Numismatics is one of the oldest hobbies in the world and one which is gaining new converts each year.
There is also evidence to suggest that ancient Roman rulers collected coins of the classic Greek period, while many famous public collections in museums today are the legacy of private collections formed hundreds of years ago.
Roman, Greek and Byzantine coins are one of the most exciting fields available to collectors these days because of the mystery of their history and origin. They inspire your curiosity for ancient reigns, heroes, symbols and myths.
Many people are amazed to learn that many coins struck nearly 2000 years ago by the ancient Romans can be bought for under $20. While fairly modern coins, like the Australian 1930 penny, can cost many thousands of dollars. It is therefore very obvious that age does not relate to rarity or value when talking coins. However, people are encouraged to get involved for the sake of the hobby, the desire to learn about history-people, places and events.
There's something special in being able to hold a coin in your hands which could have belonged to Julius Caesar or have been in the pocket of some gladiator or slave.
Perhaps you are already one of those happy souls who likes coins simply because you like the look of them or the history behind them fascinates you. Most people are drawn to collecting for the challenge it holds. This motivation is not just the sole preserve of numismatists, It's the same bug that drives on collectors of stamps, antiques or even phonecards.
There is something about collecting coins in particular that other hobbies cannot match. It's a fact that you can easily buy a respectable bronze Roman coin for under $20. There is something you cannot explain in holding such a coin and imagining the endless number of generations who might have held it. You are also overpowered by the feeling that you, as a collector, are really only the immediate custodian of that coin. Look at the coin and imagine whose collection it will be in in another 2000 years time.
There are many ways to build up a collection. You could search for coins of a particular mint or time frame; coins struck under a particular ruler, or related to a particular event. You can go for bronze, or for silver, Imperial, or Provincial coins. You can be even more specific by collecting only a particular type of coins. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Basically there are no ground rules to follow if your sole aim is to collect coins for the sheer pleasure. It's simply a matter of "If you like it and you can afford it-buy it"
While early civilisations used precious metals in the form of bars, ingots and statues, it is generally agreed that Kingdom of Lydia first used round and oval shaped pieces of precious metals stamped with recognisable symbols. This was about 640BC when small round ingots with deep impressions punched into one side only were made from a naturally occuring alloy of gold and silver known as electrum. These pieces are hailed as our first coins by the very fact they were struck by an engraved punch from a hammer blow, this same technique was to be the basic method of producing coins until the mid 17th century.
It was up to the fabled King Croesus (560-546BC) for the first official coinage to appear. This differed from the earlier Lydian type in that it was issued by a state authority and guaranteed by the monarch. He decreed that pure gold or silver should be used and this idea was adopted by successive rulers.
The next major chapter in the evelution of coinage is concerned is regarded by most numismatic scholars as being "our finest hour" The ancient Greeks took the basic shape and manufacturing principles from the Lydians and over a period of some 300 years produced coins of such excellence that the period is still referred to as the "classic" period of coinage. Instead of crude meaningless indentations often favoured by the earlier civilisations, the Greeks produced a wide-ranging series of coin designs which paid tribute to their religious and material life-style. Despite primitive engraving tools, coins of high relife and exquisite detail were issued.
As Greece began to fade from its position of prestige by about 200BC, the might of Rome was developing to fill the gap. As mentioned, the Romans had for some time been using the rough bronze ingots used for trade. However it was not long before the Romans followed the Greek coinage tradition but with, it is generally agreed, less artistic merit.
Roman rulers and die makers took a completely different view of the coins they produced than did their Greek counterparts. The Greeks were more interested in the design they created, than the coin as merely a means of doing the weekly shopping. The methodical Romans however saw the coin as simply that-an article designed for a specific job. The designs, while well executed in the main, were less artistic and more businesslike.
And where the Greeks cut beautiful dies to honour their Gods, the Romans appreciated coinage as an excellent propaganda vehicle to tell the masses about the latest victory over the enemy.
Like so many empires before it, Rome also began to lose its shine by the middle of the fourth century. This decline shows through in the falling standards of its coinage-both in its intrinsic value and artistic merit.
Following the decline of Greece and Rome, the art of coin making was all but forgotten. Wars, plague and famine resulted in a "Dark Age."
Coins are a living part of history - regardless of whether it came out of the necessities of peaceful trade or time of war. Coins allow you to hold history in your hands - to admire its art, wonder about the portrait it displays and the lives it has affected..