Ancient or Modern? Vote Now!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by John Conduitt, Nov 20, 2020.


When does 'Ancient' end?

  1. 476AD: The End of the Romans

  2. 793AD: Charlemagne’s Coin Reform

  3. 1000AD: The Millennium

  4. 6 July 1189: Time Immemorial

  5. 1453: The Fall of Byzantium

  6. 1561: The Beginning of Milled Coinage

Results are only viewable after voting.
  1. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    While looking to create my top 10 ancients list for this:, I’ve come to that perennial question. What is Ancient and what is Modern? I appreciate there are as many answers as there are numismatists, but a line needs drawing. I think it’s agreed anything that comes in a proof commemorative gift set is Modern, while anything from a year ending in ‘BC’ is Ancient. In between, though, we have 1800 years of grey area.

    So, since no-one can give a definitive answer, I have put it to the vote. (Just for amusement – no-one in their right mind would put a complex question such as this to a consequential public vote).

    Æ32 dolphin. 400-300BC, Olbia, Thrace. 2.49g (SNG BM 360). Undeniably ancient. But is it a coin?

    First, I should correct the error in the question. Ancient and Modern are not contiguous. We have very many centuries in between that can’t be described as either. The bit in the middle is called, well, the Middle Ages. The question, therefore, is better phased ‘when does the Ancient period end for a numismatist, and more specifically on CoinTalk’. Here are the options I have arbitrarily put together:

    476AD: The End of the Romans

    Does Ancient end with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire? It’s a Eurocentric view, but that’s not quite the sin it would be today given 4 of the 7 continents hadn’t even been discovered yet. It’s also a very useful one, as the Romans had directly affected coinage across the whole of Europe, north Africa and west Asia. For example, few, if any, coins were struck in Britain in the 200 years after the Romans left. It is therefore both a theoretical and a physical divide. It is also the start of what historians call the Middle Ages.

    Delmatius bronze follis. 335-337, Trier (second officina). 1.64g. FL DELMATI-VS NOB CAES. GLOR-IA EXERC-ITVS. From the Nether Compton Hoard, Dorset, UK, found 1989 (RIC VII 594). An ancient coin, but is it one of the last?

    793AD: Charlemagne’s Coin Reform

    In 793, Charlemagne introduced a thinner and broader coin as part of a reform of weights and measures. This style was adopted throughout Europe, including by Offa in England, where the distinctive ‘penny’ remained in use until the reforms of the Tudors at the start of the Modern era. To the uninitiated, many European coins from Charlemagne’s time are difficult to distinguish from medieval coins struck 700 years later. It would seem arbitrary to separate a Charlemagne denier from a Charles II of Anjou denier.

    Dernier of Charles II of Anjou (the Lame), 1285-1287, Clarencia, Principality of Achaea. 0.73g. K R PRINC ACH DE CLARENTIA (Metcalf 942). Or is it Charlemagne?

    1000AD: The Millennium

    The next candidate is 1000AD, if for no other reason than it’s a round number and easy to remember. It’s also not based on any historical event, which would inevitably be tied to the circumstances of a particular culture. For English coins this works because of the Norman Conquest in 1066 – in England, history begins in 1066, when William I ‘the Conqueror’ changed much and wrote it all down.

    In China, by 1000AD the Song Dynasty had reunified much of the country. They experienced rapid economic growth and there was an associated growth in coin production. Their coins were used across East and South East Asia. They were the first to use gunpowder and issued the world’s first banknotes, which certainly sounds Modern.

    William II ‘Rufus’ penny, 1092-1095, London. Voided cross type. 1.38g. + þillelm rei. + þvlfþord on lv, Wulfword of London (S 1260). Struck in the same millennium as I was born, so it must be Modern.

    6 July 1189: Time Immemorial

    Believe it or not, English law has a definition for the time ‘beyond the reach of memory, record, or tradition; indefinitely ancient’ ( In law, having some property or benefit ‘since time immemorial’ means you’ve had it so long you don’t have to prove how you came by it. In 1275, the ‘time of memory’ was set at the accession of Richard I (6 July 1189). ‘Before memory, record, or tradition’ would be Ancient, then.

    Richard I ‘the Lionheart’ cut halfpenny, 1189-1199, London. Class 4b, Fulke on Lond (S 1348C). Officially in use since time immemorial.

    1453: The Fall of Byzantium

    If the collapse of the Western Roman Empire is too early, perhaps the end of the Eastern Roman Empire will do. It coincides with the end of the Medieval era (the Middle Ages), which lasted from the end of the Western Roman Empire to around 1500, when the Modern era (in historical terms) began.

    Justinian I, half follis, 541-542, Nicomedia. 29mm, 11g. D N IVSTINIANVS P P AVI. A/N/N/O, XЧ, K (DOC 141; MIB 116; SB 203). Early medieval, but is it Ancient?

    1561: The Beginning of Milled Coinage

    Anything produced by a machine is undeniably Modern, and Elizabeth I’s experimental milled coinage (from 1561) might serve as a starting point. A big difference between collecting Ancient and Modern coins seems to be an obsession with grading, and Ancient and Medieval coins don’t get graded very often – hammered coins don’t have the ‘proof ultra-cameo’ or ‘MS70 with a green sticker’ surfaces that make grading such a sport for collectors of Modern coins. (It’s also more difficult to give them a lurid tone).

    If there was a divide that makes most difference to numismatists, this might be it. However, there’s a problem. Not every country started milling coins at the same time. Indeed, Elizabeth I’s milled coins are 100 years older even than England’s last hammered coins.

    Half rupee, copper, 1835-1900, Bhutan. 4g (KM 8.1). A coin hammered 300 years after the first machine-made coin was produced. Ancient technology in the Modern era, but is it Modern?

    So I would be grateful if you could help me out here and vote. If you like, post your 'youngest' Ancient by your own definition.
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  3. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    To me,
    European ancients range till Justinian-I, their dark age/ medieval era ranges from 6th century to around the time of Magna Carta, and later-medieval from then to the fall of Constantinople. I consider 1500s to 1600s as the transition period to modernity.

    Middle-east- ancients range from upto the rise of Islam, their medieval from 10th century (Islamic golden age to 1453!

    I consider India’s ancient ranges upto their first invasion by Islam in 12th century and their medival era ended around 14th century when the Delhi sultanate established their first Islamic rule in the southern part.

    however on average I see 1000AD as the turning point!
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
    Pellinore, Scipio, Finn235 and 7 others like this.
  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    This was a great explanation of why the question has little practical meaning. For that matter, I'm not so sure I embrace the concept of time at all but that is a philosophic question not best addressed here. Each of the proposals has its merits. I am old fashioned and divided time into three rather than two parts using the term medieval for the middle ground. My coin activity has been 95% ancient using the 476 AD number for the last 50+ years but I was OK with the idea of allowing medieval coins here in the Ancients section of Coin Talk. In particular, that allowed the discussion of Byzantine coins which I like even though I had no real interest in Islamic and Chinese coins of that same day.

    Lately, I have embraced the concept separating machine made coins as modern (too modern to collect) even though there is an overlap caused by the experimental issues under Elizabeth I. I suppose we could add another group separator being the time when it became unnecessary for coins to contain any meaningful metal value but forced people to think it normal for a nickel to have more melt value than a dime. Or, should we accept the once popular idea where Eastern coins of the late Roman period could be omitted from your book that covered the Western ones of the same people (I'm talking to you Henri Cohen). I'll stick with my belief that all labels and pigeonholes used by historians are unnecessary conventions created to make convenient questions for school tests during the period when rote learning was considered more important than understanding. Yes, I realize I just made another artificial separation but that does seem to be as humans are wont to do. Do I separate people into those who understand the use of 'wont' and those who ask if I meant "won't"? Now I am back to denying time as a valid separator. I can accept 'to be' but try not to dwell on what was or what will be. My coins include things that be and things that I enjoy without labels.

    Since examples were requested, this coin of John VIII is about as recent as I can get excited about on most days so I must still subscribe to the end of the Byzantine period and the end of collectable time.

    Some days I can develop an interest in later, hammered coins and even an occasional Russian wire which would postpone 'modern' by a few centuries but those days are abhorrent to my general self and fall into the class of things I collect because I like them. This one is Peter I who ended the old coins and introduced modern ones as abruptly as anyone. I do not own a big, round ruble but they most certainly are modern.

    Thanks for the interesting question but it will remain one with no answer.
    Here we differ. I have no need for a line. I believe in gray for areas as well as hair. Considering the recent US election cycle and questions raised there, the coin question does not seem complex at all.
    Scipio, Kentucky, Finn235 and 18 others like this.
  5. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths

    Definitely BC. When the old gods reigned and monotheistic religions was confined to the Jews and Zoroastrians who didn't tend to go proselytizing and condemning people on religious grounds. The Jews tried to ignore people but probably too fractious even within themselves to be left alone.
    For me the world ends with Xristianity and its later variation.
  6. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    I have always considered "Ancient" to end with the fall of the Romans. It seems many collectors divide "Ancient" and "Modern" - but to me, a third and very distinct "Middle Ages" category exists. There is a distinct difference in my mind between the craft and artistry of the ancients, the crude and abstract of the middle, and the machine made of the modern.
  7. Mr.Q

    Mr.Q Well-Known Member

    When the very first person said "Don't clean that coin."
    benhur767, Finn235, Magnus87 and 5 others like this.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Um, that's kind of a stretch. You’re almost verging on tautology there. I'll give you Antarctica. ...Where the looming spectre of Eurocentrism is concerned, I guess I gravitate toward a sort of open-eyed historiographic realism. 476 works fine from here. The practical need for some measure of consensus, where mere chronology is concerned, gets to carry its own weight. From that point, we’re perfectly free to get into the nuances of stricter accuracy in any given, specific context.
    galba68 likes this.
  9. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Don't really have a specific year in time when the ancient world ended. I will refer to the writings of historian Peter Brown, who coined the term "Late Antiquity." So sometime after the end of the reign of Constans II, perhaps...

    In his second book The World of Late Antiquity (1971), Brown offered a radically new interpretation of the entire period between the second and eighth centuries AD. The traditional interpretation of this period was centered around the idea of decadence from a 'golden age', classical civilisation, after the famous work of Edward Gibbon The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1779). On the contrary, Brown proposed to look at this period in positive terms, arguing that Late Antiquity was a period of immense cultural innovation....
  10. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    I date the modern period with the start of the nation-state, as the Feudal system collapsed in the 15th century, and power became more centralized, first in monarchies, later in more democratic governments.

    So, I would classify coinage as modern starting with the introduction of vast amounts of silver from South America and Mexico in the late 15th century, with the introduction of the thaler (although these issues were made from local silver sources in Bohemia). The coinage by this time was becoming more abundant, and the coins were also becoming larger and more recognizable as coins that we carry in our pockets today, although not silver anymore.

    Silver from the new world really started flowing in earnest into Europe and the rest of world in the first half of the 16th century and continued through the first quarter of the 20th century, primarily from Mexico and the US by then.

    This is my view; given the complexities of coinage production throughout history, there are plenty of grey areas when defining some coins to a specific historical period.

    As for hammer struck versus machine struck coinage, the fact is that hammer struck coinage persisted, usually due to necessity, well into the 18th century, a century that I am sure many would agree would fall in the modern period. Even a powerful nation/empire such as Spain really did not fully switch over all coin production until the first quarter of the 18th century to machine striking technology.

    As for the "youngest" ancient, here are two:

    This is a solidus of Honorius, 393-423 AD, Ravenna, 4.4 grams:

    D-Camera Honorius, AV solidus, Ravenna, 393-423 AD, 4.4 grams  11-20 -20.jpg

    This coin dates to near the fall of Rome, and the beginning of the Dark Age.

    Then, there is Byzantine coinage, which spans from the 6th century AD to the middle of the 15th century.

    This my "youngest" Byzantine coin, but is very much in the medieval style, especially in the clothing. It is an AV hyperpyron of Andronicus II Palaeologus and Michael IX, Constantinople, 1303-1320 AD, 3.95 grams.

    D-Camera Andronicus II, Michael IX, AV hyperpyron, 1303-20 AD, Roma 3.95 g, sear 2396 11-20 -20.jpg

    So, I guess the definition of ancient is relative to a degree. I have noticed that medieval coinage appears in the ancients forum, for lack of its own. But in the end I think the categorizations are rather secondary; of primary purpose, I think, is to share the coins we collect and the joy that they provide.
    +VGO.DVCKS, John Conduitt and Bing like this.
  11. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Tell me who knew this already. Just starting with @robinjojo. One thing that's cool is how the numismatic gray areas can be seen, more or less speculatively, to correspond to similar gray areas in their broader historical context. Over a wider spectrum, from, say, political to cultural to numismatic history, you can see the almost geometrically symbiotic relations between one subcontext and another. ...And the taxonomy within historical disciplines is already as inexorably arbitrary as the resultant chronology. ('Culture' overtly used as a political tool, for one.) You're kind of pushing the boundaries of what language is rationally capable of.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
  12. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    We don' need no stinkin' line...
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