Coins of Roman Egypt
Greek Dates



One 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 Egypt.

The 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.

The 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:

A. 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)
B. 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)
C. 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.
D. 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. 
E. 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.
F. 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.


The 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.

The 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.

For 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."

The 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 collection.



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