of the secondary results of the defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra
in 30 B.C., and the consequent acquisition of Egypt as an imperial
province by Augustus, was the development of a coinage of unparalleled
interest. This coinage of Roman Egypt, commonly referred to as
the "Alexandrian" series (in reference to the mint city), combined
elements of the cultures of the Greek world, Rome, and ancient
coins of the Ptolemies had been quite stereotyped, with only occasional
rare issues of real interest, and with almost no reference to
the culture or religion of Egypt itself. The Alexandrian series,
however, was noteworthy for variety of types and motifs. After
some initial experimentation, a billon tetradrachm became the
monetary standard under Tiberius, and was continued until Diocletian
abolished the Alexandrian series in 296 A.D. A subsidiary bronze
coinage of five denominations became standardized under Nero,
flourished under Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius, but started
declining under Marcus Aurelius. Spasmodic issues of two or three
denominations occurred thereafter, till the joint reigns of Aurelian
and Vabalathus. Each denomination, in either metal, provided a
rich gallery of reverse designs.
present work will not attempt to be definitive nor profound, but
will rather present the more colorful and interesting aspects
of the coinage, with full illustrations, to afford a perspective.
It is the author's hope that the nonspecialist will find genuine
pleasure in thus "browsing" through the series, and that the student
may be afforded a panoramic view which could serve as a point
of departure for actual study and research.
For easy identification of the various denominations, the following
table may prove helpful:
Tetradrachm: Struck in billon till the reign of Commodus,
and in potin thereafter; usually 23 to 26 mm. in diameter
till the reign of Valerian, after which it steadily decreased
to as little as 18 or 19 mm. in the reign of Diocletian. (Equated
in value with the Roman denarius)
Drachma: A bronze coin, first struck by Nero; usually
ranged from 32 to 36 mm. in diameter till Marcus Aurelius'
reign, decreasing irregularly in size thereafter. (Equated
in value with the Roman sestertius)
Half-drachma: The rarest denomination, this coin was
first struck by Nero, disappeared in the reign of Marcus Aurelius,
and appeared again briefly as a great rarity in the joint
reigns of Aurelian & Vabalathus; usually 28 to 30 mm. in diameter.
Diobol: A bronze coin developed by Augustus, late
in his reign; occurred with fair regularity till the reign
of Elagabalus; usually 22 to 26 mm.
Obol: Also developed by Augustus, this small bronze
coin was struck irregularly to the reign of Antoninus Pius,
after which it disappeared; usually 18 to 20 mm. in diameter.
Dichalkon: First appearing under Augustus, this tiny
bronze piece was never popular nor struck in large numbers;
very spasmodic issues occurred to the time of Marcus Aurelius;
the flans were quite irregular, but the majority averaged
13 to 15 mm. in size.
obverses of the Alexandrian coins almost always featured the head
or bust of the incumbent emperor, a member of his family, a secondary
ruler or "caesar," or a favored associate (such as Antinous). A
few very rare coins had two busts vis-a-vis on the obverse.
inscriptions were in Greek. In general, the obverse legend contained
the name and titles of the individual whose head or bust was
shown. These titles were similar to those found in Latin on the
regular Roman coinage. The reverse legends were relatively scanty.
When found, they usually merely identified the reverse type,
or connected it with a specific event. Where a reverse type depicted
a member of the imperial household, the legend contained the
name and perhaps the titles.
practical purposes, one may assume that all coins of Roman Egypt
were dated. These dates usually, but not always, appeared on the
reverses, and represented the year of the emperor's reign, according
to Alexandrian chronology. The dates were given in Greek letters,
preceded by the figure "L" which is a conventionalized representation
of an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph meaning "year."
following chapters deal exclusively with reverse types. Each chapter
will be concerned with a specific group of motifs, such as "The
Gods of Egypt," "The Gods of Greece and Rome," etc. A brief description
will be given of each god or type, together with photographs of
characteristic representations of them, as well as occasional rare
or even unique types. All photographs are of coins from the author's