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Roman gold coin finds

Gold and silver were an integral part of business and trade as far back as the early civilizations of Sumer (the land between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris in what is now Iraq) and Egypt.

The great French historian Fernand Braudel saw these precious metals as the "lifeblood of Mediterranean trade in the 2nd millennium BC". Initially, however, they were traded simply by weight in the form of ingots, which could then be cut up into small chunks or drawn into wire. And the metals, particularly silver, were regarded more as a standard of accounting or for taxes to rulers or temples, rather than for general circulation among the population.

The first real coins were not struck until the 6th century BC in Lydia (Western Turkey). They were made from electrum, natural alloy of gold and silver found in the rivers of the region. They usually had a lion or a bull on one face and a punch mark or seal on the other, and weighed from 17.2 grams (0.55 troy oz) to as little as 0.2 grams (.006 troy oz). Their introduction is attributed to the Lydian king Croesus (561-547 BC). Improvements in refining soon led to the distinct minting of gold and silver coins.

Coinage was swiftly taken up in the blossoming Greek city states just across the Aegean sea, though it was predominantly of silver until Philip II of Macedon (359-336 BC) acquired gold and silver mines in Thrace (now Bulgaria). His son, Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) then consolidated the Greek Empire with his conquest of the Persian empire, securing an immense gold treasure built up by the Persians from gold sources on the river Oxus in northern Afghanistan. Alexander is reputed to have taken over 22 metric tonnes (700,000 troy ounces) of gold coins in loot from the Persians. For both Philip II and Alexander, gold coin became an essential way of paying their armies and meeting other military expenses. Under the Greek empire, the coins were stamped with the head of the king instead of lions, bulls and rams that had previously adorned gold coins elsewhere.

The Romans, for whom gold coins became the crucial way of paying their legions, also adopted the custom of striking the emperor's head on their gold aureus coin. The aureus was usually 950 fine (22 carat) and weighed 7.3 grams (0.23 troy oz); 45 aurei weighed one roman pound (libra).

Although this coin was too valuable for most daily transactions, they were used by administrators, traders and for army pay (a legionnaire was paid one aureus each month).

In Britain, one aureus bought 400 litres (28.57 gallons) of cheap wine or 91 kilos (200 pounds) of flour. A smaller gold coin, the solidus, weighing 4.4 grams (0.14 troy oz) was introduced after 300 AD, as gold supplies from Spain and Eastern Europe declined.

The Romans minted gold coins on a scale not seen before and not equalled until modern times. Between 200 and 400 AD hundreds of millions of coins were struck and distributed throughout the empire. The extent of circulation is demonstrated by the hoards of roman coins that have turned up across Europe, particularly in Britain, which can be seen in many museums, notably the British Museum in London.

The British Museum's HSBC Money Gallery provides a unique display of the evolution of early gold coins.

The Roman empire brought a remarkable unity to much of western Europe through coherent public institutions and coinage. When that empire fell apart soon after 400 AD, it was almost one thousand years before widespread gold coinage returned. The solidus survived as the main gold coin of the Mediterranean world, being minted by the Byzantine emperors in Constantinople as the nomisma or bezant.

Constantine introduced a new gold coin in his reign, to replace the aureus, which was called the solidus and was 1/72 of a pound.

This was another gold denomination introduced by Constantine, worth 1 1/2 of a solidus.

was a smaller gold coin introduced by Constantine, and was worth 1/2 of a solidus. It was replaced in the reign of Theodosius I.

The tremissis was introduced by Theodosius I to replace Constantine's scripulum, and was worth 1/3 of a solidus.

The aureus was the main gold coin of the Early Empire, and its minting was under the direct control of the Emperor. Under Augustus, the currency was such:
1 aureus = 25 denarii
1 quinarius (gold) = 12 1/2 denarii
1 denarius = 16 asses
1 quinarius (silver) = 8 asses
1 sestertius = 4 asses
1 dupondius = 2 asses
1 as = 4 quadrantes
1 semis = 2 quadrantes
1 quadrans = 1/4 as

Roman gold coin - sent for ID 19.6mm, 7.81g

Oh man, is that ever beautiful!
That is, of course, an Aureus of the emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) the presumed-to-be "simple-minded", somewhat disabled uncle of Caligula.  He was seized upon by the Praetrorian guard as a tractible replacement after they had murdered Caligula, his wife and child.  It turned out that Claudius was smarter than most of the Julio-Claudians and had merely allowed everyone to think he was simple-minded.  This allowed him to hide in the background, out of the way of the endless palace intrigues.  The successful ruse evidently kept him from suffering the sort of "mysterious" death which seemed to stalk all the other Julio-Claudians who might be in-line for or have some claim to being emperor.  Once in power, he showed that far from being "simple", he was a shrewd and canny politician and proved to be a benificent ruler as well, righting a lot of the wrongs perpetrated by his evil nephew.  Eventually, however, his love of women was his downfall.  Marrying his neice, Agrippina Jr., the last of his succession of unfortunate marriages, he had inadvertantly adopted and brought into his home one of the true vipers in the Imperial nest, her son, the future emperor Nero.  It is assumed that Agrippina, on her son's behalf, (or possibly even Nero himself) was responsible for feeding him a dish of deadly poisonous mushrooms. This removed the last impediment and cleared the way for Nero to become emperor.
This is one of the more common reverse types for Claudius' aureii, the PACI AVGVSTAE or "The Emperor's Peace".  It has an interesting reverse type, too.  Rather than Victory, whom you might assume was the winged character on the reverse, this is "Pax-Nemesis" performing a gesture associated with a uniquely Roman bit of superstition.  She is drawing out a fold of her gown in what is called in some delicate circles an "Apotropaic gesture" - in other words, she's spitting on her own breast, which, like throwing a pinch of spilled salt over one's shoulder or touching wood, was a common superstitous custom among Romans and meant to deflect bad fortune.
This piece was struck in 41-42 AD at the imperial mint for precious metal coins, which happened at the time to be in the provincial capital at Lugdunum (modern Lyons) and coincidentally was also where the future emperor Claudius had been born.
This is actually one of the more common types of early Roman Imperial Aureii, but "common" here is all relative - particuarly in recent months, Roman Aureii have been bringing astonishing amounts of money - I wouldn't even venture a guess as to what the current market value of this piece might be - most likely at least in the 5-figures range of GBP's, Euros or Dollars.


Tiberious 14 to 37 AD gold Aureus - tested as 97% ancient gold

388 AD Theodosius I gold solidus 4.40g, 20.26mm

This is, as you later suspected, Theodosius I rather than Magnus Maximus.  A solidus of "Mag Max" would be a great item to find - Kipling included him as a character in "Puck of Pook's Hill" with a vividly-drawn, if fairly historically inacurate portrait.  He's a good bit scarcer, in general, than Theodosius I, but the coin we're looking at today carries an "R2" rating in RIC, so it's pretty scarce as well.

This is a Solidus - the denomination introduced by Constantine the great which would continue to be struck with very little variation in weight or fineness for nearly another thousand years as it became the flagship coin of the Byzantine empire.
Your specimen was minted at Trier, between 388 and 392 A.D.  The "COM" in the exergue refers to it being pure gold - the mint designation is the T - R to either side of the two characters on the reverse - who are meant to be 2 co-regnal emperors - the basic design goes back to the time of Valentinian I and Valens, but continued until, at this time, it was supposed to be Valentinian II and Theodosius I as the 2 senior Augusti, there was however (throughout the era) a 3rd and even, at times, a 4th emperor. 
The obverse legend is D N THEODOSIVS P F AVG - with the normal diademed draped and cuirassed bust right. 
The reverse is VICTORIA AVGG (the 2 "G's" abbreviating "Augustorum" referring to multiple emperors) and shows the 2 emperors, presumably Valentinian II and Theodosius I seated facing, holding a globe between them, the top half of Victory between and spreading her wings above them.
RIC IX Trier 90b.
Congratulations to you and the digger - What a great find!

Roman Gold solidus of Valentinian I or II - Val I, 364-375 A.D. Val II, 375-392 A.D

4.42g 21mm dia

Obv: DN VALENTINIANVS PF AVG - would be the same for either.
Rx: VICTORIA AVGG for I, AVGGG for II. Two emperors enthroned facing

Beat to death mid 4thC House of Constantine Roman gold coin


Visigoths in Gaul, copying a coin of the Roman emperor Julius Nepos (AD 474-5) struck at Rome,


This is very interesting find, but unfortunately it is notAnglo-Saxon and neither is it a solidus. This is a semissis (half solidus) ofJulius Nepos (474-5), from the Rome mint (RIC X, 3207). The damage mayhave been caused by removal of a mount.

I have recorded this as EMC 2015.0080 from 'near Colchester'.

Best wishes,


Julius Nepos - Sure, he's one of the final "emperors" of the Western part of the Empire (huddled in Ravenna, waiting for the Gothic axe to fall) Julius Nepos had a first reign from 24 June 474 - 28 August 475. Then he fled and "enjoyed" a period of exile and a so-called "2nd reign" in exile in Dalmatia from September 475 - 9 May 480.

His successor in Italy in 475-6 was the pathetic child-emperor Romulus "Augustulus", who returned the Imperial regalia to Constantinople in 476 - saying "I give up, this is impossible" or words to that effect. This moment is basically the end of the Western Roman Empire - except in the minds of all the barbarians who believed themselves to be the emperors continuing Roman "civilization" as Europe fell into feudalism.

This is a "Tremissis", or one third of a Solidus.  It appears to be from the mint at either Rome or Ravenna - it's only possible to tell the difference between the Rome, Ravenna and Milan issues of this type by the style and workmanship.  It also appears to have been crudely broken off a soldered jewelry mount of some sort.  I only checked it quickly in Sear.  I will have a look in the RIC later, but RIC vol X is a beast of a book, both physically and to look up specific emperors and types - particularly in the chaotic final days of the Western Empire. 

"Cool beans!", however, as my kids would probably have said with they were teenagers - gold is always a great find!


Martin Allen forwarded details of this coin on to me which I have entered on our database:

Unique ID: FASAM-310211

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

Gold tremissis, attributed to the Visigoths in Gaul, copying a coin of the Roman emperor Julius Nepos (AD 474-5) struck at Rome, dating to c. AD 475-500. Obverse: D N IVL NE - POS P F AVG; Pearl-diademed, draped and cuirassed right, with probable diadem above bust. Reverse: Staurogram in Wreath. Mintmark: COMOB. RIC X, p. 461, no. 3766var. RIC 3766 has a cross above the bust. Incomplete, possibly because a mount has been removed.

You will see I have re-identified the coin.

I was wondering if you could provide me with a find-spot and finders name.

With best wishes,


Dr Sam Moorhead
National Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins


Roman bronze coins

Roman silver coins