NGC Ancients: A New Roman Coin Type Discovered

Posted by Josh Illingworth, NGC Ancients on 6/18/2013

NGC Ancients certifies a previously unknown Hadrian denarius.

The principal Roman silver coin, a denarius, was about the size of a dime or a nickel. They were struck in great quantities for more than 450 years. They served as one of the true “workhorse” denominations, with some examples circulating for two or three centuries. (This would be the equivalent of finding a colonial copper in one’s pocket change today).

One of the most prolific issuers of these coins was the emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138), known for the staggering array of reverse types featured on his coinage. This emperor was fortunate to reign in a time of relative peace and prosperity, allowing him to devote much of his time to traveling in the provinces and indulging in the arts and architecture. Many of Hadrian’s reverse types are part of the so-called “travel series,” and feature various divinities (i.e. Africa, Aegyptos, etc.) related to the places he had visited. Other types were more conventional for the era, and featured universally recognized Roman deities such as Roma and Victory.

One such coin was recently submitted to NGC for grading and encapsulation. The obverse features a pleasing portrait of Hadrian, while the reverse shows a particularly beautiful composition of Victory standing on a shield and erecting a trophy comprised of armor on a stand.

Hadrian Denarius
Click image to enlarge.

On the surface, this particular denarius does not immediately distinguish itself from its fellows. However, some research revealed that this reverse type is unrecorded for Hadrian. It does not appear in the major references, including Roman Imperial Coinage (RIC), Roman Silver Coinage (RSC), and the British Museum Catalogues (BMC). Discussions took place with specialists, including Curtis Clay and Richard Abdy, a curator of Roman Coins at the British Museum who is currently revising the volume of RIC that covers this period. Mr. Abdy confirmed that this reverse type is new and undocumented, though with this discovery it is destined to be included in the revised volume of RIC.

Based on the reverse inscription [P M T R P COS III], this piece was minted early in Hadrian’s reign, between 119 and 122. Mr. Abdy suspects it most likely was struck sometime between late 121 and 122.

Considering the vast number of reverse types that were struck for Hadrian, this piece is neither the first (nor likely the last) to be designated a “discovery coin.” However, it is important and interesting, and illustrates the fact that even in a field where scholars have been working diligently for centuries there is always another discovery to be made and something new to be learned.