Roman Coins: Do We Know How Long Ancient Roman Coins Circulated After Minting?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jfp7375, May 23, 2022.

  1. Jfp7375

    Jfp7375 Member

    Apologies if this is a stupid question, but I've never seen this directly addressed in my reading.

    Do we know how long after minting an ancient Roman coin could be used?

    For example, was a Hadrian denarius struck in ~100AD still able to be spent in ~300AD, even though the denarius had been phased out of minting? Was this illegal, or culturally discouraged? Would a coin that old have been treated as an antique or artifact at that time, similar to how no one would spend a silver dollar today?

    It seems inevitable that they fell out of use once they were no longer minted, but just curious if much is known about this.
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  3. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    This has been talked about before on this site. I believe someone had written that as late as the 19th Century in Western Europe well worn ancient coins were still showing up in the market place and being accepted with some kind of value. Before Italy went onto the Euro, small change (spiculi) was so hard to find as some fraction of the Lira that virtually anything of small value was accepted (even chewing gum) was offered and accepted as small change. I would not be surprised to hear that a few falling horsemen or Gallienus coppers passed current in the Trastevere market as late as the 1980's.
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  4. romismatist

    romismatist Well-Known Member

    There are lots of examples:
    • Countermarked coinage "NCAPR" etc. for earlier bronze sestertii to circulate at the value of a dupondius during the 2d century AD
    • The Marc Antony legionary denarii (and other Republican coinage) often showing up, well worn, in hoards that were deposited in the 2d and 3d centuries
    • There were a few recent threads about Roman siliquas being clipped to pass for Anglo-Saxon coinage
    • I have also read some posts here about larger 2d and 3d century bronzes being incised with XII to pass for coinage in Byzantine times.
    • Lastly, I will confirm what @kevin McGonigal said above - that Roman coinage was likely used in the 1800s both in the Old and New Worlds for small change. Especially in the American and French colonies, jetons, tokens and all types of bronze and copper coinage was used before real mints got established and the need small change for everyday transactions outpaced what the mother country could provide. There was a post here about someone finding a late Roman bronze in the Southern US, and I also remember seeing 4th century Roman coins excavated at Fort York in Toronto (built around the early 1800s) on display the last time I was there.
    There have also been instances (including some posted on this forum) of later coinage designs being influenced by what must have been earlier hoard finds - Norman follaro coins showing a lion's scalp likely influenced by finds of Greek staters from Leontini, or late Roman bronze coins influencing early medieval coinage in the UK. Although this doesn't validate that earlier coins circulated as acceptable during these times, they continued to inspire celators in later centuries.
  5. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    You have to make a distinction between continual circulation and reintroduction.

    The Constantine I coin below was struck in A.D. 312- 313 and more than a 1,000 years later it was countermarked as a Spanish 4 maravedis in the 1600's


    Coins struck under Constantine the Great (323-337AD) were still in circulation in remote places of southern France during Napoleon III. (1852-1870).

    Friedensburg, Die Munze in der Kulturgeschichte, pg. 3

    In 1916, Arthur E. Robinson was in the Sudan, and his "Nubian" servant brought him some small coins which still circulated west of the Nile. An assortment of the coins consisted of--

    Ptolemaic (2 specimens), BM cat. 106, 32-5; Svoronos 1426.
    Hadrian (Alex.) BM cat. 346, 21; Dattari 6299.
    Probus (Alex.) BM cat. 315, 2435; Svoronos 5557.
    Diocletian, BM cat. 324, 2510; Dattari 5693.
    Constantine I, not in BM cat.; Dattari 6054.
    Turkish, Early Othmanli circ. A.D. 1000 (clipped).

    Arthur E. Robinson, "False and Imitation Roman Coins", The Journal of Antiquarian Association of the British Isles 2, no. 3 (1931) : 102.

    my page on this topic--
  6. The Meat man

    The Meat man Supporter! Supporter

    This is fascinating! I had no idea that some Roman coins were still in circulation over a thousand years later. I though the Chinese cash coins held that record.
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  7. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

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  8. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    That was not a stupid question but a very intriguing one.
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  9. Jfp7375

    Jfp7375 Member

    Right? I was totally surprised by the answer and the nuances involved. I'm glad I asked

    Thanks a lot Kevin - like I said above, I was certainly surprised by the responses and learned a lot! Thanks to you and all the others I quoted for the info
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  10. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    and just because I don't get to show it often, my Gallienus also countermarked as a Spanish 4 maravedis in the 1600's

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  11. nerosmyfavorite68

    nerosmyfavorite68 Well-Known Member

    Considering how many slugs and slicks are in uncleaned lots of 370's AE3's, one wonders how long they circulated? It takes a while to reach that level of wear.
  12. Jfp7375

    Jfp7375 Member

    That is cool as hell Victor! nice piece of history there
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  13. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    constantin follis portemonnaie.jpg
    This Constantine coin, for example. I found it in an old wallet that belonged to my great-grandfather (who never collected coins). This coin was just among small change of the late 19th and early 20th c. At this time in France coins in circulation were very diverse because of the "Union Latine" system - an ancestor of the €uro. You could have French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, Greek and even Argentinian coins, all had the same value and circulated together. In the countryside, lack of small change incited people to use old 17th c. "double tournois" and even old 4th c. LRB as 1 or 2 centimes coins. They were accepted.
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  14. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator


    100s of years.
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  15. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    There is also a big distinction to be made between "in constant circulation" and "dug up and spent".

    Even the highest relief coins ever minted probably could withstand 75-100 years of continual circulation at most before becoming a completely unrecognizable flat disc. Coins that were closer to modern relief (Roman denarii and LRBs) probably could withstand 30-50 years of continual use. Of course, just like modern coins, ancient ones probably spent considerable stretches "at rest" in jars or pots which helped extend their longevity - we know that higher value coins often lasted longer, as Trajan issued restoration versions of some of his favorite Republican types when he decreed that pre-Nero denarii be turned in for re-coining. Antony's legionary denarii, as stated above, continued to circulate until the mid/late 2nd century, as Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus decided to restore the type.

    What I really wish we had especially as we move into the age of dirt cheap data and server bandwidth, was a global version of Britain's PAS for hoard data. I personally only have purchased a few (probable) hoards, but it would be really interesting to know how often significantly older coins pop up in hoards.

    My most notable find was a probable Vandal hoard I bought from CNG, which contained primarily local Vandal and Eastern Roman nummi, ranging from late Theodosius II through Justinian's Carthage types... except for two outliers, a barbarous Claudius II, and a 2nd century BC Aspendos small AE - Clearly the design didn't matter to the people who deposited that hoard - if it was small, round, and bronze, it was a nummus and would spend as such.
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  16. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Great topic.

    I wrote this thread last year which is related...

    An excerpt...

    "I just came across a post about Aethelred's (978-1013 A.D.) coins on Facebook and I was startled to see the coin on the right, which looks to me like an imitation of a Probus antoninianus complete with a radiate crown. I was wondering if anyone had information on this particular issue of English hammered pennies."

    Probus coins were quite likely to still be circulating in England in the 10th century hence the influence of the style.


    Probus coin:

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  17. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Depends on what you mean by "circulation". Gold and silver coins would always hold value, and trade as such by those who recognized them. However, I do not think any coin could survive much past a couple of hundred years of actual circulation due to wear. So yeah, many coins were found and subsequently were circulating 1000 years after striking, but never continuously. I have also heard of Peroz coins circulating in Kabul in the 1960s as another silver coin. No doubt in my mind they were buried for 1500 years or more before being recirculated.
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  18. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    I'm sure Probus coins did circulate, just not continuously. If there was a steady stream of coins from the 4th c to the 10th, with no conspicuous centuries-long gaps, then it would lend to the hypothesis of continuous circulation.
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  19. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

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  20. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    Yes ... the upper right coin of Aethelred's looks very Probus-like. This Probus coin and the photo is from my collection..... use the image as much as you like but seems a little odd not to mention that it isn't yours. Not many click links and scroll to do that kind of detective work. Any way - no big deal, it's a minor coin from a very minor, poor man's collection.. an interesting topic to be sure..

    Last edited: May 25, 2022
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  21. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    My mistake. It's not my coin but I should have pointed it out the owner as I placed it in in the post. Sincere apologies!
    Clavdivs likes this.
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