Well, the Holiday season is finally here, and I’ve added some specials for you down at the bottom, in case any of you were thinking of giving Roman coins as gifts.  It was my pleasure to give my grandmother the oldest thing she owned last year.  It was a Christ coin from about 885 AD.

This issue marks my first attempt to be more of an actual publication as I have an article that was contributed by my good friend Tore. If you enjoy learning the history behind the coins, as I do, I think you will enjoy it.

I’ve been slowing down on the selling lately and just stepping back to enjoy the coins.  I think this is the greatest hobby ever!  I’m about 4 1/2 Caesars into “The Twelve Caesars” and am enjoying that immensely.

Without further fanfare, here are some of the coins you’ve been finding over the past month.

A billon “Aspron Thracy” 1143-1180
Probus (Rome Mint)
Constantius Gallus

Thank to all of you for sharing your finds.

Bits of History

Ancient Sources, a short summary on a large topic
By: Tore Mentyjaervi

Collecting ancient coins is a fascinating hobby, but the names and years make little sense if nothing else is known. Something can be found in the descriptions to the coins on wildwinds.com and cngcoins.com, but these are only short summaries and really don’t tell much. To me the best experience is to sit with a coin (or several) beside me while reading the words of those who actually were there and saw the persons depicted on the coins. Or, as is the case with Julius Caesar, – reading the story as he himself tells it. Reading his own version feels like opening a gap between his time and mine and really makes it all come alive, especially as I can look at his portrait on a coin he might even have held himself and that definitely was used to pay one of his soldiers….  Does it get better?

How to build a summary of the many available sources? I’ll skip most discussion of the credibility of sources, if you get any of these books the introductions will deal with that.

I’ll start this with a later work and work my way back through the centuries, this because the most coins you will find in uncleaned lots are late roman. It will not be totally chronological, though.

Ammianus Marcellinus was the last great Latin historian. Anyone collecting Late Roman coins should read him. He was a Greek officer who took part in many of the great and horrible events of the years 354-378. His career took him close to Constantius II, Constantius Gallus,Julian the Apostate, Jovian, Valentinian and Valens. He was a pagan in a time when Christianity took hold of the empire but is quite fair and impartial. His account of the short life of Constantius Gallus and the horrible treason trials by Valens stand out, as well as his own experiences in Julians disastrous persian campaign. He was personally involved in electing Jovian after Julians death.

6 fictitious writers were supposed to have composed the Augustan History. My copy, the penguin classics edition, covers the period from Hadrian to Elagabalus, 117 -222. The original work is longer and covers the time up to 284, but the work is full of fiction and the most outrageous inventions are in the later part… Not considered worth printing. It is a racy and Juicy history and covers a period where we lack other good sources so it is an important work. Laugh and enjoy it, but be aware that you may not get the literal truth here…

Tacitus  is one of the greatest and most readable Latin historians ever. He published several works, most notably “the Histories”. That is the story of the events of 68/69. 69 described as “the long single year”. From Nero‘s suicide in despair as Galba, the rebel general from Spain, came knocking on Rome’s gates through the chaos that led Otho, then Vitellius to their  short spells of power and finally to Vespasians ascension that brought peace and stability to Rome, Tacitus shows us how fickle fate could be in those days. This is a great work!

“The annals of imperial Rome”, covering the period 14-68, are also definitely worth reading. Here you will find the lives of Tiberius, Gaius (Caligula), Claudius and Nero.

He also wrote the life of his father in law, Agricola, and a work on Germania.  Both well  worth reading. For those especially interested in Britain’s history “the Agricola” must be read…

Suetonius is perhaps the most famous of all. The legendary author of “the Twelve Caesars” must be mentioned in any article about ancient sources to the history of Rome. Covering Julius Caesar to Domitian, 85 B.C. (where the “life” of Caesar starts)-96. His fascinating and racy story is based on a careful study of sources and eye-witness accounts. Accurate, but also fond of a good story, Suetonius is readable and re-readable.

Gaius Julius Caesar himself wrote long detailed reports of his wars in Gaul and Britain and also a long account of the civil war against Pompeius Magnus. My penguin classics copy also contains further accounts by his friends and soldiers, most notably Aulus Hirtius who struck some of Caesars Gold coins. Reading his own accounts of those events is a fantastic experience, not only is it written by the man himself, its also outstandingly well written and will keep you reading for hours.

Find the time to read these and you`ll enjoy your coin collection a lot more. If there`s interest I`ll continue back to republican times next time and may also present Greek sources or make a special on sources about the roman military etc… You, who read this, decide what is to follow.