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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


Roman Empire, Page 4 = DECADENCE

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!