Question about legend on reverse of Galba denarius

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by DonnaML, Apr 14, 2020.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I had been looking for some time for a Galba denarius to buy -- it's not always easy to find the right balance of price and appearance! -- and finally settled on this one, which arrived in the mail today.

    Galba AR Denarius, Aug-Oct 68 AD Rome Mint. Obv. Bare head right, IMP SER GALBA AVG / Rev. S P Q R/ O • B/ C S [OB CS = OB CIVES SERVATOS (For Saving the Citizens)] in three lines within oak wreath. RIC I 167, RSC II 287, Sear RCV I 2109 (ill.). 18.33 mm., 3.29 g.

    Galba Denarius RIC I 167 jpg.jpg

    My question is about the dot in the middle of the word "OB" on the reverse, i.e., the first word in the abbreviated phrase OB CIVES SERVATOS. I'm certainly familiar with dots sometimes being used on Roman coins to separate the words in a legend -- technically, they're called interpuncts when used as such. And sometimes they're used after abbreviations. Here, though, the dot is used neither between two words nor to signal an abbreviation, but appears in the middle of a word. Is this a practice with which anyone is familiar, and does anyone know if it had a particular purpose or meaning as opposed to being merely a decorative or artistic choice? Out of curiosity, I looked at quite a few examples of this coin type in the CNG Archives and at, and got the impression that more than half of them have a dot in the middle of the word "OB," placed in a variety of different positions. It's hard for me to imagine what significance this dot could have had, so my own purely speculative guess is that it was simply decorative.

    Thanks in advance for any opinions!
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  3. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    I can't answer your question @DonnaML, but that is a very nice example.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
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  4. RichardT

    RichardT Well-Known Member

    I believe it's a reference point for the die engraver. Marks the centre. Usually the reverse design conceals it but it's sometimes visible.
  5. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    That is an amazing coin @DonnaML. Beautiful strong portrait. As RichardT said, i think its purpose is to mark the center of the coin so the letters can be aligned in a good manner. I believe I read it somewhere before too but im unable to locate that source.
    Some bronzes with lettering have it as well. See eg the dupondius of Augustus, moneyer series with AVGVSTVS / TRIBVNIC / POTEST obverse.
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  6. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Lovely coin. That dot is the mark on the die where the engraver used a compass to lay out the border of the coin. Here are some compass dots (obverse):
    Gordian III, with Tranquillina, AD 238-244.
    Roman provincial Æ Pentassrion, 12.74 g, 27 mm, 6 h.
    Moesia Inferior, Marcianopolis.Tertullianus, legatus consularis. Struck AD 241-244.
    Obv: ΑVΤ Κ Μ ΑΝΤ ΓΟΡΔΙΑΝΟC ΑVΓ CЄ | ΤΡΑΝΚVΛ | ΛЄΙΝΑ, Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Gordian III right, facing diademed and draped bust of Tranquillina left.
    Rev: VΠ ΤΕΡΤVΛΛΙΑΝΟV ΜΑΡΚΙΑΝΟΠΟΛΙΤ- (ΩΝ in r. field), Homonoia standing left, holding patera and cornucopia; E in l. field.
    Refs: AMNG-I 1186; Moushmov 830; Mionnet suppl 2, p. 113, 343; H&J, Marcianopolis,; Varbanov 2046.

    Gordian III, with Tranquillina. A.D. 238-244.
    Roman provincial AE 4.5 assaria; 28.92 mm, 15.89 g, 7:00
    Moesia Inferior, Tomis, A.D. 241-244; Magistrate Pontianus
    Obv: AVT K M ANTΩNIOC ΓΟΡΔΙΑΝΟC // [C]ABINIA (TP)AN / KVΛΛINA, confronted laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Gordian right and diademed, draped bust of Tranquillina left
    Rev: MHTPO ΠONTOV TOMEΩC, Nemesis standing facing, head left, holding arshin (rod) and sling, wheel at feet; Δ - < (denomination) in fields
    Refs: AMNG I 3537; Varbanov 5701; Moushmov 2279; Cf. SNG Cop 305.
  7. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Here is mine...with a twist. This is not RIC 167, it is a Spanish mint example struck before the Rome mint example. These Spanish examples have really interesting portraits. You will notice differences in the design of the wreath as well. This one does not have a dot. It is very difficult to compare this to any other examples of RIC 62 because it is a very rare coin. One expert on the coins of Galba contacted me and said he knows of only 4 of these and this coin is one of them.

    Galba, 68-69 Denarius Tarraco (?) April to late 68, AR
    19mm., 3.33g.
    Obv: SER GALBA IMP CAESAR AVG PM TR P; Laureate head r.
    Rev. SPQR / OB / C-S within oak wreath.
    C 288. RIC 62.(R2) RSC 288
    From the M.J. Collection.
    Ex: Naville Numismatics Live auction 49 Lot 439 May 12, 2019.
    Coin depicted in the database

    Galba RIC 62 new.jpg
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  8. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Every die started with a compss circle drawn around a central dot that provided a reference line for the dotted border. Coins that had a detail of some sort in the middle had that dot erased but some that had thing right and left as the letters here allowed the dot to remain and show on the coin. Some dies, probably by accident, missed the dot while other of the same design hit it. This is easiest to see on the obverse of Provincials that showed the emperor and his wife face to face butyou have to distinguish between this raised dot and the centration dimple on the flan that varies from coin to coin.

    These dots cause problem with beginners who don't realize that the dots are not cataloged in the standard references on the late Roman coins where dots are often cataloged. The dot does not change the RIC number but too many people think they have a rare variety.

    I do not have a Galba like yours but these Severans make the point. The first Septimius Severus has a compass dot between the stars. This is not a rare variation showing comet or some such variety but just a dot.
    The second Septimius has the dot almost but not quite hidden by the bottom ray of the central star.
    The Julia Domna die even more hides the dot - but wait, do I see a tiny fragment of the dot peeking out from the lower right of the central star? You have to look for this one!

    Finally, my early legend variation for Septimius show the central star where the dot once was. I would have thought that the die cutters might have gone just a little out of their way to put something where the dot was but they did not see that as a priority.

    Sorry to be a slow typist and last to answer your question. Being overly wordy has disadvantages.
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  9. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Supporter! Supporter

    Nice acquisition with a fine portrait, @DonnaML! I believe my Galba's reverse center is "dotless;" however, Doug's post had me closely examining the area at 1 o'clock beside the "O" as there is a slight bump there. At 10X, it appears to be just a small raised portion on the flan that is more oval than round, and too flat to have been a compass point.

    Galba Denarius.jpg
  10. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter! beautiful coin Donna, fills 'year of the four' and one of the 12 in fine style... and great info & coins from the posters too!...this is real educintertainment :) nero, tiberius galba octavian coins 014.JPG nero, tiberius galba octavian coins 015.JPG
  11. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    On my denarius the central dot is fused with the B :

  12. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Really nice Galba, @DonnaML !

    I am sorry that I cannot help.

    My Galba Quinarius has this Victory Gal stomping all over a big dot!
    RI GALBA 68-69 BCE AR Quinarius Lugdunum mint laureate r Victory globe stdng left 15mm 1.5g RIC 131 scarce
    Ex: @Brian Bucklan
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
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  13. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks so much to all of you for the completely fascinating explanation for the dot between the O and the B in the center of the reverse. It never would have occurred to me. I was familiar with the central "dimple" in provincial coins like this Gordian III-Tranqullina coin of mine from Anchialus in Thrace:

    Gordian III - Tranquillina Anchialus (Thrace) - jpg version.jpg

    But I had never realized that the central dots used as compass points (or their traces) remain visible on a number of Roman imperial coins as well, as @dougsmit demonstrates with his examples. I guess that the design of Galba's RIC 167, with an otherwise blank space in the center of the reverse, is almost ideally suited for the dot to survive visibly on the struck coin. There can't be too many others like that.

    The quickest way to see how frequently the central dot is visible on this coin type might be at the free version of, which shows 19 results for a search for Galba 167 (see The results are presented with images large enough (larger than those shown in the first instance in the search results at acsearch and the cng archives) to see rather easily that there's a dot visible in all but two or three of the 19. And for those two or three, its absence probably results from wear. The best evidence that the placement of the dot relates to the center of the die, and has nothing to do with the letters "O" and "B," might be this image: As you can see, the dot is not centered between the letters (it actually touches the upper part of the "B"), but appears almost exactly in the center of the coin.

    And thanks for the compliments on my coin. I chose it for the very expressive portrait of Galba, not for the dot on the reverse! That was just something I happened to notice.

    By the way, with this Galba, and counting the bronze asses I have for Caligula and Claudius, I suppose I'm now missing only Julius Caesar and Otho out of the "Twelve Caesars." I could probably buy a halfway decent Caesar elephant coin for a couple of hundred dollars more than I paid for the Galba -- not that I'm prepared to spend that much in the near future! -- but I think a nice-looking Otho coin is probably out of reach for me.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
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  14. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Note that if your Gordian were centered properly, the raised dot would have moved up and right and been lost inside the centration mark. On my coin (which I bought to demonstrate the point on my web page) you can see the compass dot between the two noses where it belongs (slightly closer to hers) but the centering placed the centration pit way over on Gordian's face. I liked the way this coin shows the edge of the die and the area with lathe marks outside the part of the flan smoothed when struck.
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  15. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Your Gordian and Tranquillina has a compass dot on the obverse, in front of Gordy's chin.
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  16. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks -- yes, I just noticed it after reading @dougsmit's latest comment, which mentions it. I had never noticed it before because I never knew about compass dots before today! You learn something new . . . .

    Now I'm going to have to look at all the other ancient coins I own to see if any have visible compass dots! If they do, I doubt they'll be as huge as the one on the Galba.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
  17. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Any coin with two figures on the reverse is a candidate. Some of these had a design of one figure handing something to the other so the dot was included in whatever that was. Straight handshakes like this Aurelian are more likely to show the dot.

    Of course the legend in the middle coins like this Crispus are worth a look.
  18. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

  19. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Good advice! All of my "VOT" legend coins have what I now recognize as a compass dot in the middle:

    Constantine I, silvered AE Follis, Siscia Mint 321-24 AD. Obv. Laureate head right, CONSTAN-TINVS AVG/ Rev. D N CONSTANTINI MAX AVG, laurel wreath enclosing VOT/•/XX. Mintmark Γ[gamma]SIS & sunburst [= Siscia mint, 3rd officina]. RIC VII, p. 446, # 180. 20 mm., 3.38 g.

    Constantine I - VOT XX - jpg version.jpg

    Crispus Caesar, Billon reduced Centenionalis, Arelate [Arles] Mint (3rd Officina) 321 AD. Obv. Laureate bust right, CRISPUS NOB CAES / Rev. VOT • V in three lines within laurel wreath, CAESARVM NOSTRORVM. In exergue: T [Crescent] A. RIC VII ARLES 235 (p. 260), Sear RCV IV 16747, Cohen 30. 20 mm., 2.73 g.

    Crispus Caesar - jpg version.jpg

    Julian II, AE Centenionalis, 361-63 AD, Sirmium Mint, 2nd Officina. Obv. Pearl-diademed, helmeted and cuirassed bust left, spear in right hand, shield in left, D N FL CL IVLIANVS P F AVG / Rev. VOT/X/MVLT/XX in four lines within wreath. In exergue: BSIRM. RIC VIII Sirmium 108, Cohen VIII 151, Sear RCV V 19172. 20.3 mm, 3.393 g.

    Forum Ancient Coins, Julian II coin, large photo.jpg

    Valens, AR Siliqua, 364-367, Rome Mint. Obv. DN VALEN-S PF AVG, pearl-diademed, draped, cuirassed bust right / Rev. VOT- V- MV dot LT- X in four lines within wreath. In exergue: Mintmark RB. RIC IX Rome 10c, RSC V 91(h) (ill.). 17 mm., 2.00 g. From 1887 East Harptree hoard.

    Siliqua - Valens - jpg version.jpg

    For three of these four coins, I included the dot as part of my description of the legend. (I didn't even notice the dot in the Julian II coin.) I wonder if I should take those references out now.
  20. thejewk

    thejewk Well-Known Member

    Excellent and informative thread, thanks all.

    Also Donna, that's a really attractive coin. What a distinguished portrait!
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  21. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Glad that you -- and others -- like it. At the time I bought it, I thought it might have been the nicest portrait of Galba available, even more so than some that were considerably more expensive. (I purchased it from a very well-known, reputable dealer, so I had no concerns about authenticity.*) I seem to recall reading somewhere that Nero's reign is often considered one of the high points in the art of Roman celators, and I'm sure that many of the same people were still working under his immediate successors, including Galba.

    * The seller told me the following about the Galba denarius in an email responding to a question I had about another coin: "It came from an old Philadelphia collection and I paid a good premium, but I priced it fair to sell quickly."
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2020
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