Badly forged ancient denarius sends finder to college

A silver denarius forged in antiquity by a complete incompetent was found by a metal detector enthusiast near Brighton, England. Since its errors make it unique, the coin is worth a great deal more than a genuine silver denarius from the period would have been. Experts from the British Museum have examined it and estimate it is worth at least £3,000 ($4,800), while the real deal would be worth only £100 ($160) today because they are fairly common.

It was meant to be a commemorative coin struck in honor of Octavian’s victory again Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. The forger made it a few years after the battle, but unfortunately seems to have been working from memory. Big mistake.

Badly forged denarius found near BrightonOn one side is a crocodile but it is facing the wrong way and on the other side is the head of Emperor Caesar when it should have been Augustus. The forger made a further mistake by mis-spelling Egypt. He inscribed Aegipto instead of the common spelling of the time, Aegypto or Aegvpto.

Also, the inscription D[I]VO IMP on Caesar’s side was never used.

On top of those wee oversights, our enterprising friend also struck the coin from solid silver, which kind of defeats the entire point of forging it. I mean, why not just buy some actual coins with your silver? There’s obviously no profit to be made if you use currency to make fake currency of the same value. That’s like a counterfeiter today grinding up a real hundred dollar bill to make a fake hundred dollar bill, with Jefferson’s face on the front and “In God We Thrust” on the back, no less.

Our forging friend’s loss is Rob Clements’ gain, however. Clements is the metal detector enthusiast who found the coin just two inches under a grass path near Brighton. He had only purchased the metal detector a few months before that, lucky sumbitch. He brought the coin to the University of Brighton where he works as a janitor, and had it scanned by the university’s new advanced electron microscope. That’s how he found out it was solid silver.

Now that the British Museum has declared it a one-off and worth thousands, Clements is thinking of selling it to finance an education in ancient history at the University of Brighton, which I think is just totally awesome.

Mr Clements, who lives in Brighton, said: “I never thought I’d find anything so interesting and valuable and so soon after getting a detector. I would have been thrilled finding a genuine coin but this fake could mean a big difference to my life. I’ve always loved history but never bothered much at school.

“Now I’m seriously looking into the idea of selling the coin and putting it towards a degree here at the university. I hope to study more about the Romans. It’s fascinating that there were forgers at the time, some, it seems, who were not very bright.”

Go for it, brother. :yes:

19 thoughts on “Badly forged ancient denarius sends finder to college

      1. That makes sense. It’s hard to imagine mass produced coinage carved by hand. Still, it makes me wonder if more of these bogus coins are floating around out there.

        1. Okay I just looked it up and Roman coins were struck, not cast. Tbh I didn’t know the difference. So there would be dies of the imprinted images, but not molds. Dies wore out very quickly; a busy minting team could use them up in a single day.

          There are some ancient Roman coin molds extant that were used to mass-produce counterfeit currency, but I don’t know if this coin was made with a mold or struck.

        2. FWIW, Wikipedia has this to say, “Unlike most modern coins, Roman coins had intrinsic value. While they contained precious metals, the value of a coin was higher than its precious metal content, so they were not bullion.”

          So a counterfeit silver coin would actually be worth more than the metal itself, if the information is correct. Only Rome could mint silver or gold coinage. Provinces could mint bronze coins, which were worth only the value of the metal. The fraud becomes understandable if you consider that most people probably would never have seen a real silver coin.

        3. Sure they would have. Silver denarii were one day’s pay for a labourer. They’re found all over the former Roman empire, hence their being worth less than 200 hundred bucks.

          Even if a coin was slightly more valuable than the metal, I don’t really see the payoff from going to all the trouble of converting silver into coin. This is why although there are all kinds of Roman counterfeits out there, this is the only one known to be solid silver. All the rest use base metals under a veneer of precious metal.

        4. Ok. Well, that’s what I get for reading Wikipedia. :blush:

          Still, I can’t help but think that’s there is more to the story than a foolish counterfeiter.

  1. That’s like a counterfeiter today grinding up a real hundred dollar bill to make a fake hundred dollar bill, with Jefferson’s face on the front and “In God We Thrust” on the back, no less.

    😆 :love: 😆

  2. Coins were struck from dies carved in the negative. This link has a nice overview of a student replicating the process.

    One theory on why a forger would make a coin of full value. The coin might not have been meant to decieve but rather to add to the local economy. In the late 18th up to the late 19th many companies in England and America made tokens to use as payment and small change because of a lack of official coinage. I could see a scenario where there were not enough official coins in circulation so someone started making un-official coins that were full value.

    1. By the way, the forger, far from being “complete incompetent” and “not very bright” was pretty skilled. Remember, he probably didn’t have handy access to the Emperor’s portrait. So he most likely copied a coin image he had. Also, the crocodile and the portrait are pretty well done. And the letters are quiet well done. Having tried myself to engrave coin dies, I know how hard it is.

      The more I look at the coin the more likely I believe this was not meant to be a forgery in the sense of deception but rather an un-official issue. As for the value, at this time the denari were still good silver that were “worth their weight”. They were not devalued until Nero adulturated the silver.

      1. Oh, I don’t question his coin-making skills, just his forgery skills. Denarii had been devalued at this point, though, from their original 4.5 grams to 3.9 grams. Nero devalued them again down to 3.4 grams.

    2. Interesting link, thank you. I’m not sure I’m persuaded by the un-official circulation idea. It makes a more sense than someone trying to forge a denarius out of a denarius’ worth of silver, but the coin is from a decade before the Claudian conquest, so there wouldn’t really have been official Roman coinage in Britain at that point, although there were plenty of Roman coins in circulation through trade and whatnot.

  3. To me, the most interesting aspect of this post is all of the speculation that surrounds the coin, especially since it says more about the commenters than the object. Ascribing modern motives to ancient individuals is nothing new. I respectfully suggest that there are other equally plausbile arguments for the coin, such as…
    It actually distinguished its greater value.
    It was used to hide the true value of the silver.
    It was close enough to other coins that no one cared.
    It was an experiment in forgery.
    It was a prototype for a local version of currency.
    It was a whimsical expression or joke by someone who was bored making standard coins.
    It was a form of protest about the subjects on the “real” coin.

    All we really know is that it sure was a lucky find for some regular guy. Hooray!

    1. Those are non-modern motives, are they? I don’t see that they have any more solid historical grounding than any of the other suppositions in this comment thread. Quite the opposite, really. In fact, some of your putatively plausible arguments are downright counterfactual, since at the time this coin was struck only Rome minted coins made from precious metals. There was no such thing as a “local version” of a silver denarius, there were no standard coin makers in Britain, and thus no way any local production would be considered “close enough” to the genuine article.

      1. Ah, but there could have been one coin created by one person for one reason that we do not know about. Not having been there at the time and place when the coin was made means that any reason is possible(however seemingly unreasonable it might be today). I believe this is particularly true when discussing relative matters such as the supposed competence and motives of an unknown individual.

        When I was young, I read a book called “The Weans”. From that I learned the limitless bounds of how our imaginations could create absolute judgements on the thinest evidence for things found from times gone by. My experience in the military demonstrated that the time frame for this phenomenon could be weeks instead of centuries. Both of these things taught me to keep an open mind about other people and what they did and why–especially for folks from long ago.

  4. There’s another possibility there.

    A pre-Roman British fake, trying to assure people that this is a “proper” coin. It’s a variation on the unofficial issue idea.

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