Featured Auction Sat, 27 June. + NEW Bargain Denarius

Auctions Open at $0.01 & Close Every Weekend on eBay

JJFN "Top Auction & Buy NOW Picks" Thru Saturday, 27 June 2015. (Click to see all current auctions or eBay Store listings.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Becoming "Elagabalus" and the History of the Severan Dynasty

"Elagabalus," as we now know him, was born Varius Avitus Bassianus in 203 AD to Julia Soaemias, a member of the powerful and matriarchal Severan Dynasty (see the Numiswiki). Elagablus was one of the grandsons of the already powerful Julia Maesa.

At that time, the Roman Empire was ruled by two co-Augusti, Septimius Severus (Elagabalus' great-uncle) and Septimius' son, Caracalla.

The initial moment of the Severan Dynasty's existence, as such—one of the great Roman Imperial Dynasties—is generally dated to the year 193 AD, when Septimius Severus assumed the title of Augustus.

Carcalla and Geta were the sons of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna, and the nephews of Julia Maesa—undisputed matriarch of the Severan Dynasty despite a potentially peripheral place on the family tree

Septimius Severus shared the title of co-Augustus, first, with his son Caracalla in 198 AD, and then Caracalla's younger brother, Geta, in 209 AD. Two years later, shortly after Septimius Severus fell ill and died at the age of 65, Caracalla arranged for the assassination of Geta, thus taking command as sole Emperor.

Though not precisely identical in the sequence of events, this history of fratricide within the Severan Dynasty would foreshadow Elagabalus' own life and death. Crowned at 13, he would not live to see his 19th birthday. 

For three generations, Severan Emperors were males of the family (Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Geta, Elagabalus, and Severus Alexander; 193-235 AD), though some of the Severan women held the title Augusta in honorific fashion. It is arguable, however, that the women did, indeed, play roles nearly as powerful, perhaps equally so, and, at times, more so, than the males, from start to end. 

Julia Maesa (165-226 AD), sister-in-law to Septimius, was especially instrumental in holding the Dynasty together for more than 30 years of her life, at times strategically giving direct orders to Legions and other military and governmental actors in the service of the family. The death of her Dynasty would occur within a decade of her own. Importantly, Maesa, who held close control over the succession of rulers (the Caesars and Augusti of the early 3rd Century are only the best preserved and documented by historians and her influence was doubtless farther-reaching)particularly during the transfer of power from Caracalla to Elagabalus (seizing control from Macrinus) to Severus Alexander.

It would become deeply consequential that Maesa's father had been a priest of the Phoenician Cult of the Sun God Heliogabalus (a name by which Elagabalus is occasionally known), and had indeed encouraged Julia Soaemias and Elagabalus to adopt its practices.

Eagablaus' demise was, at a minimum, accelerated by abandoning traditional Roman gods and instead paying special homage to the gods and rituals of the Phoenicians. (It was the Phoenicians who had settled Carthage, the legendary enemy of Rome, against whom their armies tangled for decades to the absolute death of one civilization. Roman armies literally razed and burned Carthage to the ground after a decisive battle). The rituals included frequent blood sacrifice, as depicted on the coin pictured —usually by slaughtering a sacred bull and collecting the blood.

On the reverse, Elagablus is depicted heating a pan (or patera). Heating a patera is typical trope on Roman coinage, particularly the reverse. One generally assumes that the patera contains wine for the gods, as was the common practice among Romans worshiping any number of gods. However, in this case, Romans likely interpreted it as blood sacrifice, like the Carthaginians, using ritually prepared bulls' blood (presumably not humans, as the Carthaginians—inhabitants of the famous western-most Phoenician colony—are believed to have done. The Carthaginians also seem to have sacrificed tremendous numbers of young boys by bleeding and immolation.) The star imagery and the legend also point symbolically to Phoenician religion, and are unique to the coinage of Elagabalus.

Elagabalus Denarius. SVMMVS SACERDOS AVG. This legend appears only on the denarii of Elagabalus (then Antoninus, short for Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Augustus, in his obverse legends). Literally, "High Priest Emperor," though SACERDOS ("priest") also holds the connotations of responsibility for the sacred and to sacrifice.
The same ceremonial garb of the Phoenicians is worn by Elabalus on the back of the coin. Furthermore, the star is of considerable significance, since the bull god, Elagabalus or Heliogabalus, was though to represent the sun—quite literally.

Whatever led Elagabalus to believe this would be acceptable, he was gravely mistaken.
In 217 AD, after Caracalla was killed by a member of his own guard in the Eastern Provinces, the family briefly lost its grip on power. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Mysterious Posthumous Coins of Fausta

Fausta was the second wife of Constantine (he had divorced his first wife, Minervina). Their sons were Constans, Constantius II, and Constantine II. Constantine's first son, Crispus, was mothered by Minverina. We know Fausta was awarded the title Augusta by 324 AD largely because it “is revealed in the coins [in her name] with this title” (Woods 1998: 70). Yet these coins, dated as late as 328 AD, reveal a dramatic and dark mystery, both historical and numismatic.
AE 20mm Follis of Flavia Maxima Fausta, commonly known as Fausta. Struck in Thessalonica, circa 326-328 AD, though other mints struck similar issues as early as  324 AD. The obverse legend reads "FLAV MAX FAVSTA AVG," the final letters, AVG, indicate she had been awarded the title Augusta, or Empress, by her husband, Constantine I "The Great."
The reverse depicts the Empress holding a pair of infants (or Spes holding the infants, rather than the Empress, as the image is often interpreted, or sometimes "the Empress as Spes"). The infants' identities are uncertain. Perhaps they were the couple's sons, Constantine II (b. 316 AD) and Constantius II (b. 317), or, perhaps, mythical or symbolic characters such as Romulus and Remus. If they were living sons, Constans may have been omitted for cultural or simply practical reasons, being further down the line of regnal succession and/or born in 323 AD, very shortly before the first of these coins were struck.

The real mystery behind this coin is why this coin exists in the first place. In 326 AD Constantine I "The Great" had already issued the extreme measure, characteristic of the ancient world, of a damnatio memoriae against Fausta—a proclamation prohibiting a historical record of the person, an erasure or “damnation of memory,” as translated literally. There is some debate over why and how she died, but it was clearly in disgrace. She was either executed upon Constantine's order, committed suicide "voluntarily," or, perhaps, suffered a horrible death during a failed attempt to abort an adulterous pregnancy. (For more nuance and the context of the ongoing debate about her demise, see, e.g.: David Woods, 1998, "On the Death of the Empress Fausta," Greece and Rome 45: 70-86; Paul Stephenson, 2009, Constantine, London: Quercus).

By 324 (the first issue of the coin at any mint), Crispus already held considerable power, having been named Caesar, the position second in power and responsibility only to the Augustus (Emperor). Importantly, Crispus would have been the traditional heir to succeed the throne upon the Emperor's (Constantine's) death.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why You Won't Find Gold Coins (Ever) in Bulk Lots of Uncleaned Ancient Coins

Bulk uncleaned coins

Virtually all uncleaned Roman, Greek, Byzantine, Medieval and specialized uncleaned coins sold  bulk lots for the retail market (or even in private transactions between excavators wholesalers) are found in roughly the same fashion. The end buyer purchases between 10 and 1,000 coins at a time, with the mean purchase between 25 and 100. The retailer either sells the coins in fixed prices for unites ranging from 1 coin to 1,000 at a time, or auctions them, usually on the same one or two days each week. Many of the most popular European vendor auction about 500 - 2,000 coins a week, while American vendor tend to auction smaller numbers (a few dozen to a couple hundred) and rely much more heavily on fixed-price (or "best offer") retail sales. 
One or, more commonly, a few, excavators armed with metal detectors, picks, shovels and similar paraphernalia systematically trek across the local countryside near the towns where they reside. Some are professionals who work 9-5 at it, so to speak. Additionally, great armies of amateur "detectorists" comb the fields as hobbyists and weekend hunters. A very different set work in agriculture. Each spring there is a surge in the availability of wholesale Roman coins (likewise, other artifacts of all kinds from the Stone Age to WWII) as farmers clear fields and disturb soil. 

Many "detectorists" pick up their objects (coins included) a few at a time, here and there. What they are really hoping for is the score of a lifetime—a buried hoard of thousands of coins, be they bronze, silver, or gold, as pictured below. Any region or town will have at least one person known to buy these finds and potentially capable of accumulating tremendous numbers of valuables from 19th century military buttons to stone arrowheads. The more dedicated, professional hunters, alone or in teams, are able to strike out on their own and make a fair living it, depending on where they live, their equipment, and general skill.

Archaeologists spend years carefully surveying and sampling the soil and its contents, treating such sites as tremendous stores of knowledge to be dug out with great care and painstaking data collection. Workers excavating such a site for wholesale and eventual retail markets can clear a pit of such size within a few weeks and perhaps make a season's or even a years wages. Some nations have what are called "Treasure Laws" in which individuals may keep all or a portion of coins found, once professional archaeologists work the sites.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Video: The Minimalist Approach to Restoring Uncleaned Ancient Bronze Coins

On July 25, 2013 we first posted a video explaining how we go about preparing coins for restoration.

Nearing the anniversary of one of our most popular and widely used blog entries, we've decided to begin revisiting and updating some issues. 

For instance, we would like to address is the proper care of "desert patina" coins. 
But please help us learn what interests you, and what you would find most helpful, by providing comments and messages.

Open in a New Window or click the image below to see our video, "Minimalist Approach to Restoring Uncleaned Ancient Coins" on our YouTube Channel

We also highly recommend browsing various videos on the instructional YouTube Channel run by our friend and colleague Nathan Hochrein, known to many simply as Coinscrubber, of Holding History Coins (on VCoins and eBay) and RomanCoinAuctions.com (co-managed by the late Belgian Rudi Smits, whose death last year was as sudden as it was tragic).

In general, we take what we consider to be a very "minimalist" approach to cleaning coins. By this we mean to include three central premises:

(1) To do a proper job, each coin requires its own "treatment plan," so to speak;

(2) It is best to clean coins with the gentlest techniques possible, including beginning with "dry cleaning" before ever exposing coins to water or oil (we know many advise dumping all your coins in water or oil, or at least rinsing them upon receiving them, but we have found that many otherwise decent coins have fragile enough surfaces or other qualities that make them vulnerable to damage once in contact with liquids); and,

(3) Not every uncleaned coin needs cleaning! Just because it's uncleaned or "as found" in Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East doesn't mean you need to altar it in anyway.

Unlike many coin cleaners, we are very tentative and careful, even avoiding the use of distilled water and olive oil unless "dry cleaning" methods fail.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"From the Local and Aesthetic to the Brutal and Bureaucratic: Dramatic and Theatrical Representations of Roman and Greek Statehood on Coins."

Originally Published June 22, 2011. Ancientcoincollectors.com. (Please acknowledge web-reprints and contact for print. "Some rigts reserved")

"From the Local and Aesthetic to the Brutal and Bureaucratic: Dramatic and Theatrical Representations of Roman and Greek Statehood on Coins."

Coins are clearly not merely instrumental, fungible monetary lumps of metal. They may have begun that way (in Lydia, perhaps around 700 BC), but quickly acquired symbolic significance. First there was the snarling head of a lion on electrum (a naturally-occurring alloy of gold and silver) coinage from the 7th century BC—full of motion and emotion. Within the century the lion head had found a ram into whose shoulders and throat to tear—a ram seemingly quite capable of putting up a good fight.

That they were struck with imagery at all is of interest in its own right. They were tokens – even totems – not only in a literal but also a figurative sense. Moreover, the imagery itself was an important phenomenon to the people of the time, so it should also be so to us. It took many hours to craft a single die, which had a lifetime of maybe 100 strikes before it dulled or cracked.

Indeed, the symbolic imagery often has an overtly dramatic character. Even as static metal tokens, many numismatic items are, indeed, narrative depictions of battle scenes or historic events. One might say they are slices of theater. Thin slices, to be sure, like Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story[1] — but theater nonetheless. Those warriors confronted one another, for some reason; one horse had fallen somehow; now one of them has victory within his reach. (Because he is Roman!)

The Greek coins were individualistic and artistically- and even sensually-inclined. Each city-state had its local favorite icon (sometimes an animal, sometimes a deity, sometimes both, sometimes multiple). The coins emphasized artistry over standardization, in contrast to the culture 500 years-to-come (to an extent the Macedonian Kings, from Phillip II to Kassander, deviated ever so slightly from that trend, but not nearly so far as the Romans). Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a classicist and do not claim the Greeks lived peaceful lives. Indeed, current anthropological evidence shows that even recently the territorial shepherds use their staffs against other humans more than against their sheep. At that time it is safe to assume the bloodshed was greater in daily encounters.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Have you seen me?

The first in a series of occasional posts that we'll make when we've exhausted all options for attributing a coin that we happen to find particularly interesting. If you can attribute it (a reference, such a catalog number in Roman Provincial Coins) and your ID can be verified with published examples, then we will offer you 10% off any purchase up to $5 as a small token of our appreciation. We'll simultaneously post the mystery coins at www.facebook.com/JacksonJacobsFamilyNumismatics. We ask that you offer your suggestions there so they can be quickly verified by others.

The first is a small but hefty little desert patina we've had for perhaps 5 years and posted annually on any forum we can find with no success.

Our best guess it that this is an early 3rd to 4th century Roman Provincial/Greek Imperial coin, struck in a Holyland city-state Kingdom. We cannot be sure who is depicted. The images have a Greco-Roman appearance, such as Apollo on one side and Serapis on the other.

What do you think?

If you missed the stats, here they are again. The diameter ranges from 16-16.5mm, the thickness is about 3mm give or take, and the weight is just under 6 grams. It has lovely desert patina,

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ancient Coin Books - CampusTowns Are Goldmines of Classical Numismatic Literature!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Is eBay's "Replica Coins policy" for ancient coins overreaching?

Recently we listed an NGC-Certified and slabbed Julius Caesar Fourée Denarius for sale on eBay (i.e., an ancient coin that is silver plated and struck with a base metal core).

Within a day or so, eBay sent us a message stating that, although the coin was certified as a "silver plated denarius" and "ancient forgery," it violated the "replica coins policy" because the coin: 
"appears the same or similar to one that was issued by a government mint. This is considered a 'replica' which we no longer allow on our site, regardless of age..."

The final statement is particularly important: "regardless of age."

Some of these coins may have been struck intentionally when a local or Imperatorial (military) treasury ran low on silver, but more likely were struck unofficially by ancient forgers and by mint workers or others in possession of stolen dies. In any case, fourées are collectible coins in their own right; in fact many collector's specialize in collecting them.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why We Support the UK Treasure Act (1996) -- & Wish Other Countries Would Follow Suit

One News Story among Many Similar from the UK, Reported in November by COINWORLD: "Gold coin hoard find in UK among largest" by Jeff Starck, last November 12:

What is regarded as one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards ever found in the United Kingdom was discovered in early October. The hoard of 159 late Roman gold solidus coins, found by an anonymous metal detectorist on private land in the north of the district of St. Albans in Hertfordshire, was announced Oct. 16 by local officials... Finds such as the coin hoard are governed by the Treasure Act 1996. The next stage is for the British Museum’s panel of independent experts to examine the coins and make their report to the coroner (a local official who decides such cases), who will determine whether they are to be considered as ‘treasure’ under the act.

If the hoard is declared treasure, the local museum will have a chance to raise the money to pay for the hoard that will be distributed to the anonymous finder (the finder usually shares the fee with the landowner, if they are not the same). The value of the coins has not yet been determined.

What this means is that the British Museum is going to have a chance to document and perhaps purchase the coins, but that the owner will not automatically lose them. This is exactly why we support laws like the UK's Treasure Act. It removes strong incentives in other countries to conceal finds of ancient coins and antiquities (because "finders keepers" applies unless the government raises funds to purchase them), while at the same time allowing the find to be professional documented before it sold piecemeal on the private market.

As we posted on our facebook page, any number of news stories streaming in weekly from the British Isles illustrate its value in solving the dilemmas of ownership, provenance, and cultural heritage of antiquities. Similar laws should be adopted much more widely. More recently, from "The Press" (York, UK), "York Experts Want to Keep Treasure Hoard in Country" (March 27, 2013), but the owner isn't compelled to give up the Viking antiquities discovered. Yet again: A pragmatic solution ("compromise" may be a better word for it) to the problem of private v. governmental proprietorship of antiquities discovered and/or in the possession of private citizens.

It seems unclear so far whether the items will be purchased by a museum or any scholarly, or governmental organization. Regardless, because the private discoverer retains rights to the find, the artifacts are not simply removed from their cultural, historical context for ownership in the private market -- thus eliminating the opportunity for developing the archaeological knowledge base. Instead, they are first professionally excavated and documented. Even if the items remain in private control, they are now professionally recorded in the context of their discovery (often the Treasure Act gives enough opportunity for local or national museums and universities to purchase or convince the owners to put the items on "loan" before they are sold off a few pieces at a time).

This, like many others in the UK, illustrates the value of laws such as the UK Treasure Act. We've personally seen private collections of thousands of Greek- and Etruscan- to Roman- to Viking-era antiquities that include thousands of larger in-tact pieces, including swords, military helmets, various pottery and ceramics, as well as statuary items. Countless private museums exist in basements, mostly consisting of items that were, officially speaking, obtained illicitly. As we've written, we stopped collecting antiquities (besides coins) some time ago because we recognize the damage that the unregulated market can do to archaeology.

Still, we do buy and sell non-provenanced coins, which would have been of cultural and historical if documented upon discovery. Of course, many items have been in the private market since long before anyone started considering issues of cultural heritage and national rights to ownership. These items are more of less "lost in space," as no one has any idea where they originally came from. But we also purchase large quantities of coins that have been unearthed or put on the market much more recently, only rarely with provenance or governmental approval by antiquity export authorities.

We would strongly prefer to be able to purchase items that were provenanced and legally sanctioned in fashion that could be documented (if only to maintain our professional ethics), even if it resulted in a predictable increase in the price on the private market. Do the Baltic states not have such laws (one prime source)? If implemented it would be a great improvement, we feel.

Perhaps there are unanticipated consequences we do not recognize. But, on the face of it, the UK's Treasure Act seems the best model available for solving these challenges -- at least for new finds.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Phoenician/Egyptian 1/4 sheqel weight, about 1000BC or older

(See the whole gallery at the link above.)
This a decorated, disc-shaped Phoenician weight (3.8 grams, 14mm; a 1/4 sheqel or 1/20,000 of a Talent), not a coin exactly, but more of a "numismatic object" or a form of "exonumia." '

I'm not sure where you draw the line "coin" vs. "not coin." After all, the early electrum (EL) coinage of Greece (e.g. Lydia; Miletos; see the post(s) below also), were simply bean shaped blobs of metal, less "coin-like" than this object. We got it for, I think $0.38 in 3-kilo box of ancient coin a couple years ago (best purchase ever! almost every coin sold for several dollars, and there were about 1,000). I suppose it's worth somewhere between $38 and $3,800. I'm not an expert in this rare so I can't say for sure.

I'll certainly welcome comments and suggestions!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

An uncleaned Theodosius II (402-450) ... what?! Mystery coin or dummy blogger?

A couple of days ago I opened a jar of coins soaking in water. They'd been in there about a month since their last chekup. I rubbed them all with my thumbs before putting them on "the drying towel."

This coin clearly looked like it was silver or had silver on it. Okay, I've got a Theodosius II light miliarensis -- or at least a fourée.

So I check my Sear RSC v4 and no such silver coin existed. I searched wildwinds (everyone ignores the top line of my Christmas list: Roman Imperial Coinage, vols 1-10, 1927-1981, London: Spink; I should probably just get Sear's RCV). No such coin.

The "Facing Bust" obverse is evidently the RIC volume 10 #100 variety (the Rx is too encrustred to be certain, but seems so as well).

The facing bust. Bronze, yes. Gold, yes. Silver, no.

What could this be? Perhaps the obverse bust is diademed right, rather than facing and there is my mistake. Was there ever a ruler named Smeodosium? Is it a lead test-strike? Stolen dies, mule? Barbarous imitation? Modern manipulation of some sort?

What should I do? If it's a cull, should I just leave it in the low-grade uncleaned water bottle til July to find out real slow without destroying a possibly silvered coin (is that possible)? Should I soak it in vinegar til noon to find out real quick whether it's silver, silvered, bronze, or plutonium?