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A Glossary of Coin Terms and Other Useful Information

Late Roman Small Bronze Denominations
The small bronze coins of the late Roman Empire are divided into categories by size. The coins are thought to be the Follis or Nummia of Diocletian which became smaller and smaller as the Fourth Century progressed. Originally a coin of 28mm or even greater before A.D. 305, the Follis gradually shrunk to less than 15mm during the reign of Constans with the issuance of the two victories facing types. The coinage reforms of A.D. 348 again introduced largeer sizeed denominations of 24mm or so. Some emperors, including Magnentius, Julian II and more rarely Valentinian I and Valens issued a few nice bronze types as large as 28mm in diameter. The classification system used by numismatists, coin collectors, and scholars is outlined below.

AE 1 - 25mm or greater
AE 2 - 21 - 25mm
AE 3 - 17 - 21mm
AE 3 - less than 17mm

Alloys and Metals Used in Producing Coins
Early Roman copper coins were casr from more or less pure copper. Large AES Signatum were really copper ingots with a design cast into one or both sides. Later, large AES Grave (Heavy Asses) were cast in a round shape, usually with the head of Janus on the obverse and a ship's prow on the reverse.

The Romans used an alloy of brass they called orichalcum which consisted roughly of 80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc. Orichalcum was commonly employed in striking the Dupondius and Sestertius, while almost pure copper was used in striking the As.

Broken and Unbroken Obverse Leends
Scholars and numismatists are in general agreement that a legend on the obverse that is broken into two parts on either side of the emperor's head or bust indicates that the ruler on whose coins the legend appears is the senior augustus. An unbroken obverse legend indicates that the ruler is a caesar or a junior augustus and that another emperor holds the title of senior augustus. The symbolism of the broken vs. unbroken legends implies that there is enough room for a continuous unbroken legend around the rim of a coin bearing the smaller or "immature" bust of a caesar or junior emperor. Conversely, the larger "mature" portrait of the senior augustus would require the legend to be broken in order to make room for the larger bust. In reality, this was simply a symbolic device of the artist and had little to do with the actual room on the flan for legends as the flans were often undersized, leaving part of an unbroken legend off the coin.

Centration Dimple
These often deep pits found on Roman provincial coins were most probably formed by a crude, early form of lathe used to true up the flans before striking. The flan was probably held between two hard points adjusted to hold the coin like a modern screw adjustment on a vise. The coin was then turned (by hand) and material was either filed or tooled off the rim with a cutter, making the flan more perfectly round. Unfortunately, the resulting coin often had litttle pits remaining from this process which marred many beautiful works of numismatic art.

Constantia (Arles, Arelate)
For a time beginning in A.D. 328, the Gallic city of Arles or Arelate was renamed Constantia in honor of the emperor Constantine II. After Constantine II's death, the town regained its original name.

This has led to possible confusion of mintmarks on coins, as Constantinople used similar mintmarks. In general, a mintmark beginning with P, S, T, or Q for the officina letter (after the Latin abbreviations for the ordinals First, Second, Third, and Fourth) indicates a Western mint, in this case Arelate. If the mintmark is of the form CONSA or CONSB, using Greek letters for the officina letter (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, etc.) as the last letter in the mintmark, it indicates an Eastern mint. This would be Constantinople in this case. See LRBC for more details on this somewhat involved issue.

Exergue
On the reverse of most Roman and many modern coins, the figure is shown standing on a line. The space below that line is the exergue of the coin. Even if there is no line under the figure, that small space at the bottom of the reverse device or figure is the exervue. Often, mint marks, a mark of value, or Privy Marks are found in the exergue.

Flan
The flan was the piece of metal from which a coin was struck. they could be cast, cast then hammered to make them flatter, or cut from a sheet of metal with shears in an approximately round shape. The author has several coins showing the marks left by metal shears when workmen at the mint did a sloppy job of cutting out the flans and they were struck as coins and placed in circulation. Rather than being considered an ugly defect, the author feels they provide a fascinating glimpse into ancient manufacturing processes, mass production methods, quality control, and technology.

Orichalcum - See Alloys and Metals Used in Producing Coins
Orichalcum was an alloy of brass consisting of 80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc.

Officina, Officina Letter
Each Roman mint was divided into several officinae, or individual workshops within the mint where the coins were struck. During the later Roman Empire, especially after A.D. 300, letters or markings were regularly placed on coins indicating from which workshop they came. In the West, the initial letters for the Latin ordinals Primero, Secundo, Tertero, and Quarto were used, so the mintmarks from Western mints usually began or ended with the letter P, S, T, or Q. Eastern mints used the Greek letters Alpha through Iota to indicate the officina, but usually the mintmarks used the first five Greek letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon. This practice of using Greek ordinals in the East and Latin in the West helps numismatists to properly attribute coins to the Westarn mint of Arles (renamed Constantia for a time beginning in 328) and the Eastern mint of Constantinopolis.

Pontifex Maximus
The Pontifex Maximus was the chief priest of the old Roman Pagan religion. The title is often abbreviated to PONT MAX or PON MAX on coins (See the illustration at the top of this page) and is bestowed upon the emperor by the Senate during the imperial period.

The literal translation of the title in English turns out to be "Chief Bridge Builder" and demonstrates the important role played by the builders of bridges in the early Roman and Etruscan religions. Our modern word Pontif, meaning Pope is derived from the office of Pontifex Maximus. Who would have ever thought that the head of the Roman Catholic Religion, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, might engage in a little bridge building during a moment or two of relaxation? (There are worse hobbies!)

Privy Marks
Privy marks were a slight change in the design of the coin or a secret marking used by the mint for quality control purposes and identified the workshops or individuals who were responsible for striking the coins. Also, they were possibly used to check up on mint workers to make sure that they were not embezzling or debasing the coins and keeping the fraudulent products. Privy marks were usually a variation in the number of beads or rosettes in a diadem, the number of pendant pieces on an earring, the style of folds in a skirt, or other unobtrusive change in the design or style of a coin.


Glossary of Other Historical Terms



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