Loading Spinner

Ancient Coins

Coins first arose in the early Iron Age to better store and transport value, as the previously used ingots became bulky and unwieldy for traveling merchants. Many of these early coins were stamped from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. These electrum coins were eventually displaced by pure silver and pure gold coinage as smelting techniques improved.

The type and worth of a coin was often defined by the powerful city states of the time. King Croesus of Lydia (present-day Turkey) is credited with creating the gold and silver standard. Later, Athens used their trade power to popularize their particular standard of silver coins. While all of Greece’s city states used a drachm as a measure of value, the actual weight varied from location to location.

The concept of types and legends, which holds true today, also originated in antiquity. Types are the designs present on a coin: the face of a hero or the shape of a patron animal. The legend is the inscription displayed on the coin, usually a statement of value or a motto. Many ancient Greek coins show many types but few legends, as most of the value was discerned by the size and weight of the coin, not an inscription declaring value. This allowed room on the coin for the head of a popular hero or deity on the obverse, as well as a sacred animal or plant on the reverse, sometimes accompanied by a brief legend abbreviating the city state of origin.


Quick Facts

  • The tradition of putting the heads of famous rulers on coins was not started by the Greeks but by the kings of Ptolemaic Egypt. The Greeks thought it displayed hubris
  • In 2014, a silver tetradrachm from Syracuse sold for just over $3,000,000. With crisp stamps and attractive designs, coins from Syracuse are widely held to be the finest coins ancient Greece produced
  • The Greeks also began the tradition of printing commemorative coins, especially for winning a major battle or sporting event. These coins served primarily as a political message, although they did retain commercial value

Recommended Items at Auction

See all items

TIBERIUS II SOLIDUS GOLD COIN 578-582 AD
May 26, 11:00 AM EDT
TIBERIUS II SOLIDUS GOLD COIN 578-582 AD
by Silver City Auctions
Est: $800- $1,000
$1408 Bids
BYZANTINE PHOCAS SOLIDUS GOLD COIN 602 -610 AD
May 24, 11:00 AM EDT
BYZANTINE PHOCAS SOLIDUS GOLD COIN 602 -610 AD
by Silver City Auctions
Est: $1,000- $1,200
$1106 Bids
Merovingian - Gold Cut Quarter Tremissis
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Merovingian - Gold Cut Quarter Tremissis
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £80- £100
£555 Bids
Macedonia - Alexander III (the Great) - Bowcase and Club AE Unit
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Macedonia - Alexander III (the Great) - Bowcase and Club AE Unit
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £20- £30
£304 Bids
MITHRADATES V AD 128-147 AR DRACHM NGC MS
May 24, 11:00 AM EDT
MITHRADATES V AD 128-147 AR DRACHM NGC MS
by Silver City Auctions
Est: $450- $500
$454 Bids
Augustus - Gaius and Lucius AR Denarius
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Augustus - Gaius and Lucius AR Denarius
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £60- £80
£753 Bids
HERENNIUS ETRUSCUS AR ANTONINIANUS 251 AD
May 24, 11:00 AM EDT
HERENNIUS ETRUSCUS AR ANTONINIANUS 251 AD
by Silver City Auctions
Est: $100- $150
$263 Bids
Iberia - Visigoths - Imitative Gold Tremissis
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Iberia - Visigoths - Imitative Gold Tremissis
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £800- £1,000
£103 Bids
Seleukid Kingdom - Philip I Philadelphus - AR Tetradrachm
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Seleukid Kingdom - Philip I Philadelphus - AR Tetradrachm
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £120- £170
£403 Bids
NGC Ancients - Thessaly, Crannon 4th Century BC AE Dichalkon obv. Zeus, rv horseman ex BCD Collection
May 23, 5:00 PM EDT
NGC Ancients - Thessaly, Crannon 4th Century BC AE Dichalkon obv. Zeus, rv horseman ex BCD Collection
by Richard L. Edwards Auctioneer
Est: $1- $5,000
$103 Bids
CONSTANTIUS I AD 305-306 ROMAN EMPIRE NGC XF
May 24, 11:00 AM EDT
CONSTANTIUS I AD 305-306 ROMAN EMPIRE NGC XF
by Silver City Auctions
Est: $110- $130
$102 Bids
Macedonia - Alexander III (the Great) - AR Tetradrachm
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Macedonia - Alexander III (the Great) - AR Tetradrachm
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £120- £170
£552 Bids
Domitian- Minerva AR Denarius
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Domitian- Minerva AR Denarius
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £40- £60
£302 Bids
NERVA AR DENARIUS 96-98 AD
May 24, 11:00 AM EDT
NERVA AR DENARIUS 96-98 AD
by Silver City Auctions
Est: $150- $200
$112 Bids
JULIUS CAESAR DENARIUS 44 BC
May 26, 11:00 AM EDT
JULIUS CAESAR DENARIUS 44 BC
by Silver City Auctions
Est: $900- $1,100
$102 Bids
Ancient Grecian 4th Century Coin - Thessaly, Crannon AE Dichalkon - NGC Ancients
May 27, 7:00 PM EDT
Ancient Grecian 4th Century Coin - Thessaly, Crannon AE Dichalkon - NGC Ancients
by Big Dog Auctions
Est: $0- $0
$62 Bids
Three Constantius II Roman Imperial Coins
May 24, 10:00 AM EDT
Three Constantius II Roman Imperial Coins
by Weschler's
Est: $20- $40
$202 Bids
Macedonia - Alexander III (the Great) - Bowcase and Club AE Unit
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Macedonia - Alexander III (the Great) - Bowcase and Club AE Unit
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £20- £30
£51 Bid
Syracuse - Apollo Bronze
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Syracuse - Apollo Bronze
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £60- £80
£51 Bid
Kings of Bactria - Menander I Soter - AR Drachm
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Kings of Bactria - Menander I Soter - AR Drachm
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £40- £60
£51 Bid
Julian II - Bull Bronze
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Julian II - Bull Bronze
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £30- £40
£51 Bid
Hadrian - Justitia AR Denarius
May 28, 10:00 AM BST
Hadrian - Justitia AR Denarius
by TimeLine Auctions
Est: £100- £140
£51 Bid

Sellers Who Sell Ancient Coins


TimeLine Auctions

TimeLine Auctions

Weatherham Estate Treasures

Weatherham Estate Treasures

Noonans (formerly Dix Noonan Webb)

Noonans (formerly Dix Noonan Webb)

Silver City Auctions

Silver City Auctions