Potin, Billion or just bronze?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by cmezner, Jun 1, 2019.

  1. cmezner

    cmezner do ut des Supporter

    Browsing through CNG's current auction I came across of coins that are described as Potin tetradrachms - well, this was again something did not know anything about. Googled it and found this interesting description
    "Roman Egypt is a numismatically complex subject whose structure was inherited from Ptolemaic Egypt. Under the Ptolemies, Egypt had a coinage system deliberately structured so as not to be freely convertible to Greek or Roman monetary standards. Egypt had its own monetary system and its government profited from all currency conversions.

    Without going into the fascinating complexities of Ptolemaic and Roman Egyptian bronze issues, it can be observed that Ptolemaic silver tetradrachm issues were eventually continued under the Roman Empire as debased silver or billon (less than 25% silver) tetradrachms. Their nominal silver content equated to that of a Roman denarius, which defined the exchange rate.

    When the tribulations of the late third century impacted this coinage, billon was replaced by potin, an alloy dominated by copper and lead with a nominal but small silver content.

    Potin tetradrachm issues from Alexandria, beginning with the reign of Claudius II (268-270) and extending until the end of Provincial issues in 305, were prolific and despite the fact that they lasted only 37 years, form a very fascinating subset of numismatic history." at

    and looking at http://www.classicalcoins.com/page124.html I realized that one of my Probus tetradrachms could well be a Potin tetradrachm.

    Any thoughts?

    This is the Probus:

    18 x 19 mm, 7.77 g,
    Egypt, Alexandria, 280 - 281 AD
    Ref.: Dattari 5554, SNG Copenhagen Alexandria-Cyrenaica (1974) Nr. 940, Milne 4628 - 4632, Emmett 3982;
    Ob.: A K M AYP ΠΡOBOΣ ΣEB laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Probus to r.
    Rev.: Eagle standing left, head right, holding wreath in beak; L-ζ (date year 6 = 280/281) across field
    upload_2019-6-1_21-29-37.png upload_2019-6-1_21-29-50.png
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  3. Justin Lee

    Justin Lee I learn by doing

    I deny any deep knowledge or specific understanding on this "either-or" of metallurgy in Alexandrian tets, but have been part of and viewer of similar discussions here.

    Here are a couple links to previous discussions on this topic of billion vs potin tetradrachms (and other examples of these coins by other CTers).

    Got A Potin?

    Billon Comes in Many Colors

    Unexpected Groupings appearing in my Collection:
    Alexandrian Billion/Potin Tetradrachms


    **And nice Probus!** A great emperor to collect Alex tets of! One of my favorite tets from this era is a Probus as well:
    Probus, Ruled 276-282 AD
    AE20 Tetradrachm, Alexandria, Egypt
    Struck Year 4, 278-279 AD
    : A K M AVP ΠPOBOC CЄB, Laureate and cuirassed bust right.
    Reverse: Eirene holding olive branch and sceptre, LΔ to right (RY 4 = 278/279 AD)
    References: Emmett 3986.4, R1
    Size: 20.2mm, 7.9g
    Ex: The Reverend Willis McGill Collection (McGill was an American missionary stationed in Egypt, who started collecting there during World War I)
    [Original collector’s envelope has incorrect attribution.]

    And here is a Claudius II, whom was the "starting" emperor of potin that the article mentioned:
    Claudius II Gothicus, Ruled 268-270 AD
    AE Tetradrachm, Egypt, Alexandria
    Struck 269/270 AD
    : AVT K KΛAVΔIOC CEB, laureate and draped bust right.
    Reverse: Eagle standing right, head left, holding wreath in beak; date L-B across field, RY 2.
    References: Dattari 5415 var
    Size: 20mm, 7.2 g

    And a Gallienus, the emperor just before him:
    Gallienus, Ruled 253-268 AD
    AE Tetradrachm, Egypt, Alexandria
    Struck 262/263 AD
    : AYT K Π ΛIK ΓAΛΛIHNOC CEB, laureate and cuirassed bust right.
    Reverse: Eagle standing left, head right, holding wreath in beak; before, palm; behind, LI, RY 10.
    References: Emmett 3806, Dattari 5276
    Size: 23mm, 11.9g

    What are noticeable differences in the metal? In the fabric of the coin? The size and weight? (other Gallienus coins later in his reign tend to get smaller) So where is that cut off? I don't claim to have a clue... I enjoy the coins though and their label of billon or potin doesn't effect that for me. :)
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2019
  4. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper

    @Justin Lee Nice Probus and Gallienus. Reminds me of mine....

    3ckHaAp2L45noEM7B8aF9xTq85qWtE.jpg Galienus.jpg

    Alexandrian Potin tetradrachms are very rough by imperial standards, but there is a certain charm to them that other coins do not have. I love mine and I wish I had more.
  5. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    As a continental European, I’m always a bit between languages. In France the word Potin is specifically used for AE Celtic coins, the thick dumpy dark beauties, that don’t contain silver, but lead, white metal (zinc, tin) and possibly iron (and copper naturally). Other words are tombak and even messing.

    Tetradrachms of Alexandria always contain a drop of silver and should be called billon. Starting from about 260 they usually lose their grey or pinkish grey appearance for brown.

    By the way, interesting links and so many GREAT coins to admire! Thank you!
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  6. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Very nice coins guys. Here is my Claudius II. Got it cheap because of the lettering, but loved the portrait.

    Claudius the Gothicus
    Potin Tetradrachm 21 mm 8.18 g
    Alexandria year 3=270
    Milne 4291

    Last edited: Jun 2, 2019
  7. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I agree and avoid the use of Potin for these coins. In addition to the alloy differences, collectors have to deal with differences in how the coins spent the last many centuries and what cleaning they endured. How are we to tell if the color of the coin is more due to alloy or environment? A coin might look silver or brown now but might not have been different when issued. It does not seem appropriate to use separate terms for differences caused by factors of preservation. Billon is a good catch-all term for "not very silver but silver bearing" coins.

    Below are two tetradrachms of Gordian III. One is silver looking while the other is brown. Were they different when issued?
    pa2157bb3169.jpg pa2155bb3152.jpg
    We will differ on when we start using the term for Alexandrian tetradrachms. Some earlier ones shine up enough that we are tempted to call them silver but my tendency is to use it from the beginning to the end. I claim no consistency here since I might call an Imperial antoninianus of Trebonianus Gallus 'silver' when it contains no more silver than what I term a 'billon' tetradrachm of Antoninus Pius.

    When did the Alexandrian mint use the most silver in their alloy? I believe my best Hadrian looks better than my Nero coins (I have done no destructive tests and do not trust reports in the literature based on surface readings).
    Things fall off rapidly with Commodus and again after Philip. These are questions for those in our group whose hobby centers on metal alloy and weight standards. Those aspects of the hobby have never been of great interest to me.
  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    My Commodus is brown in color appearing to be a bronze coin, so perhaps there was some debasement of the tet in his reign. Also the "drachm" denomination disappears after his reign.


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  9. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    In the course of the third century intermittently some drachms were minted in Alexandria, maybe for special occasions.

    This one dates from 264, the twelfth year of Gallienus and the only year he issued drachms. A fairly large coin, but smaller than those huge second century Alexandrian drachms. I wonder if these contained any silver.

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  10. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Thanks for the info @Pellinore - I stand corrected in my statement. Nice coin of Gallienus as well.
    Pellinore likes this.
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