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About this journal

After a quarter century on numismatic hiatus, I have re-discovered my childhood passion for collecting coins.  Previously a fan of Lincoln cents (nowadays, prone - disillusioningly - to dealer's adulterations), I have a newfound obsession, namely ancient coinage.  


I focused initially on ancient Greece, and examples can be found in my NGC Ancients Custom Set entitled "The Ancient World Collection."  While I highly admire ancient Greek coinage for historical importance and artistic splendor, I found myself inexorably drawn to its successor.  For the next two millennia, Rome and the autocracies she spawned (the Roman Empire, followed by the Byzantine Empire) dominated the Mediterranean-centric world, leaving behind a plethora of coinage for modern-day contemplation.  Thus, I began compiling a new NGC Ancient Custom Set, which I named "The Roman  Empire."


Admittedly, many (if not most) ancient coin collectors eschew the concept of slabbing their coins.  For a beginner like myself, I appreciate the confirmation of attribution and condition.  I also enjoy the concept of a custom set, whose contents I control.  Above all, coin collecting should be fun and informative, and these aspects came together in a special way for me in this collection.  Rome's history seemingly demanded that I research each coin and provide a synopsis in its Owner's Comments section.  In more than a few instances, I use the opportunity for find synergies with other interests of mine, whether historical, geographical, scientific, etc.


Within its inaugural year (2014) the collection grew to over 100 specimens and was noted "Best Ancient Set," and within the last two years the set has grown to over 200 specimens.  Therefore, I decided it was time I might start this journal which, like the historical backdrop for each new coin I acquire, is subject to future exploration.

Entries in this journal


I just added my latest Owner's Comments, in this case, the subject was my "3-sisters Caligula sestertius".  In particular, I used this slot within the Roman Empire to represent Julia Drusilla, widely described as Caligula's favorite sister.


There was a lot of interesting material to draw from for this essay, even if the ancient histories are rife with negative bias against Caligula.   As a teaser, I will paste here the first paragraph of my Owner's Comments...


This ancient bronze bears the obverse bust of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known to history as Caligula, who, despite - or perhaps owing to – infamy remains a very popular Roman Emperor, at least among ancient coin hobbyists. This particular issue is noteworthy since the reverse features Caligula’s three sisters: Agrippina Sr. as the goddess Securitas, Julia Livilla as the goddess Fortuna, and Julia Drusilla (16 – 38 AD) as the goddess Concordia. Apocryphal or not, ancient histories describe Caligula’s incestuous escapades with his sistren. Given the combination of rarity, fascination, and historical significance, it is no wonder that this particular sestertius ranks among the most notorious of all Roman imperial issues.


If you wish to read more, please check out the Roman Empire Custom Set...










There was not a lot to talk about for this coin, except that is bears the half-length (some employ the descriptor “heroic”) bust of about Marcus Aurelius Nigrinianus (died circa 284 AD), who was probably the son of Emperor Carinus.


It is interesting to note that a review of electronically available information revealed eleven examples of this coin, comprising what appear to be only three, very similar and high-quality obverse die types (excluding slight variations presumably applied post-strike), but at least nine, relatively crude, and notably different reverse die types. It was probably the case that only master engravers cut obverse portraits, since their standardization was very important to the ancient Romans.  The reverse, however, was more formulaic, and may have been delegated to less skilled engravers.  These two dies were placed into a hinge, with the obverse die (i.e., more important image) placed in the anvil, and the punch was applied to the reverse die.  As a result, reverse dies broke much more frequently, probably accounting for the discrepancy in reverse vs. obverse die types obverse.


I decided not to include my die analysis in my Owner's Comments *yet*, until I can conduct more comprehensive research to confirm this finding, and maybe even get some more expert opinions on this.


I just posted another Owner's Comments for a coin in my NGC Ancients Custom Set "The Roman Empire".

This time, the comments are regarding an ancient bronze featuring Julius Marinus, father of Augustus Philip, a.k.a. Philip the Arab.  Philip struck the coin to commemorate his father and advertse his father's apotheois, or transformation into a god. 

This coin is very rare, and comes in two reverse types.  This coin features seated (rather than standing) Roma, and she holds two figures.  This is the rarer variant.

One detail I was curious about was researching the two figures on the coin's reverse.  Who do they represent?  Of course, we can't know for certain, but one can speculate.  The list of candidates includes Julius Marinus, Philip's mother, Philip's brother, and Philip II (Philip's son).

Another interesting detail about the coin is that it includes the inscription of the town of Philippopolis, even though it may have been struck at Antioch.

We know very little about Julius Marinus, and he might have been entirely lost to history except for posthumous coins struck by his son.











I just posted a new "Owners Comments" on Page 6 (Crisis) of my NGC ancients custom set "The Roman Empire."


This new essay is for a denarius featuring Auqila Severa.


My opening thesis is that Severa's reign was one of the most unusual among all Roman Empresses.  This statement is largely based on the belief that she was a vestal virgin, and thus sworn to 30 years of celibacy (and not allowed to marry).  Even though all the ancient histories mention she was a vestal virgin, there are no surviving artifacts to confirm this.  Even if she wasn't a vestal, her reign was unusual in that she was the 2nd and 4th wife of Elagabalus, the Emperor who was a fanatical devotee of the Syrian sun god Elagabal.  Indeed, the first wedding between Severa and Elagabalus was actually a double wedding - simultaneously, there was a diving wedding between Elagabal and Vesta.


One of the points I pondered  about this coin was that the reverse depiction of Concordia includes a star. Here is an excerpt of my thoughts on this..."Apparently, the pairing of Concordia with a star was unusual on Roman coins, and, interestingly, the exact same pairing can be found on the reverse of Roman denarii featuring Elagabalus’ previous wife, Julia Paula (for an example, see the preceding coin in this collection).  It is reasonable to speculate that the star in this instance represents the eastern sun god.  By extension, the message on this coin’s verso is to advertise not only the imperial couple’s concord, but also that between Elagabal and Vesta."


I haven't seen anyone else speculate this, so I am wondering if this is a reasonable hypothesis or not.


In any case, if you are interesting in learning more about Severa, please check out my Roman Empire Collection...https://coins.www.collectors-society.com/wcm/CoinCustomSetView.aspx?s=16365






I recently finished and posted to my NGC Ancients Custom Set entitled "The Roman Empire" my Owner's Comments regarding my sestertius featuring Agrippina Sr.  For this essay, I decided to take the opportunity to provide some of my own personal musings regarding "raw" vs. "slabbed" ancient coins.  This topic has obviously garnered much discussion on both extreme viewpoints, so I wanted to provide my own perspective.  


Regarding Agrippina, she was quite a impressive woman for her time, and an important noblewomen of the Julio-Claudian dynasty: daughter of Agrippa and Julia, wife of Germanicus, and mother of Nero Julius Caesar, Drusus Julius Caesar, Gaius (better known and Caligula), Agrippina Jr., Julia Drusilla, and Julia Livilla. Sadly, her fate was to be defamed by Tiberius' infamous Praetorian Prefect Sejanus to the point that she was arrested and spent the last four years of her life confined to the island of Pandateria. 


Regarding the coin, it exhibits extremely fine craftsmanship as struck by Agrippina's brother-in-law Claudius, who emulated the arguably more impressive issue struck earlier by Agrippina's son Caligula.  Notably, Vagi describes these Agrippina portrait sestertii as "a height in Julio-Claudian artistry."


Regarding encapsulation of ancient coinage, I can't resist quoting the conclusion of my Owner's Comments wherein I opine about this sestertius' fine artistry: "Such artistry transcends clear plastic, even if some might draw parallels to the fate of this coin and its subject."



Latest update is that I posted my Owner's Comments on an Apollonian bronze, struck during the time of the Antonine dynasty.  Here are comments (for a picture of the obverse and reverse, please see the Roman Empire collection posted on the NGC Ancients, Custom Sets...


Ancient Roman coins denoted as “pseudo-autonomous” are generally defined as issues struck by cities and provinces under the suzerainty of Rome, yet lacking an imperial obverse portrait. Such coins not only bear historical importance, but also provide for interesting and artistic numismatic designs. The current coin, dating from Rome’s golden age under the rule of the Antonine dynasty (138-192 AD) provides a noteworthy example. 

The strike occurred at the ancient Asia Minor city of Apollonis, whose eponym was wife to Attalus I, first of that dynasty to reign as King of Permagon around late 3rd century BC.  Attalus I’s son and successor, Eumenes II, decreed the creation of Apollonis through a synoecism (a mechanism whereby the ancient Greeks amalgamated villages into city-states, similar to the modern concept of incorporation of a city). Succeeding Eumenes II was his son Attalus III, who, dying childless in 133 BC, bequeathed his lands to Rome.

By the time this coin was struck, Apollonis was firmly under Rome’s suzerainty.  Judging from this ancient bronze, the region held fast to its Hellenistic roots.  The obverse features the helmeted bust of the pantheonic goddess Athena.  To the ancient Greeks, Athena was one of the most powerful among all deities.  She represented a goddess of war; appropriately, she appears on this coin wearing an aegis and brandishing a formidable spear over her shoulder.  While a fearsome warrior, Athena only fought to repel outside enemies.  As such, many metropolises, presumably including Apollonis, worshipped Athena as their city’s own divine protector.  Athena’s talents didn’t stop there.  She also was goddess of other concepts such as handicrafts and agriculture.  Her impressive list of inventions included the bridle and yoke (facilitating domestication of animals), the pot, the rake, and even the ship and the chariot.

Complementing Athena on the coin's reverse is Tyche, the Greek goddess representing fortune and destiny, particularly over a city.  Tyche was thought to preside over prosperity as well as disasters; no wonder she had a faithful following.   Many Greek cities, presumably including Apollonis, established their own local franchise for the goddess.  Tyche’s attire provides clues to the goddess’ role in controlling the city’s fortunes.  Her kismetic vestments include a polos (a cylindrical crown inviting parallels to city walls), a gubernaculum (a ship’s rudder), and, of course, a cornucopia.

Pseudo-autonomous coinage was produced at Apollonis until at least late 2nd century AD, at which time - curiously- contemporaneous issues from that mint bore the busts of Roman Emperors and Empresses. The Roman provincial mint at Apollonis continued to strike coins until at least the reign of Augustus Severus Alexander.  Apollonian coins are generally rare, since the mint was not particularly prolific.  In the case of this particular civic issue, a seminal numismatic reference cites only three specimens.

Coin Details: LYDIA, Apollonis, Pseudo-autonomous, circa 138-192 AD (Antonine dynasty), AE (3.12g, 18mm), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Helmeted bust of Athena right, wearing aegis and with spear over shoulder, Reverse: Tyche standing left, wearing polos, holding gubernaculum and cornucopia, ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙΔЄΩΝ, References: RPC IV online 2490 (only 3 examples cited); SNG von Aulock -; SNG Copenhagen -; BMC 12-3.


Another update to "The Roman Empire" NGC Ancients Custom Set.


I just posted my latest Owner's Comments for a Titus denarius that was issued for the Colosseum opening.


Please take a look if you are interested in learning more.  I found a lot of fascinating material for this essay.  I used the opportunity to talk about the accomplishments of ancient Roman engineers.  As an engineer myself, I find the these achievements rather remarkable.  As testimony, consider that not only is much of the Colosseum still standing, its annual attendance rivals that of two millennia ago!


Here is a link to that particular coin and the accompanying Owner's Comments...




After a bit of a hiatus, I managed to finish another Owner's Comments

(Note: I am trying to keep up, as I try *not* to add any more new coins until I post Comments for all the current ones!)

This time, the essay is about my ancient bronze featuring Empress Plotina, wife to Emperor Hadrian.  This coin is part of Page 6 = GOLDEN AGE I.

This coin graded as XF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 4/5, which is a very respectable grade for this issue.  It was struck in Gordus-Julia around 112-117 AD.  I have seen about a dozen or so examples illustrated, and I would say that this specimen could be among the finest. It has a very nice observe portrait, replete with imperial pompadour (about which I also provide some further commentary in my essay!)


As I detail in my Owner's Comments, Plotina was a fascinating Empress.  She should be considered a "good" Empress, complementing her "good" Emperor.  As an indication of her virtue, she refused to be called Augusta when Trajan first became Augustus.  Instead, she chose to earn the honor.  She was also highly intelligent, in particular, I was fascinated by her devotion to the Epicurean "Garden" school of philosophy.  In her old age, she even kept active correspondence with her husbands successor, Hadrian, regarding who should be leading the school.  As an excerpt, here is my final paragraph on my Owner's Comments...


Through her actions, Plotina played a critical role in sustaining Rome’s Golden Age.  In 117 AD, she convinced her dying husband to officially name Hadrian as successor.  Evidently, Trajan was too weak to execute the appropriate documents, so Plotina signed the will in his stead.  An alternative, highly unlikely viewpoint is that Plotina forged the will to place Hadrian on Rome’s throne.  Either way, Plotina, who did not bear Trajan any children, secured the Empire another good Emperor.









I wanted to send out a particular congratulations to rmw, jackson64, and gherrmann44 for distinction on their excellent Collectors' Journals!


Regarding this Journal Entry, I am pleased to see my own Roman Empire collection receive a second-time Best Ancients Set (my previous accolade was in 2014, so this ends a bit of a "dry spell" for me!).  I wonder about what it would take to be acknowledged as Most Informative or Most Creative NGC Custom Set, and I always find myself amazed when I check out the winning sets in those categories (this year, it was Mohak's Avians and Siah's Colorado-based Collections).


Again, congrats to all winners, and also thanks to everyone for participating.  Having such an eclectic and interesting community is one many aspects that makes this hobby entertaining!


The latest update to this page is that I finally finished up and posted my Owner's Comments regarding my ancient bronze "half unit" struck by Herod Antipas.   As is the case with many ancient rulers, Antipas' legacy is quite complex and open to interpretation, even to the extremes of villain or victim.  

If anyone is interest in learning more, I encourage you to check out my Owners Comments.

I have only two more coins to procure (Nero Claudius Drusus and Tiberius) and one more Owner's Comments to complete (Agrippina Sr) in order to finish this page of the Roman Empire collection.







This new "Journal Entry" provides an update on the 9th Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitles "The Roman Empire".

This Page is 82% complete (12 coins out of 15 slots).  Two of the twelve coins are pending my detailed Owner’s Comments.

Here is a link to the Collection…


Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "CRISIS II”…

The Crisis of the Third Century intensifies as numerous Augusti fall by the hands of their own disaffected troops; a new record of six Emperors in one year (238 AD) is established.

.The follow are comments on the coins I choose for this Page and why…


Elagabalus.  This denarius, with a grade of Ch MS *, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5, features one the Roman Empire’s most decadent and frivolous rulers of all time, and that's saying something.  While he certainly wasn’t Rome’s first transgender Emperor, he was probably the most flamboyant.  Honestly, I don’t want to give away too much here in case you don’t know much about Elagabalus, but as a teaser for you to check out my Owner’s Comments here is an excerpt that explains why I choose this particular coin…“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…”


This slot is a denarius featuring Julia Cornelia Paula, first wife of Elagabalus.  This coin graded Ch AU, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5.  This coin is one of many in the collection that I choose for its irony, if not for tragicomic relief.  Specifically, the reverse features Concordia, the Roman goddess personifying related concepts such as concord, agreement, and harmony, accompanied by an inscription signifying the same. On Roman coins, Concordia was often employed to convey concord of the Emperor with his subjects, and/or, more importantly, with the Roman military. In this instance, the exact intent is not certain; probably, it refers to concord of the new imperial couple and their extended families. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately - depending on perspective – Julia Cornelia Paula lost her title soon thereafter as Elagabalus found his first wife not ‘bodily suited’ for him, so he divorced her in favor of…


Julia Aquilia Severa, a vestal virgin, who, as such, was sworn to celibacy.  In a reign filled with outrageous follies, Elagabalus’ decision to carry out Rome’s first-ever imperial-celestial double-wedding (in parallel, the Syrian sun god Heliogabal married Vesta, Rome’s virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family) ranks among the most over-the-top.  One can only imagine the outrage both parings must have caused to the average Roman. This denarius graded CH XF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 3/5.  I still need to post my Owner’s Comments for this coin.


This interesting ancient bronze features Elagabalus’ third wife, Annia Faustina.  This coin graded VF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 3/5.  Perhaps the Emperor was trying to appear a bit more conventional in his choice of an Empress, after all, Annia Faustina hailed from Antonine lineage from both sides of her family.  Alas, things didn’t really work out, since Elagabalus’ true desires apparently swung in other directions.  Of particular interest is this coin’s reverse which appears to commemorate the Actian games.  These quadrennial Olympic games were established by Augustus (actually, he was re-instating what was an earlier, Greek tradition) to commemorate his 31 BC defeat of Mark Antony at Actium.  Assuming Augustus held the first such gala around 27 BC, the year 221 AD (this coin’s strike) not only marked Annia's tenure as Augusta, but also the 64th anniversary of the Actian Games.


This slot features a high grade (MS*, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5) denarius struck in the name of Julia Mamaea, yet another powerful women of the Emesean clan.  She apparently convinced her nephew Elagabalus to name her son (hence, his cousin) Severus Alexander as Caesar.  The latter’s ascension was hastened not long thereafter, thanks to murderous Praetorian Guards.  I choose this coin also for an ironic reverse, featuring Concordia, (see above).  Julia Mamaea helped her son rule over Rome, to the point that many started to doubt their latest Emperor’s abilities.  As one can imagine, such growing unpopularity ultimately led to the demise of both mother and son.  Lacking any more males of the line, the mother-and-son’s fall marked the end of the Severan dynasty.


Severus Alexander.  This breathtaking denarius graded Gem MS, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  On balance, Severus Alexander was a relatively “good”, if not ultimately effective, Emperor.  His lack of pomp and circumstance and down-to-earth ruling style appears somewhat reminiscent of Marcus Aurelius.  My favorite historical account of Severus Alexander is that he had his personal motto engraved throughout featuring 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.  Not a very successful attempt at propaganda, considering the Severus Alexander and his mother were killed by their own forces.


For this next slot I choose yet another denarius featuring Severus Alexander; this coin graded MS, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I call it a denarius, although technically it is an ancient forgery (silver plated).  But you might not know it is fake looking at the coin, the artistry and materials of construction remarkable resemble an official issue.  I could not help the chance in my Owner’s Comments to discuss about the history of counterfeiting (which, not surprisingly, vastly pre-dates this coin) and to provide my own fabricated – yet plausible – history of this particular imitative coin.     


Orbiana. This slot needs to be filled.


Maximinus.  This coin is a denarius graded MS, Strike = 5/5. Surface = 5/5.  I choose this coin for its particularly fine style - indeed, it eared a Fine Style designation from NGC, a rarity among ancient Roman coins.  I also choose the coin for its reverse, again featuring Maximinus, replete with military standards, emphasizing his military prowess.  After all, Maximinus was the quintessential “barracks Emperor,” meaning that he rose within the military to prominence – even achieving the ultimate (self) promotion to Rome’s Emperor.  This coin’s fine style is somewhat in contrast to Maximinus’ historical reputation – some probably had a hard time telling him apart from his barbarian foes.  You have to love the hyperbole around Maximinus, he reportedly was 8.5 feet tall and could singlehandedly pull an ox cart, i.e., literally he was as strong as an ox.  As a model barracks Emperor, he ultimately was murdered by some of his own troops.  


Paulina. This slot needs to be filled.


This slot comprises an ancient bronze featuring Maximus, son of Maximinus.  Although of relatively modest grade, Ch VF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 3/5, this coin is pleasing to me.  It was struck in Troas, Alexandria, and the design invokes a sense of that city’s Hellenistic roots.  The Troad (surrounding fertile plains covering northwest Asia Minor from Mount Ida to the Dardanelle Strait and the Aegean Sea) was very important to the ancient Romans. In my Owner’s Comments, I discuss the Troad’s significance, and also I could not resist the opportunity to contrast father and son.  To me, this coin not only represents its own point in history, but also seemingly has a nexus to Rome’s founding as well as the fall of the Empire.  I hope you are intrigued, if so, please read my Owner’s Comments for this coin.  I think this is probably my favorite essay among all my Owners' Comments.


Gordian I. This slot is an ancient bronze featuring the elder Gordian, who reigned with his son only weeks as part of the “Year of the six Emperors.” This coin graded Ch XF*, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5 (a very respectable grade for its type).  I still need to provide my Owner’s Comments for this coin.


Gordian II. This slot needs to be filled.


This denarius features yet another short-tenured Emperor who became one of those six Emperors in 238 AD, namely Pupienus.  This striking denarius graded MS*, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5, and it also earned an NGC Fine Style designation.  Pupienus co-ruled with Balbinus.  The two were assigned the (arguably unenviable) purple after the Senate held a committee meeting to discuss how to deal with the by-then-out-of-favor Maximinus (the latter was most displeased regarding the Senate’s acknowledgement of the Gordian’s uprising).  I choose this coin in part for its fine style.  I took the opportunity to write ‘parallel’ Owner’s Comments for Pupienus and Balbinus.  If you want to see what I mean by that, please read my Owner’s Comments.


This denarius features yet another short-tenured Emperor who became one of those six Emperors in 238 AD, namely Balbinus.  Struck upon a large flan, this denarius graded Ch AU, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5, and it also earned an NGC Fine Style designation.  Balbinus co-ruled with Pupienus.  The two were assigned the (arguably unenviable) purple after the Senate held a committee meeting to discuss how to deal with the by-then-out-of-favor Maximinus (the latter was most displeased regarding the Senate’s acknowledgement of the Gordian’s uprising).  I choose this coin in part for its fine style.  I took the opportunity to write ‘parallel’ Owner’s Comments” for Balbinus and Pupienus.  If you want to see what I mean by that, please read my Owner’s Comments.


This new “Journal Entry” provides an update on the 8th Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “The Roman Empire.”

This Page is 73% complete (11 coins out of 15 slots).

Here is a link to the Collection…



Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "CRISIS I”…


The Empire heads into turnoil, marked by the tumultuous Year of Five Emperors (193 AD) and the subsequent rise of the Severan-Emesan Dynasty.


The follow are comments on the coins I choose for this Page and why…


  • Didius Julianus.  This Emperor learned the hard way that purchasing the purple does not come with a money back guarantee. This slot needs to be filled.
  • Manlia Scantilla, wife of Didius Julianus.  This slot needs to be filled.

NOTE: I also thought about adding a slot for Didius’ and Manlia’s daughter, Didia Clara – but that would mean I would have to eliminate another coin from the Page, and the best candidate to remove would be the denarius featuring the youthful looking Geta.  However, I love the opportunity to present coins featuring both young and old looking versions of his Geta, and his brother Caracalla.  So…I am a bit constrained here since I am trying to fit into using the “15 coins per Page” format for this collection.  This is my list for this Page, at least for now.  Since this is a custom collection, I reserve the right to change my mind later (indeed, having full choice over content is a great pleasure of an NGC Custom Set!)

  • Pescennius Niger. This slot needs to be filled.
  • Clodius Albinus. This slot needs to be filled.
  • Septimus Severus.  Besides having one of the all-time coolest names for an Emperor, Severus represents one of Rome’s most fascinating, if rather brutal, Emperors.  In many ways his reign set the mold for an Augustus’ reign during the great Crisis of the Third Century.  This coin is special to me since it is one that I purchased at a shop among several choices, rather than at auction (and I can’t explain but it seems so satisfying to see and hold the coin in your hand before buying it rather than from a picture).  I was thrilled to see this coin graded by NGC as Ch AU*, strike = 5/5 and surface = 5/5.  Appropriately for Severus, the reverse of this denarius features Virtus, the Roman deity of bravery and military strength, holding Victory, and decked out with a shield and a spear.  Interestingly, NGC notes that an alternative interpretation is that the figure on the reverse is not Virtus but instead Roma. Take a close look at the uploaded image - a wonderful engraving regardless of the actual identity - and you can decide for yourself.
  • Julia Domna.  No doubt about it, ancient Rome was a male-dominated society.  Even so, the history of the Roman Empire comprises numerous examples of powerful and/or otherwise remarkable women.  Of particular note are the women of the Emesean clan, several of whom were very powerful in their own right, and among them first to be Roman Empress was Julia Domna - even the name tells you something, she re-invented herself employing the feminine form of <i>dominus</i>, or Latin for Lord, when she married Septimus Severus. She arguably became the most honored and influential Empress in the history of the Roman Empire.  Highly intelligent, she earned the nickname “the Philospher,” and socialized with the best minds of her time.  Not to mention she traveled with the troops to the point she earned another nickname of Mater Castrorum (Mother of the Camp).  This coin of Julia Domna’s is a denarius that graded MS, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 5/5.  I choose this coin for its interesting reverse - Pudicitia, the Goddess personifying modesty and sexual virtue. Julia Domna’s enemies accused Domna her sexual impropriety, and this coin represented a response to such accusations. Notably, Pudicitia’s right hand is on her breast and she faces frontward, directly towards the coin's viewer. These were unusual numismatic conventions at the time, reinforcing the legend’s message with a direct and unflinching gaze.

  • Caracalla, Reign as Caesar.  This is a spectacular denarius, graded Ch MS, Strike =5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I choose this coin as an example to depict the “boyish” visage of Caracalla. In contrast…

  • Caracalla, Reign as Augustus.  This denarius is one of a few coins in this collection that graded Gem MS, the highest possible NGC ancients grade, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  Coins like this one that earn such a graded are truly breathtaking to behold, especially considering their age.  Besides the grade, I choose this coin as an example to depict the mean-looking adult Caracalla after he “turned to the darkside”.  Seriously, Caracalla by all accounts turned out to be a cruel ruler; after all, he murdered his own brother Geta. This coin features Apollo on the reverse (read my Owner’s comments for an interesting discussion of Caracalla’s visit to the shrine of Grannus, a Celtic deity identified with Apollo who was associated with spas, healing, and hot springs).

  • The next slot is a denarius featuring Plautilla, wife of Caracalla.  It graded MS*, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I choose this coin as (one of many) examples of Roman propaganda.  The reverse features Concordia, the Roman goddess personifying related concepts such as concord, agreement, and harmony. You can probably guess about Plautilla’s story…for details, see my Owner’s Comments.

  • Geta, as Caesar -  this denarius graded Ch AU, Strike =5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I choose as an example of the boyish Geta.

  • Geta, as Augustus - this denarius graded MS, Strike =5/5, Surface = 5/5.  It earned a Fine Style designation, tough to achieve for Roman coinage.  I choose as an example of the “adult” Geta.  I find it very interesting to compare the two Geta coins and the two Caracalla coins.  The brothers’ saga echoes the fable of Romulus and Remus.

  • This slot is a denarius struck for Julia Maesa, one of the powerful Julias.  It graded MS, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5.  I found the reverse a fascinating choice for the Emesean matriarch – once again, Pudicitia. Probably, the design meant to distance Julia Maesa from her grandson Elagabalus.

  • Next up is a denarius featuring Emperor Macrinus, graded Ch AU, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 5/5.  Macrinus hailed from the Equestrian class (not a patrician) and he made some sweeping changes in Roman politics, or at least he tried to…evidently, he went too far…see my Owner’s Comments for his interesting personal history.  I happened to like the reverse image of Roman goddess Salus, daughter of Asclepius, god of healing. The particular engraving suggests comfort and confidence, nether of which, alas, was characteristic of Macrinus’ reign. 

  • The next coin is a Syrian bronze featuring Macrinus and his son, Diadumenian. While in far lower condition than others on this page (graded Ch VF*, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5), this coin is nonetheless cherished by me.  In particular it is a “plate coin,” i.e., the exact coin featured in a plate, or illustration, in an ancient coin reference book. Having your very own coin featured in such a fashion, besides the obvious confirmation of attribution and authenticity, also provides a certain thrill and satisfaction. For more details about the coin and Diadumenia, see my Owner’s Comments.
  • Last coin for this page is a denarius featuring Julia Soaemias.  It graded Ch MS, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  Of all the Emesean Julias, history is least kind to Soaemias.  No wonder, since she was mother of Elagabalus.  For some of the juicy details, see my Owner’s Comments.  


This new “Journal Entry” provides an update on the 7th Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “The Roman Empire.”


This Page is 80% complete (12 coins out of 15 slots).


Here is a link to the Collection…



Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "GOLDEN AGE II”…

Rome's prosperity continues under the leadership of Antonine dynasts who reigned until late 2nd century AD.


The follow are comments on the coins I choose for this Page and why…


  • Antoninus Pius.  This denarius is graded Ch MS, but does not have strike and surface grading (my personal opinion is that it would rate at least 4/5 for both).  I choose this particular coin not only for its outstanding condition, but also the reverse motif showing the Emperor making a sacrifice as pointifex maximus (the highest priest) making a sacrificial vow to serve for another decade.  Indeed, Antoninus was a particular devout – and effective – ruler, so this is a fitting example to represent one of Rome’s “good” Emperors that sustained Rome’s Golden Age.  Interestingly, Antoninus was not all that keen with regards to military affairs, delegating such matters to those with that skill set.  It is widely reported that he never even left Italy. 
  • Antoninus Pius, commemorative issue.  I included a second denarius for Antoninus since he was such an important Emperor and ruled for such a long tenure (more than two decades, the longest reign since Augustus himself).  This coin graded as MS, 5/5 strike and 5/5 surface, an absolutely beautiful coin.  This coin is wonderful to hold in hand, as they say.  Another reason I included this coin was to have the opportunity to write my Owner’s Comments about religion during the time of the Roman Empire, and the important role it played in its history.  I would encourage anyone even casually interested in this collection to read my Owner’s Comments for this one to gain perspective on religion’s role in shaping Rome’s history.
  • Aelius Antoninus.  This coin is a sestertius (the grade is Ch F, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 3/5) featuring Antoninus Pius on the obverse, and two of his grandchidren on the reverse.   The identity of the infants on the reverse is subject to debate.  It is likely based on research that one of the two represents Aelius Antoninus, son of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina Jr.   The specific design with the baby busts atop cornucopias is similar to one a century earlier celebrating the twin sons of Drusus the Younger and Livilla.  If I had to bet on the identity of the other infant I would bet on Lucilla, although many sources cite Aurelius Antoninus.
  • Galerius Antoninus.  I still need to fill this one struck in the name of the son of Antoninus Pius and Faustina Sr. It is quite hard to find!
  • Pseudo-autonomous issue.  For this slot as part of Rome’s Golden Age, I decided to add another example of pseudo-autonomous coinage (although as a custom set I reserve the right to change my mind and choose another coin, for example an anonymous quadrans?).  This one is quite rare, only 3 examples cited in RPC online.  It graded a highly respectable AU, strike = 4/5, surface = 3/5.  It was struck in the ancient mint of Apollonis, located in Lydia, and very few coins can claim the same.  I love the design on this bronze since it really reminds me of fine Greek sensibilities, the wonderful portrait of Athena on the front and Tyche on the reverse – indeed, if you didn’t know the attribution, you might guess it dated from the height of Greek culture centuries earlier.  This coin provides an important reminder of Greece’s influence on Rome.
  • This Ch MS, Strike =5/5, Surface =5/5 graded denarius features Faustina Sr, wife of Antoninus Pius.  I really enjoyed researching this coin and writing this essay, especially the remarkable lengths that Antoninus exerted to keep the memory of his beloved wife alive as a goddess.  Even more remarkable is Faustina’s remaining influence even in our modern world, from neoclassical sculptures to female icons of Liberty.   For the fascinating details, see my Owner’s Comments.
  • Marcus Aurelius, as Caesar.  I decided to include two coins for this Emperor, I have to admit one of my favorites. This denarius graded MS, strike = 5/5, surface = 4/5.  This coin was struck when he was serving as Caesar, and the story of his gradual acceptance of his duty to rule Rome is very interesting.  This coin I chose for it’s reverse, a very unusual depiction of Honos, but not in the usual nude, but rather in toga, holding branch and cornucopia, reflecting the young Caesar’s dedication to academia.  Marcus Aurelius’ writing, while not nearly on par with the sagacity of the Greek philosophers he so admired, are nonetheless important in historical context.  I can not resist including the quotation from his Meditations, "Take heed not to be transformed into a Caesar, not to be dipped in the purple dye, for it does happen. Keep yourself therefore, simple, good, pure, grave, unaffected, the friend of justice, religious, kind, affectionate, strong for your proper work. Wrestle to be the man philosophy wished to make you. Reverence the gods, save men. Life is brief; there is but one harvest of earthly existence, a holy disposition and neighborly acts."
  • Marcus Aurelius, as Augustus.  This denarius graded Ch MS, strike = 5/5, surface = 5/5. The poignant reverse depicts Fortuna, holding a rudder and a cornucopia, wishing for the Emperor to continue to lead Rome on the path of a Golden Age.  Alas, those golden days were already receding in the wake of barbarian barrages and plague.
  • This slot comprises a denarius struck for Faustina Jr, daughter of Antoninus Pius and wife of Marcus Aurelius. It graded MS, strike = 5/5, surface = 4/5.  Fittingly, the reverse features the goddess Fecunditas, the Roman goddess of fertility – remarkably, the younger Faustina bore more than a dozen children over the span of 23 years, including two sets of twins.  I took the opportunity in my Owner’s Comments to reflect on the immense pressure she must have felt as a teenager to follow her famous mother’s footsteps.
  • The next slot is a bronze featuring Commodus and Annius Verus, and it is likely the only issue featuring the latter dynast.  The two boys were the sons of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina Jr, the only two boys among the Empress’ multitude of children to survive childbirth.  This coin graded Ch XF, Strike =4/5 Surface = 3/5, and I’m not sure I have ever seen one in higher grade available for sale.
  • The next coin in the collection features Lucius Verus, co-Emperor alongside Marcus Aurelius.  This fabulous denarius graded Ch MS, strike = 5/5, surface = 5/5.  I cannot resist making the analogy of Lucius and Marcus to the Oscar and Felix of the Odd Couple.  I don’t want to spoil the fun here, so if you want to hear details of Lucius’ debauchery in contrast to Marcus’ stoicism, please read my Owner’s Comments!
  • This slot is a denarius featuring Lucilla, daughter of Marcus Aurelius and Fasutina Jr.  I choose this coin for its reverse –ultimately ironic- depiction of Vesta, one of Rome’s most important deities. Vesta embodied hearth, home, and family; her burning flame, attended by her faithful Vestal Virgins, represented the life force of the community. This coin graded MS, strike =4/5, surface = 5/5.  Marcus arranged the union between the pre-teenaged Lucilla and his adoptive brother and co-Emperor, Lucius Verus. Although the pairing made sense from a dynastic point of view, from Lucilla’s perspective one can imagine that Verus hardly seemed an ideal husband: substantially older, technically her uncle, and renown for drinking, gambling, and love affairs with both genders.  To read about how the marriage turned out, and Lucilla’s polital intriuges after she was widowed, please read my Owner’s Comments. 
  • This slot is a denarius struck for Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius and Fasutina Jr.  I have to say that Commodus is perhaps the most entertaining Emperor to research and write about.  This denarius graded Ch AU, strike = 4/5, surface = 5/5.   Interestingly, the elements on this coin promote Commodus’ association with his father, including the verso depiction of a contrapposto Roma, the female embodiment of the same, holding Victory and a spear (serving as propaganda to associate Commodus with his father’s reign and military conquests). Alas, Commodus was nothing like his father, and led Rome firmly off the path of Golden Age.  I don’t want to spoil the amusement regarding Commodus’ follies, so if you want to read about them, please see my Owner’s Comments.
  • The next slot is reserved for Crispina, wife of Commodus.  This slot needs to be filled.
  • The final slot is reserved for Pertinax, who arguably was in position to set Rome back on the path to Golden Age following Commodus’ disastrous reign.  He never got the chance, since he was murdered three months into his reign by the Praetorian Guard, setting a disturbing pattern that would last for another century as Rome’s Golden Age was now clearly over, and a new Age of Crisis ensued.  This slot needs to be filled.

Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel…Run for the shadows in these golden years…I'll stick with you baby for a thousand years…Nothing's gonna touch you in these golden years…- David Bowe


This new “Journal Entry” provides an update on the 6th Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “Golden Age I”.  While the Roman Empire’s golden age failed to last a thousand years, it endured long enough to merit more than one Page herein, hence the Roman numeral included in my title.


This particular Page is 67% complete (10 coins out of 15 slots), and for three of those 10 coins my “Owner’s Comments” are pending (one of which is also pending grading).


Here is a link to the Collection…



Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "GOLDEN AGE I": A series of effective Emperors - Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian - chosen by merit, rather than birthright, propel Rome to new heights.


The following are comments on the coins I choose for this Page and why…

  1. Nerva denarius.  He was the first regarded by Machiavelli as one in a succession of five “good” Roman Emperors.  I choose this denarius for its particularly striking color.  It graded AU, strike = 4/5, Surface = 4/5.  Over time, the silver surface has accumulated a layer of tarnish (coin collectors generally prefer to use the term “toning”).  The resulting red-gold hue is rather spectacular, best appreciated in hand, rather than a photo.  I’m not sure what the exact chemical reaction is here to provide such a color, but it seems that this exact hue is relatively rare for toning in silver coins.  In any case, I deemed that such a red-golden coin was worthy of the first entry into the Page focusing on Rome’s Golden Age!

  2. This slot is a denarius of Emperor Trajan, who reigned over the Empire at its greatest geographical extent.  So I included in the pictures not only the coin, but also a map showing just how vast an extent the Roman Empire managed to achieve at the time.  This coin is in remarkable condition, graded MS, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.

  3. This slot contains a denarius that Trajan struck to honor his father, Trajan Pater.  This coin graded  Ch VF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 4/5.  A charming example of honoring one’s parent!

  4. This slot contains an ancient Roman provincial bronze featuring Trajan’s wife, namely Empress Plotina.  This coin graded XF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 4/5.  The grade is very respectable for an ancient bronze, since bronze represents the most reactive (by far) of all the coinage metals.  I still need to complete my Owner’s Comments for this coin.  I am having a very difficult time finding out any information about the site of this coin’s strike (Gordus-Julia).

  5. This entry is reserved for Ulpia Marciana, sister of Emperor Trajan.  I still need to fill this one!

  6. This entry is reserved for Salonia Matidia, neice of Emperor Trajan.  I have filled this slot, but I have not yet received an NGC grade for this one, stay tuned.

  7. I wanted to add example(s) of so-called “Pseudo-Autonomous” coinage as struck in various Roman territories.  There is a staggering array of possible coins to consider as representing this class, hard to decide which one to pick as representative.  But when I found this particular bronze, struck during the reign of Hadrian, I could not resist including it. The reason it spoke to me was that it included one side the bust of Roma and on the other the bust of Senate, so a very nice pairing and a chance to talk about the history of the Roman Senate.  This coin is in very nice condition for an ancient bronze, struck Ch XF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 4/5.  I still need to complete my Owner’s Comments for this one, please stay tuned.

  8. This coin represents an example of the “Coins of the Mines”.  These coins are apparently extremely rare and highly sought after, this one was very hard to find.  This one celebrates the highly fruitful Dardanian mines, and graded VF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 4/5.  Read my owner’s comment to learn about the advanced technologies the Roman’s developed to efficiently find, extract, and process precious metal ores.  Researching this coin helped me to truly appreciate how important Rome’s mines were to the Empire’s stability.

  9. This slot is reserved for Hadrian, and although many example abound, I still haven’t found the particular coin that speaks to me to acquire for this slot.

  10. I figured Hadrian was such an interesting and successful Emperor that he deserved a second slot, and in particular I thought it would be a great opportunity to research and comment on Hadrian’s extensive travels, and the practice, in general, of the Augustus visiting the various realms included as Rome’s vast territories.  Like the slot above, I still haven’t found the coin that speaks to me to acquire for this slot.

  11. For this slot, I felt compelled to include a drachm featuring Antinous, who was, aside from Hadrian himself, was one of the most famous people of his time.  I like to describe Antinous as the ancient world's first and foremost male supermodel.  He was lover to Hadrian, historians as wont to call him Hadrian’s favorite.  One should consider in ancient Rome, having inherited Hellenistic influences, that homosexuality and/or bisexuality was not so unusual, and arguably the norm, particularly among aristocracy.  The story of Antinous and Hadrian in an extremely fascinating chapter in the history of the Roman Empire, and I encourage anyone interested in learning more, please see my owner’s comments.

  12. This slot is reserved for Sabina, wife of Hadrian, and I still haven’t found the coin that speaks to me to acquire for this slot.

  13. This coin is very special in that it could feasibly be considered a religious artifact.  It is a silver zuz strike by the Judeans during their period of independence they achieved in the Bar Kokhba War.  This coin is in outstanding condition, Ch MS Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5.  This particular conflict was most horrific – to the extent that the battle-weary Hadrian, in addressing the Senate of the situation, omitted the customary greeting “I and my army are well.”  This coin is fascinating since one can discern the Hebrew inscription “For the freedom of Jerusalem,” as well as evidence of an overstrike on a Roman denarius, notably the Latin inscription IMP TRAIANO AVG, denoting imperator Augustus Trajan.  Such melding of Trajan denarius and Bar Kokhba zuz on the same flan provides a poignant, if mind-boggling, composition. It is also interesting that Bar Kokhba’s patriotic inscriptions mimicked the Romans’ use of coinage as propaganda for raising political and military support. For more fascinating details, please see my Owner’s Comments.

  14. This entry is reserved for Aelius Caesar. I still need to fill this one!

  15. The Roman Empire wasn’t the only ancient realm experiencing a Golden Age.  Their rivals at the time, namely the Parthians, were also arguably in the middle of their own Golden Age.  So I thought I would end this Page with this spectacularly preserved drachm, graded Ch MS, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I obtained this coin since I was so astounded at its condition, but furthermore, I have an interest in the Parthian Empire.  I managed to start another collection to have in parallel with the Roman Empire collection, but I never got very far on that collection as I would have liked (I had to focus on one, and I choose the Roman Empire).  Read my Owner’s Comments to learn more about the enigmatic Parthains.


This new “Journal Entry” provides an update on the 5th Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “The Roman Empire.”

This Page is 67% complete (10 coins out of 15 slots), and for one of those 10 coins my “Owner’s Comments” are pending.

Here is a link to the Collection…


Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "PERSEVERANCE": The Empire weathers a civil war culminating in the rise of Emperor Vespasian and his Flavian dynasty.


The following are comments on the coins I choose for this Page and why…

  1. Jewish Revolt.  This ancient bronze (graded XF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 4/5) is an example of coinage struck in Judaea during the “Great Jewish Revolt” there between 66-70 AD.  While Rome finally managed to regain control, the toll was enormous.  Besides the historical importance relevant to the Roman Empire (e.g., this war propelled the political power of Vespasian and he rode that success to become Emperor), the conflict also fits in well with the theme of this Page.  This war illustrates the desire of the Judaeans to persevere against oppression, and Rome’s more than equal determination to persevere in maintaining their control.
  2. For this slot, I choose an ancient bronze depicting Rhescuporis I, Rome’s client King ruling the Kingdom of Bosporus.  This one graded VF, Strike =5/5, Surface = 2/5 (that surface grade is probably due to a perceived smoothed at some point, but to me does not detract from the coin’s fascination at all).  The reason I had to get it was the fascinating obverse imagery of the King maltreating some captives.  Such a depiction became a common theme of coinage later in Rome’s history, so it would seem Rhescupors was ahead of his time. I wanted to include some coinage to represent Rome’s client kings, and this one seemed very interesting to me.  See my essay for more interesting details about Rhescuporis and this coin in particular.  That research turned out far more interesting than I expected.  I can not resist pasting in my last sentence from the Owner’s Comments: “Alas, it is not within scope of this NGC Custom Set to represent all Bosphorus’ Kings, not to mention the myriad rulers of Rome’s other interesting client kingdoms. Instead, this collection relies on worthy exemplification, providing serendipitous opportunities for historical contemplation.”
  3. Roman Civil War.  I don’t have this slot filled in yet.
  4. Galba.  This denarius graded an impressive AU, Strike = 4/5, Surface=5/5.  Not only that it earned both a star for its eye appeal.  In addition, it also earned a “Fine Style” designation, which is pretty hard to get for Roman coinage (at least compared to, say, ancient Greek coinage).  Galba wanted to place Rome on the path to a new golden age, and his coinage is extremely interesting.  This particular  denarius features on the reverse a remarkable, unprecedented epithet of VICTORIA P • R; as such, Galba is not advertising personal achievement, but victory for the Roman populace, populi romani.  For more details, see my Owner’s Comments.
  5. Otho.  I don’t have this slot filled in yet.
  6. Vitellius. I don’t have this slot filled in yet.
  7. Vespasian.  This coin is one of my favorites in my entire collection for its historical interest and outstanding state of preservation.  It graded MS, Srike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5, and earned a star for its amazing eye appeal.   This denarius features on the reverse the Emperor in a quadriga celebrating his victory of Judaea.  Such “Judaea Capta” coinage are highly sought after for the religio-historical importance.  As part of my research on this coin, I came across Josephus’ account of this particular triumph that Vespasian celebrated in Rome.  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 ancient Romans sure knew how to throw a party!
  8. Titus.  I don’t have this slot filled in yet.
  9. Titus.  I included here a coin that was struck as part of the opening of the Roman Colosseum. It graded Ch VF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I wanted to include two of Titus’ coins in the collection: for the first slot above, which I have not yet filled, I wanted to write my Owner’s Comments focusing on Titus himself, and for this second slot, I wanted to use the opportunity to provide some historical details regarding Roman engineering, and specifically, the impressive construction project that became the Colosseum.  I have not yet written my Owner’s Comments on this one, stay tuned. 
  10. Domitilla the Elder, wife of Vespasian.  This one is a sestertius and graded VF Strike = 4/5 Surface = 2/5.  It represents the only issue appropriately attributed to the elder Domitilla.  To really appreciate the weight and presence of a sestertius, you really need to actually hold it in your hand.  This one features a carpentum.  Beyond mere conveyances, carpenta held social, political, and spiritual significance. Religious and political elite employed carpenta, particularly Rome’s wealthy and powerful women. Carpenta were tricked out with arched rooftops, elaborate and customized interiors, and even metal- and leather-strap based suspensions. Besides mules, optional powertrains included horses and oxen. Carpenta also sported metal-shod wheels, making them noisy, even at low speeds.  As a group, the so-called “carpentum sestertii” provide a fascinating insight into the early Roman Empire and a popular subject for ancient coin collectors.
  11. Julia Titi.  I don’t have this slot filled in yet. 
  12. Agrippa II, featuring Domitian as Caesar.  This ancient bronze graded VF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 3/5.  Agrippa II was the seventh and last sovereign descended from Herod the Great.  I felt that he played such an important role in Rome’s history in first century AD, for example he came to Rome’s aid during the Great Jewish Revolt.  See my Owner’s Comments to read more about this interesting client king and his role in the religio-political history of his time.  This coin certainly seems fitting for this Page with the theme of perseverance.  Agrippia II’s five-decade tenure was the longest of any Herodian client king, and even surpassed Augustus.
  13. Domitian. This denarius graded an impressive MS, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 5/5. It is one of only a few coins in this collection that earned a "Fine Style" designation.  This denarius features on the reverse, the Emperor's personal favorite deity, namely 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. 
  14. This ancient provincial bronze features Rome's imperial couple, Domitia and Domitian.  This one graded Ch VF, Strike  = 5/5, Surface = 3/5.  Over the course of nineteen centuries, the coin’s surfaces have amassed circulation wear and chemical alteration. The resulting patina, particularly the complementary hues of green and red, lends an aesthetic appeal that is best appreciated firsthand. So, as a chemical engineer by nature, I could not resist the opportunity to provide some details in my Owner's Comments regarding the chemistry of the coinage metals, also known as Group 11 (according to the periodic table of the elements), whose species are relatively chemically inert, electronically conductive, and corrosion resistant. Group 11 includes Cu (copper), Ag (silver), and Au (gold), all of which occur in nature and, not surprisingly, represent the first elements ever discovered. 
  15. For this final slot I included a coin representing Vespasian Jr, whom Domitian adopted in an attempt to gain more popularity as an Emperor with a defined heir.  This extremely rare ancient bronze graded Ch VF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 2/5.  The fate of younger Vespasian remains uncertain. Soon after this coin debuted, his father, Titus Flavius Clemens, was executed by Domitian for monotheism. Perhaps Domitian decided to pro-actively execute Vespasian Junior as well, even at the expense of becoming heirless once again. In any case, Domitian’s efforts to propagate the Flavian dynasty proved moot. After his murder, the Senate choose Nerva as Rome’s next Emperor.  The Empire persevered into the next Chapter...

This new “Journal Entry” provides an update on the 4th Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “The Roman Empire.”

This Page is 100% complete (15 coins out of 15 slots), although three of my “Owner’s Comments” are pending.  I will update this journal entry as I complete those essays.


Here is a link to the Collection…



Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "DECADENCE”…

Rome's influence continues to expand under the leadership of notoriously self-indulgent, intemperate Emperors such as Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.


The follow are comments on the coins I choose for this Page and why…

  1. Caligula.  When it comes to decadent behavior, Caligula certainly comes to mind.  This particular coin I choose wishes good health for the Emperor. According to come reports, at a point during his reign Caligula became increasingly erratic and cruel, and perhaps this coin was in response.   This fascinating provincial coin is sometimes attributes to Caesonia (in guise of Salus).  The grading on this one was Ch VF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 3/5, which is not a reasonable condition for this bronze issue.  I am still researching this one. Caligula was such a complex Emperor that I want to do justice to him (and the coin!), so my research may take some more time.
  2. Antiochus IV of Commagene. Ancient bronze grade Ch XF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 3/5.  I am not sure that I have ever seen a better example of this rare and interesting coin.  Since this Chapter focuses on decadence, I had to include an issue from the “richest of all subject kings”.  Interestingly, on researching the reverse I uncovered that scorpions were used as biological weapons against the ancient Romans.  I have a very difficult time imagining the R&D effort to develop and produce that weapon (imagine the Gannt chart for that project!)  Read my comments for the stinging details.
  3. Ptolomey of Mauretania.  I included this fabulous denarius since this particular king’s downfall was a direct result of his public display of decadence. He up-staged the Emperor not only by couture but also his full head of hair (for more hair-raising details, see my comments).  This coin is so rare that is very likely unique.  So, I guess that makes it “Finest Known”.  The grade is AU, Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5.
  4. Drusilla, sister of Caligula.  This coin features Caligula and his three sisters.  As such, it is one of the most famous ancient Roman sestertii. I was extremely pleased to be able to procure one of these highly coveted coins – they are very rare, I’m not sure how many are out there, but not that many!  I have not had this coin graded yet, nor written my comments.  I am very much looking forward to both! 
  5. Caesonia and Drusilla Minor, with Herod Agrippa I.  This coin is the only issue representing Caesonia, Caligula’s fourth and final wife, and their child Drusilla Minor.  It was struck in Judaea, one of several such in my collection.  I also used this coin in my owner’s comments to discuss Herod Agrippa I, a very important client king.  The ancient histories are certainly juicy regarding everything about Caligula and those around him, although the veracity and extent of the details recorded are questionable given the biases.  This was a fun coin to research and write my owners comments.  The grade is VG, Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5. Given the extremely rarity and historical importance of this coin, I don’t mind the grade.
  6. Julia Livilla, of the Caligula’s sisters.  This bronze is so rare there are probably only a dozen in existence.   This one graded NGC Ch F Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5.  It was struck in Lesbos, adding to its interest.  I won't go into the history of murder and mayhem, you can read my owner’s comments if you are interested.
  7. Claudius.  One of the most famous Emperors, particularly with regards to his many wives.  Researching this bronze As and writing up my owner’s comments was highly interesting.  This coin is one of only a few that I received a “Fine Style” designation for, and if you hold in your hand you can truly appreciate.  This coin graded an impressive AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 2/5.  I admit I was a bit disappointed at the surface grade, I suppose it was because of some perceived smoothing (not by me, of course).  Regardless, it is an impressive coin, befitting an impressive Emperor.
  8. Valeria Messalina, wife of Claudius.  This coin, like all for Messalina, is very rare.  This one, struck in Crete, graded Ch VF Strike: 3/5 Surface: 2/5.  Again, sorry to repeat myself, but the relatively low grade is fine from my perspective considering the rarity and importance of the coin.  In a strange way, having so may examples of bronze coins in such grades seems befitting for a Page focused on decadence.  Even the coins are degraded, tarnished by their decadent histories of those they represent.  To pique your interest to read my owners comments, my opening thesis is that Messalina was perhaps the most ruthlessly ambitious and promiscuous woman in the history of the Roman Empire.
  9. Claudia Octavia, Claudia Antonia, and Britannicus, children of Claudius.  This very rare ancient bronze, struck in Cyzicus, graded F, Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5.  This coin is an interesting dynastic issue, featuring no fewer that three hard-to-find dynasts.  In the end, Nero’s political ambitions consumed all three of Claudius’ biological children. Consequently, ancient coinage featuring members of that trio are relatively scarce. Even so, a few remarkable issues, including this specimen, feature all three, providing a poignant reminder of the dynastic decadence defining the early Roman Empire.
  10. Britannicus w/Herod Agrippa II.  This bronze is so rare that is probably unique, yes, the only one in existence.  The grade is VF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 2/5.  I decided that the rarity (which I was surprised was within my means!) and the interest of this particular coin proved more valuable to me than purchasing a higher-graded, more common coin representing Britannicus.  To read his tragic history at the mercy of his brother Nero, see my comments.
  11. Agrippina Jr w/Nero.  When I saw this coin, I was so drawn to it that I decided that I must acquire it (some or most of you must know where I a coming from with this statement).  The composition is absolutely mind-boggling.  The obverse shows Agrippina Jr and her son Nero facing one another, and the reverse features the goddess Nemesis.  I’m still working on my comments.  When I post, you can read more to see why this composition is mind-boggling.  This coin graded AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5.  For an ancient Roman provincial bronze, that is a high grade
  12. Nero.  Nero is probably the Emperor most noted for his decadence.  So I picked out this coin for him, a striking tetradrachm, struck in Antioch, Syria.  The grade is Ch AU, Strike = 5/5, and Surface = 5/5.  This coin also earned a prestigious “Star” rating as well for its presence. I can't resist pasting here my final sentence in my comments: “A consummate entertainer to the end, Nero convincingly played the role of both hero and villain."
  13. Poppaea, with husband Nero.  This coin is another tetradrachm, struck in Alexandria, Egypt.  The grade is XF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5.  The history of Poppaea fits in very well this Page’s theme of decadence.  In the words of Tacitus, “She had every aspect except goodness.”
  14. Poppaea with Claudia.  This is the only issue featuring Claudia, the daughter of Nero and Poppaea.  Unfortunately, she died quite young, so this coin is a posthumous issue for both female dynasts (reportedly, Poppaea - and another, unborn child - died after Nero kicked her in the stomach).  It was struck in Galilee, and the grade is XF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5, a high grade for this particular issue
  15. Statilia Messalina, last wife of Nero.  This very rare bronze was struck in Lydia, and is graded XF, Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5 (again, that’s a good grade for an ancient bronze, and this issue in particular).  Looking at her obverse portrait, you would not think that she was known for her beauty.  Indeed, I chose this coin became I was amused at how Messalina’s features resemble Nero!  The reverse features the important goddess Artemis, so in my comments I took the opportunity to discuss Her as well (according to Pausanius, Her worshippers put on quite the show).

This new “Journal Entry” provides an update on the third Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “The Roman Empire.”


This Page is 80% complete (12 coins out of 15 slots).  For one of the those 12 coins, I still have not completed my “Owner’s Comments.”


Here is a link to the Collection…




Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "SUCCESSION”…


Julio-Claudian dynasts feud amongst themselves, maintaining Rome sternly down the path of Empire amidst growing religiopolitcal upheavals.


The following is a brief description of the coins I choose to include and why.


  1. The first coin on this Page is a denarius featuring Augustus on obverse and two imperial succession candidates, Caius and Lucius Caesars, on the reverse.  This is a popular issue for collectors of ancient Roman coins.  I wanted to include this one not only to represent Caius and Lucius, but also as what seemed to be a seminal early coin of the Roman Empire, a fitting first coin to launch this Page focused on succession.  This one graded Ch AU, Strike = 3/5 and Surface = 3/5.
  2. The second coin in this Page features Augustus and his buddy Agrippa, who, along with his offspring, provided opportunities for imperial successors.  Like the previous coin, this one seems to be popular as well.  It is an example of a “crocodile” coin, that is, it features a crocodile as a symbol of Egypt, and this coin advertises Rome’s control over Egypt, an important realm for its resources.  In my Owner’s Comments, I took the opportunity to discuss the role of the crocodile as an apex predator, particularly in ancient times.  Of course, I also discuss Agrippa, and his accomplishments in various areas from warfare to civil engineering. Augustus was lucky to have such a faithful and productive comrade, who played a substantial role in the success of the early Roman Empire.
  3. For this slot, I choose an ancient bronze featuring Asinius Gallus, an interesting Roman patrician.  This coin is rare, and this one graded as MS, Strike=4/5 and Surface = 4/5, perhaps among the finest known, at least among examples I was able to search within readily available sources.  Asinius was a colleague of Augustus and, as such, yet another possible imperial candidate, or at least Asinius wanted to promote himself as such.   Besides describing the interesting history between Asinius and the Emperor, I also took the opportunity in my Owner’s Comments to talk about the origin and design on the coin.  Its origin was Aeolis, Temnus, famed as birthplace of Hermagoras, the 1st century BC rhetorician famous for the “seven circumstances” (who, what, when, where, why, in what way, by what means) that still provides a basis for modern investigation.  The coin’s design invokes the philosophical concept of the Apollonian and Dionysian, or dichotomy between the irrationality of emotions and rationality of reason, mirroring the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang.
  4. This slot is not yet filled.  I originally thought to use this slot to include a coin of Agrippa Postumus, last child of Agrippa.  However, it turns out that such a coin is extremely difficult to obtain, and, so far, has proven out of my reach.  Therefore, I currently plan to include for this slot a coin of Herod Antipas.  Besides the interesting biblical history of Herod Antipas, I thought including such an issue would provide the opportunity to continue my theme of succession, and describe how Augustus not only had to grapple not only with his own succession, but also succession within his client states.  I will update this Journal Entry as I fill it and provide my Owner’s Comments.
  5. For this slot, I chose to include a prutah struck by Pontius Pilatel one of Rome’s prefects of Judaea. This coin was encapsulated as a “Coin of the Bible”, so there is no official grade.  It is obviously of very high historical interest.  This coin is heavily circulated (personally, I would consider it only F, maybe 3/5 for both strike and surface), but in my opinion that increases its historical interest to consider that it circulated and exchanged many hands in a time and place that held a tremendous impact on human history.
  6. This slot, assigned to Nero Cladius Drusus is not yet filled.  Nero Claudius Drusus was brother to Rome’s second Emperor, Tiberius. I will update this Journal Entry as I fill it and provide my Owner’s Comments.
  7. This slot, assigned to Tiberius, Rome’s second Emperor is not yet filled.  I intend to put a “Tribute penny” type coin here.  I will update this Journal Entry as I fill it and provide my Owner’s Comments.
  8. For this slot I chose another interesting dynastic issue, and ancient bronze featuring Tiberius and two of his Caesars, Drusus the Younger (his son and only child) and Germanicus (his nephew).  This coin graded VF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 3/5.
  9. For this slot, I was lucky to obtain an example bronze featuring Sejanus, Tiberius’ Praetorian Prefect and would-be successor.  Thus coin graded F, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 2/5.  There are some ancient collectors who would argue that they would not consider a coin with a “2” grade (for either Strike or Surface) for their collection. While I understand that goal, I would say that for extremely rare coins, especially rare bronzes, one must accept that probability.  In this case, there are only 19 coins like this one in existence, so I don’t mind.  I’m just happy to have acquired one in any condition.
  10. For this slot, I chose to include the sole issue attributed to Livilla, who was Tiberius’ niece.  I found her history extremely interesting, see my Owner’s  Comments for details.  This relatively scarce coin graded Ch XF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 3/5. 
  11. Here I picked Tiberius Gemellus.  This coin is extremely rare, I am not sure what the population is, but based on how infrequently I have seen up for auction and in auction archives, it seems nearly as rare my Sejanus coin.  This one graded F, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 2/5.  Again, no apologies for the low grade, it's the consequence of including such a rare and interesting coin in the collection. 
  12. Here I picked Germanicus Gemellus, and this one is very popular with collectors -  a sestertius featuring an iconic double cornucopia surmounted with the busts of Tiberius’ grandsons.  This one graded VF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 2/5.  Uncommon but not especially rare, this one seems difficult to find in a good surface grade.  Perhaps that's because of its popularity and susceptibility for cleaning and surface manipulations by avid collectors who didn’t know better.   I may someday “upgrade” this one; in the meantime, I would rather invest in filling an empty slot in this collection instead.
  13. This coin is a very nice sestertius featuring Agrippina Sr, it graded VF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5.  I still have not completed my research and written my Owner’s Comments yet, stay tuned for that.
  14. This is another fabulous, iconic bronze, issues by Caligula to posthumously honor his brothers Nero and Drusus Ceasars.  It features the two brothers on horseback, and I took the opportunity in my Owner’s Comments to discuss to history of human domestication of the horse, and the relevance to the history of the Roman Empire.  This coin graded Ch VF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 3/5.
  15. This coin features one of my favorite women in the Roman Empire’s history, namely Antonia, daughter of Marc Antonia and Octavia.  (The latter was Octavian/Augustus, so Antonia was his niece.)  This bronze graded XF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 5/5.  I had to include Antonia since I kept coming across references to her “remarkable court,” referencing the scores of Roman nobles and dynasts from surrounding realms that she raised.  Thus, Antonia seemed a perfect slot as the last coin on this Page focused on succession.

This new “Journal Entry” provides an update on the second Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “The Roman Empire.”  It is satisfying to report that, following the grading results of my Herod The Great ancient bronze, and after finalizing my Owner’s Comments of that coin… Page #2 is now COMPLETE!


Here is a link to the Collection…




Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "GENESIS"…


Following civil war with Mark Antony, Cleopatra, and other of Rome's elite, Octavian becomes Augustus and the Republic transitions into an Empire dominating the Mediterranean basin including client kingdoms such as Judaea, Nabataea, and Mauretania.


The following is a brief description of the coins I choose to include and why.


  1. The first coin on this Page an ancient obol (the only example of such a denomination in this collection) struck by Lepidus, graded as AU with a 4/5 Strike and a 3/5 Surface.  You might be asking – who was Lepidus? I must admit, before I started this collection, my recollection of my history was a little fuzzy there.  Lepidus does not rank nearly as renown as his sidekicks Octavian (aka Augsustus) and Marc Antony, who together formed a Triumvir’s reboot.   I can’t resist re-using this excerpt from my Owner’s Comments: “If the name isn’t familiar, no wonder, Lepidus turned out the prototypical persona non grata of Roman politics. Borrowing sic erat scriptum the tagline of a late, modern-day comedian, he didn't get no respect.”
  2. A rare quinarius struck by Marc Antony featuring his third wife, Fulvia, graded Ch F, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 3/5.  Fulvia was a most remarkable person, and she holds the distinction of the first living Roman women appearing on a coin (although not non-ambiguously).  She was prominent enough that Octavian felt threatened by her, at least to the point the he and his troops resorted to juvenile-like name-calling on their glans (if you are intrigued, see my Owner’s Comments for more, juicy details).
  3. An example of Marc Antony’s fleet coinage featuring his fourth wife, Octavia Minor, who was Octavian’s sister.  I personally find such fleet coinage fascinating as a group of ancients.  This example graded VF, Strike = 3/5 Surface = 3/5.  Octavia was one of the most influential women of her time, and she set a standard for an exemplary Roman noblewoman.   Based on history, we can’t say the reciprocal statement for her husband Antony.
  4. A fabulous Marc Antony Legionary denarius, graded AU, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5.  Antony’s legionary denarii are probably the most recognizable of all ancient coinage, and they are fascinating as well as historically significant.  They directly relate to the final conflict between Antony and Octavian that led to Rome’s transformation from Republic to Empire.  Some enthusiasts focus on collecting all the varients, and I certainly can appreciate the allure of that.  Alas, given the breadth of this collection, I only included the one example!
  5. An ancient Egyptian bronze featuring perhaps the most famous lovers of all time, Marc Antony on one side and Cleopatra on the other.  This coin graded XF, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 3/5.  It is thrilling to hold this one in hand, especially for the very clear portraiture for both subjects.  Unlike the ancient coin featuring conjoined portraits of Antony and Octavia found elsewhere in this NGC Ancients collection (#3 above), herein Cleopatra demands equal billing, as if not willing to sharing the flan with Antony.
  6. Of course, Cleopatra deserves her own slot in the collection!  She played an important role in the story of Rome's genesis into an Empire, and, besides, she is one of the most famous woman of all time.  This ancient bronze graded Ch XF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5.  It among the scarcest of the rare in this collection – only three examples are known.  Also, this one is a “plate” coin, that is, its image appears in RPC, and, I must admit, that gives its current owner an extra thrill!
  7. I decided to include an example ancient bronze struck by Herod the Great (and I devoted a few slots to his descendants as well).  This coin's grade is relatively low,  graded as F, Strike = 4/5, Surface= 3/5, but that does not change my enjoyment of owning it.  It is particular special to me for its provenance; its previous owner was the author of a seminal reference book on biblical coinage (Hendin) that I referenced.  Herod was a fascinating fellow, whose legacy comprises equal elements of tyranny and grandeur, as befits the most famous of all the Roman Empire’s client kings.
  8. Another example of a Roman client’s coinage, this one is an ancient bronze attributed to Syllaeus and Aretas IV of Nabataea, graded NGC Ch VF Strike =  4/5 Surface =  3/5.    The story of Syllaeus and Aretas is fascinating (see my Owner’s Comments for details), and their interactions with Herod and Augustus provide some interesting insights into the political atmosphere as Rome transformed from Republic to Empire. 
  9. This slot is an admittedly ecelectic choice – an ancient bronze featuring Vedius Pollio, graded F Strike = 5/5, Surface = 3/5.  It is tough to find, so I don’t mind the grade.  Besides, I couldn’t resist including this coin after I researched that  Pollio was famous in his time as a epicurean.  Pollio's greatest claim to fame was an incident wherein he threatened to torture one of his servants by immersing him into a pool of eels.  A pool of eels, you might be wondering about that...well, what famous Roman epicurean wouldn't want to have fresh seafood on hand for entertaining important guests?  In this case, the guest was Augustus himself, who saved the servant from piscine persecution.  I used this coin to provide some insight into Roman cuisine, a fascinating topic in and of itself.  As it turns out, the ancient Romans were pioneers of aquaculture, and ancient ruins suggest that they raised carp long before the Japanese developed nishikigoi such as those depicted in my profile picture.
  10. An example denarius of an important Roman client king, Juba II of Mauretania.  This specimen graded AU, Strike =  4/5, Surface = 4/5.  The story of Juba (and his wife Cleaopatra Selen, a pairing arranged by Augustus) is a fascinating tale of two fated soul-mates.   At the time of Juba’s reign, Mauretania was at its zenith, renown for its arts and sciences. 
  11. This ancient Roman provincial bronze, graded NGC VF Strike = 4/5 Surface = 3/5, features Augstus’ only biological child, his daughter Julia.  Her coins are rare, and worth procuring in any condition available.  She had quite the personality, as famous for her wit as her alledged sexual escapades.  To hear more about her rebellion against parental authority, see my owner’s comments.
  12. This denarius features Octavian and Divus Julius Ceasar, graded XF, Strike=  4/5, Surface =3/5.  It is one of the most historically important coins in the collection (besides, astronomy is one of my personal interests).  At least a 100-million-to-1 coincidence (?), one of the all-time (as recorded by humans, that is) brightest comets appeared at the same time Octavian hosted funeral games for his adoptive father Julius Caesar.  Octavian seized that opportunity to create a new religion, one that allowed for a man to be god, in turn fostering the conversion of the Roman Republic into an Empire.  If that sounds like a stretch for a thesis, consider the impact of religion in our modern world.
  13. This slot is an ancient bronze featuring Augustus and yet another client king, Rhoemetalces I of Thrace.  Besides that Thracian King's interesting backstory, I also used this slot as an opportunity to discuss Augustus' strategy for building client states, to be, at need, gradually absorbed into the Empire as provinces.  Given the many decades long he managed to rule, and the many centuries his successors managed to maintain an Empire, it appears the strategy was effective.  
  14. This slot is an ancient Roman provincial bronze featureing the Roman Empire's first First Couple, Augustus and Livia.  It graded as Ch XF, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 3/5.  This coin is even more rare that the Cleopatra bronze mentioned above (#6) - in this case, only two specimens are known.  Livia fell in love and stayed faithfully devoted (for 40 years) to a man who should have been her mortal enemy.  She set the standard as a model Roman matron, and played a very important role in the genesis and early decades of the Roman Empire. 
  15. Wrapping up the story of the Roman Empire's genesis is a well-preserved quadrans, graded AU, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5.  Its beautiful color and striking presence are difficult to capture in a digital image.  It features the harmonious imagery of clasped hands, and I used it to discuss the "Pax Romana", the extended period of peace and prosperity brought to Rome as Octavian emerged as Augsutus and the Republic transformed into an Empire. 

I am creating a "Journal Entry" for page "Page" (grouping of 15 coins) in the Gallery view for my Roman Empire Custom Set.


To that end, this journal entry is for the first Page in the collection, which I have entitled "Prelude," with the goal to  provide a good introduction to the geography, peoples, political climate, etc. that existed just prior to Rome converting from Republic to Empire.  Here is the synopsis...


Prelude. The saga begins with coins from mid 2nd to 1st century BC exemplifying the late Roman Republic including the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, the waning of Hellenistic influence, and other contemporary tribes of the ancient world.


...and here is a link to the Page...



I just received grades on my last round of ancients (which took two months), and among those coins was an example of "The Coin That Killed Ceasar," so now I can update that this first Page is COMPLETE!  

Of course, I might decided to "upgrade" certain coins later.  Also, as this is a Custom Set, I might decide later on to redefine the coins in one or more slots (that is the fun of an NGC Custom Set -  I don’t have to worry about someone else changing the rules for what coins are allowed etc, it’s all up to my own preference!)


The following is a brief description of the coins I choose to include and why.


  1. First, I wanted to provide a few examples of coins from the Roman Republic.  There are lots of beautiful and historically important coins to choose from, so that is a tough task. In the end I choose three (and then four other coins that should be deemed as “Imperatorial”, but I’m getting ahead of myself).  The very first is an MS grade Roman denarius, Strike=5/5, Surface=4/5, featuring a Roma obverse and a reverse that portrays Rome’s founding – the fascinating tale or Romulus and Remus.  What better choice to kick of the collection?

  2. An MS grade Roman denarius, Strike=5/5, Surface=4/5 featuring Roma obverse and a triga reverse, wherein I used this coin to discuss how the ancient Roman Republic oversaw coin production – namely, the role of Rome’s “moneyers.”  While this coin is arguably the least interesting/important on this Page, I included it since it has a special meaning to me.  Namely, it was one the very first ancient coins I ever purchased, and (which is getting rarer and rarer these days) I purchased it after selecting it by hand in a coin shop  (as opposed to ordering from an image over the internet).  So when I submitted that coin for grading and received the MS, I was obviously very pleased.

  3. This one I could not resist buying – a gorgeous Ch MS, Strike=5/5, Surface=5/5, Roman denarius issued by L. Marcius Censorinus, whose ultimate fate at the hands of Sulla parallels in some ways the subject of the reverse, namely Marsyas.  In a way, this coin’s imagery is a prelude to the curtailment of personal liberties that was ahead for Rome’s citizens as their State turned into an autocracy.

  4. An MS grade denarius issued by Sulla, Strike=4/5, Surface=5/5.  Another gorgeous coin, one best appreciated “in hand,” one that a picture does not do justice to.  Sulla served for a time a Rome’s first dictator in a century and he (inadvertently?!) paved the way for Caesar’s rise to be Rome’s dictator, and subsequently Augustus’ rise to Emperor.

  5. Rome’s arch-nemesis in first century BC, namely Mithradates VI, King of Pontus.  I could not resist adding Mithradates, he is such an interesting figure from history.  This one is a very lustrous Ch MS gold stater 5/5, 5/5, don’t ask me how a coin this coin managed to survive in such pristine state?

  6. This one is a tetradrachm, graded Ch AU, Strike=5/5, Surface=4/5, featuring Nicomedes IV, King of Bithynia.  I could not resist adding this one for lots of reasons…first, I love the size, heft and presence of holding an ancient tetradrachm (for anyone who has held in hand an ancient stephanophoric tetradrachm, you know what I mean).  In this case, I almost was reluctant to encase this coin in a slab (this could be an interesting topic for discussion all by itself!)  Second, Nicomedes played a role in Caesar’s rise to power, and they were reported to have a sexual relationship (at least to the point some Romans called Caesar the “Queen of Bithynia”).  Third, the story of Nicomedes alternating between the forerunner of a client King and a refugee in Rome is fascinating and again is prelude to the Roman Empire's grappling over the control of client states.

  7. An ancient bronze of Tigranes II The Great, graded Ch VF, Strike=5/5, Surface=4/5.  Tigranes was an another extremely interesting fellow, a former Roman enemy turned ally…his story is another one that preludes how Rome exerted power over client kingdoms.  I also love that he associated himself on his coinage with the celestial object we today call Halley’s comet!

  8. The next two coins are representative of the other cultures living in Europe contemporaneously with the Romans.  The first coin is Celtic AR Drachm, graded MS, Strike=4/5, Surface=5/5, imitating the Greek coinage of Massalia.  I used this coin and this slot in the collection to provide an overview of the Celtic tribes that exerted a tremendous influence on the Roman Empire, and eventually consumed it.

  9. This coin is an ancient bronze grade VF, Strike=5/5, Surface=4/5, featuring the great King of the Gauls (or more appropriately, Galatia).  That remarkable man was Deiotarus, who became an ally to Rome after Cicero successfully pleaded his case before Caesar.  This was one of many examples where my research on the coin proved far more interesting than I expected.

  10. Finally, we get to Caesar himself, and in the end I choose three coins.  The first is an historically important and iconic “elephant denarius.”  This one graded Ch AU, Strike= 5/5, Surface=5/5 with a Star noted. While I was excited to get such a good grade, to be honest I was hoping for an MS (oh well, almost!).  I used this slot to reflect on Caesar’s civil war.

  11. An MS grade denarius representing Caesar’s reign as dictator.  This one is another propaganda masterpiece, wherein Caesar advertises his supposed ancestral link to Athena and Aeneas.  The Surface rated 5/5, however, an off-center strike resulted in a Strike rating of 3/5.  Even so, the coin is extremely pleasing, and the strike does not reduce its allure to me; it is perhaps par for the course for coinage that was struck with such urgency.

  12. This coin is one of the most historically important ancient coins that is reasonably accessible (as compared to, say Brutus' ides of March denarii).  I just received the grade on this one as AU.  The strike rated as a 3/5 (again, off center and weak), which in this case in not unusual for this coin; in this case, I do not perceive the "low" grade as a detriment, but rather as a feature.  The surface rated as 4/5.  This coin, and others similar to it that were struck contemporaneously, were the first examples where a living Roman was depicted on Rome's coins.  Not only that, the coin also proclaims Caesar's new title as "Dictator for Life."  Arguably, such coins precipitated Caesar's murder, and some have even gone so far as call this denarius as The Coin That Killed Caesar.

  13. Another example of a coin that I saw and immediately found irresistible to procure for the collection.  It is an ancient bronze graded Ch VF, Strike=5/5, Surface=4/5.  I love the obverse Janiform bust of Pompey, and took the chance to reflect on that Roman god’s duality of beginning/ending, and war/peace.  I also used this coin slot to describe some details about Rome’s ferocious war machine, while simultaneously providing some background about Pompey and his descendants, and their wars against Caesar and his successors, notably Octavian, who would become Augustus.

  14. It would not seem proper if I didn't include a coin of Brutus’, so this one is a enigmatic “Koson” gold stater, rated Ch MS (no Strike or Surface grading).  This is an extremely interesting coin since there is controversy regarding whether Brutus actually struck it or not (at least he inspired it, so that alone makes it relevant to use for this slot, at least in my opinion). My Owner’s Comments on this one provide some scenarios for coin’s origins, in light of the referenced paper describing elemental analyses via particle-induced X-ray emission and synchrotron radiation X-ray fluorescence.  Et tu, ΚΟΣΩΝ?

  15. Last, but certainly not least, is an MS graded denarius, Strike=5/5, Surface=4/5, issued by Brutus’ ally and co-conspirator, Cassius.  It seems fitting to end the "Prelude" Page with an example of a coin produced by the man that Brutus described as the "Last Roman."




A daunting task for sure, yet one that has provided enormous fascination and personal satisfaction thus far – to discover the Roman Empire through numismatics.  That is my stated goal for my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “The Roman Empire.”  Initially, I contemplated constructing a typical set of “Emperors” coinage.  While such an effort is certainly worthy, I quickly discovered that Rome’s history, from the Republic to the Roman Empire to the Byzantine Empire, holds far more interest.  On the other extreme would be the attempt to build a comprehensive collection of coinage based on a certain subset, for example, imperatorial, imperial, provincial, or pseudo-autonomous coinage.  In the end, I embarked upon a quest (if I may call it that!) to represent not just Rome’s Emperors, but also Empresses, allies, usurpers, and more.  While admittedly constraining, I decided to build this set within NGC’s “Page” format, allowing for 15 coins grouped together thematically, if not roughly chronologically.  As a consequence, I have “missing” coins in the collection, which, if anything, helps provide context for other coins on the same page.


For each coin in the collection, I conduct some basic research, or at least make some attempt.  This allows me to provide my own Owner’s Comments, whose historical accuracy should be taken with a grain of salt.  Where it gets particularly fun is when synergies exist with my non-numismatic interests.


At the moment, I am still awaiting NGC's grading of the last 10 coins that I acquired.  Among those is the infamous “Coin That Killed Caesar,” and once I get that one slabbed I will have reached a milestone - first “Page” complete of my collection!