ACTA ACCLA, March 2003


Chris McKinney

Silver denarius of Emperor Vespasian
Silver Denarius of the Emperor Vespasian

Vespasian rebuilt Rome after the civil wars that followed the death of Nero, his most well known project being the Colosseum. The coin's reverse bears the abbreviation COS VIII referring to the eighth time that the Emperor had been appointed Consul. This allows us to date the coin to 77/78 CE. Obverse: Vespasian right, IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG around. Reverse: Mars, advancing right, holding spear and aquila (eagle standard), with legend COS VIII. Roman Imperial Coinage 103; Seaby's Roman Silver Coinage 125.

I'm a Ph.D. student of the New Testament at Claremont Graduate University. The Institute for Antiquity and Christianity there is decorated with archeological artifacts such as lamps and jars, papyri, and old codices. I've often thought how neat it would be to have an office some day decorated in such a fashion, but at the same time I knew it would cost more than I'd be able to afford. One day I wandered into a coin shop, casually interested in finding the current value of some silver bullion rounds I own. My interest was piqued by several ancient Roman and Greek coins, one of which could be purchased for only $15. I'd had no idea such things could be so cheap!

A few months later, I received $100 in cash for Christmas, and thought I'd check more into ancient coins. I fired up Google, and found Warren Esty's site. I found everything so fascinating as I read through all his stuff and went on to read all the great sites to which he linked. I was excited to learn that ancient coins (unlike many modern ones) could actually be handled without affecting their value. In my mind I could picture passing a few coins around a class as I lectured about this emperor or that Hellenistic city. I envisioned an office decorated with ancient coins illustrating blurbs about various people, divinities, and places.

I decided to start by collecting coins of the first century emperors with reverses illustrating figures or paraphernalia from Greco-Roman religions. Following the advice I read on the web, I logged on to eBay and within three days had won two denarii (a Vespasian and a Trajan) for less than $20 each. As I researched various coins offered for auction, I found that I took as much pleasure from learning about the emperors and their world as I did from the coins themselves; I figured that I had bought hours of entertainment in addition to the coins for my money.

I now realize, too late, what I've done. Hours of entertainment? I wish it were only hours. Frustrated by price barriers to reaching my original goal--first century emperors--I widened my interest to Judean coins, more religious reverses, and the first indications of Christianity on coins from the Constantinian dynasty; all of this has required more and more late nights of research and poring over auction lists. I bought a lot of six coins just to get one I wanted, and started selling the rest to support my habit. I've dusted off old junk from the garage, speculating on whether it'd bring in more on eBay or a garage sale. I forego meals and lattes, intent on saving enough from my allowance each week to buy just one more coin.

I think my wife is starting to get suspicious...


ACTA ACCLA edited by Michael J. Connor.