Silver Roman Denarius (Successor to the “Denarius”) of Emperor Elagabalus, Priest of the Ancient Semitic Sun God El-Gabal, with a Reverse Theme Depicting the Emperor Sacrificing a Bull; 221 A.D.
OBVERSE INSCRIPTION: IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG.
OBVERSE DEPICTION: The head of Elagabalus, draped, horned, with laureate crown (laurel wreath).
REVERSE INSCRIPTION: SVMMVS SACERDOS AVG.
REVERSE DEPICTION: Elagablus in toga and with horn growing out of forehead holding a patera sacrificing over an altar, bull at his feet, holding a cypress branch in his other hand, star in the foreground.
ATTRIBUTION: Probably Stuck in Rome in 221 A.D.
Diameter: 19 x 18 millimeters.
Weight: 2.55 grams.
NOTE: Coin is mounted free of charge into your choice of pendant settings (shown in sterling silver pendant), and includes a sterling silver chain in your choice of 16", 18", or 20" length, (details below or click here). We can reverse coin in mounting if you prefer opposite side showing front.
DETAIL: This is a very handsome, and fairly rare silver antoninianus, struck at the city of Rome in 221 A.D. It is in very good condition relative to the state it “began life” in. What that means is that there is relatively little wear evident from circulation in ancient Rome. The coin is in much the same condition it was in when it was struck eighteen centuries ago. One can inspect the portrait of the emperor to appreciate just how fine the condition is, and how relatively little circulatory wear is evidence. It was well struck both front and back, the strike somewhat off center, the planchet (coin blank) slightly oblong. Nonetheless unlike most coins of the era, the strike caught most of both the legends and the themes, and this is applicable to both the obverse as well as the reverse.
The coin was struck a bit off-center, the obverse a little bit low and too far right, the reverse just a little bit low and left of center. That coupled with the slightly irregular flan (coin edge) results in some of the legend on both obverse and reverse being ever-so-slightly are truncated. By that I mean a small number of Latin letters are sheared off, they are there, but a small portion is missing (off the flan). For instance, most of the first letter and part of the second letter of the obverse inscription are missing. On the reverse side, the top half of the last two Latin letters are missing, struck off the flan. You might also note that some of the Latin letters composing the legend on the obverse side of the coin, particularly toward the front and toward the end of the legend, are a bit indistinct, not fully formed, and of low profile. This is not at all out of ordinary, in fact, it is rather commonplace. The coins were of course struck by hand, and little bits of metal (“detritus”) would slowly clog up the finer features of the coin, especially the engraved letters, and from time to time they would have to be re-engraved. If you look closely at the obverse toward both the beginning and the end (but not the middle portion) of the inscription, you’ll see that some of the letters in the die were a bit clogged up when the coin was struck, and so some of the Latin characters are of very low profile and so rather indistinct.
It is an interesting though certainly not unique or uncommon feature of this specimen, and absolutely not detrimental, merely simply a characteristic of the coinage of the era. Naturally inasmuch as these coins were produced by hand, and it is the rule, not the exception, to find them struck off-center, on irregular, undersized planchets (blanks), or with excessively worn or clogged dies, and consequentially are more often than not missing portions of the legends and/or themes (depictions). You might also note that you can see some darker spots of metal beneath the silvery surface of the coin. The silver denari of ancient Rome were just that, silver (or at least, 90% so). However as the centuries went by, the coinage was “debased”, meaning that there was less and less silver, to the point where by the time this coin was produced, the silver content was much below 50%. The common practice at this late stage was to use a “billion” core (billion being an alloy of bronze and silver, silver being perhaps only 20% or 30% of the total), over which a thin layer of silver was applied.
Nonetheless given the fact that the thematic depictions are fairly well struck and in fairly good profile evidencing a relatively low level of circulatory wear and with a very nice portrait of the young emperor, this is without a doubt a well above average specimen. The obverse of the coin depicts the head of the Roman Emperor Elegabalus, depicted draped with laureate crown; and the legend “IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG”. “ANTONINVS”, or anglicized “Antoninus” (there was no “U” in ancient Latin, the letter “V” was used), was the emperor’s formal name, “Marcus Aurelius Antoninus”, though to history he became known simply as “Elegabalus”, after the god from whom he was a priest. The “IMP” which precedes his name is an abbreviation for “Imperator”, which was originally a title or acclamation awarded to victorious generals in the field during the Republic Period (before Julius Caesar). Throughout the history of Republican Rome, the title was bestowed upon an especially able general who had won an enormous victory. Traditionally it was the troops in the field that proclaimed a man imperator – the first step in the process of the general applying to the senate for a triumph (a ceremony both civil and religious held in Rome itself to publicly honor the general and to display/parade the glories and trophies of Roman victory).
After Augustus Octavian (Julius Caesar’s successor) had established the hereditary, one-man rule in Rome that we refer to as the Imperial Roman Empire, the title Imperator was restricted to the emperor and members of his immediate family. If a general who was not part of the imperial family was acclaimed by his troops as Imperator, it was tantamount to a declaration of rebellion or civil war against the ruling emperor. Though the title Augustus is probably the closest Latin equivalent to the English word emperor; it was eventually the term Imperator which became the root of the English word “Imperial”. “IMP” could also be used to abbreviate the term “Imperatrix”, which was the title of the wife an Imperator.
Immediately following in the inscription is the word “PIVS”, or “pius”. “Pius” (spelled pious contemporaneously, and still with the same meaning) was a title or acclamation used in conjunction with Roman Emperors to mean that they were dutiful toward the pantheon of Roman deities, to the country (patriotic), and (perhaps) to their family. The title Pius was often times used in conjunction with “Pius Felix”. Pius Felix meant quite simply fortunate, lucky, or blessed. In fact the Romans had several goddesses of good fortune including Felicitas and Fortuna, who were worshipped in various sanctuaries in Rome. Never hurts to have a leader who is both pious and lucky (blessed). In this instance Elegabalus was more pious or dutiful toward his own preferred deity, El-Gabal, rather than to the traditional Roman pantheon. Nonetheless he was still acclaimed “pius”.
The suffix “AVG” was an abbreviation for Augustus (again, there was no “u” in ancient Latin, the letter “v” was used). The term “Augustus” is Latin for “majestic” (thus the honorific salutation “your majesty”). However the term “Augustus” in the common vernacular of the Roman Empire became synonymous with the Emperor. The first "Augustus" (and first man counted as a Roman Emperor) was Octavius, Julis Caesar’s nephew and heir. Octavian was given the title of Augustus by the Senate in 27 B.C. Over the next forty years, Caesar Augustus literally set the standard by which subsequent Emperors would be recognized, accumulating various offices and powers and making his own name ("Augustus") identifiable with the consolidation of these powers under a single person. Although the name signified nothing in constitutional theory, it was recognized as representing all the powers that Caesar Augustus eventually accumulated.
Caesar Augustus also set the standard by which Roman Emperors were named. The three titles used by the majority of Roman Emperors; “Imperator”, “Caesar”, and “Augustus” were all used personally by Caesar Augustus (he officially styled himself "Imperator Caesar Augustus"). However of the name "Augustus" was unique to the Emperor himself (though the Emperor's mother or wife could bear the name "Augusta"). But others could and did bear the titles "Imperator" and "Caesar". Later usage saw the Emperor adding the additional titles “Pius Felix (“pious and blessed”) and “Invictus” (“unconquered”) in addition to the title “Augustus”). In this usage, by signifying the complete assumption of all Imperial powers, "Augustus" became roughly synonymous with “Emperor” in modern language. As the Roman Empire began splintering, Augustus came to be the title applied to the senior Emperor, while the title “Caesar” came to refer to his “junior” sub-Emperors.
The emperor is depicted “laureate”, or wearing a wreath or crown composed of laurel, or “bay leaves”, and also with a horn growing out of his forehead. The forehead horn was a long-established symbol of divinity in Eastern religions, and so proclaims the divinity of the emperor himself. Many similar examples can be seen in the coins of the Hellenistic dynasties. In artwork even the Judeo-Christian prophet Moses was sometimes shown with horns. This wreath of laurel leaves is an attribute of the Graeco-Roman God Apollo, and is a symbol of victory. In Greek Mythology, Apollo fell in love with the legendary mountain nymph Daphene. Daphene, anxious to escape Apollo’s amorous interests, asked the Gods of Olympus to change her into a bay tree. Thereafter Apollo always wore a laurel wreath made from the leaves of her sacred tree to show is never failing love for her. Apollo also declared that wreaths were to be awarded to victors, both in athletic competitions and poetic meets under his care.
Laurel wreaths became the prize awarded in athletic, musical, and poetic competitions. For instance by the 6th century B.C., the winners of the ancient Greek Pythian Games (forerunner of the Olympics and held every four years at Delphi) were awarded a wreath of laurel leaves. Ancient Greek coins from at least as far back as the second century B.C. depict laurel wreaths worn by not only Apollo, but also Athena, Saturn, Jupiter, Victory (Nike), and Salus. Eventually the custom of awarding a wreath of laurel leaves was extended from victors of athletic events to the victors of military endeavors. The symbolism was inherited (or mimicked) by the Romans, to whom the bestowal of a laurel wreath became the sign of a victorious general acclaimed by his troops.
After defeating Pompey, the Roman Senate not only voted Julius Caesar Imperator for life, but also awarded him the right to wear the laurel wreath in perpetuity. From that point on it is said that Julius Caesar always appeared in public laureate, and all of his coinage depicted Julius Caesar wearing the laurel leaf crown. Thus the laurel leaf crown became associated not only with the victorious general, but became a symbol of the office of Caesar and Imperator. There were other types of wreaths in Graeco-Roman Mythology as well. Dionysus was oftentimes depicted either with a wreath of ivy or with a wreath composed of grape leaves. Zeus was oftentimes depicted with a wreath of oak leaves, and wreathes of roses became associated with Aphrodite. As well, funeral wreaths became a Roman custom, and were often carved into the decorative elements of a sarcophagus.
The obverse of the coin portrays Roman Emperor Elagabalus, who reigned from 218 to 222 A.D. Elagabalus, also known as “Heliogabalus”, was born Varius Avitus Bassianus in about 205 A.D. at Emesa (modern Hims, Syria.). Syrian on his mother’s side, Elagabalus's family held hereditary rights to the priesthood of the sun god El-Gabal. Thus in his boyhood he was appointed priest of the sun-god Elagabalus, and it was by that name he became best known. Elagabalus was the son of Sextus Varius Marcellus and Julia Soaemias. His father was initially a member of the equestrian (noble) class, but was later elevated to the rank of senator. His mother, Julia Soaemias, was the daughter of Julia Maesa (Elagabalus's grandmother), who's sister was Julia Domna. Thus Elagabalus's great aunt was Julia Domna, wife of Emperor Septimius Severus. Collectively these women were known as “The Syrian Princesses”, and to a great extent were the true power behind the throne.
As a child this future emperor seems to have been raised in the company of his great-aunt, the empress Julia Domna, spending his earliest years in Rome and traveling (around the age of 5) with the imperial court to Britain during Severus' campaigns on the island. In the spring of 217 A.D., the Emperor Caracalla (one of Septimius severus’s sons) was murdered in Syria between campaigns against the Parthians, and Macrinus became emperor. Contemporary historians first mention Elagabalus at this time. He was living in Emesa, Syria with his mother in the household of his grandmother, Julia Maesa, and he was beginning to perform in the hereditary family role of high-priest at the temple.
In 217 A.D., the emperor Caracalla (the son of former emperor Septimius Severus) was assassinated and replaced by his Praetorian prefect, Marcus Opellius Macrinus. Elagabalus's grandmother, Julia Maesa, was exiled to Emesa by Macrinus. As the murderer of Caracalla, Macrinus quickly grew unpopular in Syria, particularly with the Roman Legions stationed in the area. Julia Masea spread the rumor that Elagabalus was the (illegitimate) son of Emperor Caracalla), who had been popular with the soldiers (in fact his mother Julia Soaemias was a cousin of Caracalla’s), and was therefore due the loyalties of Roman soldiers and senators who had sworn allegiance to Caracalla. To strengthen his legitimacy through further propaganda, Elagabalus assumed Caracalla's names, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. A legion camped nearby went into open revolt on the evening of May 15, 218 A.D. The troops proclaimed the teenager the bastard son and legitimate heir of Caracalla. The revolt soon spread to the rest of the Roman Army in Syria, and within a month all the Roman armies in the East went over to Elagabalus.
The army of Macrinus and the army of Elagabalus met shortly thereafter in battle, that same year of 218 A.D. Macrinus's army was defeated on June 8, 218 A.D. at the “Battle of Antioch”. Macrinus fled toward Italy, disguised as a courier, but was later intercepted near Chalcedon and executed in Cappadocia. His son Diadumenianus, sent for safety to the Parthian court, was captured at Zeugma and also put to death. Elagabalus and his court spent the summer and autumn purging the supporters of Macrinus and preparing to arrive in Rome. Winter was spent in Nicomedia, and propaganda was sent out promoting the young emperor as a religious figure who would bring peace and prosperity to the Roman world. Paintings were displayed showing the emperor dressed as the Emesene high-priest. When Elagabalus finally arrived in Rome, he was proclaimed emperor by the Senate.
However when Julia Maesa tried to position herself as the power behind the throne and subsequently the most powerful woman in the world, Elagabalus would prove to be highly independent, and impossible to control. Elagabalus's reign was notorious for religious fanaticism, cruelty, bloodshed, and excess of every description. During his reign, he showed a disregard for Roman religious traditions and sexual taboos. Elagabalus' name was a Latinized form of the Semitic deity El-Gabal, a manifestation of the Semitic deity Ēl, the patron deity of the emperor's birthplace, Emesa.
Since the reign of Septimius Severus, sun worship had increased throughout the Empire. Elagabalus saw this as an opportunity to set up his god, El-Gabal, as the chief deity of the Roman Pantheon. El-Gabal, renamed Deus Sol Invictus or God the Undefeated Sun, replaced Jupiter as the head of the Roman Pantheon of deities. As a sign of the union between the two religions, Elagabalus symbolically gave a Roman Goddess (believed to be Minerva) to El-Gabal as a wife. Elagabalus himself married the Vestal Virgin Aquilia Severa, justifying his actions with the claim that it would enable him to have "god-like children" from the marriage. Nonetheless his act in taking a virgin from the Temple of Vesta as a wife provoked great outrage, as Roman law and tradition, which held that any Vestal found to have undertaken sexual intercourse would be buried alive. As high priest of El-Gabal, Elagabalus’s active promotion of the god was in itself an act that had already made him an object of scorn and ridicule among the Roman aristocracy.
On top of all this, the emperor also became involved in a series of homosexual crushes, most notably with the charioteer Hierocles, a blond slave from Caria, whom Elagabalus referred to as his husband.. Hierocles and other favorites were given authority in the government, offending aristocrats, bureaucrats and troops alike. Elagabalus even tried to appoint Hierocles as Caesar. Elagabalus lavished favors on courtiers popularly assumed to have been his homosexual lovers, and was reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace. The Augustan History claims that he also married a man named Zoticus, an athlete from Smyrna, in a public ceremony at Rome. The Roman Historian Cassius Dio reported Elagabalus would paint his eyes, epilate his hair and wear wigs before prostituting himself in taverns and brothels, and even the imperial palace. Tales circulated that he spent his evenings pretending to be a female prostitute and that he wanted to have a vagina surgically implanted into his body.
Elagabalus forced leading members of Rome's government to participate in religious rites celebrating Sol Invictus, which he personally led. The ancient historian Herodian wrote that Elagabalus forced senators to watch while he danced around the altar of El-Gabal to the sound of drums and cymbals, and that each summer solstice became a great festival to El-Gabal. During this festival, Elagabalus placed El-Gabal on a chariot adorned with gold and jewels, which he led through the city. A temple called the Elagabalium was built on the east face of the Palatine Hill, to house El-Gabal, a black conical meteorite, which was according to Herodian “worshipped as though it were sent from heaven”. The most sacred relics from the Roman religion were transferred from their respective shrines to the Elagabalium, including the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Shields of the Salii and the Palladium, so that no other God except El-Gabal would be worshipped.
Within a year after his marriage Elegabalus abandoned Severa (the marriage was childless and so did not produce “god-like children”), and married Annia Faustina, a descendant of Marcus Aurelius and the widow of a man recently executed by Elagabalus. All told Elagabalus married and divorced five women. Elagabalus' personal style seemed effeminate and inappropriate to his office. Elagabalus' eccentricities weighed heavily on Julia Maesa's mind and she decided he and his mother, Julia Soaemias, who had encouraged his religious practices, had to be replaced. She turned to her other daughter Julia Avita Mamaea and her son, the thirteen year old Severus Alexander, as alternatives. Maesa and Mamaea convinced Elagabalus to appoint Alexander as his heir. When he changed his mind later and ordered Alexander executed, Maesa and Mamaea bribed the Praetorian Guard before his orders could be carried out. Elagabalus and Julia Soaemias were murdered in the Emperor's latrine on March 11, 222. Their bodies were dragged through the streets of Rome and ultimately thrown into the Tiber. Following his demise, many associates of Elagabalus were killed or deposed. His religious edicts were reversed and El-Gabal was returned to Emesa.
The reverse of the coin depicts the Emperor wearing a religious garment/robe/cloak, and with a horn growing from his forehead, stands before a lighted altar, with a palm branch in his left hand, a patera in his right hand. On the ground is a bull ready to serve as the victim; in the foreground field of the coin is a star, the star of course representing the invincible sun. The coin attests to the worship by Elagabalus at the time he ascended the throne to the Phoenician-Syrian sun god "El-Gabal", or "Heliogabalus", after whom Elagabalus called himself and proclaimed himself high priest. The coin is a depiction of Elegablus presiding at a religious rite, which would have included the sacrifice of a bull. Many in Rome were outraged that a Roman Emperor would prefix his imperial titles with the titles of an Eastern religion, and would follow such Eastern Barbaric practices as circumcision and the avoidance of eating pork.
The coin also depicts Elegabalus in rather odd Eastern garb which was described as some between a Phoenician sacred robe and the cloak of Medes, and further described in an ancient source as "a barbarian costume, with purple tunic interwoven with gold, long-sleeved and tied down at the feet". The cypress branch he holds in his hand points toward the Phoenician origin of the god (ancient Lebanon having been famous in the ancient world for its cypress trees). The star placed in the field is another reference to the Phoenician sun god. The reverse legend, "SVMMVS SACERDOS AVG", literally means "The High Priest Augustus", again referring to Elagabalus's role as the High Priest of El-Gabal.
The emperor is depicted holding a patera over a lighted altar. A “patera” was a broad, flat, round dish used for drinking (wine more often than not) and ceremonially for offering libations, often ceremonially, as in poured over an altar. An Altar or “Ara” to the ancient Romans, was used to offer up to their pagan pantheon of gods prayers, libations, and sacrifices. It is unknown when in the ancient pagan world altars first came into use, but the custom of raising them for religious purposes evidently passed from the Greeks to the Romans. The Greeks had probably borrowed it from the Egyptians, to whom Herodotus ascribes the original use of altars. Altars were in antiquity such an indispensable element in the worship of gods that it seems impossible to conceive of the ancient practice of the worship of gods without the use of altars. In the ancient world almost every religious act was accompanied by sacrifice. Permanent altars were generally built with regular courses of masonry or brickwork, as clearly shown in several examples on the column of Trajan at Rome (there are some good examples of ancient altars here.
The first elaborations evolving from the most primitive altar were the addition of a base, and of a projection at the top designed to hold the fire and the objects offered in sacrifice. These two parts are so common as to be almost uniform types of the form of an altar, and are present in all of the examples linked above. In later times altars were intricately ornamented and often festooned with garlands of flowers. More elaborate examples were adorned with sculptural elements created by some of the most celebrated artists of antiquity. According to ancient specifications, it was necessary that an altar should be "built in the open air, in order that the steam of the sacrifice might be wafted up to heaven, and it might be built in any place, as on the side of a mountain, on the shore of the sea, or in a sacred grove.”
As worship of the gods evolved in latter times it became increasingly conducted in conjunction with temples built dedicated to those gods. The altar became an indispensable part of the temple. Altars intended for burnt-offerings at which animal sacrifices were presented were erected just outside the temple doors and in front of the temples. These altars were limited in size only by their relative proportions in relation to the temples themselves. Some high altars grew to enormous dimensions. The outside altar at Olympia had a platform measuring more than 125 feet in diameter. The altar itself which was ascended by a series of steps was nearly 25 feet high. In Italy as well as Greece, in addition to the grand altars situated in front of a cities temples, there were also altars in vast numbers in streets and squares, in the courts of houses, in fields and in sacred groves, alongside roads and thoroughfares, and at many other locations consecrated to the gods.
There were also altars on which incense was burnt and bloodless sacrifices offered within the temple, typically located immediately in front of the statue of the divinity to whom they were dedicated. All altars were places of refuge. Worshippers were afforded immunity from violence, under the protection of the deities to whom the altars were consecrated, and violence against such a supplicant would be regarded as violence against the deity itself; the origins of the modern concept of sanctuary. It was the custom amongst the Greeks to take solemn oaths at altars, while placing a hand either on the altar or upon the statue of the god. Cicero described this as Greek custom in his surviving writings.
Your purchase includes, upon request, mounting of this coin in either pendant style “a” or “d” as shown here. Pendant style “a” is a clear, airtight acrylic capsule designed to afford your ancient coin maximum protection from both impact damage and degradation. It is the most “politically correct” mounting. Style “d” is a sterling silver pendant. Either pendant styles include a sterling silver chain (16", 18", or 20"). Upon request, there are also an almost infinite variety of other pendants which might well suit both you and your ancient coin pendant, and include both sterling silver and solid 14kt gold mountings, including those shown here. As well, upon request, we can also make available a huge variety of chains in lengths from 16 to 30 inches, in metals including sterling silver, 14kt gold fill, and solid 14kt gold.
HISTORY OF COINAGE: Coins came into being during the seventh century B.C. in Lydia and Ionia, part of the Greek world, and were made from a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. Each coin blank was heated and struck with a hammer between two engraved dies. Unlike modern coins, they were not uniformly round. Each coin was wonderfully unique. Coinage quickly spread to the island and city states of Western Greece. Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.) then spread the concept of coinage throughout the lands he conquered. Today ancient coins are archaeological treasures from the past, and on many occasions have provided profound new knowledge to historians.
They were buried for safekeeping because of their value and have been slowly uncovered throughout modern history. Oftentimes soldiers the night before battle would bury their coins and jewelry, hoping and believing that they would live long enough to recover them, and to return to their family. Killed in battle, these little treasure hoards remain until today scattered throughout Western and Eastern Europe, even into the Levant and Persia. As well, everyone from merchants to housewives found the safest place to keep their savings was buried in a pot, or in some other secretive location. If they met an unexpected end, the whereabouts of the merchants trade goods or the household's sugar jar money might never be known.
Recently a commercial excavation for a new building foundation in London unearthed a Roman mosaic floor. When archaeologists removed the floor, they found 7,000 silver denarii secreted beneath the floor. Even the Roman mints buried their produce. There were over 300 mints in the Roman Empire striking coinage. Hoards of as many as 40,000 coins have been found in a single location near these ancient sites. Ancient coins reflect the artistic, political, religious, and economic themes of their times. The acquisition of ancient coins is a unique opportunity to collect art which has been appreciated throughout the centuries.
Coins of the Roman Empire most frequently depicted the Emperor on the front of the coins, and were issued in gold, silver, and bronze. The imperial family was also frequently depicted on the coinage, and, in some cases, coins depicted the progression of an emperor from boyhood through maturity. The reverse side of often served as an important means of political propaganda, frequently extolling the virtues of the emperor or commemorating his victories. Many public works and architectural achievements such as the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus were also depicted.
As well, important political events such as alliances between cities were recorded on coinage. Many usurpers to the throne, otherwise unrecorded in history, are known only through their coins. Interestingly, a visually stunning portrayal of the decline of the Roman Empire is reflected in her coinage. The early Roman bronze coins were the size of a half-dollar. Within 100-150 years those had shrunk to the size of a nickel. And within another 100-150 years, to perhaps half the size of a dime. At the height of the Roman Empire there were over 400 mints producing coinage, in locations as diverse as Britain, Africa, and the Near East. The annual produce of these mints is estimated to have been between one and two billion coins.
ANCIENT ROMAN HISTORY: One of the greatest civilizations of recorded history was the ancient Roman Empire. The Roman civilization, in relative terms the greatest military power in the history of the world, was founded in the 8th century (B.C.) on seven hills alongside Italy’s Tiber River. By the 4th Century (B.C.) the Romans were the dominant power on the Italian Peninsula, having defeated the Etruscans, Celts, Latins, and Greek Italian colonies. In the 3rd Century (B.C.) the Romans conquered Sicily, and in the following century defeated Carthage, and controlled Greece.
Throughout the remainder of the 2nd Century (B.C.) the Roman Empire continued its gradual conquest of the Hellenistic (Greek Colonial) World by conquering Syria and Macedonia; and finally came to control Egypt and much of the Near East and Levant (Holy Land) in the 1st Century (B.C.). The pinnacle of Roman power was achieved in the 1st Century (A.D.) as Rome conquered much of Britain and Western Europe.
At its peak, the Roman Empire stretched from Britain in the West, throughout most of Western, Central, and Eastern Europe, and into Asia Minor. For a brief time, the era of “Pax Romana”, a time of peace and consolidation reigned. Civilian emperors were the rule, and the culture flourished with a great deal of liberty enjoyed by the average Roman Citizen. However within 200 years the Roman Empire was in a state of steady decay, attacked by Germans, Goths, and Persians. The decline was temporarily halted by third century Emperor Diocletian.
In the 4th Century (A.D.) the Roman Empire was split between East and West. The Great Emperor Constantine again managed to temporarily arrest the decay of the Empire, but within a hundred years after his death the Persians captured Mesopotamia, Vandals infiltrated Gaul and Spain, and the Goths even sacked Rome itself. Most historians date the end of the Western Roman Empire to 476 (A.D.) when Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed. However the Eastern Roman Empire (The Byzantine Empire) survived until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 A.D.
In the ancient world valuables such as coins and jewelry were commonly buried for safekeeping, and inevitably the owners would succumb to one of the many perils of the ancient world. Oftentimes the survivors of these individuals did not know where the valuables had been buried, and today, thousands of years later (occasionally massive) caches of coins and rings are still commonly uncovered throughout Europe and Asia Minor.
Throughout history these treasures have been inadvertently discovered by farmers in their fields, uncovered by erosion, and the target of unsystematic searches by treasure seekers. With the introduction of metal detectors and other modern technologies to Eastern Europe in the past three or four decades, an amazing number of new finds are seeing the light of day thousands of years after they were originally hidden by their past owners. And with the liberalization of post-Soviet Eastern Europe, new sources have opened eager to share in these ancient treasures.
HISTORY OF SILVER: After gold, silver is the metal most widely used in jewelry and the most malleable. The oldest silver artifacts found by archaeologists date from ancient Sumeria about 4,000 B.C. At many points in the ancient world, it was actually more costly than gold, particularly in ancient Egypt. Silver is found in native form (i.e., in nuggets), as an alloy with gold (electrum), and in ores containing sulfur, arsenic, antimony or chlorine. Much of the silver originally found in the ancient world was actually a natural alloy of gold and silver (in nugget form) known as “electrum”.
The first large-scale silver mines were in Anatolia (ancient Turkey) and Armenia, where as early as 4,000 B.C. silver was extracted from lead ores by means of a complicated process known as “smelting”. Even then the process was not perfect, as ancient silver does contain trace elements, typically lead, gold, bismuth and other metals, and as much as a third of the silver was left behind in the slag. However measuring the concentrations of the “impurities” in ancient silver can help the forensic jewelry historian in determining the authenticity of classical items. From Turkey and Armenia silver refining technology spread to the rest of Asia Minor and Europe.
By about 2,500 B.C. the Babylonians were one of the major refiners of silver. Silver “treasures” recovered by archaeologists from the second and third millenniums demonstrate the high value the ancient Mediterranean and Near East placed upon silver. Some of the richest burials in history uncovered by archaeologists have been from this time frame, that of Queen Puabi of Ur, Sumeria (26th century B.C.); Tutankhamun (14th century B.C.), and the rich Trojan (25th century B.C.) and Mycenaean (18th century B.C.) treasures uncovered by Heinrich Schliemann.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the skin of their gods was composed of gold, and their bones were thought to be of silver. When silver was introduced into Egypt, it probably was more valuable than gold (silver was rarer and more valuable than gold in many Mesoamerican cultures as well). In surviving inventories of valuables, items of silver were listed above those of gold during the Old Kingdom. Jewelry made of silver was almost always thinner than gold pieces, as indicated by the bracelets of the 4th Dynasty (about 2,500 B.C.) Queen Hetephere I, in marked contrast to the extravagance of her heavy gold jewelry.
A silver treasure excavated by archaeologists and attributable to the reign of Amenemhat II who ruled during the 12th Dynasty (about 1900 B.C.), contained fine silver items which were actually produced in Crete, by the ancient Minoans. When the price of silver finally did fall due to more readily available supplies, for at least another thousand years (through at least the 19th dynasty, about 1,200 B.C.) the price of silver seems to have been fixed at half that of gold. Several royal mummies attributable to about 1,000 B.C. were even entombed in solid silver coffins.
Around 1,000 B.C. Greek Athenians began producing silver from the Laurium mines, and would supply much of the ancient Mediterranean world with its silver for almost 1,000 years. This ancient source was eventually supplemented around 800 B.C. (and then eventually supplanted) by the massive silver mines found in Spain by the Phoenicians and their colony (and ultimate successors) the Carthaginians (operated in part by Hannibal’s family). With the defeat of Carthage by Rome, the Romans gained control of these vast deposits, and mined massive amounts of silver from Spain, stripping entire forests regions for timber to fuel smelting operations. In fact, it was not until the Middle Ages that Spain’s silver mines (and her forests) were finally exhausted.
Although known during the Copper Age, silver made only rare appearances in jewelry before the classical age. Despite its infrequent use as jewelry however, silver was widely used as coinage due to its softness, brilliant color, and resistance to oxidation. Silver alloyed with gold in the form of “electrum” was coined to produce money around 700 B.C. by the Lydians of present-day Turkey. Having access to silver deposits and being able to mine them played a big role in the classical world. Actual silver coins were first produced in Lydia about 610 B.C., and subsequently in Athens in about 580 B.C.
Many historians have argued that it was the possession and exploitation of the Laurium mines by the Athenians that allowed them to become the most powerful city state in Greece. The Athenians were well aware of the significance of the mining operations to the prosperity of their city, as every citizen had shares in the mines. Enough silver was mined and refined at Laurium to finance the expansion of Athens as a trading and naval power. One estimate is that Laurium produced 160 million ounces of silver, worth six billion dollars today (when silver is by comparison relatively cheap and abundant). As the production of silver from the Laurium mines ultimately diminished, Greek silver production shifted to mines in Macedonia.
Silver coinage played a significant role in the ancient world. Macedonia’s coinage during the reign of Philip II (359-336 B.C.) circulated widely throughout the Hellenic world. His famous son, Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.), spread the concept of coinage throughout the lands he conquered. For both Philip II and Alexander silver coins became an essential way of paying their armies and meeting other military expenses. They also used coins to make a realistic portrait of the ruler of the country. The Romans also used silver coins to pay their legions. These coins were used for most daily transactions by administrators and traders throughout the empire.
Roman silver coins also served as an important means of political propaganda, extolling the virtues of Rome and her emperors, and continued in the Greek tradition of realistic portraiture. As well, many public works and architectural achievements were also depicted (among them the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus). In addition many important political events were recorded on the coinage. Roman coins depicted the assassination of Julius Caesar, alliances between cities, between emperors, between armies, etc. And many contenders for the throne of Rome are known only through their coinage.
Silver was also widely used as ornamental work and in other metal wares. In ancient cultures, especially in Rome, silver was highly prized for the making of plate ware, household utensils, and ornamental work. The stability of Rome’s economy and currency depended primarily on the output of the silver mines in Spain which they had wrested from the Carthaginians. In fact many historians would say that it was the control of the wealth of these silver mines which enabled Rome to conquer most of the Mediterranean world. When in 55 B.C. the Romans invaded Britain they were quick to discover and exploit the lead-silver deposits there as well.
Only six years later they had established many mines and Britain became another major source of silver for the Roman Empire. It is estimated that by the second century A.D., 10,000 tons of Roman silver coins were in circulation within the empire. That’s about 3½ billion silver coins (at the height of the empire, there were over 400 mints throughout the empire producing coinage). That’s ten times the total amount of silver available to Medieval Europe and the Islamic world combined as of about 800 A.D. Silver later lost its position of dominance to gold, particularly in the chaos following the fall of Rome. Large-scale mining in Spain petered out, and when large-scale silver mining finally resumed four centuries after the fall of Rome, most of the mining activity was in Central Europe.
By the time of the European High Middle Ages, silver once again became the principal material used for metal artwork. Huge quantities of silver from the New World also encouraged eager buyers in Europe, and enabled the Spanish to become major players in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. Unlike the ores in Europe which required laborious extraction and refining methods to result in pure silver, solid silver was frequently found as placer deposits in stream beds in Spain’s “New World” colonies, reportedly in some instances solid slabs weighing as much as 2,500 pounds. Prior to the discovery of massive silver deposits in the New World, silver had been valued during the Middle Ages at about 10%-15% of the value of gold.
In 15th century the price of silver is estimated to have been around $1200 per ounce, based on 2010 dollars. The discovery of massive silver deposits in the New World during the succeeding centuries has caused the price to diminish greatly, falling to only 1-2% of the value of gold. The art of silver work flourished in the Renaissance, finding expression in virtually every imaginable form. Silver was often plated with gold and other decorative materials. Although silver sheets had been used to overlay wood and other metals since ancient Greece, an 18th-century technique of fusing thin silver sheets to copper brought silver goods called Sheffield plate within the reach of most people.
At the same time the use of silver in jewelry making had also started gaining popularity in the 17th century. It was often as support in settings for diamonds and other transparent precious stones, in order to encourage the reflection of light. Silver continued to gain in popularity throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and by the 20th century competed with gold as the principal metal used in the manufacture of jewelry. Silver has the highest thermal and electrical conductivity of any metal, and one of the highest optical reflectivity values. It has a brilliant metallic luster, is very ductile and malleable, only slightly harder than gold, and is easily worked and polished.
When used in jewelry, silver is commonly alloyed to include 7.5% copper, known as “sterling silver”, to increase the hardness and reduce the melting temperature. Silver jewelry may be plated with 99.9% pure ‘Fine Silver’ to increase the shine when polished. It may also be plated with rhodium to prevent tarnish. Virtually all gold, with the exception of 24 carat gold, includes silver. Most gold alloys are primarily composed of only gold and silver. Throughout the history of the ancient world, gemstones were believed capable of curing illness, possessed of valuable metaphysical properties, and to provide protection. Found in Egypt dated 1500 B. C., the "Papyrus Ebers" offered one of most complete therapeutic manuscripts containing prescriptions using gemstones and minerals.
Gemstones were not only valued for their medicinal and protective properties, but also for educational and spiritual enhancement. Precious minerals were likewise considered to have medicinal and “magical” properties in the ancient world. In its pure form silver is non toxic, and when mixed with other elements is used in a wide variety of medicines. Silver ions and silver compounds show a toxic effect on some bacteria, viruses, algae and fungi. Silver was widely used before the advent of antibiotics to prevent and treat infections, silver nitrate being the prevalent form. Silver Iodide was used in babies' eyes upon birth to prevent blinding as the result of bacterial contamination.
Silver is still widely used in topical gels and impregnated into bandages because of its wide-spectrum antimicrobial activity. The recorded use of silver to prevent infection dates to ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates, the ancient (5th century B.C.) Greek "father of medicine" wrote that silver had beneficial healing and anti-disease properties. The ancient Phoenicians stored water, wine, and vinegar in silver bottles to prevent spoiling. These uses were “rediscovered” in the Middle Ages, when silver was used for several purposes; such as to disinfect water and food during storage, and also for the treatment of burns and wounds as a wound dressing.
The ingestion of colloidal silver was also believed to help restore the body's “electromagnetic balance” to a state of equilibrium, and it was believed to detoxify the liver and spleen. In the 19th century sailors on long ocean voyages would put silver coins in barrels of water and wine to keep the liquid potable. Silver (and gold) foil is also used through the world as a food decoration. Traditional Indian dishes sometimes include the use of decorative silver foil, and in various cultures silver dragée (silver coated sugar balls) are used to decorate cakes, cookies, and other dessert items.
Domestic shipping (insured first class mail) is included in the price shown. Domestic shipping also includes USPS Delivery Confirmation (you might be able to update the status of your shipment on-line at the USPS Web Site). Canadian shipments are an extra $15.99 for Insured Air Mail; International shipments are an extra $19.99 for Air Mail (and generally are NOT tracked; trackable shipments are EXTRA). ADDITIONAL PURCHASES do receive a VERY LARGE discount, typically about $5 per item so as to reward you for the economies of combined shipping/insurance costs. Your purchase will ordinarily be shipped within 48 hours of payment. We package as well as anyone in the business, with lots of protective padding and containers.
We do NOT recommend uninsured shipments, and expressly disclaim any responsibility for the loss of an uninsured shipment. Unfortunately the contents of parcels are easily “lost” or misdelivered by postal employees – even in the USA. If you intend to pay via PayPal, please be aware that PayPal Protection Policies REQUIRE insured, trackable shipments, which is INCLUDED in our price. International tracking is at additional cost. We do offer U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail, Registered Mail, and Express Mail for both international and domestic shipments, as well United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (Fed-Ex). Please ask for a rate quotation. We will accept whatever payment method you are most comfortable with. If upon receipt of the item you are disappointed for any reason whatever, I offer a no questions asked return policy. Send it back, I will give you a complete refund of the purchase price (less our original shipping costs).
Most of the items I offer come from the collection of a family friend who was active in the field of Archaeology for over forty years. However many of the items also come from purchases I make in Eastern Europe, India, and from the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean/Near East) from various institutions and dealers. Though I have always had an interest in archaeology, my own academic background was in sociology and cultural anthropology. After my retirement however, I found myself drawn to archaeology as well. Aside from my own personal collection, I have made extensive and frequent additions of my own via purchases on Ebay (of course), as well as many purchases from both dealers and institutions throughout the world – but especially in the Near East and in Eastern Europe. I spend over half of my year out of the United States, and have spent much of my life either in India or Eastern Europe. In fact much of what we generate on Yahoo, Amazon and Ebay goes to support The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as some other worthy institutions in Europe connected with Anthropology and Archaeology.
I acquire some small but interesting collections overseas from time-to-time, and have as well some duplicate items within my own collection which I occasionally decide to part with. Though I have a collection of ancient coins numbering in the tens of thousands, my primary interest is in ancient jewelry. My wife also is an active participant in the “business” of antique and ancient jewelry, and is from Russia. I would be happy to provide you with a certificate/guarantee of authenticity for any item you purchase from me. There is a $2 fee for mailing under separate cover. Whenever I am overseas I have made arrangements for purchases to be shipped out via domestic mail. If I am in the field, you may have to wait for a week or two for a COA to arrive via international air mail. But you can be sure your purchase will arrive properly packaged and promptly – even if I am absent. And when I am in a remote field location with merely a notebook computer, at times I am not able to access my email for a day or two, so be patient, I will always respond to every email. Please see our "ADDITIONAL TERMS OF SALE."