in mid-7th century BC, Ephesus and the surrounding lands would be subjugated by some of the world’s greatest military commanders: King Croesus of Lydia, Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire, and, of course, Alexander the Great of Macedon. After the latter’s death, it was his general Lysimachus’ turn to control the city.

All these great conquerors —even Alexander — paled in comparison to Ephesus’ next invader: the mosquito. The city harbor had become clogged with silt, creating marshes that bred malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Lysimachus had a brilliant solution: move the city to a nearby location. Building commenced of a brand new Ephesus, complete with streets intersecting at right angles, central squares, and marble-pillared public buildings, all enclosed by miles of ten-foot thick walls. There was also an acoustically impressive theatre carved into the side of Mount Pion with tens of thousands seating capacity.

The New Ephesus became the most densely populated Anatolian city. By the 2nd century BC, it was ruled by Pergamon. In 133 BC, when Pergamon’s King Attalus III died without an heir, he bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman Republic. This included Ephesus, which became the capital of the Asia Province.

This cistophorus was minted in Ephesus about a year later. Even though the city was now under Roman Republic rule, the Pergamon cistophori was still being used, and their production continued for some time (see comments for the Phrygia cistophorus in this set).

Ephesus was not only a principal economic hub, but also an important religious center as well. From the Temple of Artemis (listed as one of the seven wonders of the world) to the first Christian world church (dedicated to the Virgin Mary), Ephesus ecumenical tastes changed along with the times.

With such a rich history, the list of men and women who came to Ephesus reads like an ancient world’s who’s who: Alexander, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, St. Paul and the Virgin Mary, just to name a few. Today, the ruins of Ephesus represent one of the largest open-air museums in the world, and the people are still coming, only now in the form of tourists, millions of them per year.

Coin Details: IONIA, EPHESUS, after c. 133 BC, AR Cistophorus (12.69 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Cista mystica with serpent; all within ivy wreath, Reverse: Bow case with two serpents; EFE left, G at upper left, torch right, References: Kleiner-Noe Series 42b; SNG Copenhagen 317.
View Coin Pontic Kingdom, 120-63 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) PONTIC KINGDOM Mithradates VI, 120-63 BC AV Stater Alexander III/Athena Callatis. Lysimachus type NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 In early 3rd century BC, Mithradates I established rule over lands in northern Asia Minor near Pontos Euxeinos, the Black Sea. His Kingdom was comprised of Greek coastal cities to the north, abounding in fish and home to capital of Sinope, and Persian and native Anatolian communities south of the Pontic mountains, where lands were rich in natural resources such as woods, minerals, and metals.

For the next two centuries, the fertile Pontic Kingdom expanded under Mithradates’ successors, who frequently battled amongst themselves for power. During one such struggle around 120 BC, the young Mithradates VI (134-63 BC) went into hiding after his father was assassinated by poisoning. Endeavoring to avoid his father's fate, the prince spent his hiatus intentionally ingesting sub-lethal doses of various toxins, surmising that the effort would promote immunity. Satisfied with his improved tolerance, Mithradates returned to the political scene. He declared himself rightful heir to the throne, imprisoned his ruling mother and brother, and married his sister Leodice, the first of his (at least) six wives, not to mention concubines and mistresses.

Prolific in many ways - fluent in over 20 languages, and siring at least as many offspring - he earned the name Mithradates Eupator (the Great), and portrayed himself as protector of the Greek kingdoms against the barbarians of Rome. Such propaganda is consistent with this gold stater, modeled after the design of Lysimachus, a bodyguard of Alexander the Great who ruled Asia Minor in late 4th century BC. The obverse depicts the diademed head of Alexander, whose facial features resemble the Pontic King. The likeness reflects Mithradates’ claimed ancestry (the list of famous forebears spans from Cyrus the Great to the later Seleucid kings). The coin’s verso, also mimicking Lysimachus' designs, presents an enthroned Athena, holding Nike, with shield propped against her throne and spear over her shoulder. The details of both obverse and reverse reflect Hellenistic sensibilities, contrasting contemporary coins struck by the Romans.

Like Lysimachus two centuries earlier, Mithradates VI ruled not only most of Asia Minor, but also exerted influence over much of its surrounding demesnes. Inevitably, Pontus clashed with another growing superpower, i.e., the Roman Republic. For decades, Mithradates VI bitterly battled the Romans in several mighty wars, the details of which are well worth further study. In the end, the Romans were not to be denied, even if the effort drained their coffers. Finally defeated by the great Roman general Pompey the Great, the Pontic King tried to commit suicide via poison, but the effort failed due to his immunity. Mithradates was not, however, immune to the sword of his bodyguard, under orders to finish the deed.

Coin Details: PONTIC KINGDOM, Mithradates VI, 120-63 BC, AV Stater (8.34 g), Callatis, Lysimachos type, 88-86 BC, NGC Grade: Ch MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Diademed head of deified Alexander III right, Reverse: Athena enthroned left, holding Nike, shield propped against throne, transverse spear in background, HP monogram to inner left, ornamented trident in exergue, Reference: Müller 226.
View Coin Roman Republic, 111/110 BC ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC T.Ma. Mancius, 111-110 BC AR Denarius Roma/Victory in triga w/A.C.Pulcher, Q.Urbinius NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 This coin was struck in Rome during 111-110 BC. That conclusion is largely based on the initials AP. CL. T.M. QVR, found on the coin's verso in exergue, denoting three men: Appius Claudius Pulcher, T. Manlius Mancinus, and Q. Urbinius. At the time, the trio served as the Republic's moneyers, and, as such, held responsibility not only for this denarius, but all of Rome's contemporaneous coinage.

The ancient Romans defined their moneyers as tresviri auro argento aere flan do feriundo or “the three men for casting and striking of gold, silver and bronze.” The position was usually held for one year early in a Roman noble’s career, although there were exceptions. The moneyers were responsible not only for producing Roman Republican coins, but also for their design.

For this particular denarius, the moneyers chose an obverse design featuring Roma, the female deity who personified the city and state of Rome. On the reverse is winged Victory, the goddess personifying the same (in other words, the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Nike) riding a triga, or three-horse chariot.

The triga was a curious choice for the coin’s design. At the time, the biga and qudriga (i.e., two- and four-horse) were the most common chariot types, particularly at the very popular chariot races. As such, the triga was probably more appropriate for war: a notable example dating from Greek mythology was Achilles’ chariot, drawn by three horses (two of them immortal). Even so, on this coin the triga appears very small and lightweight like a racing chariot, and unlike a war version, which would be much larger and armored. Indeed, Victory appears to be balancing on the axle with very little support or protection, similar to the precarious situation of an actual chariot racer - except without the wings.

Why the moneyers decided on a triga for Victory’s conveyance is unknown. Not only was it uncommon as a racing chariot, it was also rarely depicted on Roman Republican coinage. In fact, this coin is one of only two Roman Republican issues incorporating the triga as a design element.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, Moneyers: Appius Claudius Pulcher, T. Manlius Mancinus, and Q. Urbinius, 111/110 BC, AR Denarius (3.77 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/4, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma right, quadrangular device to left, Reverse: Victory, holding reins, driving triga right, AP. CL. T.M. QVR in exergue, References: Crawford 299/1a; Sydenham 570; RSC Claudia 2; Sear 176.
View Coin Kingdom of Cappadocia, 104-102 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) SELEUCID KINGDOM Antiochus VII, 138-129 BC AR Tetradrachm Kingdom of Cappadocia posthumous issue of the NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 The obverse of this tetradrachm depicts Antiochus VII (c. 159 – 129 BC), who was ruler in the waning days of the Seleucid Empire. On the reverse, Athena, the Greek goddess of war (among other attributes) holds Nike, her divine counterpart representing victory. During Antiochus’ reign, he produced two varieties of tetradrachms, one with Athena on the reverse, such as this one, and another variety with an eagle on the verso (this other variety is included in this set).

Although Antiochus VII is decipted on the coin, he did not produce it. Instead this coin was struck posthumously (perhaps two decades later) in the Anatolian realm known as the Cappadocian Kingdom, based on the coin’s specific designs and symbols. This coin was likely struck under the Cappadocian monorch Ariarathes VII between 104 and 102 BC.

Why Ariarathes choose Antiochus’ portrait, rather than his own, it not known for certain. These coins may have been intended for Syrian mercenaries, who preferred Antiochus’ coin with the Athena reverse. If true, it would not be the first time an ancient ruler produced coins for the specific purpose of recruiting mercenary forces (for another example, see the drachm in this set stuck by Perseus of Macedon).

Additional Reading: CC Lorber and A Houghton, “Cappadocian Tetradrachms in the Name of Antiochus VII,” Numismatic Chronicle 166 (2006), pp. 49-97.

Coin Details: SELEUCID KINGDOM, Antiochus VII, 138-129 BC, AR Tetradrachm (16.44 g), Posthumous issue of the Kingdom of Cappadocia, minted 104-102 BC in Ariaratheia or Eusebia-Tyrana mint, NGC Grade: MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Diademed head right, Reverse: Athena standing left holding Nike and spear, resting on shield with aegis, monograms left, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟXΟΥ ΕΥΕΡΓΕΤΟΥ, O-Λ flanking figure. References: Newell, SMA 298; BMC 24; Spear 1873.
View Coin Seleucid Kingdom, c.95-75 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) SELEUCID KINGDOM Philip I, c.95-75 BC AR Tetradrachm rv Zeus hldg. Nike NGC AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 After the death of Alexander the Great, his conquered lands were divided among his generals, including Seleucus I Nicator. Seleucus assumed governance over the far Asian territories, founding his Seleucid Kingdom. At its height, the realm included Asia Minor and stretched eastward to northwest India.

This coin is a tetradrachm minted during the reign of Philip I, who was the 26th ruler of the Seleucid Kingdom and Seleucus’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson. By this time, the Empire was on the verge of collapse, the western borders under pressure from the Roman Republic, and the eastern borders shrinking at the advancement of the Parthians. The once mighty Kingdom was now reduced to local dynasties in Syria. Making matters worse, there was civil warring among the royal family. Philip was one of five sons born of Antiochus VIII Grypus and Cleopatra. The five brothers warred amongst themselves, and also against a second branch of the royal family descended from Antiochus VII Sidetes.

The first of the siblings to rule was Seleucus VI Epiphanes, who ruled briefly starting around 96 BC before being killed by a cousin from Sidetes’ lineage. The next two in line for the throne were Philip and his twin brother Antiochus XI Epiphanes. It appears that the two shared power, which probably seemed unusual given all the royal family feuding. In any case, Philip earned the nickname Philadelphus, or “Philip the brother-loving."

The two brothers managed to cooperate, at least until Antiochus XI was killed by a cousin from the Sidetes clan. Now it was turn for Philip’s younger brother, Demetrius III Eucaerus, to contend for the throne. Demetrius set up a separate court in Damascus and tried to dethrone Philip, who in turn enlisted help from the Parthians. The latter captured Demetrius and imprisoned him for life.

Even though Demetrius was out of the way, Philip could not sit back, relax and rule from his court in Antioch: he had yet one more younger brother to deal with, Antiochus XII Dionysus. Antiochus XII succeeded Demetrius as the separatist ruler of Damascus and its surroundings. While Antiochus XII was on campaign against the Parthians, Philip marched upon Damascus. The garrison commander, Milesius, delivered the city to Philip without a struggle. Milesius thought he would be rewarded, and when his expectations were not met, he managed to maneuver Philip outside the city gates and lock him out. Philip presumably returned to Antioch. Although Antiochus XII was later killed in battle, Philip never returned to reclaim Damascus.

The exact end of Philip’s life and reign is not certain, symptomatic of the rapid evaporation of the Seleucids into obscurity. He ruled until at least 83 BC, and perhaps for some time afterwards, before the region was taken over by Tigranes the Great and his short-lived Armenian Kingdom. Soon the Roman Republic gained control, and for some decades continued locally minting coins employing the typical Seleucid design with Philip I on the obverse and seated Zeus, holding a scepter and Nike, on the reverse. It is doubtful any tribute to Philip or the Seleucids was intended; instead, the design was likely chosen for expediency.

Coin Details: SELEUCID KINGDOM, Philip I Philadelphus, c. 95-75 BC, Tetradrachm (16.09 g) NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Diademed head of Philip I right, fillet border, Reverse: Zeus seated left on throne, Nike in right hand, sceptre in left, BASILEWS FILIPPOU EPIFANOUS FILADELFOU to right and left of Zeus, Pi in exergue, References: SNG Spaer 2807, VF, Newell 448.
View Coin Kingdom of Bithynia, 94-74 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) BITHYNIAN KINGDOM Nicomedes IV, c.94-74 BC AR Tetradrachm eagle on fulmen. Yr.208. rv Zeus w/wreath+scepter; NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 The location of ancient Bithynia was highly strategic - northwestern Asia Minor, bordering Paphlagonia to the east, Mysia to the west, and Phyrgia to the south. Bithynia's rugged, mountainous interior descended into fertile coastlines providing access to the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) and the Pontos Euxeinos (Black Sea), as well as the important waterway connecting them, namely the Bosporus Strait. As such, the realm repeatedly came under diplomatic and military scrutiny of other ancient states. In mid 6th century BC, Bithynia fell under the sway of King Croesus and his Lydian Kingdom. The Bithynians eventually regained independence, and managed to retain it, even against the late 4th century BC marauding Macedonians led by Alexander the Great. Bithynia continued to prosper under its distinguished rulers, notably King Nicomedes I, who founded the great city of Nicomedia in mid-3rd century BC.

Around the turn of 1st century BC, the influential and strategic Bithynia came under pressure from its rapidly growing rival, the Pontic Kingdom. In 90 BC, Pontic King Mithradates VI supported an uprising that forced Bithynian King Nicomedes IV to flee his court and seek protection within the Roman Republic. The Romans, who considered Mithradates VI their greatest enemy and valued Bithynia's strategic nexus, restored Nicomedes IV to his throne. Nicomedes IV tried to return the favor by warring against Mithradates VI, only to face defeat and seek Italy's refuge once again. Several years later, Nicomedes IV was re-restored to the Bithynian throne, in accordance with negotiations between Rome and Pontus.

Within this tumultuous period, probably 90-89 BC, unknown Bithynian artisans struck this interesting tetradrachm. The obverse presents an unusual, whimsical portrait of Nicomedes IV that is somehow best appreciated at the coin's actual scale. The King's lips form a sly smile beneath his prominent proboscis, his flowing hair barely contained beneath a diadem. In contrast, the reverse motif is portrayed in traditional, classical style: Zeus Stephanophorus, attended by an eagle perched on a thunderbolt, accompanied by an inscription to provide pedigree. Both obverse and verso employ very fine Hellenistic details that emerge upon further contemplation.

Like this coin's obverse, Nicomedes IV apparently had an eclectic side. In 80 BC, he hosted the visit of an ambitious young Roman named Julius Caesar, who was interested in raising a fleet and promoting his future political career. During his stay (and at least one additional sojourn), Caesar enjoyed Nicomedes IV's hospitality such that rumors surfaced of an affair with his Hellenistic host. Although bisexuality among Romans was acceptable and even commonplace, there were rules; allegedly, Rome's future dictator played the submissive role in the relationship, normally reserved for slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers. The rumors grew into elaborate stories wherein Caesar donned enticing nightgowns and powdered and perfumed himself like a courtesan. Caesar became the butt of his enemy’s jokes, for example he was disparagingly hailed as “Queen of Bithynia.” Such wild accounts were likely exaggerations, and perhaps even complete fabrications. Expectedly, Caesar denied the specific accusations, although he certainly established a lasting bond with the Bithynian royal family, and acted as their supporter in Rome.

Although the exact details of the relationship remain uncertain, Nicomedes IV thought fondly of Caesar and Rome, even to his deathbed. With his final royal act in 74 BC, he bequeathed them his entire Bithynian Kingdom.

Coin Details: BITHYNIAN KINGDOM, Nikomedes IV Philopator, 94-74 BC, AR Tetradrachm (31.5 mm, 16.55 g, 12h), Dated 208 BE (90/89 BC), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head right, Reverse: Zeus Stephanophoros standing left, to inner left, eagle standing on thunderbolt above monogram above HE (date), References: Callatay p. 63; RG 40; HGC 6, 646; DCA 445.
View Coin Roman Republic, 83-82 BC ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC Q.Ant. Balbus, c.83/2 BC AR Denarius Serratus rv Victory in quadriga obv Jupiter NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 This coin is an example of a Roman Republic denarius “serratus.” The latter tern refers to the series of deep cuts along the edge that radiate into the coin. Typically, the serrations were produced by chiseling the blank metal prior to striking. This device first appeared in Roman Republican coinage around early 2nd century BC, and its purpose is unknown. Perhaps the cuts were employed to provide information about the coins mint, or define an area for the coin’s circulation. Another view is that the serrations allowed the coin’s interior core to be viewed more readily, as proof against counterfeiting. It could even simply be that the design was decorative. Whatever the purpose of the serrati, they were most in vogue between about 82 to 59 BC.

This particular denarius serratus was minted at the beginning of this period, probably 82 to 83 BC by a moneyer named Quintus Antonius Balbus. On the obverse is the laureate head of the popular god Jupiter, and to his left are the letter S C, which stand for “Senatus consulto" or “by decree of the Senate.” In this instance, the Senate ordered these coins struck in order to raise funds to oppose the powerful Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Sulla, previously Roman consul, had been away for several years, campaigning against various enemies. He was now returning with his mighty Legions, intent on regaining political control as dictator.

On the verso is Victora, the Roman personified goddess of victory riding a quadriga (four-horse chariot), holding palm-branch and wreath. The design here is clearly meant to foreshadow victory against Sulla and his Legions. In exergue are the letters Q ANTO BALB (identifying Balbus) and the letters PR, or “populi romani,” another attempt at propaganda to convince the common Roman that the coin’s purpose was aligned generally with their interests.

The propaganda (and funds raised) were not enough for Balbus and the Senate to thwart Sulla. The latter marched on Rome and around 82 BC installed himself as dictator, while Balbus was killed by Sulla’s legate, Quintus Marcius Philippus.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, Quintus Antonius Balbus, AR Denarius Serratus (8.83 g), Struck 83-82 BC, Obverse: Laureate head of Jupiter right, S C behind, Reverse: Victory in quadriga right, I control letter beside hooves, Q ANTO BALB in monogram below, PR in exergue, References: SRCV I 279, Sydenham 742, Crawford 364/1.
View Coin Roman Republic c. 82 BC ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC L.Censorinus, c.82 BC AR Denarius rv Marsyas at column obv Apollo NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Historians define the Roman Republic as beginning in 509 BC with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom and ending in 27 BC with the transformation into an Empire. In between, by conquest and diplomacy the state spread from the city of Rome to hegemony over much of the Mediterranean region.

Neither monarchy (as was the preceding Kingdom), nor democracy (as was Athens), nor aristocracy (as was Sparta), the hierarchical Roman Republic blended all three elements in an unwritten constitution that evolved over time. The government was comprised of legislative assemblies that passed laws, a Senate that ran day-to-day affairs, and two elected term-limited consuls, the highest political office. There was a complex system of checks and balances amongst these three branches. Even so, the system was not absolute, and struggles between the aristocracy and the common people fomented a constitutional crisis in late 2nd century BC, which ultimately led to demise of the Republic and rise of the Empire.

This coin was minted in the middle of that crisis. On the obverse is the familiar form of Apollo, and on the verso is Marsyas, a tragic figure in Greco-Roman mythology who became an icon of free speech and liberty. According to the original legend, Marsyas was a satyr who picked up the aulos (a double-piped reed wind instrument) tossed aside by its original inventor, Athena. Marsyas became quite proficient with his new flute, so much so he became embroiled in an ancient musical duel with Apollo and his lyre. Marsyas lost, and was tortured and killed for his hubris.

To the common people of Rome, Marsyas was viewed as a symbol of free speech against oppression. Examining the coin closely, one discerns that the figure is old, almost grotesque, nude except for slippers, carrying a full wineskin over his left shoulder (as any proper satyr would), with his legs bent, bearded head thrown back, and right arm lifted high in a (perhaps defiant) gesture. He stands in front of a slender column that carries a draped figure, possibly Libertas.

The coin’s reverse was modeled after the Statua Marsyae in the Forum, which at the time was a meeting place for Romans to share their written and oral critical views. Among those Romans was probably Lucius Marcius Censorinus, the moneyer who produced this coin in 82 BC. That same year, Rome was in the midst of civil war right up to her gates, and the victorious general Sulla was proclaimed dictator. The new dictator and his puppet Senate took exception to the coin’s message, and L. Marcius Censorinus, like Marsyas, was cruelly put to death.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, L. Marcius Censorinus, c. 82 BC, AR Denarius (4.56 g), NGC Grade: Ch MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: laureate head of Apollo right, Reverse: Satyr Marsyas, standing left with wine-skin on shoulder, searing slippers, in front of column surmounted by draped figure, L CENSOR, References: Crawford 363; Marcia 24; Sydenham 737.
View Coin Indo-Scythia after c. 58 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) INDO-SCYTHIANS Azes I/II, after c.58 BC AR Tetradrachm rv Zeus w/scepter obv king on horse NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Indo-Scythians is the appellation given to the group of Scythians (Sakas) who, starting sometime around mid-2nd century BC, settled lands in south central Asia around the Indus river and along the Ratnakara coast (today called the Indian Ocean).

Records of the first important Saka king, Maues, date back to early through mid 1st century BC. Maues conquered various Indo-Greek territories, gradually assimilating much of north-western modern-day India. Maues also started minting coins, typically based on the Indian square standard, and also incorporating Grecian and Buddhist elements.

This coin was produced several decades later, probably under King Azes I (c. 57 BC – c. 35 BC), who founded a calendar scheme known as the Azes era. The coin is a distinctive one produced by Azes. On the obverse is the King himself, with standard and spear, a fitting representation for the ruler of former nomads. The epithet here is in Kharoshthi and roughly translates: “King of Kings Azes the Great.” The words on the verso convey the same exact meaning, except now the text is in Greek, reflecting the influence of Grecian culture. It is interesting to note that both the King and Zues are using a hand gesture, probably an imitation of the Protection Buddha (raised right hand).

Azes was successful in ruling and protecting his kingdom, at least for a while. From around the time this coin was minted until the turn of the millennium, the Indo-Scythian Empire was at its height, covering an area of about 1.5 million square kilometers. Like other ancient civilizations that preceded it in the fertile Indus valley, the Indo-Scythians would eventually fade. Over a few centuries, Saka influence declined, and Indo-Scythian rule in northwestern India was completely broken in late 3rd century BC when the last Western Satrap, Rudrasimha III, was defeated by Chandragupta II of the Gupta Empire.

Coin Details: INDO-SCYTHIANS, Azes I/II, after c. 58 BC, AR Tetradrachm (9.52 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: King on horse, Reverse: Zeus with scepter. Reference: Similar to ACW 2272.
View Coin Thrace (or Scythia) after 54 BC ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) THRACIAN OR SCYTHIAN Coson, after 54 BC AV Stater rv eagle, wreath, scepter obv procession, monogram NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 This ancient coin, known as a Koson stater, has inspired a considerable amount of numismatic debate. Studies of these coins from large caches (first uncovered in 16th century Romania) have provided some clues, and it is generally accepted that they were produced mid 1st century BC somewhere in the vicinity of Thrace. Other important questions, such as who minted the coins and for what purpose, are still being answered.

The designs on the coin resemble Roman Republican ones of the period, particularly those of Marcus Junius Brutus. On the obverse are three men, wearing togas, walking to the left, two of them carrying objects over their shoulders. The figures bear a striking resemblance to Roman lictors (bodyguards) carrying fasces (axe-like weapons). In exergue is the enigmatic epithet KOSON. On the verso, an eagle stands on a scepter, facing to the left, its right claw raised and holding a wreath.

There are two leading (and not necessarily mutually exclusive) theories for the coins’s origin. The first is that was issued by Brutus, who fled to Greece after Caesar’s assassination and used his enormous wealth and/or funds from the Senate to produce these coins to raise an opposing army, and perhaps he was enlisting the help of a local king name Koson. An alternate theory, which has gained favor over time, is that the coin was issued in Trace or Dacia by a king called Koson, who was inspired by Brutus’ designs.

There are lines of logic that support both theories. To add to the controversy, two versions of the coin have been found, those with a mysterious BR monogram on the obverse, and those without. It has been postulated that the BR may refer to Brutus, or alternatively to BA(sileus), i.e, king, as in King Koson; however, there are no records of a King by that name (although there was a King Kotison). Recently, both monogrammed and non-monogrammed versions of these Koson staters were examined for their composition. These studies provided a highly sensitive elemental fingerprint for each coin. It was found that all coins without the monogram were made from native alluvial gold (for example, all had trace amounts of tin), the same composition that was found for other Dacian gold artifacts, i.e., bracelets, that were made at the time. In contrast, all the coins with the BR monogram lacked tin, and were of highly purified gold. This finding leads to an intriguing possibility: the coins with the BR monogram were produced by Brutus using highly refined gold, and later the non-monogrammed coins were imitations made by Thracians or Dacians using their own methods and local alluvial gold.

This particular coin is the monogrammed type. At the time it was graded, this coin was attributed as Thracian or Dacian. An example of the non-monogrammed counterpart – which, perhaps ironically, was attributed to Brutus – is present in the NGC Custom Set called The Roman Empire. Whether Brutus minted both, either, or neither of the coin types is the subject of ongoing debate, illustrating the fascination and intrigue of ancient coin collecting.

Additional Reading: B Constantinescu, D Cristea-Stan, A Vasilescu, R Simon, D Ceccato, “Archaeometallurgical Characterization of Ancient Gold Artifacts from Romanian Museums using XRF, Micro-PIXE and Micro-SR-XRF Methods,” Proc Romanian Acad 13:19-26, 2012.

Coin Details: THRACIAN OR SCYTHIAN, Coson, after 54 BC, AV Stater (8.44 g), NGC Grade: MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Obv: Roman Consul with 2 Lictors, KOSON in exergue, Reverse: Eagle on scepter, holding wreath, References: RPC 1701B; BMC Thrace pg. 208, 2; BMCRR II pg. 475, 50.
View Coin Kingdom of Persis 1st Cent. BC-1st Cent. AD ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGDOM OF PERSIS Vahsir (Oxathres) AR Drachm rv king before altar 1st Cent. BC-1st Cent. AD NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Persis was an ancient land comprising south central modern day Iran. Persian tribes lived in and around this region for thousands of years. Achaemenes, the eponymous ancestor of the Achaemenid Dynasty, founded the first Persian Empire in early 7th century BC. In late 4th century BC, these lands were (one of many) conquered by Alexander the Great, and after his death become part of the Seleucid Kingdom. Around the turn of the 1st century BC, Persis would fall under the domain of Mithradates II and his Parthian Kingdom. The Kingdom of Persis at that time was ruled as a sub-kingdom, with its own rulers and coinage.

This particular coin was minted while the Kingdom of Persis was ruled by Vahsir, also referred to as Oxathres, sometime in late 1st century BC to early 1st century AD. On the obverse is the diademed bust of bearded king looking left, and on the verso the king holds a scepter before a lighted altar. The fire altar is a symbol of the Persian religious philosophy founded by and named after Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who lived about a century after Achaemenes and the founding of the first Persian Empire. Zarathustra taught that there was one supreme god, the Ahuramazda, whose energy embodies the fire altar.

Zarathusthra described how events were based on cause and effect, and his teachings were strongly dualistic. His philosophy was based on “good reflection, good word, and good deed,” urging ethical demands on his fellow Persians. Zarathustra also taught that human wisdom was the fruit of good reflection, promoting science and education (image the discussions if Zarathustra had ever met his contemporary Thales of Miletus!)

Zoroastrianism remained the state religion when King Ardeshir of Persis overthrew the Parthians in late 2nd to early 3rd century AD, establishing a new Sassanid Empire. The Sassanids and their state religion flourished for several centuries until the Muslim conquests. The latter resulted in widespread desecration of Zoroastrian shrines, with many artifacts and documents destroyed. Thus, the region faded dramatically. Today, Zarathustra’s name is more likely to invoke aspects of popular culture, rather than the path to knowledge and enlightenment.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF PERSIS, Vahsir (Oxathres), 1st Cent. BC – 1st Cent. AD, AR Drachm (3.80 g), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed robed bust, facing left, Reverse: King with scepter left of fire altar, Reference: Alram 582 (?).
View Coin Roman Empire, 69-79 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Vespasian, AD 69-79 AR Denarius rv emperor in quadriga Antioch NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 During the early decades of the Roman Empire, the Flavius clan gained prominence, moving from equestrian to senatorial rank. Within the next generation, one of their lineage, namely Titus Flavius Vespasianus (9 – 79 AD), would even become Emperor, and establish a Flavian dynasty that ruled Rome for the next three decades.

Vespasian began his career in the military, and rapidly advanced in rank. By 43 AD, he led a Roman legion engaged in Emperor Claudius’ invasion of Britannia. The campaign was successful, thanks to Vespasian’s leadership and pioneering use of artillery weaponry.

After Claudius’ death and Nero’s succession, Vespasian was appointed governor of the Africa province, where he honed his administrative skills and forged valuable alliances. In Africa, Vespasian’s rule proved one of frugality, rather than funding government by exploiting locals. These policies led to a monetary shortfall, and Vespasian was forced to mortgage his estates to bridge the financial gap.

Returning from Africa, Vespasian became part of Nero’s entourage. As such, the general was required to attend imperial lyre recitals. Apparently, Vespasian fell asleep during one such performance, and was banished from the Emperor’s presence.

The fall from grace notwithstanding, Vespasian’s proven military prowess was too valuable to waste. Nero grew worried over the crisis brewing in Judaea, where rebels had routed the local imperial garrison. The resilient Judeans even managed to defend against the imperial reinforcements that rushed into the region from neighboring Syria. This shocking news proved an imperial embarrassment, and Nero sent in Vespasian to achieve its abolition. The celebrated general, along with his son, Titus, mobilized a massive array of soldiers and advanced weaponry into the theater. Vespasian then proceeded to pacify the rebellious region in strategic, stepwise fashion over the next three years. Finally, only when the time was deemed ripe, the imperial troops prepared to siege Jerusalem's mighty walls.

Meanwhile back in Rome, Nero’s rule finally fell apart, ending with his suicide. In the civil unrest that followed, several Augusti briefly ruled Rome, last of whom was Vitellius. Riding the support of the eastern Empire, Vespasian emerged as the next candidate for Emperor. Even the heavens seemed to lend support; soothsayers foretold that from Judaea would come the new governor of the world. Of course, Vespasian thought the prophecies applied to himself. Vespasian even found confirmation. One of his prisoners, Josephus, audaciously predicted his freedom, moreover, his emancipator would become Emperor. Josephus was kept alive while this conjecture was tested. In 69 AD, it proved correct. Vespasian left Titus in charge of the Judaean theater, and turned his full attention to the battle for Rome's throne. The resulting bloody civil war - the first since the Empire's genesis - resulted in Vitellius' demise and Vespasian's ascension.

The following year, news arrived that Titus had finally broke though Jerusalem’s tenacious third wall and sacked the city, looting the Jewish Temple. Eager to bolster his position, Vespasian ordered that Rome host a grandiose celebration. In the summer of 71 AD, imperial planners worked day and night to organize the citywide event. Finally, the gala day arrived, starring Vespasian with his sons Domitian and Titus, the latter triumphantly returned from Judea and attended by a new sidekick, namely Flavius Josephus (after all, the former prisoner’s prediction proved correct). Many details of this particular celebration are known, thanks to Josephus. His writings – a fascinating read – describe the purple-clad and laurel-donning Emperor captivating the crowds with his prayers, elaborate parades featuring thousands of prisoners, enormous amounts of captured treasures, and stupendous, complex floats that re-enacted tales of bloody battle.

The successful event was prodigiously commemorated, for example on this denarius struck two years later and 1500 miles distant (Antioch). The main attraction is depicted on the verso, where you can almost hear the crowds’ adoration as Vespasian proudly drives by in his quadriga (four horse chariot), exactly as described by Josephus.

The obverse is also worth noting. Vespasian is portrayed here with his typical, toothless smile that often resembles a pained grimace. The depiction is commensurate with his character: coarse owing his humble origins, but highly ambitious, shrewd, and hard working. Vespasian harbored a keen sense of humor, even if he was the butt of the joke, and his strange Latin pronunciation made him an easy target. In one example worth noting (apocryphal or not), Vespasian once asked a comic to joke about him, and the comic replied to his grinning/grimacing questioner that he would, once the Augustus finished relieving himself.

With his military strength yet likeability, Vespasian increased his grip on power even further. He insisted his sons Titus and Domitian succeed him, ensuring his dynasty. He set about restoring civil war-torn Rome to her former glory. Vespasian rebuilt temples and theaters, and started work on a particularly ambitious building project that became the Colosseum. Supporting these initiatives required raising funds, in other words, increasing taxes, although Vespasian exempted teachers and doctors. Vespasian also expanded the tax base by increasing the Empire’s reach into territories such as Britannia. He even went so far as to collect a tax on public urinals.

Vespasian ruled nearly a decade before becoming the first Roman Emperor to unequivocally die of natural causes. Even as death approached, he retained his humor: "Oh dear, I fear I am about to become a god!"

Additional Reading: F Josephus, "The Wars Of The Jews," Chapter V, 3-7.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Vespasian, AD 69-79, “Judaea Capta” commemorative AR Denarius (17 mm, 3.57g, 6 h), Antioch mint, Struck AD 72-73, NGC Grade: MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Laureate head right, IMP CAES VESPAS AVG P M COS IIII, Reverse: Vespasian standing in chariot right, driving slow quadriga, holding scepter, branch, and reins, References: RIC II 1559; Hendin 1491 corr. (obv. Legend); RIC [1962] 364; RSC 643; BMC 512.
View Coin Roman Empire, 81-96 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Domitian, AD 81-96 AR Denarius rv Minerva advancing NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 The youngest son of Vespasian, Domitian (51-96 AD) was raised studying rhetoric and literature. He exhibited a self-deprecating, often cryptic sense of humor and preferred solitude, perhaps because most of his immediate relatives died when he was still young.

Domitian was proclaimed Emperor upon his brother Titus' death in 81 AD. He embarked on ambitious economic, military and cultural programs to restore the Empire's prior splendor under Emperor Augustus. Domitian became personally involved in all branches of the administration. He issued edicts governing the smallest details of everyday life and law, and taxation and public morals were rigidly enforced.

Domitian's micromanagement style was evident in his financial policies, including steps to revalue Roman currency dramatically, and later devaluation in response to financial crisis. Coinage from this era displays a consistent degree of quality. For example, this coin (granted a prestigious Fine Style designation) bears a detailed observe portrait and reverse depiction of the Goddess Minerva, whom Domitian worshipped so zealously that he had a shrine dedicated to her in his bedroom.

One night Minerva appeared to him in a dream and confessed that Jupiter had disarmed her, and thus she could no longer protect her faithful and beloved emperor. Days later, in a palace conspiracy organized by court officials, Domitian was stabbed to death.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Domitian, AD 81-96, AR Denarius (3.55 g), struck 92-93 AD, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 5/5, Fine Style, Observe: Laureate head right, IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P XIII, Reverse: Minerva advancing right, holding spear and shield, IMP XXII COS XVI CENS P P P, References: RIC 739, RSC 280.
View Coin Parthian Kingdom 78-120 AD ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) PARTHIAN KINGDOM Pacorus, c.AD 78-120 AR Drachm rv Arsaces I hldg. bow obv diademed bust NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 In ancient times, the Silk Road was a vitally important trading route linking the Mediterranean Basin to the Far East. Along this route were lands comprising modern day Iran and Iraq. The area grew in importance in mid first millennium BC as part of the great Achaemenid Empire. By mid 3rd century BC, the territory was a satrap of the Seleucid Empire, until Arsaces I, leader of the Central Asian nomadic tribe known as the Parthians, led a rebellion. Arsaces was successful in founding his own Parthian Kingdom, and sat atop an extensive feudal system where sub-kings and satraps were delegated various powers. Arsaces and his clan of Parthians were renowned as warriors, particularly for their expertise with the bow and the horse.

Given their warrior nature, the Parthians were - unfortunately - not keen on writing down their own history. Much of our knowledge regarding ancient Parthia is based the writings of their enemies, for example the Romans, and therefore subject to bias. Some information can be gleaned from ancient coinage. Sadly, the Parthian kings rarely proclaimed their names on coins. Instead, they simply re-titled themselves “Arsaces,” which came to mean “King of Kings,” similar to the Romans use of "Augustus". Parthia's original rulers engraved their coins in perfectly legible Greek, but successive kings' epithets enigmatically devolved into characters that today are incomprehensible, if not illegible.

This particular coin is a drachm issued under King Vologases III, who reigned from 105-147 AD. The Parthian Kingdom was in midst of civil war at this time, and pressured on its borders, particularly in Mesopotamia to the west. This area was in conflict with Augustus Trajan, who endeavored to extend his powerful Roman Empire progressively further to the east. Before he died in 117 AD, Trajan stretched Rome's borders as far eastward as they would ever reach. Outlasting Trajan was Vologases, who also successfully defended his realm against subsequent Augusti Hadrian and Antonius Pius. Rome never conquered Vologases, or any other Parthian king for that matter.

Under Vologases’ long rule, the Parthain Kingdom prospered in its own Golden Age, as evidenced by a large volume of surviving ancient coinage. One example is this silver drachm, struck in early to mid 2nd century AD at an unknown mint, possibly Ecbatana (modern Hamadan, Iran). The obverse portrait is quintessentially Parthian - the monarch in left profile, sporting a long, prominently pointed beard, and donning a three-tiered diadem with a loop. The reverse design also represents Parthian sensibilities: a throned figure, presumably Arsaces I, holding a bow, with a "blundered Greek" legend below. Like the majority of Parthian art, architecture, and religious beliefs, this coin depicts a melting pot of various Persian, Hellenistic, and regional cultural styles.

Relying on their considerable prowess as warriors, the Arsacid dynasty maintained their rule and repelled foreign invasions for many centuries. In mid 3rd century AD, internal strife triggered transformation into the next Persian Empire (ruled by the Sassanids), and the longest-lived Empire of the ancient Near East finally came to an end.

Coin Details: PARTHIAN KINGDOM, Vologases III, 105-147 AD, AR Drachm (3.53 g), Ecbatana mint(?), NGC Grade: Ch MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: bare-headed bust of king facing left, with long pointed beard and an earring visible, wearing a diadem with a loop on the back of the head and three ends; border of dots, Reverse: Legend surrounding enthroned archer, and monogram, References: Sellwood 78 (no exact die match found, design similar to many in the series).
View Coin Roman Empire, 98-117 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Trajan, AD 98-117 AR Denarius hldg. spear & trophy rv Mars advancing, NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 After five centuries of oligarchic governance, ancient Rome endured a period of civil unrest that culminated around 27 BC, as the Senate bestowed upon Octavian the honorific of Augustus. This is usually considered the Roman Empire’s “official” beginning. Four centuries later, the realm bifurcated into distinct Western and Eastern Roman Empires. The former lasted more than another century before succumbing to barbarian invasions, and the latter transformed into a Byzantine Empire that persevered until its defeat by the Ottomans in mid-15th century AD.

Over this vast time span, the Empire’s height was during the reign of Trajan (53-117 AD). Born Marcus Ulpius Traianus, he became an accomplished military leader and favorite of Emperor Domitian. When Domitian was murdered in 96 AD, the Senate chose as his successor the elderly and childless Nerva. Compelled to choose his own successor, Nerva looked to Trajan, who was extremely popular, especially with Rome's military. In 98 AD, Nerva died and Trajan became next Emperor, although, being a clever tactician, he did not accept the appointment in Rome until confirming support of his legions.

Trajan excelled as the Empire’s military commander, significantly expanding Rome’s influence. He scored a victory in his first campaign against the Dacians in 101 AD, earning him the title as depicted on the obverse of this denarius: IMP CAES NERVA TRAIAN AVG GERM, i.e., heir of Nerva, Augustus (Emperor) Trajan, Defeater of the Germans. Finishing the campaign would take several more years, achieved in no small part by rapid mobilization across the Danube via Trajan’s Bridge, a record-breaking undertaking ordered by the Emperor. Afterwards, the Dacian campaign was spectacularly commemorated in spiral bas-relief on Trajan’s Column.

Later annexations (notably Nabataea) and conquests (notably against the Persians) further increased the Empire’s domain. Trajan's aptitude for grandeur was also evident in his domestic projects. In addition to the aforementioned Trajan’s Bridge and Trajan’s Column, also completed were Trajan’s Forum, Trajan's Market, and numerous other ambitious building and road projects. Trajan held a gladiatorial festival in the Coliseum that lasted three months, hosted five million spectators, and reportedly left 11,000 participants dead (not including wild animals). Such grand designs were supported by increased coin production facilitated by increased precious metal access owing to Trajan’s campaigns, coupled with a lowering of the denarius’ silver content.

When Trajan died in 117 AD of natural causes, the Roman Empire stretched from Britannia to Mesopotamia, and encompassed all lands of the Mediterranean in between. Considering the vast extent over which the Empire governed, along with its longevity (in form or another), it is no wonder that the ancient Romans have profoundly influenced our modern world.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Trajan, 98-117 AD, AR Denarius (3.19 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Rome mint 101-102 AD, Obverse: Laureate and draped bust right of Trajan, IMP CAES NERVA TRAIAN AVG GERM, Reverse: Mars advancing right with spear and trophy, P M TR P - COS IIII P P, Reference: RIC II, 52.
View Coin Roman Empire, 138-140/1 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Faustina Sr.,AD 138-140/1 AR Denarius rv Ceres posthumous issue NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Annia Galeria Faustina (ca. 100-140 AD), also called Faustina the Elder (or Senior), was wife to Titus Aurelius Fulvius Boionius Arrius Antoninus, better known as Rome’s fifteenth Emperor, Antoninus Pius. The latter accepted the throne in 138 AD, and crowned Faustina as his Empress.

Faustina died in late 140 AD, having reigned for only two years. She bore four imperial children, only one of whom, Faustina Jr., survived to reach adulthood and carry on the imperial line. The reign of Faustina Sr., although brief, was peaceful and prosperous. As such, her death was deeply mourned across the Mediterranean. Most distraught, Augustus Antoninus arranged for the Empress a grand funeral and elevated her status to “Diva,” or goddess. Unlike any Empress prior or afterwards, her god-like status was promoted continuously and widely. Her effigies were paraded in spectacles and present at public events. For example, when the Emperor attended the theatre, he sat beside a life-size model of his dearly departed. Genuine or not, Antoninus’ extreme devotion served his political agenda of pietas, or loyalty to family, state, and the gods. Antoninus insisted on spreading his dearly departed’s likeness across the realm.

Faustina posthumously popped up in sculptures, paintings, and, of course, on coins, millions of them, such that many still exist in mint state condition, including this ancient denarius. The obverse bust and its accompanying inscription, DIVA FVASTINA, invoke holiness, if not divinity. The Emperor wanted the message spread very uniformly. To make sure, Rome sanctioned miniature models as templates, and distributed them to the Empire’s die engravers, sculptors, and painters. The result was rather striking, for example Faustina’s full chin, large eyes, and expressive lips engraved upon this coin. Particularly noteworthy is the depiction of the Empress’ hairstyle - an intricate crown formed of numerous interlocking braids. Indeed, this dramatic coiffure influenced the world’s fashion scene for many centuries.

The theme of Faustina’s divinity continues on the coin’s reverse. Even though dead, Faustina was still entitled AVGVSTA. Furthermore, Faustina was depicted as if she had merged with Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility (note the goddess holds a massive specter in one hand and corn ear in the other). This coin was one of many promoting Rome’s “new Ceres.” Even at the Empire’s fringes, Faustina/Ceres permeated, and even amalgamated; the goddess strongly resembles Britannia, a contemporaneous female figure who became the embodiment of that province.

Beyond posthumous imagery, Faustina endured in the form of her daughter, destined to marry Antoninus’ intended successor, Marcus Aurelius. Thus, Faustina the Elder was not only an Emperor’s wife, but ultimately also an aunt, mother-in-law, and grandmother to future Emperors. To her devoted subjects, Faustina epitomized the imperial family, and even Rome herself. Faustina’s influence persists even to this day, in neoclassical sculptures and female icons of Liberty.

Additional Reading: B Bergmann and WM Watson, “The Moon and the Stars: Afterlife of a Roman Empress (Faustina the Elder),” 1999.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Faustina Sr., 138-140/1 AD, AR Denrius (2.79 g), Posthumous issue (struck 147-161 AD), NGC Grade: Ch MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Draped bust right, hair braided in bun, DIVA FAVSTINA, Reverse: Ceres standing half left, stalks of grain in right, long torch in left, AVGVSTA, References: RCV 4582; RSC 78; RIC 360.
View Coin Roman Empire, 198-217 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Caracalla, AD 198-217 AR Denarius rv Apollo w/branch, lyre NGC Gem MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 At the age of 10, Lucius Septimius Bassianus, better known to history as Caracalla (188-217 AD), was proclaimed Augustus, and ruled jointly with his father, Septimus Severus, who died twelve years later. Carcalla was subsequently forced to share Rome's throne with his younger brother Geta. The two brothers grew up as fierce rivals, which did not bode well for their shared rule. After ten months of political strife and plotting, a final peace offering was conducted — final because Caracalla used the opportunity to have his brother murdered, one of many brutal massacres and persecutions he conducted throughout the empire. Caracalla used a similar ploy to deceive the Parthians; he played along with a marriage and peace proposal, only to launch blistering attacks as their guard was down.

Under Caracalla’s reign, Roman currency devalued; the denarius silver content decreased (as in this coin), and a new "double denarius" was issued (albeit without double the value in silver content). This currency debasement, coupled with aggressive military pay raises, required increased revenues. To this end, in 212 AD, the Edict of Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to all free men and women throughout the Empire, not only elevating their legal status, but also (and more importantly) requiring them to pay taxes.

In 213 AD, Caracalla campaigned along the German frontier against the Alamanni. He achieved some success, although final peace was bought at the cost of hefty bribes. For these efforts, Caracalla earned the title of Germanicus Maximus, as credited on his subsequent imperial coinage. This denarius, struck in 215 AD Rome, serves as a gem mint-state example; its obverse inscription reads ANTONINVS PIVS AVG GERM. The obverse portrait is characteristic of coinage struck in the latter years of Caracalla’s reign as sole Augusutus. His stern, bearded physiognomy suggests descent into depravity (for comparison, consider the portrayal of young Bassianus on the preceeding denarius within this collection). Perhaps seeking physical and mental wellbeing, Caracalla took the opportunity while in Germania to visit the shrine of Grannus, the local Celtic deity associated with healing and hot springs. Grannus was also identified with the Greco-Roman god Apollo. Interestingly, Apollo appears on the verso of this denarius, holding a laurel branch and a lyre, perhaps an allusion to the deity’s healing aspect. In any case, the gods reportedly rejected Caracalla’s offerings, deeming it too late to turn the Emperor from the dark side.

Potential for redemption aside, Caracalla met an evil end. In 217 AD, an officer of his own personal bodyguard assassinated the Emperor with his pants down, literally - he was relieving himself.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Caracalla, 215 AD, Rome Mint, AR Denarius (3.32 g), NGC Grade: Gem MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Laureate head right, ANTONINVS PIVS AVG GERM, Reverse: Apollo, naked but for cloak, standing left holding branch and lyre on altar, P M TR P XVIII COS IIII P P, Reference: Cohen 282; BMC 107; RIC IVi 254; SEAR RCV II (2002), #6835, page 522.
View Coin Roman Empire, 202-205 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Plautilla, AD 202-205 AR Denarius rv Concordia stg. NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 In 197 AD, Augustus Septimus Severus appointed his cousin and comrade Lucius Fulvius Plautianus to serve as commander of the Praetorian Guard. To further cement the bond with his most trusted and important bodyguard, Severus married his eldest son and co-Augustus, Caracalla, to Plautianus’ only daughter, Plautilla (c. 185 - 212). Although Severus was evidently very trusting of his long-time friend, the rest of the family, particularly Caracalla, had reservations.

All accounts in unanimity, the 202 AD wedding of Plautilla and Caracalla was a grandiose gala, perhaps one ofthe grandest of its kind Rome had ever seen. Even so, the imperial newlyweds were not particularly pleased regarding either the festivities or their forced partnership. Caracalla was only 14 at the time, younger than Plautilla by an uncertain, perhaps relatively wide, margin. He reportedly hated his new bride to the extent he refused to dine or sleep with her (although numismatic evidence suggests they had a daughter, whose name and fate are unknown).

Albeit under highly uncomfortable circumstances, Plautilla was now Augusta, and honored as such, for example on coinage such as this denarius, struck in Rome in 202-203 AD. Although Plautilla had no blood relation to the Emesans, her profile bears similarities to the imperial women of that clan. The inscription framing her visage boldly proclaims her as PLAUTILLA AVGVSTA. On the reverse is Concordia, the Roman goddess personifying related concepts such as concord, agreement, and harmony, with the inscription CONCORDIA AVGG. On Roman coins, Concordia was often employed to convey concord of the Emperor with his subjects, and, more importantly, with the Roman military. In this instance, the intent might have been to promote concord among the imperial family, which now included Plautilla and her father.

This depiction of Concordia provides a classic numismatic example of Roman propaganda that ultimately proved ironic. In early 205 AD, Plautianus was executed according to an imperial request. The exact events leading up to the exsanguination are uncertain, but it is likely that Caracalla finally convinced his father - falsely or not - that Plautianus was a traitor who flagrantly abused his station and carried out many cruel crimes.

Regardless of what actually transpired, the result was that Plautianus was dead, and his memory ordered erased from all history. The situation was bittersweet for poor Plautilla. She mourned the death of her father, yet, at the same time was relieved to be expelled from the presence of Caracalla, who ordered her divorce and exile to the island of Lipara.

It is not certain why Plautilla was spared at the time, while so very many of those associated with her father were purged. Likely, the daughterless Severus was highly fond of Plautilla and forbade the deed. The validity of this sentiment aside, soon after Severus’ death in 211 AD, Caracalla ordered the elimination of the Plautianus branch of the Fulvius clan.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Plautilla, Augusta, AD 202-205, AR Denarius (19mm, 3.28 g, 12h), Rome mint, struck under Septimius Severus and Caracalla, AD 202-203, NGC Grade: MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Draped bust right, PLAVTILLA AVGVSTA, Reverse: Concordia standing left, holding patera and scepter, CONCORDIA AVGG, References: RIC IV 363b (Caracalla); RSC 1.
View Coin Roman Empire, 209-211 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Geta, AD 209-211 AR Denarius VICTORIAE BRIT rv Victory advancing NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 This rare denarius depicts Emperor Geta (189-211 AD) like his father, Septimus Severus, as bearded and mature, worthy to lead the Empire. It’s rare because he never made it to old age, murdered at the hands of his Co-Augustus, Caracalla, who eliminated portraits, memorials, and even coinage bearing his brother's image.

This coin, struck while Geta served as co-Augustus alongside his father and brother, conveys Imperial propaganda of Severan dynasts united against the Britons in early 3rd century AD. In reality, Geta and Caracalla’s rivalry raged since their early childhood, inviting parallels to Rome’s founding brethren, Romulus and Remus.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Geta, 209-211 AD, AR Denarius (18mm, 2.83 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Fine Style, Obverse: Laureate head right, P SEPT GETA PIVS AVG BRIT, Reverse: Victory advancing right, holding wreath and palm, VICTORIAE BRIT, Reference: RIC IV 91; BMCRE 67; Hill 1144; RSC 220.
View Coin Roman Empire, 218-222 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Elagabalus, AD 218-222 AR Double-Denarius rv Mars NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Elagabalus (ca. 203-222 AD) was infamous for a rule marked by religious controversy and sexual perversion. He ascended to power via the machinations of his Syrian mother, Julia Soaemias, who publically - and falsely - declared that he was the illegitimate son of her cousin, the assassinated Emperor Caracalla. He even adopted Caracalla’s names, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, as declared on the obverse of this mint state ancient denarius. History, however, remembers him as Elagabalus, for his birthright and devotion as a high priest of Elagabal, the Syrian sun god.

The newly ascended 14 year-old Augustus strove to replace the traditional Roman gods with his own. He imported holy Syrian artifacts and erected new temples, replacing Jupiter with his sun god. He personally presided over religious rites, which all were forced to attend, thus managing to estrange Roman Pagans, Jews and Christians alike.

The reverse of this coin proudly presents MARS VICTOR, heroic and nude, donning a gloriously crested helmet, brandishing a fierce-looking spear, and nonchalantly carrying a military trophy atop his shoulder. The numismatic juxtaposition of Mars and Elagabalus is quintessential Roman propaganda; it is difficult to imagine a more dissimilar pairing.

Elagabalus was probably transgender. Seemingly, he cared little for the purple, leaving Rome’s day-to-day governance in the capable hands of his mother and grandmother. Instead of leading troops in battle, Rome’s newest Augustus dressed as a woman in public, and reportedly offered a fortune to any physician who could make him female. He play-acted at prostituting himself, standing nude in a designated room in the palace, soliciting “passers-by” (men he had specially selected to play that role). He may have married up to five times, including a vestal virgin, an outrageous affront to Roman tradition. Among numerous relationships with both genders, Elagbalus’ most stable, long-term relationship was with his slave and chariot-driver, Hierocles. In a lively account by ancient historian Cassius Dio, Hierocles became jealous when Elagabalus sought out a famous athlete named Aurelius Zoticus. More than muscle and athleticism, Zoticus earned fame from his prodigious private parts. In any case, Zoticus was summoned and presented himself to his Emperor, who reproved him "Call me not Lord, for I am a lady." The tryst turned tepid, however, when Zoticus did not perform up to imperial expectations. Rising to the competition, Hierocles tricked the unsuspecting athlete to ingest a drug that abated his manly prowess.

Beyond sexual escapades, Elagabalus threw lavish parties, including color-themed banquets. The Emperor’s antics were not only offensive, they were expensive, and began to take their toll on Rome’s coffers. Not surprisingly, Rome’s citizens grew concerned. Even worse was Elagabalus’ tendency towards megalomania and cruelty. While difficult to confirm given history’s negative bias, he ranks among Rome’s most infamous rulers, and that’s saying something.

As Elagabalus’ behavior grew more outrageous, his popularity plummeted. He was forced to name his cousin Severus Alexander as heir. The move was well received, so much so that Elagabalus grew jealous and ordered his cousin murdered. The Praetorian Guard refused to obey, and resolved instead to kill their Emperor, who was perhaps eighteen years old at the time.

Coin details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Elagabalus (218-222 AD), AR Double-Denarius (4.94 g), NGC Grade: Ch MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Radiate, draped bust right, seen from behind, IMP CAES ANTONINVS AVG, Reverse: Mars, nude with flowing cloak, advancing right, spear pointing forward in right hand, trophy in left hand over shoulder, MARS VICTOR, Reference: RIC IV, Part II, 120 (S).
View Coin Roman Empire, 222-235 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Sev.Alexander, AD 222-235 AR Denarius rv Fides std. NGC Gem MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Born of Severan lineage in a temple dedicated to Alexander the Great, he was named Severus Alexander (208–235 AD). At thirteen years old, Alexander lived up to his namesake when he became Rome’s youngest Emperor ever. He succeeded his murdered cousin Elagabalus, and a nerve-wracked Empire looked to him to improve financial and political stability. As it turned out, Alexander, under the strict supervision of his mother Julia Mamaea, lived up to eponymous expectations - at least, for

Well tutored, Alexander was initially regarded as a wise and effective leader. Under Alexander’s governance, taxes were decreased, and loan interest regulated to reasonable rates. Alexander also made several adjustments to the silver content and purity of the denarius, according to the fiscal climate. Alexander dispelled with his predecessor Elagabalus’ frivolities, preferring to don a simple white robe and associate with others equally; he refused to adopt “the Great.” Distancing himself from the prior regime's religious upheavals, Alexander was highly tolerant of all religions, including Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism. He even had his personal motto inscribed in his palace and various public buildings: "Do unto others as thou wouldst have them do unto thee."

Alexander's reign brought Rome a period of increased economic stability, if not prosperity. Appropriately, a rich legacy of Alexander's coinage survives, including this spectacular gem mint state denarius struck in Rome sometime between 228-231 AD. The obverse features the laureate bust of the Emperor and his epithet IMP SEV ALEXAND AVG. The verso features a seated female figure, holding two military standards, encircled by the inscription FIDES MILITVM. The figure is Fides, the Roman goddess of trust and good faith. Clearly, the coin was meant to advertise, or at least promote, trust and faith in Rome's military forces.

As it turned out, Rome's soldiers proved rather untrustworthy. Heeding his mother's continued presence and advice, Alexander tried to rally his troops against the Empire's enemies. Successes were limited and losses were considerable. Both Alexander and his mother grew increasingly unpopular, and the legions grew increasingly insubordinate. In early 235 AD, the imperium planned to bribe the German barbarians into subservience, and then focus military efforts towards the eastern borders. For the humiliated Rhine legions, mostly local recruits unwilling to re-deploy, this was the last straw. Mutinous soldiers murdered both Mamaea and Severus Alexander, marking the end of the Severan dynasty.

Coin details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Severus Alexander (222-235 AD), AR Denarius (3.30 g), Struck in Rome 228-231 AD, NGC Grade: Gem MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Head of Severus Alexander, laureate, right, IMP SEV ALEXAND AVG, Reverse: Fides, draped, seated left, holding two standards, FIDES MILITVM, References: RIC 193a; C 51; BMC 684.
View Coin Ancient Forgery, 222-235 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Sev.Alexander, AD 222-235 Plated Denarius rv Mars advancing ancient forgery NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 For as long as physical items have been traded for goods and services, there have efforts to cheat the system. Imitation of a more valued object with the intent to deceive is such an old concept that it was highlighted four millennia ago in the Hammurabi Code, the oldest laws ever recorded.

Coinage appeared around 7th century BC in Asia Minor, and, contemporaneously, so did forged counterparts. Ancient coins comprise numerous instances of ancient counterfeit strikes, and such shady schemes continue in modern times. Ancient Rome was no exception; numismatic forgeries were facilitated by a wide geographical breadth, a myriad of mints and designs, and frequently modified monetary standards for weights and precious metal contents, not to mention the unprecedentedly large number of coins produced.

The volume of coin production steadily increased in order to support Rome’s steadily increasing military machine. By the reign of Emperor Severus Alexander, portrayed on the obverse of this ancient plated denarius, the number of legions rose to thirty three, which, based on an average soldier’s salary at the time required more than 100 million denarii per year and rising, donativa not included.

Many ancient forgeries reveal poor workmanship. In contrast, this mint-state plated denarius shows striking details that remarkably resemble official designs. Who produced such well made plated and cast copies? Were they made by official mint workers, resourceful forgers, or perhaps both? At least for this particular coin, the responsible party had considerable skill and access to high quality materials.

Besides the coin’s origin, many other questions remain. How often did it trade hands - if at all - before its revelation as a fake? Did the perpetrator get away with the crime? Most probably, such details will never be revealed. Even so, it is known that most ancient plated and en cast denarii found their way to the Empire’s borders with neighboring barbarians, and turned up far into non-Roman-occupied barbaricum. This particular coin was likely contemporaneous with Alexander’s ill-fated attempt to bribe threatening Germanic tribes. It is even possible that this coin, intentionally or not, was intended for that very purpose. Fabricating such provocative speculations is part of the fun of ancient coin collecting.

Coin details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Severus Alexander (222-235 AD), Plated Denarius (1.88g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Laureate head right, IMP AVR SEV ALEXAND AVG, Reverse: Mars advancing right, transverse spear in right and trophy across shoulder in left, PM TRP VII COS II PP (perhaps indicating forged in 228 AD). Reference: No exact match yet found, designs similar to RIC 61, RSC 305 (obverse) and RIC 85, RSC 351(reverse).
View Coin Roman Empire, 238 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Pupienus, AD 238 AR Denarius rv Pax std. NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 The year 238 AD was particularly hazardous for Roman Emperors. It began with Maximinus Thrax wearing the purple. Maximinus focused on battling Rome’s enemies and kept his troops contented, i.e., well paid, even if at the consequence of increased taxation. Not surprisingly, the Maximinus’ oppressive policies were not well received, particular among Rome’s elite who had the most to lose. The situation led to a revolt in the Africa province, during which Gordian I, and his son Gordian II, were proclaimed co-Augusti. The Senate confirmed the appointments. Begging to differ, however, the incumbent Augustus collected his troops from the eastern front and marched to Rome.

Within weeks, the African rebellion was quashed and the Gordiani were dead. Maximinus still marched towards Rome, presumably to punish the Senate who had betrayed him. To organize a defense, twenty leading Senators formed a committee. Among this group, two were chosen and confirmed as the next co-Augusti: Balbinus and Pupienus (died 238 AD). Why these two particular men (both at least in their late sixties) earned the throne is not certain, although both had extensive leadership experience. Perhaps the duo actively sought power, or perhaps they drew short straws. After all, being Emperor was risky business, as evidenced by the Gordiani.

Prior to his ascension, Pupienus forged an impressive political career, having previously held numerous high offices. These posts included consul (twice), governor (over several different provinces), and Urban Prefect of Rome. While serving the latter role, Pupienus earned a reputation for severity. Therefore, some Romans viewed the new imperial team with distaste. To improve their image and promote calm, Pupienus and Balbinus named Gordian I’s young grandson as heir (Caesar). Having nominated the young Gordian III, the reign of Pupienus and Balbinus might now be viewed more favorably, in the context of a guardianship. More importantly, with the Gordian’s family wealth added to the imperial coffers, the co-Augusti distributed a cash bonus to the Roman population.

To further promote peace and harmony, not to mention advertise their imperial status, Pupienus and Balbinus also struck coins. Since their reign lasted only three short months, the co-Augusti’s coins are rather rare. The current coin is an example Pupienus denarius with a particularly high quality of craftsmanship, earning a prestigious Fine Style designation by NGC Ancients. The obverse depicts Pupienus as co-Augustus, in traditional laureate, draped, and cuirassed style. On the reverse sits Pax, the Roman goddess epitomizing peace, holding an olive branch and a scepter. The epithet, PAX PVBLICA, was meant to promote peace among the populace.

None of this mattered to Maximinus, who kept coming the Senate’s way. Out to meet him marched Pupienus, while Balbinus remained in Rome, attending to its civic administration. Pupienus and the local Italian legions practiced a “scorched earth” strategy, burning lands ahead of the Maximinus advance. As a result, Maximinus’ troops found themselves on the brink of starvation, and they rebelled against their leader; the 238 AD Augusti death toll now stood at three, and counting. Victorious without even a fight, Pupienus returned to Rome accompanied by new, burly bodyguards: Maximinus’ German legions, now quite grateful to receive food and donatives provided by their new employer.

Meanwhile back in Rome, Balbinus had failed to maintain public order. The situation deteriorated to the point that rioting and fires plagued the Eternal City. While it seemed that Pupienus’ return with news of Maximinus’ death would provide calm, any stabilizing effect proved rather short-lived. Balbinus felt threatened by his colleague’s success, not to mention those new, burly bodyguards. The latter provoked the Praetorian Guard, who viewed them as a threat to their traditional role as the Emperor’s protectorate. Indeed, Pupienus made the case that the new bodyguards should be employed more widely as a precaution against the Praetorians. Balbinus resisted, suspicious of his co-Augustus’ designs to have him disposed. While the two were arguing, the praetorians stormed their meeting, seized the pair, and executed them before anyone could come to their aid. The deed marked a new and inglorious record of five Emperors slain within a year, as Gordian III became the sixth person to rule the Roman Empire in 238 AD.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Pupienus, 238 AD, AR Denarius (20 mm, 3.64 g, 12h), Rome mint, 1st emission, NGC Grade: MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Fine Style, Obverse: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, IMP C M CLOD PVPIENVS AVG, Reverse: Pax seated left with branch & scepter, PAX PVBLICA, References: RIC IV 4; RSC 22; BMCRE 46-7.
View Coin Roman Empire, 238 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Balbinus, AD 238 AR Denarius rv Victory stg. NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 The year 238 AD was particularly hazardous for Roman Emperors. It began with Maximinus Thrax wearing the purple. Maximinus focused on battling Rome’s enemies and kept his troops contented, i.e., well paid, even if at the consequence of increased taxation. Not surprisingly, the Maximinus’ oppressive policies were not well received, particular among Rome’s elite who had the most to lose. The situation led to a revolt in the Africa province, during which Gordian I, and his son Gordian II, were proclaimed co-Augusti. The Senate confirmed the appointments. Begging to differ, however, the incumbent Augustus collected his troops from the eastern front and marched to Rome.

Within weeks, the African rebellion was quashed and the Gordiani were dead. Maximinus still marched towards Rome, presumably to punish the Senate who had betrayed him. To organize a defense, twenty leading Senators formed a committee. Among this group, two were chosen and confirmed as the next co-Augusti: Pupienus and Balbinus (died 238 AD). Why these two particular men (both at least in their late sixties) earned the throne is not certain, although both had extensive leadership experience. Perhaps the duo actively sought power, or perhaps they drew short straws. After all, being Emperor was risky business, as evidenced by the Gordiani.

Prior to his ascension, Balbinus was already an established politician, having previously held numerous high offices, including two times as consul, one of which he shared with Augustus Caracalla. He was reportedly a great orator and poet. Even so, Balbinus and Pupienus were not particularly well received as Rome’s newest rulers. To improve their image and promote calm, Balbinus and Pupienus named Gordian I’s young grandson as heir (Caesar). Having nominated the young Gordian III, the reign of Balbinus and Pupienus might now be viewed more favorably, in the context of a guardianship. More importantly, with the Gordian’s family wealth added to the imperial coffers, the co-Augusti distributed a cash bonus to the Roman population.

None of this mattered to Maximinus, who kept coming the Senate’s way. Balbinus was deemed more suited to stay and focus governing in Rome, while Pupienus marched out to meet Maximinus. The atmosphere in Rome was tense, and Balbinus had a rough time of it, with riots and fires erupting within the city. The situation improved when Pupienus returned with news that Maximinus was eliminated, the third Augusti slain in 238 AD.

Like any Emperors trying to drum up support, Balbinus and Pupienus produced coins to advertise their status and promote their accomplishments. Since their reign was very short lived - a mere three months – coins for these two Augusti are rather scarce. The current coin is an example Balbinus denarius. The obverse is an artistic depiction of Balbinus as Augustus (earning a Fine Style designation by NGC Ancients), in traditional laureate, draped, and cuirassed style. On the reverse stands Victory, holding a wreath and a palm branch, with the epithet VICTORIA AVGG (note the double G to indicate there were two co-Augusti). The victory advertised here presumably is the one over Maximinus.

For a (very short) while, things remained calm in Rome as everyone soaked in this victory. However, Balbinus felt threatened by his colleague’s success, not to mention his new, burly bodyguards. The latter, mostly soldiers of the German legions previously loyal to Maximinus, also provoked the Praetorian Guard, who viewed them as a threat to their traditional role as the Emperor’s protectorate. Indeed, Pupienus made the case that the new bodyguards should be employed more widely as a precaution against the Praetorians. Balbinus resisted, suspicious of his co-Augustus’ designs to have him disposed. While the two were arguing, the praetorians stormed their meeting, seized the pair, and executed them before anyone could come to their aid. The deed marked a new and inglorious record of five Emperors slain within a year, as Gordian III became the sixth person to rule the Roman Empire in 238 AD.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Balbinus, 238 AD, AR Denarius (21 mm, 3.6 g), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Fine Style, Obverse: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, IMP C D CAEL BALBINVS AVG, Victory standing facing, holding her wreath and palm branch, VICTORIA AVGG, References: RIC 8; RSC 27; BMC 37.
View Coin Roman Empire, 238-244 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Gordian III, AD 238-244 AR Denarius rv Laetitia stg. NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Little is known about the life of Marcus Antonius Gordianus, also called Gordian III (225-244 AD), up until he reached the age of thirteen and became embroiled in the “year of the six emperors.”

In early 238 AD, Emperor Maximinus Thrax’s popularity was plummeting; he was an oppressive ruler, widely blamed for murdering his predecessor. At a revolt in the Africa province, Gordian’s grandfather (Gordian I) and uncle (Gordian II) were proclaimed co-Emperors. Just weeks later, the revolt was quelled, Gordian II was killed, and Gordian I committed suicide. The Senate then declared Pupienus and Balbinus as co-Emperors, who, with aid of defecting Legions, managed to defeat Maximinus. Even so, the appointment was unpopular with the Praetorian Guards, who subsequently murdered the pair. Gordian III, having recently been named Caesar, subsequently reigned as Rome’s sole Augustus.

Gordian confronted a rather difficult situation. Besides the obvious internal turmoil, the Empire also faced foreign wars, plagues, and economic depression. This coin portrays a different story, however, an obvious attempt at some positive propaganda. The obverse shows the bust of the young Emperor, acknowledging him not only Augustus and Imperator (leader of the Legions), but also Pius (pious) and Felix (happy). On the reverse, this theme continues with the depiction of Laetitia, the Roman Goddess of Joy, Gaiety, and Celebration. In one hand, Laetitia holds a wreath (representing celebration), and in the other, an anchor (representing stability). The verso features also the special epithet of LAETITIA AUGUSTA, or joy of the Emperor, which can also be interpreted as "the joy the Emperor brings to the people."

Alas, any joy Gordian achieved for Rome or himself proved short-lived. He married Furia Sabinia Tranquillina, the daughter of Timesitheus, a talented leader and military tactician, who became his Praetorian Prefect and key advisor. After Timesitheus died under mysterious circumstances, the young Emperor, preoccupied with the campaign against the Persians, backfilled the position with Julius Philippus (a.k.a. Philip the Arab). The campaign resumed, and Gordian was killed in 244 AD, either in battle following a military defeat, or, by some accounts, at the hands of Philip and his followers. In any case, Philip declared himself the new Emperor, and bribed the Persians to a temporary peace.

After his death, Gordian was remembered and revered as a good-natured youth who met a tragic fate, and, in spite of Philip’s protestations, the Senate deified him.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Gordian III, AD 238-244, AR Denarius (2.92 g), Struck 240-244 AD, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right, IMP GORDIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, reverse: Laetitia, standing and looking left, holding wreath and anchor, LAETITIA AVG (dot) N, Reference: RIC, IViii, 86.
View Coin Roman Empire, 244-249 AD ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Philip I, AD 244-249 AR Double-Denarius rv Aequitas stg. NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Besides his birthplace in the Roman province of Arabia, little is known for certain about the early life and political career of Marcus Julius Philippus, a.k.a., Philip I “the Arab” (c. 204 – 249 AD). Evidently, Philip endeavored to gain as much power as possible, and was supported in the effort by his brother, Gaius Julius Priscus, Praetorian Guard under the child emperor, Gordian III. During the Persian campaign in 243 AD, Gordian’s father-in-law and de facto ruler, the Praetorian Prefect Timesitheus, died under mysterious circumstances. Priscus apparently held enough influence over the impressionable young Emperor to convince him into naming Philip as Timesitheus’ replacement.

The campaign resumed, and Gordian was killed in 244 AD, either in battle following a military defeat, or, by some accounts, at the hands of Philip and his followers. Philip declared himself new Emperor, made peace with the Persians (involving promises of large annual indemnities), and, leaving Priscus in control of the Eastern borders, returned to Rome to secure his powers with the Senate.

Two years later, Rome’s mint issued this antoninianus (or double denarius). The obverse features Philip's radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust, engraved in typical style for the period. The verso features the Roman goddess Aequitas, holding a cornucopiae and a scale. Aequitas was the divine personification of interrelated concepts such as justice, equality, and balance. The verso inscription (AQVITAS AVGG), attempts to associate Aequitas’ admirable attributes with Philip and his son Philip II, who by now had been named as co-Augustus.

The coin clearly represents propaganda; Philips’ policies proved neither balanced nor fair. The new Augustus spent liberally on the Persian tributes, not to mention ostentatious new public works. The latter included transformation of Philips’ hometown - now renamed Philippopolis - into a replica of Rome herself. Growing short on funds, Philip raised taxes ruthlessly and debased the antoninianus. Philip even ceased paying the promised subsidies meant to maintain peace along northern borders. Most exorbitant of all, Philip hosted Rome’s one thousand year anniversary. That lavish event involved all imaginable venues and festivities; arguably, it proved Rome’s wildest party ever, and that’s saying something.

Alas, the fun and games did not endure. Contending with attacks from seemingly every border, and from within, an overwhelmed Philip contemplated resignation. At least for while, Philip enjoyed the support of Rome’s Senate. Among the latter, perhaps the most avid supporter was Gaius Messius Quintus Decius. Impressed with Decius’ loyalty, Philip tasked him with controlling the troublesome Pannonian and Moesian provinces. The former Seantor exceeded imperial expectations, promptly quelling the local rebellions. Indeed, the success prompted the Danubian legions to declare they preferred Decius over Philip as Rome’s Emperor. Battles ensued, and Philip was killed in 249 AD, likely assassinated by his own troops eager to please their new Emperor-elect. Philip's brother Priscus, whose harsh rule similarly led to unrest and rebellion in the East, disappeared without a trace.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Philip I, AD 244-249, AR Antoninianus (21mm, 4.07 g, 1h), Rome mint, 2nd officina, 5th emission, AD 246, NGC Grade: Ch MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, Reverse: Aequitas standing left, holding scales and cornucopia, AEQVITAS AVGG, References: RIC IV 27b; RSC 9.
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