RIC listing ancient counterfeits? Part II

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Oct 14, 2018.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Half a year ago, I posted the results of an inquiry I made into the denarii of Julia Soaemias which are assigned catalog numbers by RIC but which cannot be found in online databases or auction archives. I concluded that many of the exemplars of such coins were likely ancient counterfeits.

    I have since done a study of the denarii of Julia Mamaea -- the sister of Julia Soaemias -- and have reached similar conclusions. Moreover, many of the spurious reverse types that appear on the denarii of Julia Soaemias appear also on the coins of Julia Mamaea. These are listed below.

    Please feel free to comment on either part I (which received no replies) or on this thread -- post relevant coins or anything you feel is pertinent.


    As a starting point, I used the listings in Tameryazev and Makarenko's The Coinage of Roman Empresses,[1] which purports to present "the complete diversity of denarii and antoniniani struck in the name of empresses" (p. 4). Indeed, the work is encyclopedic, listing varieties by hairstyle and by minor variations in design elements, and each example is illustrated by a photo from a coin sale or of examples in private collections in Ukraine, Russia and Moldova. Each coin in CRE is cross-referenced to RIC, Sear, and RSC.

    I then compiled a list of denarii in RIC[2] which were struck in the name of Julia Mamaea and identified those which do not appear in CRE. I subsequently performed searches for these coins in Sear,[3] and online at acsearchinfo, CoinArchives, OCRE, the Coin Project, CNG archives, Wildwinds, and the British Museum online collection using the search term "Mamaea X," where X represents the reverse inscription (such as "Mamaea SAECVLI FELICITAS" or "Mamaea PVDICITIA") or, in the case of sites arranged by RIC number (such as OCRE and Wildwinds), by the RIC number in question. It should be noted that OCRE contains images from major museum collections and not just from auction sales; therefore, the combination of online databases includes both records of museum holdings and commercial sales.


    There are no types listed in RIC but not in CRE that are without problems.

    The following reverse types appear in RIC and not in CRE but are found elsewhere; however, there are questions about their legitimacy or the accuracy of the RIC description:

    - RIC 329, CONCORDIA, Concordia stg. l., holding double cornucopiae
    - RIC 330, CONCORDIA AVGG, Concordia std. l., holding double cornucopiae
    - RIC 364, VESTA, Vesta std. l., holding palladium and scepter
    - RIC 365, VICTORIA AVG, Victory walking r., holding wreath and palm.​

    The following reverse types do not appear elsewhere outside of RIC (which may simply cite the listings in Cohen,[4] without independent confirmation):

    - RIC 340, IVNO, Juno veiled stg. l., holding patera and scepter
    - RIC 347, PVDICITIA, Pudicitia veiled std. l., her r. hand placed on her lips, and holding scepter in l.
    - RIC 348, SAECVLI FELICITAS, Felicitas stg. l., beside lighted altar, holding patera and caduceus.
    - RIC 349, SALVS AVGVST, Salus stg. (RIC notes "Cohen's description is incomplete")
    - RIC 353, VENVS FELIX, Venus stg. r., holding scepter and Cupid.
    - RIC 366, ANNONA AVG, Abundantia or Annona stg. l, holding cornucopiae and corn ears (obverse legend misspelled IVLIA MAMMAEA AVG).​


    The problematic reverse types appearing outside of RIC:

    RIC 329:

    A coin similar to RIC 329 (CONCORDIA, Concordia standing. l., holding double cornucopiae) exists, but it does not quite match the description in RIC, which makes no mention of Concordia holding a patera or of an altar at her feet. RIC's description may be incomplete and not necessarily referring to a separate coin altogether: RIC cites R.It., 1908, p. 402 as an example of this coin and Mattingly and Sydenham may have simply quoted an incomplete description in their source. The British Museum has an example in their collection, but the curator of the collection comments, "Eastern mint or Barbarous?":

    Mamaea Concordia standing denarius BMC.jpg

    Another example appeared in Numismatik Naumann's Auction 18, lot 738, June 1, 2014:

    Mamaea Concordia standing denarius Naumann.jpg

    These two examples are not die-matches. Indeed, the British Museum example features a bare-headed bust, whereas the Numismatic Naumann example features a diademed bust. This implies a more widespread emission and not a mule produced in error by a legitimate authority or the work of a forger. Moreover, neither appears to be plated and both appear to have been struck on good silver. The style of the bust is somewhat different from that produced in Rome and it may be the work of an eastern mint, as postulated by the curator of the British Museum collection. Of all of the coins appearing in RIC but not in CRE, this seems the most legitimate.

    RIC 330:

    RIC cites R.It., 1901, p. 142 as an example of RIC 330 (CONCORDIA AVGG, Concordia std. l., holding double cornucopiae). No coin with this exact description appears in the sources searched, but a similar coin, sans cornucopiae and holding a patera and with the inscription CONCORDIA, appeared in CNG's Auction 355, lot 584, July 15, 2015. It is plated and clearly barbarous in style, an obvious ancient forgery:

    Mamaea Concordia seated fouree denarius CNG.jpg

    It's also possible that RIC 330 is a mule or forgery in which an obverse of Julia Mamaea was struck with a reverse of her daughter-in-law, Orbiana, with a reverse inscription matching that of RIC 330, CONCORDIA AVGG, which was in circulation at the time. However, that reverse differs from the description of RIC 330 in that it depicts Concordia holding a patera in addition to a double cornucopiae. Here's an example of the Orbiana denarius with this reverse type in my own collection:

    Orbiana Denarius.jpg

    RIC 364:

    RIC cites Cohen no. 90 as an example of RIC 364 (VESTA, Vesta std. l., holding palladium and scepter), but no coin with this exact description appears in the sources searched; however, a similar coin depicting Vesta holding a simpulum instead of a Palladium appeared in Roma's e-sale 38, lot 659, July 29, 2017:

    Mamaea VESTA seated Roma Numismatics.jpg

    At only 1.93 grams, the VESTA seated coin is seriously underweight, even by late Severan standards, which is somewhat cause for concern. The reverse type is identical to that of a coin of Julia Domna issued ca. AD 215 by her son, Caracalla, an example of which I recently obtained from @Ken Dorney :

    Domna VESTA seated with simpulum and scepter denarius.jpg

    It's possible that the Roma specimen is genuine but underweight because of features involving its preservation, such as porous and crystalline silver. It does not appear to be a fouree. I doubt it's a mule, because this reverse type does not appear on denarii of Severus Alexander or Orbiana and it's unlikely a decade-old die used for Julia Domna coins would be at the Rome mint, accessible enough to be used inadvertently on an issue of Julia Mamaea. It's possible, however, that it's an ancient forgery, struck not on a base-metal core plated with silver, but on a silver-appearing base metal. I'd love to see an analysis of that coin's metallic composition.

    RIC 365:

    RIC cites a specimen in the British Museum in its description of RIC 365 (VICTORIA AVG, Victory walking r., holding wreath and palm), but notes it is plated. The coin referenced by RIC does not appear in a search of the British Museum collection online, which strongly suggests the curator of the museum now considers it a forgery. The reverse type is one of Severus Alexander and is by no means uncommon. See this example from Pegasi's Buy or Bid Sale 143, lot 390, August 22, 2012:


    It was not uncommon for forgers to combine the obverse of one issuing authority with the reverse types of another issuing authority. See, for example, the fouree forgery of a denarius of Orbiana in my collection I have discussed in a previous thread. Some have suggested this may not have been out of ignorance, but purposeful so that the forger could identify his own handiwork and not be swindled should he encounter it in day-to-day transactions.

    The reverse types that do not appear outside of RIC:

    As noted above, these are

    - RIC 340, IVNO, Juno veiled stg. l., holding patera and scepter
    - RIC 347, PVDICITIA, Pudicitia veiled std. l., her r. hand placed on her lips, and holding scepter in l.
    - RIC 348, SAECVLI FELICITAS, Felicitas stg. l., beside lighted altar, holding patera and caduceus.
    - RIC 349, SALVS AVGVST, Salus stg. (RIC notes "Cohen's description is incomplete")
    - RIC 353, VENVS FELIX, Venus stg. r., holding scepter and Cupid.
    - RIC 366, ANNONA AVG, Abundantia or Annona stg. l, holding cornucopiae and corn ears (obverse legend misspelled IVLIA MAMMAEA AVG).​

    Without exception, the RIC listings cite Cohen for each of these coins. None of these coins -- or any coins of similar description -- appear in the sources searched for this study. I suspect Mattingly and Sydenham did not verify the existence of these coins but simply cited Cohen, possibly sight-unseen.

    About both problematic categories:

    Note that many of these reverse types also appear on my list of Julia Soaemia reverse types which appear in RIC but nowhere else from my earlier study: ANNONA AVG, IVNO, PVDICITIA, SAECVLI FELICITAS, and VESTA seated holding simpulum and scepter (as on the Roma example, discussed above). Of note, RIC cites Cohen for each of these issues of Soaemias.


    The coin with the CONCORDIA, Concordia standing. l., holding patera and double cornucopiae, altar to feet at left reverse type (most similar to that described as RIC 329) is very likely official, but the product of an eastern mint. I suspect Mattingly and Sydenham quoted an incomplete description from the auction they cite, R.It., 1908, p. 402.

    The coin with the VESTA seated left, holding simpulum and scepter (most similar to that described as RIC 364) reverse type may be an official issue, but misdescribed by Cohen and quoted without verification by Mattingly and Sydenham as depicting Vesta holding a Palladium and scepter.

    It seems quite likely that the remaining coins are not official imperial issues but are ancient forgeries or (less likely) hybrids mixing obverses of Julia Mamaea with reverses of Julia Domna, Julia Maesa, Orbiana, or Severus Alexander. These forgeries and hybrids made their way into Cohen which, in turn, was cited uncritically by Mattingly and Sydenham in their attempt to make RIC as complete as possible.


    1. Temeryazev, S. A. and T. P. Makarenko. The Coinage of Roman Empresses. San Bernardino, CreateSpace, an Amazon.com Company, 2017. Referred to as CRE.

    2. Mattingly, Harold and Sydenham, Edward A. The Roman imperial coinage, vol. 4, Part 1: Pertinax to Geta. London, Spink, 1936.

    3. Sear, David R. Roman Coins and Their Values II: The accession of Nerva to the overthrow of the Severan dynasty AD 96 - AD 235. London, Spink, 2002.

    4. Cohen, Henry. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l'Empire Romain, Tome IV: de Septime Sévère à Maxime (193 à 238 après J.-C.). Paris, 1880.
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2018
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. TIF

    TIF Well that didn't last long :D Supporter

    Wow. That's a lot of research-- good job! Are you going to submit this for publication in the next volume of Koinon?
  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks for the kind words! I'd be willing to submit it -- along with the results of my earlier Soaemias study -- if it's something that @Nicholas Molinari would be interested in.
    randygeki likes this.
  5. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Great research! I also think you should submit this.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  6. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    I was wondering the same thing. Great work, @Roman Collector!
    Roman Collector likes this.
  7. Seattlite86

    Seattlite86 Outspoken Member

    Contemporary counterfeits = cool! Thanks for sharing :)
    Roman Collector likes this.
  8. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    The study certainly seems promising enough based on my limited knowledge of Roman imperial coinage, but you’d have to expand it. In other words, I wouldn’t want to just take the discussion post and put it in house style now that it has already been presented online. If in its final published form you think it would look quite different and contain extensive notes, etc., then I think it has a very good shot. I would check to see if anyone else has published articles about imitations and hybrids during this time period (check the various journals). Also, maybe dress it up with some general talk about imitations in relation to official varieties, etc., and possibly some background about the time period, too—why are such pieces significant? Ultimately, if there are areas of the study that could be strengthened—perhaps also through a more extensive study of additional specimens—then I think it is a great idea. I’d recommend contacting Victor Clark or Shawn Caza (otlichnik at Forvm) to get some pointers if it is something you want to do. It is a lot of work but also a lot of fun (at least I think so).
    Orfew and Roman Collector like this.
  9. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Excellent. Yeah, definitely submit it.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  10. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    I agree, and I feel wholly inadequate in my numismatic studies. :(
  11. tenbobbit

    tenbobbit Supporter! Supporter

    Great work there RC, my apologies for having no coins to contribute :(
    One day I will post my Faustina Jr for you, your kind of mystery coin ;)
    Roman Collector likes this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page