Coins from past cultures

Romans were not the inventors of coins – they adopted them from the Greeks who, in turn, learned to use coins and money from China. Unlike most modern coins,

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Ancient coins

Roman coins had (at least in the early centuries) significant material value. However, while the gold and silver issues contained precious metals, the value of a coin was still slightly higher than its precious metal content, as otherwise, people would have melted the coins. Over the course of time, the amount of precious metal, its purity and weight (of silver and gold) was reduced. And yet, money was the trading medium on the basis of which wealth and status were determined. Clearly, not all coins that circulated contained precious metals. The common coinage was made of bronze of sometimes crude and low quality.

This was also the result of the division during the Roman Empire, that only the Emperor minted precious metals, while the local authorities were allowed to mint bronze coins. Dio Cassius, for example, writes: "None of the cities should be allowed to have its own separate coinage or a system of weights and measures; they should all be required to use ours." The mint of gold and silver was centralized in the city of Rome. In contrast, a bronze coin, was of low value. An as, for example, could only buy a pound of bread or a litre of cheap wine. Yet, coins were more than money, they were also very important means of propaganda. Once a new emperor was inaugurated, he quickly made his face, name and slogan minted on the imperial coins and let them distribute all over the Empire as payments for soldiers. This was to secure his authority over the army and through the army over the cities, provinces and the occupied territories. Coins were also used to celebrate victories like the famous crushing of the Jewish rebellion in the years 66 A.D. As a result, Titus minted a big bronze coin with the Colisseum on it.

This representative propaganda coin of Titus and the Colisseum, but also a broad range of other replica coins you will find on The Roman Store – as coins will allow the students to be introduced into this important part of Roman culture. Make the students read and discover for themselves the stories that the coins can tell. Ask them to use the internet and see whether they can find out the script, the image, the history behind it. You will see, the student will love their exploration and it will not only be their introduction into numismatics, but also their first hand experience of language, religious and iconographic symbolisms, commerce and trade.

Egyptian coins

On these pages of the category Teaching Material on Egypt you will find, for example, a replica of a real Egyptian coin with the face of the famous queen and Pharao Cleopatra. Let the students see the beauty of her face and talk about the relation between imperial self-advertising, power and economy in Roman Egypt.

The reproduction is made on the basis of a coin that is held today at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, made of tin and patinated. With Cleopatra on the front, the back shows the portrait of Marc Antony, another start for a passionat story that will help getting a grip on history.

Why do we find the portrait of Cleopatra on this coin:

The queen descended from an old Macedonian nobel family. Born in the year 69 B.C. (as given by Plutarch who specified that she died at the age of 39), she was one of five children of Pharao Ptolemy XII whose oldest child, Berenice IV, ruled from 58 to 55 BC as Ptolemaic Queen. Cleopatra followed her and a third daughter Arsinoë IV, who was born to 68 and 65 BC. The last children of the Pharao later became husbands and co-regents of Cleopatra, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, 61 and 59 B.C. Cleopatra VII Philopatora (51 B.C. to 30 B.C.) was the last female Queen and female Pharaoh in Egypt. In the first four years she reigned together with her brotcher, Ptolemy XIII, as the Romans had agreed that the throne would be held by two people.

Cleopatra wanted to consolidate her Empire and expand it, but she could not do this against the world power of Rome. In order to pursue her objectives, she took as lovers the two most powerful Romans of the time, first Gaius Julius Caesar and after his assassination, Marc Antony, in order to use them for enhancing her own power position and that of the Ptolemaic Empire. Antony's defeat, however, in the war against Octavian who will become Emperor Augustus also sealed the end of her reign. Both, Cleopatra and Marc Antony committed suicide, and Egypt was made the Roman province of Egyptus.

Use the coin as a testimony to introduce the students in one of history’s drama’s of love

The tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra and the suspicious circumstances surrounding their death incited people's and artist’s imagination and inspired not only the the creation of the Egyptian coin but also many writers, composers, film makers and painters, up to the 20th century.

Coins of the Greeks

Drachmon - Stater Obolos

The Greeks were not the inventors of coins – they must have learned this currency from their trade with India and Asia along the silk road.

In China money existed long before for the exchange of goods. Unlike most modern coins, Greek coins had (at least in the early centuries) significant material value. However, while the gold and silver issues contained precious metals, the value of a coin was still slightly higher than its precious metal content, as otherwise, people would have melted the coins. Over the course of time, the amount of precious metal, its purity and weight (of silver and gold), however, was reduced. And yet, money was the trading medium on the basis of which wealth and status were determined.

Let your students hold a Greek Drachma in their hands! The replica is authentically made from lead free pewter and is patinated so that it looks exactly like a silver coin from the time of ancient Greece. Pegasus can be discovered on the coins. The ancient Drachma was made of silver, rarely of copper or gold. It is known in all Hellenic countries and cities. The earliest coins show animal pictures. These were usually coat of arms of the cities and go back to the 6th century B.C.

Horse with wings

When using the Pegasus from the Teaching Material on Greece, you can introduce the students into Greek mythology. Pegasus, the famous horse with wings was the offspring of the sea god Poseidon and of Medusa, depicted with snake arms. The myth says he was given birth straight from Medusa's neck, when she was beheaded by Perseus, or came to be born a twin of Chrysaor and sprung from the earth, into which the blood of Medusa dripped. Pegasos was finally transformed into a star constellation in heaven, but one feather of his wings fell down and landed in the town of Tarsus (the city where Paul, the Apostle, came from), and gave this city its name. We are sure that your students will listen when they watch the coin and explore together with you Greek mythology.

Carrying owls to Athens...

The second drachma coin which depicts an owl is not less interesting than the Pegasus coin. Because who does not know the saying: carry owls to Athens? Once you hold the coin in hands and know that these coins existed everywhere in Athens, you know how futile it is to carry owls to Athens. Moreover, the ancient Greek poet Aristophanes who coined this phrase in his satirical comedy The Birds around 400 B.C. tells us that there was an owl flying up asking, "who brought the owl to Athens?" The owl was, of course, the symbol of the city's Patron, the Goddess Athena. And the owl symbolizes wisdom, as she can see in the dark. Hence, why would one need to bring wisdom into a city which was famous for its Academy and centre of learning.

Athens at that time was, indeed, a wealthy city, and Aristophanes might have also hinted at the unnecessary undertaking to send silver coins into such a rich city. And although, he later adds too optimistically, as we know today, that ‘there is never a shortage of owls’, what about having a discussion about the finances then and now, the idea of a single currency in Europe and alike? …

Greek replica coins

The coins allow students to hold Greek currency in their hands and students of RE, History, Latin or Greek can start deciphering text and images. They can also play selling and buying at a Greek market stall, or learn the value of ancient currency. Coins were also gifts in ancient times, so they can study the various purposes of coins in ancient times.

Let the students play with the Greek Drachma, find out what you could purchase with it in ancient Greece and let them learn who could mint coins and whose heads were allowed to decorate them!

Coins in the Middle Ages

pennies, groat and quarter noble

Our experience of customers have taught us that you can create a big interest in your classroom when you bring along a bag full of medieval coins. As we offer the bulk of coins at a very good price, you can even hand them out and let the students each have one to take home. They will not forget your gesture.

Coin horts

In the category of Teaching Material on the Middle Ages you will not only discover individual authentic replicas of medieval coins, but even a whole fabric bag filled with groats, two pennies, halfgroats and quarter nobles. All replicas are made of patinated lead-free pewter. Each of the coins, of course, invite to tell the story of these coins. The groat is the name of the silver four-pence piece, which was coined in the United Kingdom and used there as currency until the year 1855! As the first groats were minted during the reign of Eduard I in 1279, the life shelf of this coin was immensely long. You will find his face minted on the coin we provide. A similar coin was minted in Northern Germany. The quater noble was the first English gold coin, which was produced in large quantities. It replaced the gold penny and the Florin during the reign of King Heinrich III and King Edward III.

The medieval Penny - the story of the protection money...

The silver Penny was probably introduced around 786 by King Offa of Mercia on the English island. Its name derives from old English penig (majority: penegas/pænegas), formerly pening (Sagar/pending). The coins were similar in size and weight to the denarius on Europe’s mainland. Until in the 1970s the penny was still abbreviated ‘d.’ - derived from the Latin denarius. Interestingly, the Anglo-Saxon Silverpennys were also the currency in which the "Danegeld" has been paid, so served as a tax to be paid to the Vikings in order not to get pillaged or rampaged by them.

It is estimated that approximately 93 tons in total weight of silver was paid as Danegeld between the years 990 and 1015. If we want to compare it to today’s currency, the sum approximates 1.5 billion English pounds. From the reign of King Offa and for around 500 years, the penny was the only coin minted in England. Only when King Henry III started the minting of gold coins the days of the penny were counted.