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Identifying Late Roman Bronze Coins


A Useful Tool

The study of Late Roman Bronzes never ceases to amaze us. This is especially true for collectors and researchers who have overcome their fascination with precious metal coins.

We are amazed by the low prices generally asked for these late Roman bronzes. Also amazing is the abundant variety of the obverse designs but especially the reverse designs of the IV and V centuries which demonstrate the historical richness of the vast number of mints and workshops employed to make these coins.

Undoubtedly until now, the Late Roman Bronze Coinage (LRBC) [1], and the monumental work The Roman Imperial Coinage (RIC), have been the indispensable references to classify coins of the period from Constantine the Great until the end of the Empire.

These two pillars are joined by a third important reference work which is Die spätrömische Kupferprägung: Ein Bestimmungsbuch für schlecht erhaltene Münzen [2] (Late Roman Copper Coinage: An Identification Book for Badly Preserved Coins) by Guido Bruck, whose concept of dividing the issues according to their design, was the genesis of the present work.

The authors, Manuel Pina and Javier Marín, have identified 196 reverse designs among the Roman coins of the period that covers from AD 317 to 498, and have produced a simple “Visual Guide” to help both researchers and collectors in an easy and practical way.

Manuel y Javier have told me that this Identification Guide will be especially useful for the identification of coins in which the texts are incomplete. When it is possible to completely read both sides of a coin, the collector could normally go directly to RIC.

With the above comments the authors are being extremely modest. Those of us who are familiar with the subject of Roman coins are well aware that RIC is very complicated until one becomes more accustomed with it through frequent use. The Chinese have a saying, “ A picture is worth a thousand words.” It is precisely this gap that the authors have filled with their work. They have come out with a foolproof tool.

When my numismatic activity focused on early South American coinage, I found, as did all specialists and amateurs of the subject, that the "columnar" style cob coins, with their pillars and waves design, had the great advantage of having the mint mark, assayers initial and date (in three different places), something which, due to the irregularity of the dies, was a practical characteristic aiding in their classification. In the present work, the authors have taken a similar approach to late Imperial bronze coins. It is possible to start the identification and classification of the coins following different methods, being either the coin inscriptions, or the designs of obverse and reverse. In general there are enough elements to reduce the possibilities and reach a correct conclusion.

It is true, as sometimes with the cob coins mentioned above, that poor minting technique, rough usage and deterioration caused by the environment during their long life, frustrate efforts to attribute the coins. This will be unavoidable some times, but at least now we have at hand a practical guide that will strongly reduce that situation.

An additional feature offered by this “On-line book” is the satisfaction derived from admiring the line drawings of the coins under study. These were skillfully made directly from real coins; therefore allowing the collector and researcher to visualize the designs. My experience is that normally we can understand and better appreciate the monetary designs when we have access to line drawings, even more so for coins not in the best of condition, something fairly common in the coins of the period we are dealing with.

Last, but not least, is the fact that thanks to its many links, numismatists and historians alike can have at hand this easy method which takes you sailing throughout the internet. Best of all, it is free.

Lima (Perú), July 15th, 2008
Eduardo Dargent

[1] P.V.Hill, J.P.Kent and R.A.G Carson, Late Roman Bronze Coinage A.D. 324 – 498. (London: Spink & Son Ltd., 1978).

[2] Guido Bruck, Die Spätrömische Kupferprägung: Ein Bestimmungsbuch für schlecht erhaltene Münzen. (Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck-und Verlagsanstalt, 1961).





Prologue Introduction Abbreviatio. Historical
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      M. Pina   -  Javi