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Ancient Greek Coins – The Tumultuous History of Kamarina

Greek Sicily

By Russell A. AugustinAU Capital Management, LLC ……

The history of Kamarina, a port city on the southern coast of Sicily, is among the most tumultuous of Ancient Greece. It was founded in 599 BCE by settlers from Syracuse and its location allowed it to grow quickly and amass substantial wealth through trade.

However, within 40 years of its founding, Syracuse began to perceive it as a threat because of its success. The city was destroyed by Syracuse in 553 BCE and then re-founded by colonists from Gela, only to be destroyed again by Syracuse and re-founded for a third time by Gela in 461 BCE.

Even with Gela’s support, Kamarina was still weak, leading it to look for stronger allies to defend against future attacks from Syracuse. It sought out the support of Leontinoi until that city was destroyed by Syracuse in 422 BCE. It finally reached some semblance of stability through the protection of Athens, but Kamarina approached this alliance cautiously while waiting to see if Athens was indeed stronger than Syracuse.

greek coins - SICILY. Kamarina. Ca. 425-405 BC. AR tetradrachm

Kamarinian tetradrachms around 425 BC

After producing only small-denomination greek coins during much of its existence, Kamarina finally began striking tetradrachms around 425 BCE and immediately produced a masterpiece. The obverse depicts a vivid example of the Syracuse galloping quadriga motif, with the reverse illustrating a powerful and mature head of Heracles wearing the skin of the Nemean lion.

The Heracles type was a reference to Kamarina’s Dorian origins and became extremely popular among Greek coinage, eventually serving as the prototype for the design chosen by Alexander the Great on his famous tetradrachms.

This issue continued until 405 BCE when Carthage attacked Kamarina and Gela, and the populations of both of these cities fled to Syracuse for protection under the power of the Greek tyrant Dionysios.

SICILY. Kamarina. Ca. 425-405 BCE. AR tetradrachm (26mm, 17.18 gm, 12h). Athena driving racing quadriga left; the quadriga with a broad, S-curved antyx (rim); Nike flying right above holding wreath to crown driver, heron flying left in exergue / καμαριναιον, bearded head of mature Heracles left, wearing skin of Nemean lion. Westermark-Jenkins 142 (same dies). Rizzo plate V, 9 (same dies). SNG-ANS 1203. SNG-Cop 162. Pozzi 398. Gulbenkian 174. With a powerful head of the Heracles in the finest style.

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Ancient coins – Coinage of the Ancient Olympics

Elis, Olympia, 87th-90th Olympiad, 432-420 BC. AR Stater -  Ancient Olympics.

Ancient Olympics – Elis, Olympia, 87th-90th Olympiad, 432-420 BC. AR Stater [1]

By Russell A. AugustinAU Capital Management, LLC

The Colosseo Collection ……

One of the few ancient traditions to survive until the modern world is the Ancient Olympics. Occurring in the same four-year cycle today as in antiquity, they mark a time when differences are put aside and the world’s attention focuses on athletic competition between nations.

The name “Olympics” originates from where they were played. Olympia was a sanctuary of ancient Greece near the city of Elis, a fertile country in the northwest of the Peloponnese. It featured temples, sporting grounds, and accommodations for the athletes. The inhabitants of Elis were responsible for organizing the games every four years. The stadium at Olympia seated no less than 45 thousand, and the publicity for the winners was immense.

These games were some of the most significant events of antiquity, even causing wars to be suspended for their duration. The classical Olympics date back to at least 776 BCE and were played until 394 CE when Emperor Theodosius I abolished them, considering them to be too reminiscent of paganism. The modern games that began in Athens in 1896 featured 43 different events, steadily increasing to nearly 400 events today.

The ancient Olympics represented much more than just sporting events. They were a lucrative business and provided a political and cultural forum, offering a range of activities during the games. The athletes, their trainers, and the spectators needed to be housed, fed, and supplied with souvenirs. The games brought thousands of citizens together from all parts of the Greek world to visit the vast market and fairs, watch performances, and attend concerts.

From the 5th to the 3rd century BC, a magnificent series of special silver coins were minted from the festival center for each iteration of the Olympic Games, with new designs produced every four years.

The coinage for the games served several purposes. No foreign money was accepted in Elis during the games, and the mandatory exchange offered means of funding the games and for the upkeep of the sanctuary at Olympia. A common currency also made commerce easier as the native currencies of the various visitors were often based on different weight standards.

ancient_GreekThe most talented artists were commissioned to engrave the dies for these coins, showing off the artistry of Greece and resulting in the beautiful coins being treated as prestigious objects. While their primary use was for normal commerce during the games (paying for food, lodging, and entry to see the spectacles), they became popular souvenirs for visitors who wanted to bring a part of the games home with them.

These coins celebrated the god Zeus and his wife Hera, who presided over Olympia and the games themselves. The Olympic coinage is represented by a small range of imagery, focusing heavily on Zeus and his eagle, sometimes featuring snakes, thunderbolts, Ionic column capitals, or Nike, representing victory at the games.

Zeus’ portrait was used on some coins, modeled after the Statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was also sufficient to use just an eagle or thunderbolt to refer to the god, as Zeus’ symbols were well known.

Eagles have always been a symbol for power, force, and guardianship because of their size, strong claws, and penetrating eyes. They were considered the kings of the air and certainly a fitting animal for Zeus, who presided over the sky and thunder.

The eagle on the obverse of this coin is acclaimed as the finest and most detailed representation of the head of an animal on any Greek coin. Magnificent in its composition and depicted with a great sense of naturalism, its elegance is in its simplicity, showing the strength of Zeus in the eagle’s forceful expression.

Below the eagle’s head is a leaf from the white-poplar tree brought from the northern lands to plant at Olympia. The white-poplar was sacred to the mythological hero Hercules, and he was crowned with one of its branches as a token of his victory after destroying Cacus, a fire-breathing giant.

Elis, Olympia, 408 BCE Zeus mint. Struck for the 93rd Olympaid. Silver Stater

Elis, Olympia, 408 BCE. Zeus mint. Struck for the 93rd Olympaid. Silver Stater [2]

The reverse depicts a thunderbolt, in the usual stylized Greek fashion. While unsigned, it is understood that the die was engraved by the artist “Da” who signed the preceding, nearly identical die.

The coin is worn but appealing, showing clear evidence of its circulation at the Olympics. One can only imagine the wares purchased and sights seen by the spectators who spent it while in attendance at the 93rd Olympiad, more than 2,400 years ago.

[1] Elis, Olympia, 87th-90th Olympiad, 432-420 BCE. AR Stater (23mm, 11.51g, 9h). Eagle flying right with wings above his body, grasping hare by the back with his talons and tearing at him with his beak. Rev. F Thunderbolt with wings below and palmette with volutes above. BCD Olympia 53 var. Seltman 131 (BK/?d. SNG Cop 364 (= Seltman 131b). Rare. VF

[2] Elis, Olympia, 408 BC. Zeus mint. Struck for the 93rd Olympaid. Silver Stater (11.74g). Head of eagle with piercing eye left; under its beak, a large leaf of white-poplar. Reverse: Winged thunderbolt, olive sprigs to right and left; all within olive-leaf border. Seltman 150; Traite pl. 231, 1 (these dies) . Kraay-Himer pl. 157, 500 (this obverse die) ; Gulbenkian 541 (this obverse die) ; Weber 4038. One of the masterpieces of Greek coinage and the most realistic close-up of an animal depicted on any Greek coin. Lightly toned and of good metal. Very Fine.

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CoinWeek: Cool Coins! 2018 Episode 1: Amazing Mint Errors, Shipwreck Gold and More!

CoinWeek Cool Coins! returns with this first episode for 2018.

We are excited to share with you a new crop of cool stories about some of the most interesting coins, tokens, and medals that dealers and collectors show off on the bourse floor.

Segment 1: Larry Shepherd talks about an original three-coin set of Bridgeport, Connecticut Centennial half dollars. You can view Larry’s complete inventory of coins on his website:

Segment 2: Jeff Shevlin and Charles talk about the interrelationship of So-Called Dollars and Classic Commemorative Coins. Jeff has a seldom-seen So-Called Dollar from the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893 honoring the President of the Board of Lady Managers, Mrs. Potter Palmer.

Segment 3: Russ Augustin from AU Capital Management always brings nice coins with him when he travels to a major coin show.

At the FUN Show in Tampa, Russ had the finest known 1856-S $2.50 gold coin. This is an amazing MS67 example, which is a whole two points higher than the second finest example for the date; a fact that is made even more unbelievable due to the fact that this is a shipwreck coin from the SS Central America!

Be sure to check out Russ’ current selection of high-end and collector coins from Ancients to classic U.S.:

Segment 4: You won’t see an error coin like this again any time soon. Mint error dealer Fred Weinberg has only sold a few coins in his career that he regrets not keeping for himself and this 1851 double eagle struck on a large cent planchet is one of them.

Imagine the scenario where the U.S. most high value coins, a $20 gold piece, is accidentally (ahem) struck on one of the country’s most humble coin planchets.

Into mint errors? Check out Fred’s current inventory:

* * *

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Ancient Coins – A Celebration of Music with a Greek “Guitar”

ancient Greek Guitar on Coin
Olynthus, 355-352. Chalcidian league, 432-348. Tetradrachm, silver
Ancient Greek “guitar” – the reverse depicts a kithara from which the word “guitar” is derived.

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC ……

Fearful of Athens and the growing power of the Macedonian Kingdom, Olynthus and the other free cities of the Chalcidice banded together in 432 BCE, forming the Chalcadian League as a defensive coalition. Athens failed to break up this union due to its focus on the Peloponnesian War and its general disinterest in the region, helping solidify the strength of the League.

The capital was placed at Olynthus on a peninsula of northern Ancient Greece, on the shores of the Aegean Sea. The name “Olynthus” originates from the Greek olunthos, a fig which matures early, as this fruit was plentiful in the area.

The Chalcadian League was at the height of its power in the late fifth century BCE but soon became the center of conflict. In 393 BCE, Amyntas III of Macedonia was under attack by the Illyrians and temporarily transferred territory to Olynthus for protection. When he regained control, the League refused to return his lands and he called upon Sparta to intervene. At the same time, there was unrest in the League and some members claimed that they were being forced to remain in the League against their will.

This forced Sparta to act and after a lengthy war, the cities were subjugated by Sparta in 379 BCE, with their power divided. Despite being summarily defeated, the Chalcadian League quickly began to regain power, which frightened Philip II of Macedon. To ensure his continued success in the region, Philip proactively attacked Olynthus, destroying the city in 348 BCE and disbanding the League permanently.

This coin was minted at Olynthus during the period in which the Chalcadian League was under Spartan oversight but regaining strength. They minted their own silver coinage on the Macedonian standard, functioning as legal tender within all cities of the League.

The overall design elements remained consistent but style varied substantially over time. This coin’s depiction of the head of Apollo is a superb example of die engraving, remarkable for the strength and beauty of its style. These heads served as the predecessor for the portraits on the gold staters of Philip II.

The reverse depicts a professional version of the lyre, a kithara. As opposed to the standard lyre, which was predominately used as a folk instrument, the kithara was reserved for skilled musicians called kitharodes and the singers of Greek epic poetry. The name “guitar” is derived from the Greek kithara.

The kithara was an attribute of Apollo and symbolized wisdom. It resonates in its box-shaped body which holds two parallel arms connected by a crossbar. Depending on the type and desired complexity, up to a dozen strings could be attached. It was played vertically, plucked with a plectrum in the right hand with the left hand damping the strings.

According to mythology, the kithara was invented accidentally by the Greek messenger god Hermes, Apollo’s brother. Mere hours after being born, Hermes immediately embarked upon a journey to steal oxen from his brother who was away from his herd.

During his trip, Hermes brushed against a turtle shell on the ground, and thought to stretch seven strings across it. He plucked them and was instantly able to play exquisitely, creating the kithara.

After reaching the herd, Hermes attempted to steal 50 oxen but Apollo discovered the theft and the brothers began to quarrel, only to be interrupted by their father Zeus. To repay his brother, Hermes offered Apollo his kithara. Having only ever heard a standard three string lyre before, Apollo was so enthralled by the beautiful sound that he not only forgave Hermes, he granted him full dominion over all flocks and herds.

Hermes agreed and formally became the god of herdsmen, swearing to never steal the kithara. Apollo fully devoted himself to the art of music and was said to bring stability and order into chaos with his playing.

This coin resided in the collection of René Baron, the head of a French hospital, who focused on collecting artistic and historic coins.

Olynthus, 355-352. Chalcidian league, 432-348. Tetradrachm, silver, 14.40 g. Obv. Laureate head of Apollo to right, his hair flowing down the back of his neck / Rev. Kithara with five strings; below, επι αριστωνοσ. Traité IV, 942; BMC Macedonia 68, 10; SNG ANS 496-497; SNG Copenhagen – ;AMNG III/II, 85, 8, pl. 17, 12; D.M. Robinson, P.A. Clement, groupe V, 130 (A80-P111), pl. XVI, 130 (same dies); Boston 582 (same dies). Beautiful style, finely toned, and well centered. Extremely Fine.
Ex. René Baron Collection, acquired at Crédit de la Bourse, Paris, March 1990

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Ancient Greek Coin Design Features – Front Facing Portraiture

colosseo_greek_forward ancient greek coins
Greek Coins – An apparently unique variety (the only specimen known with this magistrate name) of an extremely rare type.

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC ……

Undoubtedly the finest specimen known of this wonderful issue bearing one of the finest front facing portraits on Greek coins. Of extraordinary late Classical style and with a delightful old cabinet tone.

Perhaps unexpectedly, Clazomenae produced some of the finest facing-head portraits on all Greek coins, with most of them being unsigned masterpieces. However, one artist, Theodotos must have been renowned in his day, for he boldly signed his work “Theodotos made it”.

Erhart notes that this kind of declaratory signature has few parallels in Greek coinage, perhaps only at Cydonia on Crete and at Thurium in Lucania.

Apollo, who here is so perfectly represented, was the principal god of Clazomenae. With a work of such mastery one is obliged to find the source of its inspiration, and it has been recognized that it closely resembles the facing Apollo heads of Amphipolis. Even so, the possible influence – direct or indirect – of Kimon’s Arethusa and the Helios portraits of Rhodes cannot be dismissed.

In the tradition of so many Greek cities, the swan on this coin is a canting type based on the city name. The importance of these majestic birds appears to have been two-fold at Clazomenae: not only was this bird sacred to Apollo, but it may well be that the city name was derived from the verb klazein, which–among other things–was used to describe the whirr of a bird’s wings, or the screech or cry of their calls.

The careful, naturalistic studies of swans at Clazomenae find no equal in Greek coinage. Sometime the bird is shown with wings open as it cranes its neck over its shoulders to look back or, perhaps, to tend to its feathers. Other times – as here – the bird stands forward, wings raised, its neck assuming an elegant S-shape.

On this particular die, bearing the name of the magistrate Apollas, the swan’s body is engraved with the greatest attention to detail, even down to the stare of the bird, which is focused and determined, as if it has been caught in a moment of standing its ground.

Drachm circa 360, AR 4.05 g. Laureate head of Apollo facing three-quarters l., wearing chlamys secured by round brooch. Rev. AΠ – ΟΛΛΑ – Σ ??Swan standing l., with open wings; below, KΛ. ??Traité II, 1997 and pl CLV, 25. Boston 1861. Kunstrfreund 219 (this coin). Good extremely fine Ex Naville I, 1921, Pozzi, 2400; Ars Classica XVI, 1933, 1390 and Leu-M&M 28 May 1974, Kunstfreund, 219 sales.

Editors Note: Greek coins are, incidentally, the only art form from the ancient Greek world which can still be bought and owned by private collectors of modest means.

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The First Ancient Coins – Aegina’s Sea Turtle

Ancient Coins – ISLANDS off ATTICA, Aegina. Circa 550-530/25 BC. AR Stater. Sea turtle

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC …..
Aegina is a rocky and mountainous island in the Saronic Gulf located about 25 miles southeast of Athens. It was settled by the Dorians around 900 BCE and was named after the daughter of the Greek river god Asopos.

Because of its limited availability of cultivable land, the inhabitants needed to leverage the sea for their livelihood. They became expert merchants and tradesmen, dominating the shipping industry early in the 6th century BC. Their success and near-monopoly brought the island great wealth and power. They built a lavish temple to their local goddess, Aphaia, decorating it with numerous sculptures of beautiful artistic quality.

During their travels, the merchants encountered the developing early electrum ancient coins in Ionia and Lydia. They recognized the potential to not only store their considerable wealth in the form of portable ancient coins, but also to optimize trade through a global currency. Aegina therefore became the first of the Greek city-states to issue coined money, starting in the mid-6th century BCE.


In addition to the silver they received in trade, Aegina worked the mines of the silver-rich island of Siphnos, which were at the height of their production as Aegina was flourishing.

The emissions from Aegina were substantial, resulting in their weight standard becoming dominant throughout much of Greece in the 6th and 5th centuries. The Athenians called the Aeginetan drachm the “thick drachm” as it was heavier than that of Athens, with their common didrachm “stater” coinage weighing about 12.6 grams.

Their status as the first international trade currency ( ancient coins ) was aided by the consistency of their designs, and their coins spread far throughout the known world. The earliest types, like this coin, depict a sea turtle engraved in high relief with an incuse pattern on the reverse. The reverse punch changed over time, starting with eight triangles and progressing to a “mill sail”, then a “skew” pattern, to increase the usable duration of the die.

The choice of a turtle is likely due to their influence as a sea power but perhaps also because the pre-coinage ingots in use in the region were convex in shape and may have been colloquially known as “turtles”.

ISLANDS off ATTICA, Aegina. Circa 550-530/25 BC. AR Stater (20mm, 12.31 g). Sea turtle, head in profile, with thick collar and row of dots down its back / Deep incuse square of proto-“Union Jack” pattern with eight incuse segments. Meadows, Aegina, Group Ib; Milbank Period I; HGC 6, 425; SNG Copenhagen –; Dewing 1654; Gillet –; Jameson 1198; Pozzi 1618. Near EF, lightly toned. Well centered and struck on a broad flan. Exceptional for issue.
From the JP Collection, purchased from Platt, January 1986.

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Ancient Roman Coin – The Loyalty of Sextus Pompey

Sextus Pompey, Ancient Roman Coin

Roman Coin – Sextus Pompey; 42-40 BCE, Denarius

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC …..

The title used on this Roman coin, praefectus classis et orae maritimae ex senatus consulto (“commander of the fleet and of the sea shores by decision of the Senate”), is a well-aimed insult to the other triumviri who frequently called Sextus Pompey a pirate captain.

After the death of his father, Pompey the Great, in 48 BCE, and the execution of his older brother Gnaeus Pompey the Younger three years later, Sextus Pompey, a skilled naval commander, took over the campaign started by his father.

In order to put an end to Pompey’s attacks on the ships bringing grain to Rome, the Senate was forced to reconcile with him. As a sign of goodwill, he was given this official title and by inscribing it on a coin, Pompey is informing everyone that he was an official commander, not only of pirates.

The reverse of this roman coin alludes to Sextus’ command of the seas and the probable location of the mint through the legend of Amphinomus and Anapias. The scene is a reference to the piety (the faithfulness for the divine rules) of Sextus Pompey in upholding the Republican ideals of his late father, who is depicted on the obverse. This imagery was intentional and open defiance to Octavian.

Octavian had always boasted of his own piety, which pushed him to prosecute the murderers of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar. In the ancient version of the legend there was only one pious hero, leaving no room for Octavian to claim the same title if Sextus claimed it. He would likely have been inspired by the original poem by Lycurgus:

A stream of fire burst forth from Etna. This stream, so the story goes, flowing over the countryside, drew near a certain city of the Sicilians. Most men, thinking of their own safety, took to flight; but one of the youths, seeing that his father, now advanced in years, could not escape and was being overtaken by the fire, lifted him up and carried him. Hindered no doubt by the additional weight of his burden, he too was overtaken. And now let us observe the mercy shown by the Gods towards good men. For we are told that the fire spread round that spot in a ring and only those two men were saved, so that the place is still called the Place of the Pious, while those who had fled in haste, leaving their parents to their fate, were all consumed.”

With the representation of the son risking his life to save his father, Sextus is now formally claiming this piety towards his own parents. He represents himself, exactly like Octavian, as a son who wants to follow in the footsteps of his murdered father. Pompey presided over the Mediterranean for some time as claimed on this coin, represented by Neptune, the master of the Sea. But he did not have the allegiance of all of his captains, evidenced by the fact that they did not adhere to his orders or honor the truce agreement with the triumviri.

Because of this insubordination, after the formation of the Second Triumvirate, Sextus himself was declared an enemy, and the Senate instructed Octavian to defeat him. At this point, Sextus had occupied Sicily where he received fugitives from the Republican defeat at Philippi who were condemned as enemies of the state by the Triumvirs. With the help of these soldiers, Sextus Pompey defeated Salvidienus, who had been sent against him by Octavian.

In 38 BCE, Octavian himself declared war against Sextus, with limited success. He was offered support from Lepidus, who landed 14 legions in Sicily. However, Lepidus attempted to take advantage of the situation and gain control of Sicily himself, but his legions defected to Octavian when challenged.


The tides turned against Sextus on September 3, 36 BCE when Octavian and Agrippa destroyed his fleet at the Battle of Naulochus. Sextus escaped and fled to the East, but was later captured by Marc Antony’s general, Ahenobarbus, and was executed.

Sextus Pompey; 42-40 BC#, Denarius, 3.63g. Cr-511/3b, Sear, Imperators-334a, Syd-1345. Obv: MAG PIVS IMP ITER Head of Pompey the Great r. between augural symbols, pitcher and lituus. Rx: PRAEF above, ORAE MAR IT ET / CLAS EX S C in two lines in exergue; Neptune standing l., foot on prow, between the Catanaean brothers with their parents on their shoulders. EF, Exceptionally complete.

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Ancient Roman Coins – Octavian and the Battle of Actium

Octavian. Gold Aureus (7.8g) minted at Rome, 32-31 BC

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC ……
Octavian was the son of Julius Caesar’s niece and Caesar himself sponsored his introduction into public life when Octavian accompanied his uncle in his triumph over the Spanish in 46 BCE. Octavian was only 20 years old when he learned of Caesar’s assassination. Caesar had adopted him as his son posthumously, and Octavian returned to Italy from his studies broad in Greece with a strong desire to avenge his murder.

He leveraged his association with Caesar to gain the confidence of the troops, and the Senate eventually granted him a consulship. In 43 BCE, he formed the Second Triumvirate with Marc Antony and Lepidus. They defeated Brutus and Cassius and divided the empire into areas of operational focus, with Octavian holding most of the West and Antony the East.

Antony grew progressively closer to Cleopatra while Octavian worked to restore Italy. In 33 BC, the Second Triumvirate ended, leaving Antony without any legal authority. Octavian then began a campaign against Antony, declaring war against Cleopatra.


Baroque painting of the battle of Actium by Laureys a Castro, 1672.

Octavian’s admiral Marcus Agrippa held Antony’s fleet back in the bay of Actium in Greece, slowly causing Antony’s men to lose faith in his leadership. On September 2, Antony and Cleopatra managed to escape and break free, accompanied by only a small squadron, leaving the rest of his men to surrender to Octavian. Antony fled to Alexandria, and he and Cleopatra eventually took their own lives in August, 30 BCE after being cornered by Octavian; this marked the end of the Roman civil wars in a complete and devastating victory.

Rome was officially transformed from a Republic to a Principate in January, 27 BCE with a final and peaceful revolution. Octavian made an offer to resign from all of his offices, but the Senate refused, recognizing his leadership as indispensable to the stability of Rome. The Senate bestowed upon him a multitude of honors, including the new name, “Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus”, most commonly referred to as simply “Augustus” – “The Revered One”.

Octavian renounced his old name, which was associated with his military power, and only used “Augustus” moving forward, focusing on its connotations of rule with the consent of the governed populace. The name Augustus was assumed by all of his successors as the mark of imperial rank. Over the next 40 years, Augustus shared his authority with the Senate, only retaining the powers he truly needed, leaving most of the prestigious traditional offices available to others who desired public careers.

The aureus as a denomination dates back only to the time of Sulla in 80 BCE and had historically been infrequently issued and rare. Worth one hundred sestertii, the aureus represented a very large sum of money, and its use during the Republic and Imperatorial period was primarily for military purposes, struck by traveling mints under the authority of the field commander. The earliest aurei became the standard gold denomination of Rome for the next four centuries. Starting at 10.80 grams, 30 pieces to a pound of metal, the gold weight would be debased many times throughout Rome’s history. This debasement began only a decade after Sulla when Pompey issued aurei at a weight standard of 9.00 grams, 36 pieces to a pound.

It would not be until Augustus’ coinage reform in 23 BCE that the aureus would come into standard, consistent use. In addition to his reorganization of the state and institutions of Rome, Augustus introduced a formal system of fixed ratios between denominations of coins.

Initially, the names of the magistrates responsible for minting the coins, the triumviri monetales, were included on all of the coins in all metals as a sign of respect. This also helped reduce the confusing political influences which had been affecting the coins during the late Republic.

This coin, however, predates the reform, dating to 32 BCE, when he was still referred to as Octavian. This type was Octavian’s counterpart to Mark Antony’s famous “legionary” series and was among Octavian’s final issues prior to the Battle of Actium, likely struck to fulfill the financial needs in anticipation of the inevitable confrontation with Antony and Cleopatra.

The obverse style shows a portrait with significant aesthetic sensitivity compared to his other depictions. It has been speculated that this was a deliberate attempt to assimilate his features with those of the beautiful god Apollo, whom he had adopted as his patron.

The inscription on the reverse of this coin puts it among his war coinage, minted for the payment of his troops during the Actian campaign. It reads “CAESAR DIVI F”, proclaiming Octavian as the “Son of the Divine Julius”, having been adopted by Caesar as his son and made his heir by his will.

The reverse promises peace not only from Octavian’s victory at Actium, but also from the annexation of Galatia and the subjugation of Spain. As this aureus predicts, his reign did indeed give Rome a “golden era” known as the “Pax Romana” (Roman Peace) during which he served for 41 years.

Interestingly, this coin repeats a type which had originally appeared on a denarius from 41 BCE. The representation of Octavian likely depicts the statue which had been erected in Rome to honor his participation in the Battle of Philipi, showing Octavian on horseback raising his right hand in salute to his troops.

This coin has a storied history, residing in some major collections as well as the honor of being published in several reference guides:

  • “The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators” (page 242, coin number 394)
  • “Gold Coins of the World” (page 41, 7th edition)
  • “Ancient Coin Collecting III (page 43) and Ancient Coin Collecting (page 20)” by Wayne G Sayles, 2nd Edition
  • “Julius Caesar and His Legacy” – (full page image on xv and as coin 23, published by NFA in 1991)
  • “Leo Biaggi de Blasys’ Complete Collection of Roman Gold”
  • “Hunter Collection” – Ira and Larry Goldberg
Octavian. Gold Aureus (7.8g) minted at Rome, 32-31 BC. Bare head right of Octavian right. Reverse: Equestrian statue of Octavian galloping left, his right hand extended. Sear 1530; Calicó 187; RIC 262; Cohen 73. Strong artistic portrait. Very rare. Extremely Fine. Ex. Hunter Collection, Biaggi Collection


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Ancient Roman Coins – Rome at Its Finest Under Emperor Antoninus Pius

138-161 AD. Aureus of Antoninus Pius

138-161 AD. Aureus, 7.30g (6h). Rome, 140-4 AD

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC ……


Antoninus Pius is remembered by history as a kind, just, and intelligent emperor. Having held the title for 23 years, the longest reign since that of Augustus, he had a great deal of time in office to make a lasting mark on Roman society. Unlike most of his predecessors, his legacy was not focused on military conquests; rather, his reign is often considered the most peaceful in the entire history of Rome. This was partly due to his preference for diplomatic solutions to conflict, dealing with issues predominately without the wide-scale battles of the other emperors.

This unique approach can likely be attributed to his upbringing. He was born into a wealthy family as the only child of Titus Aurelius Fulvius in Lanuvium, a city to the southeast of Rome, on September 19, 86 CE. His father and paternal grandfather died when he was young, resulting in him being raised by his maternal grandfather, Gnaeus Arrius Antoninus, who was known to be a man of integrity and culture. Combining the wealth of both of his families, he became one of the richest men in Rome. Antoninus married Annia Galeria Faustina the Elder, a beautiful and wise woman who dedicated her life to caring for the less fortunate throughout the Empire.

Antoninus Pius was an “Adopted Emperor”, where succession was a conscious decision made by the current emperor based on merit rather than a birthright, which differed from the approach taken for the first Twelve Caesars. Antoninus established himself as a competent leader, moving up the ranks from quaestor, then praetor, and finally consul, after which Hadrian named him one of the four high judges with full jurisdiction over Italy. He was then given a proconsulship in Asia, followed by him becoming a member of the Imperial Consul, as a personal consultant to Hadrian.

After the death of Hadrian’s first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, on February 25, 138 CE, Antoninus was formally adopted by Hadrian when Antoninus was 51 years old. It was agreed that he would be made emperor with the provision that he would in turn adopt Marcus Aurelius, the son of his wife’s brother, and Lucius Verus, the son of Aelius. Antoninus agreed and his two adopted sons would eventually succeed him as co-emperors following his death on March 7, 161.

Upon taking office, his full title became “Imperator Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pontifex Maximus”. Immediately after his ascension, Antoninus requested that the Senate deify Hadrian, which they initially refused. Antoninus’ persistence in ensuring the divine rights of Hadrian, as well as the efforts he made to support his elderly father-in-law and to pardon wrongfully accused men who were condemned to death, resulted in the Senate bestowing the title of “Pius”, meaning “dutiful and respectful”.

He was involved in several projects, which included performing repairs to the Colosseum, the baths of Ostia, and aqueducts at Antium, as well as building a temple in the Roman Forum in his wife’s honor upon her death in 141 CE.

The temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Roman ForumHis humanitarian efforts were significant, and he was loved by the Roman people, who had become far too familiar with emperors stealing and imposing excessive taxes to fund their own eccentricities. Antoninus was a level-headed man, not given to excess, in addition to a possessing a sincere desire for the well-being of his subjects. He protected Christians from persecution and used large portions of his extensive private treasury to assist distressed areas of his empire. While other emperors were quick to judge and resorted to executing those who appeared to conspire against them, Pius instead used these events to demonstrate his understanding and leniency.

While Antoninus was known for his tight use of state funds, he did host a magnificent series of games, celebrating the 900th anniversary of the founding of Rome. He imported expensive animals, including a great number of giraffes, tigers, elephants, and crocodiles. This made him very popular with his subjects, but paying for it required him to debase the Roman currency by decreasing the purity of the denarius, dropping its silver weight from 2.88 to 2.68 grams.

Antoninus instituted some groundbreaking philosophies which have shaped our world today. He did not consider the often-rigid law immutable and instead used his own interpretations of equality to avoid unnecessarily harsh punishment. He passed laws to grant citizenship to slaves and to ensure their fair treatment, especially for children. He also created the concepts of “innocent until proven guilty” and that the trial of an accused person must be held where the crime had been committed. He created a charity named “Puellae Faustinianae” (Girls of Faustina), which helped orphaned girls. Additionally, he improved the grain supply to Rome, and lent money to the people and troops at the very low rate of 4%. He was a tall, handsome, well-spoken man whose actions were very well-fitting to his promises.

Unfortunately, Antoninus Pius died in his sleep at the age of 74 after what is believed to have been an accidental case of severe food poisoning. His successor Marcus Aurelius spoke very highly of Antoninus: “Remember his qualities, so that when your last hour comes your conscience may be as clear as his.”

Appropriately, his last spoken word was when his guard asked for the password – “aequanimitas”, meaning equanimity – mental calmness and composure.

Struck in high relief, the obverse of this particular coin shows Antoninus Pius bearded in very fine style, draped and from the right. There are slight die cracks on the obverse, meaning the die was breaking while the coin was being struck, which is a good explanation for why this particular obverse is extremely rare.

The reverse type shows Antoninus as Romulus advancing right in military dress, holding a spear with points at both ends and trophy over his shoulder. This reverse has been used on sestertii where it is labeled “ROMVLO AVGVSTO” – “To the Augustan Romulus” and may be interpreted as depicting Antoninus as the re-founder of Rome, following in the footsteps of Augustus, marking a new era of Roman success and morality. Interestingly, several experts have commented that the portrait on the reverse bears some similarity to Trajan – Hadrian’s adoptive father – possibly alluding to the familial efforts of the Adoptive Emperors to improve Rome.

This coin is featured in the Calico reference guide (1650) as well as part of the Biaggi collection (coin number 761). The Biaggi collection featured an extensive set of Roman aurei, an almost complete set of every design from every emperor, with many coins being the finest known of their type. Leo Biaggi di Blasys formed the majority of the collection prior to 1950, and it was eventually sold by his surviving family in 1971.

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138-161 AD. Aureus, 7.30g (6h). Rome, 140-4 AD. Obv: ANTONINVS – AVG PIVS P P Bust laureate, draped right, seen from side. Rx: TR – POT – COS III Emperor as Romulus advancing right in military dress, holding spear with points at both ends and trophy over shoulder. BM 238. C. 909; RIC 37, 906 var., Strack 71. Biaggi 761 (this coin). Calicó 1650 (this coin). Beautiful style, high relief portrait. Mint State.

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Ancient Roman Coins – Military Strength in Rome’s Golden Age

Hadrian aureus, ancient roman coins

Ancient Roman Coins – HADRIAN. 117-138 AD. Aureus  Struck 124-128 AD.

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC …..
Hadrian was the third of the Five Good Emperors (all shown on ancient roman coins ), reigning during the peak of Roman prosperity. His ascension to the throne was met with some controversy as his predecessor Trajan had not yet chosen a successor until he was on his deathbed. Trajan’s wife Plotina sent a letter to the Senate declaring Hadrian as the new heir, and only after the appointment was confirmed did she inform the Senate that Trajan had in fact already died, leading some to believe that Plotina took it upon herself to make Hadrian emperor.

Regardless of the manner in which he came to power, Hadrian had a very successful reign. He completed several famous building projects, rebuilding the Pantheon in Rome and constructing the Vallum Aelium (Hadrian’s Wall), which marked the northern border of Roman Britain.


Hadrian was known as a military expert, but his reign saw minimal conflict. He engendered trust with his troops by spending a considerable amount of time with them, wearing military attire and dining with his soldiers. He increased the vigilance of their training and improved the strength of Rome’s forces by personally working with the legions in the field.

He accomplished this through extensive travel, visiting nearly every province of the Empire while trusted members of his staff maintained Rome in his absence. He would inspect the troops and suggest corrections, as well as allocate funds for construction projects and improved infrastructure within each of the provinces.

As his health started to decline, Hadrian selected Lucius Aelius Caesar to succeed him. However, shortly before his ascension, Aelius died suddenly from what is believed to have been a brain hemorrhage. In his stead, Hadrian appointed Antoninus Pius with the provision that he would then choose Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his successors. Pius agreed, and the Golden Age of Rome continued.

Hadrian_statueHadrian’s portrait on coins pays homage to his love of Greek art, shown with a noble profile in an idealized and attractive style. This coin depicts Hadrian wearing a full beard, a first for a Roman emperor. Hadrian was a follower of Stoic philosophy, and he adopted the Hellenistic fashion of philosophers and intellectuals by wearing a well-kept beard. However, some conflicting accounts say it was primarily intended to hide the unsightly facial scars Hadrian received in battle.

He was consistent in his bearded depiction on coins, departing from the precedent set by the Senate that Romans had to be shown clean-shaven. Much of the Roman upper class followed his fashion and wore beards up until the Severan dynasty at the beginning of the third century CE.

Hadrian focused on securing Rome’s borders rather than expanding the Empire, but he wanted to remind the public that he was equally capable at offensive strategies. Therefore, the reverse of this aureus was chosen to show the emperor as a successful military commander, conveying his strength by depicting him with a flying cape on horseback and hurling a lance.

The circle surrounding the emperor on the reverse is a “guide line”, used to properly align the dies. Its presence indicates a very early die state, making this one of the first coins struck with unworn dies. It is therefore fitting that it was featured as the representative example of the type in the Calico reference guide.

HADRIAN. 117-138 CE. AV Aureus (7.19 g, 6h). Struck 124-128 CE. Laureate head right, slight drapery at shoulder / Hadrian on horseback right, holding lance. RIC II 187e; UCR 350. C414. Calico 1226 (this coin) Struck on a broad flan. Lustrous and Bold EF. Ex. Aloysius Lynn Collection, Ex. Freeman & Sear MBS 7, Feb 2002, lot 470.

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Video – The Baldwin $10 Cowboy Gold Coin

AU Capital Management President Russ Augustin tells the behind-the-scenes stories of the great gold coins of American history. [This is the first in a series of Videos produced by  AUCM and CoinWeek .]

In this episode, Russ talks about the fascinating 1850 Baldwin $10 gold coin, a private-issue gold coin struck at the height of the California Gold Rush.

It is a coin steeped in the lore of the old west and connected to a scandalous and fascinating period of American coinage, where private mints struck gold coins of dubious value and a whole new American economy was forming thousands of miles away from the control of the United States federal government.

Today, the coin is exceptionally rare… and valuable.

You will enjoy this exclusive take from a leading dealer, who has handled this great rarity numerous times, placing examples of it in some of the great collections of this era.

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Roman Coins – The Tribute Penny – Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s

Roman Gold -Tiberius (14-37 CE). AV aureus - Tribute Penny
Tribute Penny – Tiberius (14-37 CE). AV aureus ). Lugdunum, ca. 18-35 CE.

The same type was also issued in silver, which became known as the “Tribute Penny” due to its famous reference in the Bible

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC ……

Providing significant contrast to the many people who would eventually die fighting for their spot as emperor of Rome, Tiberius didn’t particularly want the title. He was Augustus’ stepson and became emperor in 14 CE upon Augustus’ death. He made many positive contributions as one of the greatest Roman generals, conquering vast lands and increasing the Empire’s treasury to nearly three billion sestertii. However, he quickly decided to distance himself from the day-to-day workings of Rome. He progressively gave power to the Praetorian Prefect Sejanus, which proved to be very unwise as Sejanus proceeded to arrest and murder most of the Julio-Claudian family behind Tiberius’ back.

Frustrated with the subterfuge and politics that came along with the position, Tiberius left Rome to retire on the island of Capri in 27 CE, effectively giving Sejanus free reign over the Empire. However, after being suspected of conspiring against Tiberius, Sejanus was imprisoned and executed. When Tiberius eventually died, the succession was left to his nephew Caligula and grandson Tiberius Gemellus. Caligula quickly began establishing his reputation as one of the most hated and evil of all Roman emperors by nullifying Tiberius’ will and executing Gemellus, becoming sole emperor.

Most emperors cared deeply about their coinage and would issue a vast range of designs, reflecting current events and progress made within the Empire. Tiberius took the opposite approach, leaving a single precious metal type in place for nearly the entirety of his 23-year reign. Furthermore, the type itself was a duplicate from one of Augustus’ late emissions, indicating just how little focus Tiberius placed on his coinage.

This type proved to be one of the most widely used coinages in Roman history, and ranks among the most familiar coins of antiquity. They circulated throughout the Empire and as far as India, with evidence that many pieces were used into the second century CE.

The reverse inscription of PONTIF MAXIM references Tiberius’ status as the head of the Roman state religion. The image on the reverse is generally interpreted as his mother Livia, seated and holding a laurel branch, representing Pax, the personification of peace.

The same type was also issued in silver, which became known as the “Tribute Penny” due to its famous reference in The Bible as the coin Jesus discussed to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

A similar passage exists within the Gospel of Thomas, referring specifically to the “Tribute Penny” as a gold coin like this aureus but the book was removed from the New Testament as the overall meaning of the message was not as clear and subtext could draw different conclusions as to the intent of Jesus’ statement. “They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him: Caesar’s agents demand taxes from us. He said to them: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; give to God what belongs to God, and give to me what is mine.”

This coin came from the group that was found buried under the ash of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii. The deep toning occurred from the sulfur in the air reacting with the metal of the coin. Roman aurei are some of the purest gold coinage ever minted but they still included small amounts of silver and copper.

As gold is among the least reactive of elements, it is the other metals which were alloyed with the gold that toned to produce the colors on this coin.

Tiberius (AD 14-37). AV aureus (19mm, 7.84 gm, 7h). Lugdunum, ca. 18-35 CE. TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS, laureate head of Tiberius right / PONTIF MAXIM, Livia, as Pax, seated right, holding scepter and olive branch; chair with ornate legs, feet on footstool, single line below. RIC 29. Calicó 305a. From the Boscoreale hoard, with prominent toning. Good VF. From The Lexington Collection.