Though I could never have expected it back in January, this year has been a very interesting and saddening one in many ways. Fortunately, my collection has come along further than I could have hoped despite the pandemic, and if anything it may have been helped along by the countless extra hours spent at home with nothing better to do than look at old coins. Over the past couple of years, as my collection has grown and my interests matured alongside it, I’ve found myself torn between the question of buying as many coins as possible of an acceptable quality, or scrounging every penny to buy those few coins that I know will never need an upgrade. This year, at last, I was able to arrive at a form of compromise between the two: I made a list of coins with a shared theme that I “need” to acquire in the coming few years and will allow me to focus my collection better, devoting a set portion of my budget towards these, while leaving enough money for one or two discretionary purchases every month. I think the formula has worked fairly well so far, with 10/30 targeted purchases completed this year (only half of whom have made this list), which ensured there was enough left over for a few fun coins to be procured on the side. As I compiled this list, I realized there were no Roman coins that made it into the top 10. Now, while I love all my coins equally in theory, in practice it didn’t feel fair to include any of the denarii I had in lieu of the Greek beauties I intended to showcase. So, in order to give my beloved Romans the love they deserve, I’ve included my favourite two from the year as honourable mentions before I delve into the list proper. I realise that many of the descriptions towards the end of the list are quite long-winded and likely boring to most. I’ve never posted any of these here before, so I essentially included a shortened form of a formal thread for many in place of a simple brief description, in order to give some background on each coin for those who may be unfamiliar with the type, as well as a bit of personal storytelling on a few. If you do take the time to read some or all of them, please let me know what you think, and feel free to comment with your personal favourites of the bunch. ** I’ve attempted a number of times to improve my photography, but at the moment my skills and equipment are both somewhat lacking, so to give these coins their due I’ve used the auction photos here instead. ** Honourable Mention 1: Q. Antonius Balbus Denarius. This coin has a few things going for it in my opinion: nice detail, good centring, rich toning… but what sets it apart in my book, and I’m sure this is true for almost everyone here, isn’t any of the physical properties of the coin itself – it’s the history. Struck in the midst of the civil wars between Sulla and Marius – or rather at this point his successors – the somewhat ironic design of this coin, with its benevolent-looking Jupiter and promise of victory, signals instead the end of a decade-long watershed moment in Roman history, one that would find Rome weaker than it had been before, and ripe for the half-century of civil strife and death that would follow until the eventual dissolution of her once-glorious Republic. All that makes for one compelling coin, and as my RR collection numbers fewer than a dozen pieces at the moment, it’s not hard to see why this is my favourite of the bunch. Honourable Mention 2: Domitian (as Caesar) Denarius. The portrait on this coin is what drew me in at first (That’s going to be a common theme moving down the list). I like it quite a bit more than the style of imperial portraits of Domitian, and it has an artistic quality to it that I can’t quite place, one which separates most early Roman Imperial portraits in general from their 2nd and 3rd century counterparts. What sealed the deal in this case however was the reverse. The artistry is more reminiscent, to my eyes at any rate, of republican imagery, and it feels more animated and dynamic than most other imperial reverse types I’ve yet come across. #10: Phaselis Stater. Starting the list off we have something that you don’t see every day. As you keep scrolling, there will be plenty of gods, goddesses, heroes, and animals to ogle (enough of the horses already!) but few designs are as unique in their motif as the coinage of Phaselis. They were even able to continue this design well into the 3rd century after falling in essence under Ptolemaic suzerainty, pitting it right next to the Athenian owls in terms of longevity. I absolutely love the realism of the galley – I could stare at it for hours if there was nothing else to do. I will admit I have a minor fascination with military craft – tanks, airplanes, warships, the whole gamut – and having a contemporary representation of an ancient warship is just incredible. I think the feature that stands out the most is the painted eyes on the prow, something I thought was largely modern bluster made for the movies – having a contemporary source to prove otherwise is quite welcome. #9: Philip V Didrachm. This was one of my biggest surprises of the year – something I never anticipated being able to afford on a whim – and a coin that I missed entirely the first time it was up for sale (I had another, more “important” target in that auction instead: #4 on this list). However, as luck would have it, after selling for a very low price the first time around, the repaired chip must have broken off in transit or after being dropped by the new owner, which lead to Philip here being put up for sale once more at CNG in August of this year, selling for the less than any other example I could find on acsearch. I’ve been reading into the Hellenistic era for the first time this year, and after having completed Walbank’s wonderful introductory text and reading a few of the lives of the Diadochi in Plutarch, I eventually made my way to the end of that era, and the unrelenting advance of Roman imperialism in the Greek world. Philip V features heavily in this era, and indeed he was perhaps the last best hope Greece ever had at repelling the Roman hordes, until Cynoscephalae at any rate. As such, a portrait of the man himself features very highly in my collection in terms of historical significance, and the execution of the portrait itself is of a wonderful style, in line with the amazing portraiture of the era as whole. #8: Pharsalos Drachm. While many here will know Pharsalos for the epic battle to which it lends its name, the city was an important centre in Thessaly long before anyone spoke of Pompey or Caesar. This is a type I was actively on the lookout for, and had already missed a few examples of by the start of the year. Despite this, my initial reaction to seeing this coin was “Hah, I’d like to see this sell anywhere near their estimate” and so I never bothered to add it to any watchlists or gave it a second thought, because I assumed it would sell for far more than I was willing to pay. Come auction day however, after meeting with some success, I decided to stick around and watch the live bidding unfold. As fate would have it, this coin came across the screen, starting off with just the opening bid. I don’t think I’ve ever left-clicked my mouse so violently as I did in that moment, and after a few seconds of utter disbelief the hammer fell – at a single bid above opening! I took screenshots of the auction page, and in the week it took for the invoice to arrive I convinced myself that my bid would simply be nullified and the coin resold after failing to meet some hidden reserve, because I really, truly could not believe what had happened. When it did show up in my inbox, well… I don’t think I’ve ever paid an invoice as quickly either! The realistic high-classical style and youthful face of Athena makes this series one of my favourites amongst the drachmae of the ancient Greek mainland, and having an image of a Thessalian cavalryman serves as a great frame of reference for the imagination when reading of their exploits, all of which propels this coin onto this list. The curious sets of letters TH – repeated on the obverse and reverse – also add a layer of intrigue. Lavva concluded this to be the signature of the artist Telephanes Phoceus – if that is true, then the possibility of owning a signed work by an ancient master craftsman certainly doesn’t make me think less of this coin, but quite the contrary. #7: Sinope Drachm. From the faraway Black Sea port city of Sinope comes this wonderful nymph and her incredible animal companions. The portrait is bold and strong, gazing intensely into the distance as though with some apprehension. There’s also the added bonus that it depicts a minor deity rather than one of the usual suspects, helping to keep things diverse and interesting. There will be another eagle later on, however while our later eagle is a ferocious hunter, it seems the eagles of Sinope were much more benevolent, not to mention incredibly strong. From the serene, even friendly, expressions of both, it would seem moreso as if they’re travelling companions than adversaries – perhaps they were even the inspiration for the Great Eagles of Middle Earth! Sinope also happens to be the hometown of my favourite philosopher, everyone’s favourite cynic, and the original κοσμοπολίτης – good ol’ Diogenes! (Thank goodness he wasn’t around to deface this piece of currency) This triple-whammy makes this easily one of my favourite coins, and a strong entrant on this list. #6: Antiochus I Tetradrachm. The Hellenistic era is known for its portraits, and the earlier of these rank among the best in my opinion. This fascinating time of transition and transformation saw massive, permanent changes to the Greek way of life and model of governance. For a free Greek, living through this age it must have felt something like being a European in the heady days following the “discovery” of the Americas – a whole new world lying just beyond your doorstep, teeming with opportunity and ripe with the promise of a better life. As Tolkien beautifully put it, “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” This brings us to Antiochos, a man who bridged the Greek and Persian worlds, keeping his father’s spear-won empire intact and swelling it’s great new cities to unseen heights – the last king officially bestowed the ancient Mesopotamian title of šar kiššatim, roughly translated as “King of All the World”, in a line of illustrious rulers including the likes of Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus the Great, stretching back over two millennia to Sargon of Akkad. In short, Antiochos was a good ruler, one whose reign saw general prosperity and relative peace, things that would prove preciously rare later in the epoch. The history alone would merit a position on the list, and the stunning portrait, which deviates stylistically from most in the series, clinched this coin a position firmly in the middle of this list. #5: Velia Nomos. I think most of my fellow Greek enthusiasts would agree that Magna Graecia holds a special place in our collections, and often presents an equally troublesome proposition for our wallets. This becomes even more of a problem when you look at a coin, and realize you absolutely need to have it. This coin called to me from the moment I set eyes on it, and after a months-long wait (the auction was delayed due to COVID-19) I was incredibly happy to win it with less of a fight than anticipated. The head of Athena on the obverse if of a fine late-classical composition, and the lion is both ferocious and graceful, proudly declaring its dominion over the reverse. #4: Locris Epizephyroi Stater. Next up is another Magna Graecian beauty. Classical heads of Zeus are usually harder to come by than his daughter Athena, and the abstract quality of this version with it’s wavy, flowing beard and luscious locks of hair gives it a special place in my heart. However, what convinced me in the end to bid on this coin – and what has propelled it this far up the list – is the amazing reverse. There are few rabbits in the numismatic record, and whenever they do show up they are undeniably cute. Eagles on the other hand feature on more than a few coins, and are truly awe-inspiring creatures. The contrast of a ferocious eagle towering over his quarry with the helpless expression of the rabbit, all well centred on a wide flan and in a better state of preservation than most other examples I could find, makes this coin a definite keeper. This is also very likely my last purchase for the year – it’s a recent acquisition which I expect will have to wait until mid-January at the earliest before it can be properly enjoyed. In the meantime, I will have to make do salivating over the video Nomos has uploaded on their website instead. #3: Phalanna Drachm. At this point, I’m starting to believe AncientJoe’s theory that coins are destined for certain owners at different points in their journeys. I was utterly unaware of this type until earlier this year. As I focussed my interests and decided to look into coins which fit into it, I stumbled across this type at some point and decided it would do wonderfully. Then, upon browsing acsearch and the auction aggregators and developing a sense of the series, I began to despair. They’re common enough, but to find an example in a good state of preservation, with a firm strike and good surfaces – and all at a price I could stomach – was shaping up to be a difficult task. After some searching, I ran across this example on acsearch and noticed it had sold with a certain German auction, for a sum I would readily pay, back in 2014 and again for slightly more in 2018. I thought “Wow, if only I could have seen it then, I’d have picked it up in a heartbeat”. Only one other example meeting my criteria had sold in the same span of time, and for a considerably higher sum, which I wasn’t ready to pay. I resigned myself to the notion that I would have to be patient, and eventually I would find something similar, hopefully within 5 or so years, and things would be just fine that way. Of course, fate toying with us as she does, not two months after I had initially spied this coin on acsearch, it presented itself in a CNG e-sale of all places. It was a tense few hours before the lot closed, and while there hadn’t been much interest in my coin until this time, I convinced myself some wealthy character or other would swoop in at the final second, as they are wont to do in CNG e-sales, and snatch this coin from my grasp. I kept raising my bid, until it reached a point where I became scared of actually winning the coin within my maximum. In the end nobody swooped in – Clio must have been content that day – and there were no bids on my coin in the final hours, let alone seconds, leaving me to win it for exactly the price it had sold for in 2014, as if I had been present that many years ago instead! Moving onto the coin itself, it’s an interesting and elegant design, and one usually dated to the epoch of Philip II’s conquests of Greece. The horse is finely executed and among the more ferocious ones I’ve seen, and there are quite a few of them out there! The bare male head is another quirky feature since there seems to be some debate as to whether it depicts Apollo as based on Philip’s gold staters, or if Ares is instead shown, as a patron of the wars raging in Greece during this era. Personally, I like to think it’s Ares – which would prove a welcome deviation from the usual Greek trinity of Zeus, Athena and Apollo – and I intend to maintain my delusion until more firmly persuasive scholarship is released on the subject. Keep scrolling for the last two!