NGC Ancients: 2022 Year in Review

Posted on 1/10/2023

Take a look at some of the best ancient coins seen in the grading room during 2022.

It seems like each year the ancient coins that we see keep getting better and better, and 2022 was no exception. The quality and quantity of coins that crossed our desks was surprising and unsurpassed!

This month, we’ll share 15 of our top coins of 2022. Most of them make the list because of their rarity or value, but some are included just because they really stuck out as exceptional.

Without a doubt, one of the best items we saw last year was a jaw-dropping, 10-aurei gold medallion of Diocletian (A.D. 284 to 305). Seeing it was an absolute treat, with its sheer size and quality being almost unfathomable.

Made at the mint of Aquileia in Italy, this 53.65g medallion features a lifelike portrait of the emperor in the highest relief. The reverse has Diocletian's patron god, Jupiter, enthroned holding a thunderbolt and scepter with an eagle at his feet.

Another coin of extreme rarity was this aureus made under Quintus Labienus in Syria around 40 B.C. The obverse shows the bust of this intriguing general. The reverse shows a Parthian horse with a bow case hanging low. The Parthians were well known for their cavalry archers.

After the death of Julius Caesar, a civil war erupted, pitting Caesar’s murderers Brutus and Cassius against Caesar’s supporters Marc Antony and Octavian. Labienus sided with Brutus and Cassius, who sent him to seek aid from the Parthian king. However, when Antony and Octavian triumphed in battle, Labienus was stranded in Parthia. With nothing to lose, Labienus convinced the Parthians to invade Syria, where they had some initial success. Eventually, an army sent by Marc Antony stopped Labienus and he was killed, but not before he made this interesting series of coins.

This aureus portrays two emperors on one coin. The newly ascended emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117 to 138) is shown armored on the obverse while his predecessor Trajan (A.D. 98 to 117) is shown on the reverse.

Hadrian was supposedly adopted by Trajan on his deathbed; however, many at the time doubted the veracity of the claim, which led to many questions on how official this adoption was. Hadrian made this coin early on in his reign to connect himself more closely with his adopted father and to further secure the throne.

The aureus above is among the finest specimens of this rare issue showing Manlia Scantilla. She was empress during the brief reign of her husband, Didius Julianus (A.D. 193), who was proclaimed emperor after buying the right to rule at an auction held by the Praetorian Guards. The reverse shows the goddess Juno holding a patera and scepter with a peacock at her feet.

Another rare Roman coin is this aureus from the usurper Uranius Antoninus (A.D. 253 to 254). Not much is known about him or his reign except that he made some remarkable coins bearing his portrait.

The obverse shows the ruler within the inscription L IVL AVR SVLP VRA ANTONINVS — abbreviating his name, Lucius Julius Aurelius Sulpicius Uranius Antoninus (though he also was known as Sampsigeramus). On the reverse, the goddess Fortuna holds a rudder and cornucopia. Although the inscriptions are Latin, the style of text indicates it was struck in the East, presumably at the city of Emesa, Syria, the base of his revolt.

Another coin of exquisite style is this aureus of Quintillus (A.D. 270), which shows the armored bust of the emperor. The details on the obverse are stunning, from the small hair curls on his head to the rivets and folds in the armor. The reverse has Concordia, the Roman personification of harmony, holding a standard and a cornucopia.

Another highlight of 2022 was this aureus of the emperor Aurelian (A.D. 270 to 275), who is shown armored on the obverse of the coin. The reverse has two Concordiae holding military standards. Just as with the previous aureus of Quintillus, one can marvel at the highly detailed, stylish imperial portrait.

At first glance this seems to be a normal — albeit very nice — tetradrachm of the Macedonian king Alexander III “the Great” (336 to 323 B.C.). But looks can be deceiving! This coin actually was made in Cyprus for the local king Nicocles (c.325 to 309 B.C.), who came to power near the end of Alexander’s life.

The obverse shows a detailed portrait of the hero Heracles but with an interesting and hidden detail: Nicocles name is spelled out in tiny Greek letters on the lion's mane. This detail is unique to this ruler and it is uncommon to see because that area of the die wore out quickly. The reverse shows Zeus enthroned, holding a scepter and an eagle.

Gold coins featuring a portrait of Julius Caesar are quite rare. Remarkably, in 2022 we were able to see four of them — a truly unexpected occurrence! We were excited to have these coins and we’ve picked one to share with you.

The above aureus was minted c.43 B.C. by Caesar's nephew and heir, Octavian. The obverse shows the bust of Octavian and the reverse portrays the deceased Julius Caesar. This coin was minted soon after Caesar's death, when young Octavian was trying to connect himself to the fallen Caesar in any way possible.

Made at Aquileia, the same mint as the Diocletian medallion, this 6-siliquae medallion is similarly beguiling. Issued under Valentinian II (A.D. 375 to 392), it shows the emperor wearing a royal diadem. The reverse has a votive wreath commemorating the first decade of his rule (VOT X) and asking for twenty more years (MVLT XX).

The wonderful gold stater is exceptional for the type. It is a remarkably historical piece minted under the Greek king Pyrrhus of Epirus (c.280 to 272 B.C.) during his intervention in South Italy.

Pyrrhus was an ambitious man who wanted to become like Alexander III “the Great.” He was given this opportunity when the people of Taras, an important city in South Italy, asked for aid against the Romans. He had some initial success, but he soon realized the Romans would not be defeated easily. He then went on for further military adventures in Sicily (with equally disappointing results) before returning to Greece, where he was killed in a small civic conflict.

The obverse shows Hercules wearing his traditional lion skin. The reverse shows a charioteer holding a trident and driving a biga (two-horse chariot). There is some belief the driver could be Taras, a son of the god Poseidon, and the eponymous founder of the city of Taras.

Another amazing ancient Greek coin that we graded was this highly intricate stater minted c.340 to 320 B.C. at Panticapaeum, a city in modern Crimea. The obverse shows the amazingly detailed head of a divinity, variously identified as Silenus (a part-man, part-beast creature) or the god Pan. The reverse shows a griffin with a spear in its mouth, standing on a grain ear.

In 2022, we had many interesting issues from Aquileia, including this gold solidus of Crispus (Caesar, A.D. 316 to 326), the eldest son of Constantine I “the Great” (A.D. 307 to 337). In this remarkable portrait, the prince holds a spear and shield in readiness. He is again shown on the reverse in military attire holding a spear and globe.

For more ancient coins illustrating heroic busts, see our previous column.

Made at the mint of Siscia, in modern Croatia, this gold aureus of the emperor Probus (A.D. 276 to 282) is incredibly appealing in its sharp details. The reverse shows an elaborate scene: a soldier and the goddess Victory escort the emperor on horseback, who salutes to what presumably is an unseen crowd of well-wishers.

This coin was likely made in celebration of the emperor's ceremonial entry into Rome, where he was confirmed emperor by the senate.

Rounding out our review of 2022 is this aureus of the Romano-Gallic emperor Postumus (A.D. 260 to 269), who revolted against the Roman government and established his own Roman-style empire in Western Europe. The rebel’s lifelike portrait is shown on the obverse.

The reverse type is highly unusual, as it celebrates the quinquennial games that Postumus held, seemingly in A.D. 264, to mark his victories over the Germans and to promote the concept that his breakaway empire was giving rise to a new ‘golden age’.

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Heritage Auctions, Numismatica Ars Classica, Ira & Larry Goldberg, and Jean Elsen & ses Fils.

Interested in reading more articles on Ancient coins? Click here.

Stay Informed

Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free NGC eNewsletter today!


You've been subscribed to the NGC eNewsletter.

Unable to subscribe to our eNewsletter. Please try again later.

Articles List

Add Coin

Join NGC for free to add coins, track your collection and participate in the NGC Registry. Learn more >

Join NGC

Already a member? Sign In
Add to NGC Coin Registry Example
The NGC Registry is not endorsed by or associated with PCGS or CAC. PCGS is a registered trademark of Collectors Universe, Inc. CAC is a trademark of Certified Acceptance Corporation.