Steve Benner: Ten Ancient Coins I'd Love to Own

By Steve Benner for CoinWeek …..

Like most coin collectors, I have a list of coins I want to own.

The list I plan to cover in this article will be personal and not just a list of the most famous ancient coins, so I won’t be listing decadrachms, octadrachms, or even pentadrachms. It’s not that I wouldn’t love to own one or all of these, but their cost is not only out of my purchasing range but greater than my net worth. And even if I had the money and bought the coins, my wife would kill me and bury me in the back yard, which is a very powerful disincentive.

Thus, the coins I will be listing will fit into five categories, though they are discussed in rough order of desire for ownership. The first relates to the two books I authored for Classical Numismatic Group (CNG): Achaian League Coinage of the 3rd Through 1st Centuries B.C.E. (2008) and The History and Coinage of the Ancient Greek Leagues (2018). The second is my strong interest in third-century Imperial Roman bronze coinage (though I do put in one aureus). The third group is my driving obsession to get a coin of all the Roman Emperors and major usurpers up to Diocletian. The main Emperors are mostly “easy”, but the usurpers are a pain in the butt to find for sale, let alone buy at a reasonable price (the term “reasonable” here is subjective). The fourth group consists of those coins I find interesting historically because of the person, place, or time they were minted. The fifth and final category can be summed up in the saying: “Is it to fill a niche or scratch an itch?” The first categories are the former and the last is the latter; to put it more succinctly, I just want it.

One thing to note is that the photos show Very Fine or Extremely Fine examples of the coins. I prefer VF but have been forced to lower my standards, sometimes drastically, to afford a coin that I need/want. As a result, I have some very ugly, worn, and corroded coins in my collection, and nothing hurts like buying a costly coin that would normally go into your junk box.

1. Achaian League Hemidrachm of Lousoi (Lusi)

In my collection, I currently have 77 Achaian League (AL) hemidrachms and a smattering of bronze tetrachalkoi. The AL was a powerful league of Greek cities, mainly in the Peloponnesos, that existed from about 280 to 146 BCE. I have all the cities that minted these silver coins except Lousoi. This is a city at the northern edge of Arkadia in the central Peloponnesos. Little is known of the coin’s history, which blends nicely with its scarcity. I had a hard time finding an image of it for my book (it was in Clerk’s 1895 book, hence the crappy photo). I have never seen it for sale, so I don’t know how much it would cost if it did come to market. My guess is that, if it did, all I could do would be to salivate over it and watch it go to someone not nearly as worthy as myself (just teasing).

2. Chalkidian League Tetradrachm

The next coin is from my second book and is a Chalkidian League tetradrachm. The Chalkidian League was made up of around 30 cities in the Chalkidike in northeastern Greece. The Chalkidike, which existed from about 450 to 350 BCE, looked like a cow’s utter with three teats. I have pretty much all the denominations of silver and bronze coins minted by the league, except this one. There are only about 25 of them supposed to be in existence, though many more were minted. They are therefore not available for purchase that often, and their prices can be daunting. Nevertheless, I have come within striking distance a number of times and believe one day I’ll get lucky. It is a beautiful coin and would be nice in any collection.

3. Dupondius of Valerian

Now on to category two, third-century Imperial bronzes. While the dupondius of Valerian represents a number of coins from this period (including dupondii of Trebonianus Gallus, Aemilian, Gallienus, etc.), this is the one that is prominent for me. Valerian antoniniani and sestertii are relatively common and not expensive, but few of his dupondii have been offered for sale (at least they do appear).

Valerian was co-emperor with his son Gallienus from 253 to 260 CE, when the elder emperor was captured in battle by the Persian emperor himself. His son continued on until 269. The minting of dupondii had been dropping off for two decades before Valerian and pretty much vanished after his son’s reign, making this the denomination’s swan song. This category is the largest because it also includes the denarii (the later denarii were also bronze by this time) and asses of Tacitus, Florianus, Numerian. Carinus, etc.

4. Gold Aureus of Gallienus

I’ve shoe-horned this coin into this group though it could go into the last group as well. As mentioned, Gallienus was the son of Valerian and ruled until 269 CE. He usually receives bad press from historians because so much went wrong during his reign, but in reality, he laid the groundwork for the “Illyrian Emperors” that followed. Hence, I just want to get an outstanding ancient coin of this underrated emperor. The gold coin comes up for sale every now and then, but there is admittedly little chance I could buy it with my limited resources (and foreboding wife). Doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.

5. Gordianus II Denarius

This is the first coin in category three.

When Gordian II was proclaimed emperor by the Roman Senate in 238 CE (as was his father and co-emperor, Gordian I), it was in defiant rebellion against the current emperor, the tyrannical Maximinus Thrax. Unfortunately, Gordian the younger was killed in battle a mere three weeks later, and his father committed suicide on hearing the news.

Thus, his reign was short and only denarii and sestertii were minted in his name.

Since the sestertii are prohibitively expensive, I’m forced to try for the denarius. They are not terribly rare, so they do come up at auction now and then. I just have to get lucky on a bid where everyone is looking somewhere else, and I sneak in under the wire.

6. Antoninianus of Jotapianus

Similar to other coins on my list, this coin of Jotapian stands in for those of any number of usurpers: Regalianus, Pacatian, Saturninus, Clodius Macer, Uranius Antoninus, et al. I must admit, I have a number of the more well-known usurpers (like Julian of Pannonia), but I’m always open to ways to spend my coin money.

Jotapian was a usurper in 248/9 CE during the reign of Philip the Arab (244-249). He arose in Syria but was killed soon after by his own soldiers. The antoninianus rarely comes up for sale and fetches a hefty price, but I have my fingers crossed (though my fingers probably will have fallen off before I ever get my hands on one of these).

7. Tetradrachm of Perseus

In the fourth category, we start off with a large silver coin of Perseus of Macedon (212-166 BCE). This is an attractive ancient coin of one of the most powerful men of the Hellenistic Period after Alexander the Great. He ruled Macedon from 179 to 168 BCE and fought a war with Rome from 171 to 168, had his ass kicked at the Battle of Pydna, and died in a Roman prison. Not a hero for all time, but his coins show such nice portraits of him that we get a picture of a man with a stern countenance and maybe a bit of a temper. They come up at auction not infrequently and are not too expensive, so one may magically show up in my collection one day.

8: Gold Stater of Macedon Alexander III

Steve Benner: Ten Ancient Coins I'd Love to Own

The next coin is well known to ancient coin collectors: it’s the Alexander the Great gold stater. These are relatively common, having been minted from Persian gold probably in the thousands to pay troops and government expenses. Being gold, they demand a high price (especially right now), but some are priced at the upper limits of my spending budget.

Yet much like the grapes of Tantalus, the coin eludes my grasp every time I reach for it.

Someone once said that wanting is more fun than getting… I would like to strangle that person with my bare hands. I’ll keep trying and, perhaps one day, get my bunch of grapes.

I’m sure Tantalus said the same thing.

9. Julius Caesar Denarius of Aeneas

Steve Benner: Ten Ancient Coins I'd Love to Own

The last example in this category is another common ancient coin: the Aeneas denarius of Julius Caesar. I find this one interesting because the Trojan Aeneas is considered by the historian Livy to be the founder of Rome, and Aeneas’ mother is Aphrodite or Venus, the patron goddess of the Julian clan. I probably put this coin on my list because I have tried to win this coin at auction many times but always seem to get distracted and fail to follow through. The coin is available and in my price range, so it may be the first coin on this list I obtain.

Heck, it may be the only coin on this list I ever get.

10. Sicilian Naxos Silver Coin

In the “I just want it” category is this coin. I like Sicilian coins probably because I took a tour of Sicily and loved it. As a result, I have bought coins from Leontini, Messana, Selinos, Gela, Akragas, Segesta, and Syracuse. The Sicilian Greeks were great artists and produced beautiful coins – the coinage of Naxos among them.

(Note: This is Sicilian Naxos and not the island Naxos in the Aegean Sea.)

The Naxos tetradrachm is one of the greatest ancient coins ever made, and, unless I win the lottery, I will not be getting one for my collection any time soon. Nice ones sell in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In reality, I will have to settle for a hemidrachm or some such smaller silver coin that fits within my price range (Figure 10). However, I won’t be buying a litra because they are the size of your pinky toenail, and if you drop it, then you may never see it again.

I know as soon as I send this article off for publication, I will think of half a dozen ancient coins I should have put on my list, but that just means I’ll have something new for next year’s list.

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Steve M. Benner has a Ph.D. in engineering from the Ohio State University and worked for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for almost three decades before retiring in 2016. He has been an ancient coin collector since the early 1970s and is a member of the ANS, the ANA, and the ACCG. He specializes in coins of the ancient Greek leagues and in Roman Imperial bronzes. Dr. Benner has published over 30 ancient coin articles in various publications and is the author of Achaian League Coinage of the 3rd through 1st Centuries B.C.E. (2008) and History and Coinage of the Ancient Greek Leagues, 5th through 1st Centuries B.C.E. (2018).


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