How to date Roman coins.
When you’ve identified a coins issuer, the next step is to find out as much as possible to determine the date of minting. The Emperor’s reigning years are a good start, but often this can be refined.
The Emperor’s official name may have enough clues to help you in this task. On some occasions it’s possible to narrow this down to a particular month. Other examples may only permit a longer period of time, but it's better than nothing.
Every part of an emperor’s formal title relates to a period of time or specific events. How this title varies is a clue to which period the coin is from.
As an example, let’s look at one silver denarius of Septimius Severus, 193-211.
On one side (the Obverse), the head and the legend L SEPT SEV PERT AVG IMP X. On the other side (the reverse) P M TR P V COS II P P.
The name starts with the formula IMP CAES, but here it can be assumed without being present.
The letter L is the standard abbreviation for Lucius, the first name of the emperor, and SEPT SEV for Septimius Severus. PERT is the abbreviation for his adoptive father, Pertinax, emperor for 63 days in 193. AVG means Augustus and it represents his title taken in 193, at the beginning of his reign.
IMP is of interest as it means Imperator. Imperator was his first name but it also indicates a function, similar to the general (or better said fieldmarshal), a title given to a soldier after a great victory. The first Imperial title is taken at the moment of rising to power and after this moment it can be given frequently. Septimius' tenth imperial title was taken in 197 and before 198, his eleventh imperial title.
PM means Pontifex Maximus and it is a title taken in 193 and kept until his death in 211.
TR P V means his fifth tribunate, started at 10 december 196 and ended at 9 december 197. The next day he started his sixth tribunate.
COS II means consul for the second time. The first one took place in 194 (actually in the year 189 he was consul suffectus or temporary, a secondary function) and the second in 194. The third started in the year 202 so by this title, the coin is minted between 1 january 194 and 31 december 201.
PP stands for Pater Patriae, the father of the country, and this title was taken in 193.
When you combine all this information, it gives a fairly precise date, almost as precise as modern coins minted with a date on them. This example was minted between 197 and 198.
As mentioned before, the absence of some elements can give some clues. For example, Septimius took the title Parthicus in 198. The absence of this title means that the coin is minted before 198. Or after 202, his name starts as SEVERVS PIVS AVG…. that can also be a dating clue.
All this information is a lot to remember, but with time, experience and references, it will become easier. Below are a few hints and tips for quickly narrowing things down;
From Augustus to Trajan, emperors didn’t have beards, except for Nero who appeared with whiskers.
First century coins, especially from 14 - 69 CE, portray busts with long necks and no clothes or robes.
The Flavian dynasty (69-98, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian) coins are easy to identify due to the rounded heads and wrinkles.
From Trajan onwards, the emperor is usually depicted with clothes or military armour.
From Hadrian onwards, most, but not all, emperors are bearded.
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