How to build a set of ancient Roman coins of the Twelve Caesars

Silver denarius of Tiberius considered the biblical 'Tribute penny'
By , Coin World
Published : 03/28/16
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Editor's note: this is the second part of a feature story about collecting coins of the Twelve Caesars that appears in full in the April 2016 Monthly issue of Coin World

Early in the second century A.D., Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus authored a set of 12 biographies, the stories of the dictator Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire, covering history from 49 B.C. to 96 A.D..These dozen rulers have become a popular focus for building a set of ancient coins — a Twelve Caesars set. 

Many options are available to the collector, and a completed set of Twelve Caesars coinage can be very expensive or fairly moderate in price. 

None of the rulers is prohibitively rare, but several are quite scarce, and if you decide to focus on just one size, denomination or composition, you can face a real challenge in obtaining one ruler or another, depending on whether you are seeking gold, silver, or bronze. 

Considerations for the set can include whether it will include only portrait coins, and whether pieces struck in Roman provinces “count” toward the set, or if it will be limited to only pieces struck in Rome. 

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Bronze coins can be as rare or rarer than gold coins for some rulers — for instance, Julius Caesar and Otho did not strike bronze portrait coins, but examples struck at provincial mints are available. 

The silver denarius is the most popular ancient denomination, so they are always in strong demand.

The most efficient way to complete a set at a modest cost is to allow various denominations and metals, and choose the most available type for each ruler. Otherwise, a bronze set of mixed provincial issues is also possible and collectors can select coins of about the same size. 

Once a set has been built, collectors might consider upgrading, or shifting to a set of all silver denarii coins, for instance, and collectors with the means can pursue gold aureii for all rulers.

Other considerations

The exercise of building the set can be framed around other factors as well. 

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