Can You ID This Roman Coin?

7th May 2018 — 25 Comments

You’ve just unearthed a Roman coin and you’re ecstatic. You don’t know exactly what it is but soon find out from your local FLO, the UKDFD or learned friends that ‘the little cracker’ is silver and called a denarius. You now know that the guy depicted on the obverse is Nero, but who is that on the reverse and how much do you know about Nero?

Nero, the Roman emperor from 54 to 68 AD, can be seen on over 30 coins recorded by lucky detectorists on the UKDFD. Here’s one with the record number 30704 and reproduced with permission.

Nero with Virtus on the Reverse

Few ancient coins are as recognisable as the Roman denarius. This small silver coin carries massive historical significance, serving as the backbone of Roman coinage and was the inspiration behind many later European coins.

We all know about Nero, of course we do! The history books will tell you that he slept with and murdered his mother. Married and executed a stepsister, raped and murdered his stepbrother and kicked his pregnant wife to death … and so on. It is an understatement to suggest that he was one of the most infamous of Rome’s emperors; a complete barrel of laughs.

Nero is best known for his debaucheries, political murders, persecution of Christians and a passion for music that led to the rumour that he ‘fiddled’ while Rome burned during the great fire of 64 AD … and that’s the only thing I remember from what Mr Bramwell – my last history teacher – said about him!` The ‘fact’ is certainly untrue because the fiddle wasn’t invented until the fifteenth century. So what is true?

Bust of Nero at the Musei Capitolini, Rome. CC Licence

The purpose of the portrait on coins was to identify the person, in this case, the emperor. Nero looks like a nice boy. The reverse is quite revealing and the UKDFD tells us it is:

Virtus, helmeted and in military dress, standing left, right foot on pile of arms, holding spear and parazonium, shield on the ground. 

A parazonium is a long triangular dagger, wide at the hilt end and coming to a point. In Roman mythology, it is frequently carried by Virtus. Having the image of Virtus on the reverse gives Nero an aura of courage and supposedly communicates his accomplishments or intentions. Virtus carries connotations of valour, manliness, excellence, courage, character and worth. Ummm …

The Aulos – CC Licence

Is this a blatant lie or am I becoming confused? Virtus was frequently used on coins by many Roman emperors, and personified as a deity. Personal virtues were characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. Incidentally, the opposite of virtue is vice.

I’m not trying to belittle Nero because I wasn’t there at the time, but I did read that he was the Grayson Perry of the Roman scene who loved dressing in woman’s clothes and having orgies. He was very proud of his musical abilities and played the aulos ‘both with his mouth, and also with his armpit, a bag being thrown under it’. Sounds like bagpipes to me!

Myth or Truth. Did Nero Invent Ice Cream?

Nero is said to have sent his slaves into the mountains to fetch snow to mix with nectar, fruit pulp, and honey for the making of ‘ice cream’, although this widely told tale may be a myth. 🙂

If you can detect a purpose or a meaning in all this waffle – good! It was meant to get you looking at the coins you find in a different light. Oh, yes. You got an identification, but was that enough? Develop an enquiring mind and learn to discriminate. Don’t believe everything you read.

Courtesy of the Daily Mail


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25 responses to Can You ID This Roman Coin?

  1. I am one of those relatively small band of individuals that likes to help out with identification of finds. I’m not a specialist of one specific facet, but more a generalist, as I know a reasonable amount about most detecting elements and although some answers come readily to mind others need time to do the research. There are frustrations however when trying to help when an image is posted direct from the field. The object is often photographed covered in soil and sitting in the middle of the palm of the hand, or on the meter of the detector and is often out of focus.90% of the time I have to enhance the image by enlargement and light and colour adjustment to be able to read the legends and images on coins and other artefacts. I just wish that folks need to think more about the quality of the images that they post when seeking identification!

    • My sentiments also Paul, but perhaps I can cover these frustrations in another blog post. You’re a man after my own heart.

  2. We find the occasional old coin over here ( Oz) but usually the oldest we can hope for is a cartwheel penny. I enjoy seeing the old coins on the different English forums and in The Searcher magazine. I know John isn’t a fan of clod shots. I am sending a couple of hand shots to The Searcher and hope they get past the censor.

  3. Never going to find a sestarius or even a denarius, John.At least not until I get over your way, if that happens.

    But I can dream, can’t I?

    And what a find that would be for me!! But, as you say; the identification of such a find would be difficult at best and impossible at worst.. but a joy to even have the opportunity.

    Thank you again my friend for a thought provoking post


  4. Micheal … If you do come over I’ll try to arrange a dig for you – but not with me, I’m afraid! I’ll take you for a pub lunch instead.

  5. Bjørnar Bakken 7th May 2018 at 6:01 AM

    That is some great writing there. Very interesting, and it makes you think. It makes the hobby that little bit more interesting..

  6. only ever found 1 denarius on a very cold and windy day while wearing a mankini lol

  7. Finding an ancient coin, Roman, Greek, etc., in Canada would be unreal unless it was taken from dads coin collection to school for show and tell and lost on the way home. I also would savour the opportunity that pub lunch John. Thanks for another interesting post.


  8. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 7th May 2018 at 7:12 PM

    Apparently I was a comment too early, but it’s worth repeating…….Once a teacher, always a teacher.

    Thanks for the history lesson John.

    Micheal as for the pub lunch……I’d take John up on that, and highly recommend the fish and chips with a dash of ketchup.

  9. Coo, fancy that… a parazonium was a dagger… d’ye suppose it killed 99.9% of all known adversaries? Among his achievements, didn’t our Nero invent street lighting..? …making the Appian Way safer at night using Christians dowsed with something flammable? (…you know I still worry about that fancy stuff you rub into your beard…) Anyway, thanks again for another good ‘un John! Cheers!
    PS: love the cunning product placement…

  10. good read again John. Found only two denarii in 40 years of detecting and both Trajan.
    It worries me when detectorists ask for I.D. on obvious coins because it means they don’t want to research themselves. Only last week someone was showing me a half-crown and saying what a big coin it was but hadn’t a clue what it was (or is it me getting too old?)

  11. Just us growing old, Nige.

  12. I have to confess, I would have no idea, even though I have a book on Roman coins.

    Thanks for posting.

  13. I was. lucky enough to find an AD 69 Emperor Vitellius Denarius, I was dancing for days when I found it 11” down on a slope, I have since done that area to death but i have never found another.

    Thank you for the history lesson yet again John. Another cracking blog.

  14. Interesting article John, The only possible Roman coin that I have found is a holed minum, the FLO thinks it may have been pinned to an altar as an offering. I could not see any detail on it but I did not want to risk damaging it by cleaning. I’ll let the experts do that. Thanks again for another interesting read.

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