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Fractional bronzes of the Roman Empire (Quadrantes, Semisses & Tesserae)


SimonW
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I have been collecting Quadrantes, Semisses and Tesserae of the Roman Empire for many years. In this thread I'd like to share a piece every now and then and am keen to see your fractions.

One of my all-time favorites is the following rare Trajan Quadrans.

Traianus, Quadrans (2.52 g), Rome, 114-117 AD (?).
Obv. IMP CAES TRAIAN AVG GERM, bust of Minerva, helmeted, r., draped. Rev. S C (ex.), round shield, diagonal spear behind.
Woytek 607 (RIC -).

 

228_vYAG2aS54T_th.jpg.7de3c22b4168bcf16277ddc54447b7d5.jpg

 

Share your Quadrantes, Semisses and Tesserae.

Edited by SimonW
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  • SimonW changed the title to Fractional bronzes of the Roman Empire (Quadrantes, Semisses & Tesserae)

Wow, never seen this type. Congratulations.

 

Here are two of mine

 

Tiberius_02.jpg.b5e4bc4f69a8fd93d1ff77ae1b71fde6.jpg

Tiberius as Caesar
Semis, Lugdunum, AD 12-14
Obv.: TI CAESAR AVGVST F IMPERAT VII, Laureate head right
Rev.: ROM ET AVG Altar of Lugdunum
AE, 3.7g, 17.5mm
Ref.: Cohen 38, RIC 246

 

 

1145733400_Hadrian_2(1).jpg.b234ab593ab7645a5f8f1b0e55cd6221.jpg

Hadrian
Æ  Semis
Obv.: IMP CAESAR TRAIAN HADRIANVS AVG, Eagle standing left, head right
Rev.: P M TR P COS III, winged thunderbolt, SC
Æ, 2.3g, 17.6mm
Ref.: RIC 623

 

 

 

Edited by shanxi
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Semis of Augustus  Lugdunum 9-14 AD Obv Head right laureate. Rv  Altar of Lugdunum RIC 234var 5.19 grms 18 mm Photo by W. Hansen634306331_augustussemis1.jpg.e3cc2663e33bb2f2d41c7aed5ff1f050.jpgWhen I first saw this coin I thought I was looking at a really darkly toned denarius. I was wrong and decided to purchase the coin. 

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Love your quadrans - never seen one like that!

Here is my first quadrans - a rare RIC Trajan 693

image.png.1142769612ca5cb0721fdf18a77d2ba9.png

Here is a Nerva one

image.png.8ba28e7052da101d697e77b9c6c3fd42.png

RIC 113

 

Hadrian

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RIC 624 (also attributed as Semis)

 

Another semisses from Hadrian

image.png.bb7731b081c1a84e44895dcd28481acf.png

RIC 758  

And my latest acquisition, a coin I found very attractive

image.png.b3829d2b2da5d072bb88df602101fb82.png

RIC II Hadrian 685

Edited by ambr0zie
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Posted (edited)

Very nice coins @shanxi, @kapphnwn and @ambr0zie.

@kapphnwn, wow, that's a stunner. Never seen one of these that is only remotly as well preserved as yours.

Here's another rare one from Trajan.

Traianus, Quadrans (2.68 g), Rome, 114-117 AD (?).
Obv. IMP CAES TRAIAN AVG GERM, bust of Hercules, bearded, laureate, r., wearing lion-skin. Rev. S C (ex.), she-wolf l. Woytek 604A (RIC -).

 

227_8EfxdNBAsM_th.jpg.8bc94899e624161c779e375909c5ea4e.jpg

 

It might look rather common as each side is common in combination with another obverse and reverse. But the combination of the obverse type and reverse type is quite rare.

Edited by SimonW
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Well, it isn't pretty, but it is kind of scarce, and perhaps the final appearance of the semis as a denomination (or the "reduced as") - Trajan Decius in a futile effort to reform the decaying Roman monetary system revived the denomination.  Now if I could just find one of the "double sestertius" types from this issue!

1956206225_TrajanDecius-SemislotJan2020(0aa).jpg.a0758aefd1f3f6b7466a8ba4dee48a03.jpg

Trajan Decius  Æ Semis (or "Reduced As") (249-251 A.D.) Rome Mint IMP C M Q TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right / S-C, Mars standing resting hand on shield and holding spear. RIC 128; Cohen 102. (3.39 grams / 17 mm) eBay Jan. 2020

Notes:  "...However, in AD 250, Decius overhauled the bronze coinage by introducing a new denomination, the double-sestertius, and by reintroducing a small bronze piece about the size of the long-since-abandoned semis, which probably was intended to be 'reduced as'."  NGC Ancients: The Numismatic Legacy of Trajan Decius

 

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I like quadrantes, though I don't have a whole lot of them. Here are a couple of anonymous ones from the late 1st-early 2nd century.

Not a spectacular example but, as they say, it looks better in hand.

[IMG]
Anonymous--Domitian to Antoninus Pius.
Roman AE quadrans, 14.9 mm, 2.51 g, 5 h.
Rome, A.D. 81-161.
Obv: Helmeted and draped bust of Minerva right.
Rev: S-C, Owl standing left, head facing.
Ref: RIC 8.

My favorite quadrans is this Venus and dove one from the same series.

[IMG]
Anonymous--Domitian to Antoninus Pius.
Roman Æ quadrans, 12.9 mm, 2.37 g, 4 h
Rome, A.D. 81-161.
Obv: Bust of Venus, diademed, draped, right.
Rev: S-C, dove standing right.
Ref: RIC II, p. 218, 24; BMCRE --; Cohen VIII, p. 268, 10.

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I have only ever owned one one quadrans:-

Domitian Ae quadrans
Obv:- IMP DOMIT AVG GERM, Bust of Ceres left
Rev:- S-C, Bundle of three poppies and four corn ears
Reference:- RIC II new 243 (R). Cohen 17

RI_035m_img.jpg

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That's a particularly nice coin for the type, @maridvnvm. I probably was tempted to clean those earthern deposits 🙂

Great types, @Roman Collector. There is a large variety of those anonymous Quadrantes. Here is one of my favourites.

Anonymous, Quadrans (3.57 g), Rome, 81-161 AD.
Obv. Bust of Minerva, helmeted, r., draped. Rev. S – C, olive tree. RIC 9 (C).
Ex. Roma Numismatics, E-Sale 69, lot 943

 

450_UyaQptfU0E_th.jpg.846fcf7bef6d123068034f87a78ba200.jpg

 

Wish you all a great weekend!

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I have a few Augustus ones that I think are pretty cool...

The first two are just different order of the moneyer names.

collagemaker_20180924_143206677.jpg

Augustus, Ruled 27 BC-14 AD
AE Quadrans, Stuck 5 BC, Rome mint
Apronius, Galus, Messalla, and Sisenna; triumvirate (meaning the three men in charge of preparing blanks and minting coins in gold, silver and bronze), although there are the four names inscribed on coin.
Obverse: SISENNA MESSALLA IIIVIR, bowl-shaped, ornately decorated altar.
Reverse: GALVS APRONIVS A A A F F, legend surrounding SC.
References: RIC I 464
Size: 16mm, 2.9g

 

collagemaker_20190427_132724457.jpg

Augustus, Ruled 27 BC-14 AD
AE Quadrans, Stuck 5 BC, Rome mint
Apronius, Galus, Messalla, and Sisenna; triumvirate (meaning the three men in charge of preparing blanks and minting coins in gold, silver and bronze), although there are the four names inscribed on coin.
Obverse: MESSALLA APRONIVS IIIVIR, bowl-shaped, ornately decorated altar.
Reverse: GALVS SISENNA A A A F F, legend surrounding SC.
References: RIC I 453

 

 

collagemaker_20190704_162858159.jpg

Augustus, Ruled 27 BC – 14 AD
AE Quadrans, Struck 9 BC, Rome mint
L. Aelius Lamia, P. Silius and Annius, moneyers
Obverse
: LAMIA · SILIVS · ANNIVS ·, simpulum and lituus.
Reverse: III · VIR · A · A · A · F · F · around large S C.
References: RIC 421

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Here's my not-so-great-looking Trajan Hercules/Boar quadrans...

collagemaker_20181023_221812275.jpg

Trajan, AE Quadrans
Struck 114-117 AD, Rome mint
Obverse: IMP CAES TRAIAN AVG GERM, Bust of Hercules, diademed, right, wearing lion-skin over shoulders.
Reverse: Boar right with head down, SC in exergue.
References: RIC II 702
Size: 15mm, 2.8g

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I have only one Imperial quadrans:

Domitian (son of Vespasian), AE Quadrans [1/4 As] 84-85 AD, Rome Mint. Obv. African Rhinoceros with two horns advancing right with head down/ Rev IMP DOMIT AVG GERM (clockwise around starting at 1:00), S C across. RIC II-1 Domitian 249 (2007 ed.), Sear RCV II 2834, Cohen 673. (Legend starting at 1:00 rather than 7:00 is rarer variety, with only 4 examples at OCRE -- none at British Museum; see http://numismatics.org/ocre/id/ric.2_1(2).dom.249 -- and 8 at acsearch.)  16.5 mm., 2.56 g. [Issued after Domitian’s assumption of Germanicus title in late 83 AD, but before the Consular date XI was added to his quadrantes in 85. It was possibly distributed as a token and/or souvenir to the crowds at the Colosseum, which Domitian completed in 82 by adding its uppermost story. See Martial’s  Liber De Spectaculis (http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/martial_on_the_games_of_domitian_01_text.htm) re exhibition of rhinoceros at Colosseum, and re practice of distributing tokens to crowd. See also T.V. Buttrey, “Domitian, the Rhinoceros, and the Date of Martial's ‘Liber De Spectaculis,’" The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 97 (2007), pp. 101-112, at https://www.jstor.org/stable/20430573?seq=1.]

 

image.jpeg.0e8ed3ba67d602c58fe47a2e5537757b.jpeg

As far as tesserae are concerned, I have only one of those as well, from Roman Alexandria, posted earlier today in another thread. See the third item posted at  https://www.numisforums.com/topic/833-new-nac-usa-partnership-with-shanna-schmidt-numismatics/?do=findComment&comment=14302 .

 

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1 hour ago, DonnaML said:

I have only one Imperial quadrans:

Domitian (son of Vespasian), AE Quadrans [1/4 As] 84-85 AD, Rome Mint. Obv. African Rhinoceros with two horns advancing right with head down/ Rev IMP DOMIT AVG GERM (clockwise around starting at 1:00), S C across. RIC II-1 Domitian 249 (2007 ed.), Sear RCV II 2834, Cohen 673. (Legend starting at 1:00 rather than 7:00 is rarer variety, with only 4 examples at OCRE -- none at British Museum; see http://numismatics.org/ocre/id/ric.2_1(2).dom.249 -- and 8 at acsearch.)  16.5 mm., 2.56 g. [Issued after Domitian’s assumption of Germanicus title in late 83 AD, but before the Consular date XI was added to his quadrantes in 85. It was possibly distributed as a token and/or souvenir to the crowds at the Colosseum, which Domitian completed in 82 by adding its uppermost story. See Martial’s  Liber De Spectaculis (http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/martial_on_the_games_of_domitian_01_text.htm) re exhibition of rhinoceros at Colosseum, and re practice of distributing tokens to crowd. See also T.V. Buttrey, “Domitian, the Rhinoceros, and the Date of Martial's ‘Liber De Spectaculis,’" The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 97 (2007), pp. 101-112, at https://www.jstor.org/stable/20430573?seq=1.]

 

image.jpeg.0e8ed3ba67d602c58fe47a2e5537757b.jpeg

As far as tesserae are concerned, I have only one of those as well, from Roman Alexandria, posted earlier today in another thread. See the third item posted at  https://www.numisforums.com/topic/833-new-nac-usa-partnership-with-shanna-schmidt-numismatics/?do=findComment&comment=14302 .

 

I'm not crazy about small coins but could live comfortably with that rhino ☺️.

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I love this thread, @SimonW!  Your OP coin is phenomenal, as is @kapphnwn's Augustus.  Lots of other great coins too!

I don't have many but here are my two favourite quadrantes, both common.  First a Claudius I'm surprised hasn't shown up yet.  I love the lettering on this particular example, with its clear fish tail uprights in many places:

image.jpeg.7ae0cd5f54aca7cbb7e78a45fcec9ed0.jpeg

And my Trajan with Hercules and boar (needs a new photo):

image.jpeg.ca2d7c1eeb77af03c37b404450d99c6e.jpeg

I also have a Decius semis:

image.jpeg.f17f6f2b338a6b46023ebc047d106060.jpeg

^ Do you agree that this is a semis, @SimonW?  I hadn't heard of NGC's speculation (quoted by @Marsyas Mike above) that it was in fact a reduced As.  I doubt this very much given the weight of the dupondius and sestertius under Decius.

There was a brief thread recently that touched on the distinction between the semis and the quadrans, which often isn't clear for 2nd century examples, at least to me!  Also for some types of Nero, I believe.  Since you're something of an expert in this area I'd be grateful for any info you have on this question.  (I'd really like to get semisses of both Nero and Hadrian.)  I've wondered if the die diameter or dotted border diameter might be an indicator... perhaps you have enough of them that you could investigate that!  When you have nothing else to do, that is... ha, fat chance! 😄 

Edited by Severus Alexander
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I cannot in truth support the notion that the semis minted by Trajan Decius is some form of reduced As. I have seen and owned asses and dupondii that appear to be more or less the standard weight of the period up to and including the joint reign of Valerian I and Gallienus.  One of the problems that can bedevil our understanding of any historical monetary system is that what we may find interesting and extremely significant may not have been true in the past. It should be noted that the Romans valued everything in sestertii not denarii. Thus the vastitudes that plagued the Roman silver coinage may not have transferred itself to the other denominations, RAG Carson in his Book "The Roman Imperial Coinage" suggests that there were two devaluations of the denarius one during the late Severan period the other under Decius. I have not seen any further commentary on this idea, however it is possible that the silver coinage may have gone through a series of defacto adjustments if not de jure. Despite this it is also very likely that the aes coinage retained its value against the aureus. Thus if the aureus is still tariffed as being one hundred sestertii then the double sestertii and the semis makes sense.  

Semis of Trajan Decius THIS IS NO LONGER MY COIN 19 mm 4 grms 

Xtdsem1.JPG.15a182a227af01f9b747921a53733735.JPG

 

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5 hours ago, Al Kowsky said:

I'm not crazy about small coins but could live comfortably with that rhino ☺️.

And if you saved 1,600 of them in your piggy bank, you could exchange them for an aureus!

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Posted (edited)

Those are very cool Augustus Quadrantes, @Justin Lee. When I started collecting the small denominations, my collection would start with Nero. It was only later that I learned to appreciate the early ones, too.

That's a very nice rhino, @DonnaML. There are 4 variations of this type in total (rhino l. or r. and reverse legend starting at 6 or 12 o'clock).

Thank you, @Severus Alexander. I love your Trajan/Hercules Quadrans. I have quite a few of them, but none as nice as yours 🙂

Regarding the Trajan Decius Semis: I think the point NGC makes is about the radiate coins (Dupondii?) that weigh about the same as the "Asses". You could argue that they are both Asses or both Dupondii. Or they are Asses and Dupondii and the weight simply doesn't matter. Now, the Sestertii weigh about half what the double Sestertii do on average, I would say. So calling all the coins that weigh half a Sestertius "Dupondius" and the smallest denomination "As" or "reduced As" is not completely unlogical. The fact that there haven't been any Semisses for almost a century inbetween adds to that theory.

As a collector of Semisses, however, I still like to believe that they are Semisses 🙂

Here is mine:

Traianus Decius, Semis (3.41 g), Rome, 249-251 AD.
Obv. IMP C M Q TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, bust of Traianus Decius, laureate, r., cuirassed. Rev. S – C, Mars, helmeted, in military attire, standing left, resting right hand on shield and holding vertical spear in left hand. RIC 128 (S).
Ex Numismatica Ars Classica, Auction 64, lot 2703

 

303_lMRKLnY8JK_th.jpg.133b227b901230e9e0323cb0a92b96b6.jpg

Edited by SimonW
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Copper Coin (AE Quadrants’) minted in Rome during the reign of CLAUDIUS in 41 A.D. Obv. TI.CLAVDIVS.CAESAR.AVG. Modius. Rev. PON.M.TR.P.IMP.COS.DES.IT.: around large S.C. RCS #640. RIC #84 pg.126. DVM #19 pg.82. (several times during CLAUDIUS reign, bread riots broke out in Rome, this was an ongoing publicity effort to reassure Romans of the adequacy and stability of the grain supply from North Africa.)

image.png.10563131e02d91b229a8ebe76ad69404.pngimage.png.34f6bddd88a0bd78120fb3126edb504b.png

AD-292 OBV.jpg

AD-292 REV.jpg

Edited by Jims,Coins
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15 hours ago, kapphnwn said:

I cannot in truth support the notion that the semis minted by Trajan Decius is some form of reduced As. I have seen and owned asses and dupondii that appear to be more or less the standard weight of the period up to and including the joint reign of Valerian I and Gallienus.  One of the problems that can bedevil our understanding of any historical monetary system is that what we may find interesting and extremely significant may not have been true in the past. It should be noted that the Romans valued everything in sestertii not denarii. Thus the vastitudes that plagued the Roman silver coinage may not have transferred itself to the other denominations, RAG Carson in his Book "The Roman Imperial Coinage" suggests that there were two devaluations of the denarius one during the late Severan period the other under Decius. I have not seen any further commentary on this idea, however it is possible that the silver coinage may have gone through a series of defacto adjustments if not de jure. Despite this it is also very likely that the aes coinage retained its value against the aureus. Thus if the aureus is still tariffed as being one hundred sestertii then the double sestertii and the semis makes sense.  

Harl discusses these issues in Ch. 6 of Coinage in the Roman Economy, though he doesn't say anything about the semis in particular.  Much of the chapter is about silver.  Of course the silver was gradually debased throughout the century, but the government could capitalize on each step of debasement because they were the first ones to use the new coins with reduced silver... it took a little while for the marketplace to catch up in the form of inflation.  Pretty hard to resist debasing, then, for each new emperor who came into power needing to give a bonus to the army!  (He also shows there was a thorough recoinage whereby the previous emperor's higher-silver coins were taken in and the metal re-used at the lower percentage.  For example, hoards are almost exclusively made up of a very few years' worth of coins, implying that the hoarder didn't have access to coins from further back because they'd already been removed.)

So what happened to the AE coinage, which had a mere nominal/token value?  Well, in 235 (Harl says) the public still had confidence in the token AEs. The inflationary antoninianus had been dumped in favour of the reliable old denarius, and Severus Alexander had renewed the previously waning supply of sestertii, asses, and dupondii.  Everyone was happy and the old exchange rates between denominations were maintained.  Then (around 241 I think) Gordian III eliminated the denarius in favour of the antoninianus only.  That meant the usual calculation of value in terms of denarii became purely notional, there was no actual coin to back prices in terms denarii up.  Meanwhile, the debasement of the antoninianus continued.  Harl says “each decline in the size and weight of the antoninianus was matched by revisions in its rate of exchange against gold and base metal denominations. In the markets, the population learned to quote prices in terms of notational denarii or denarii communes (d.c. or “common denarii”) which could be converted into antoniniani at the current rate.”

At the same time, both the aureus and the AEs were reduced in weight. Sometimes fineness too - not so much the aureus, but Philip adulterated the AEs with lead, apparently. But these reductions were nowhere near what they were for the antoninianus in terms of intrinsic value, thus the need for a varying exchange rate.  He goes on to provide evidence for varying exchange rates between the ant and the aureus, but not much regarding AEs... so until 250 it may be that they kept trading with the antoninianus as usual, i.e. 1 ant = 2 denarii = 8 sestertii = 16 asses.  He implies they were still officially tariffed at that rate, in any case.  Notably, worn AEs from earlier continued to be used. (But it became prohibitively expensive to produce the smaller AEs so proportionally more and more of the fresh minted AE coinage came in the form of sestertii. In Carthage, people regularly cut sestertii in half for small change.)

In 250, there's documentary evidence that sestertii traded at higher than the official 8-per-antoninianus rate in the marketplace.  That's a pretty radical change that goes beyond the populace having lost confidence in the money.  There was no longer a proper token AE coinage if it didn't have a fixed rate of exchange with the silver and gold!  (Harl makes a big deal of this, and he says a functional token coinage didn't come again until the 370s, and not fully successfully until Anastasius.  This explains all the mucking about with various sizes and compositions of billon from 294 to 360, to the great confusion of collectors!)

It seems that Decius's coinage reform was an attempt to rescue the token AE coinage from this fate.  He introduced the double sestertius and the especially old heavy sestertii still in circulation are thought to have been treated as double sestertii as well.  (Postumus adopted the same standard, and we see plenty of old sestertii overstruck by him as doubles.)  Interestingly, AEs started to be hoarded at this time as a hedge against inflation!  (I was amazed to read that fully one fifth of hoards from the third century are AE, basically all sestertii, buried after roughly 250.  He notes “Few Romans willingly parted with their bronze coins down to the reform of Diocletian, thereby ensuring that the sestertius survived as a unit of accounting into the fourth century.”  (As you say, @kapphnwn, it was indeed the standard unit of accounting, beginning in 141 BCE when the denarius was retariffed from 10 to 16 sestertii [Harl, p. 481].  Although as noted above, accounting in terms of denarii was also used, including "d.c." at some point after the actual denarius coin was eliminated.)

I'm unclear on what the exchange rate was between sestertii and antoninianii under Decius.  But it doesn't seem that the exchange rates between double-sestertii, sestertii, dupondii, and Asses was any different.  In particular, the symbolism of the radiate crown = double was maintained.  All the signs are that he was trying to rescue the old system, which strongly suggests that the Decius coin above was indeed a semis!

12 hours ago, SimonW said:

Regarding the Trajan Decius Semis: I think the point NGC makes is about the radiate coins (Dupondii?) that weigh about the same as the "Asses". You could argue that they are both Asses or both Dupondii. Or they are Asses and Dupondii and the weight simply doesn't matter. Now, the Sestertii weigh about half what the double Sestertii do on average, I would say. So calling all the coins that weigh half a Sestertius "Dupondius" and the smallest denomination "As" or "reduced As" is not completely unlogical. The fact that there haven't been any Semisses for almost a century inbetween adds to that theory.

As a collector of Semisses, however, I still like to believe that they are Semisses 🙂

As I explained above, if Harl has got the story right I think your extremely nice example of the Decius coin is indeed the last semis, @SimonW.  As for the NGC argument, I don't think it holds water.  At least from early second century it was pretty normal for dupondii and Asses to overlap in their weight ranges; they were distinguished by their metal (copper vs. orichalcum).  Plus it's quite likely that there were semisses from the 2nd century still in circulation (along with tesserae etc. of similar use), given that there were sestertii, dupondii, and Asses still in circulation from the first century.  So the fact that semisses hadn't been minted for a while doesn't really affect the point.

Still hoping for an answer to my second question, @SimonW, about distinguishing semisses from quadrantes.  Might the die diameter/dotted border diameter do the trick, at least within a particular reign?  Or if I'm looking for a 2nd century semis should I just rely on weight and diameter, and get the biggest one I can find?  (If there's a type after the early 2nd century that is known for certain to be a semis, I'd love to hear it.)

Just to post a coin in relation to the above, here's a double sestertius of Postumus that, given the flan, I think was overstruck on an old sestertius, although nothing of the original design remains:

image.jpeg.77a5d73872ffed72848135fba4d29f43.jpeg

I suppose this coin is kind of the opposite of what the thread is supposed to be about! Oops. 😆

Getting a bit closer, here's my Decius dupondius:

image.jpeg.62153786b57319168df065a845c27a4f.jpeg

I don't have its weight recorded, but I have it at home right now so will check later and add it in here.  My nearest As is this Philip, which weighs 11.14g (the added lead helped, I guess!):

image.jpeg.24d60c6239ae26dc81f0fe66a60a2d0d.jpeg

 

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Severus Alexander said:

Still hoping for an answer to my second question, @SimonW, about distinguishing semisses from quadrantes.  Might the die diameter/dotted border diameter do the trick, at least within a particular reign?  Or if I'm looking for a 2nd century semis should I just rely on weight and diameter, and get the biggest one I can find?  (If there's a type after the early 2nd century that is known for certain to be a semis, I'd love to hear it.)

Sorry, @Severus Alexander, I completely missed that question.

To be honest, I actually can't tell. You can clearly not rely on size and weight. There is a huge variance for both. Standard reference books usually distinguish the two based on their metal (copper/red = Quadrans, brass/yellow = Semis). Since most of my coins have a patina, it's hard to tell. But I have some where you can see the metal. There are some yellowish that are supposed to be Quadrantes and some reddish that are supposed to be Semisses and then there are some that are more of an orange and you can't really tell what metal it's supposed to be. So I don't know how reliable the metal is. 

As a rule of thumb: if it has the emperor's face on it, it's a Semis, otherwise a Quadrans. For my records, I generally use the denomination given in RIC. For coins issued under Trajan/Hadrian for circulation in Syria, I use Woytek's classification: "AE-19/21" for the smaller denomination (19-21 mm) and "AE-23/25" for the bigger denomination (23-25 mm). Some call them Semis and Dupondius, but I agree with Woytek that those terms rather don't fit.

 

And here are a few of the rather confusing examples (as to metal <-> denomination):

Anonymous, Quadrans (4.31 g), Rome, 81-161 AD.
Obv. Bust of Mars, helmeted, r., cuirassed and draped, seen from behind. Rev. S – C, cuirass. RIC 19 var. (bust draped and seen from behind).

152_IgeYNkFdwT_th.jpg.64c952095767bc0edf86cc0f610008e5.jpg

 

Hadrianus, Semis (3.42 g), Rome, 124-127 AD.
Obv. HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS, bust of Hadrianus, laureate, r., draped, cuirassed, seen from behind. Rev. COS III / S C (ex.), legionary eagle between two standards. RIC 888b var. (bust draped, cuirassed, seen from behind).

271_Arwnxkzx9S_th.jpg.7020727391287cae6d7af72063f528e5.jpg

 

Titus (as Caesar under Vespasianus), Quadrans (16-17 mm, 3.02 g), Syria/Rome, 74 AD.
Obv. T CAES IMP, head of Titus, laureate, r. Rev. PON TR POT, winged caduceus. RIC 1575 (R2). RPC II 1998.

958_GL9xF8gNP8_th.jpg.0ddcfa1a68becd1f5209096db324ee47.jpg

Edited by SimonW
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The semis was issued infrequently and it ceased to be after the reign of Hadrian 117-138 AD. As such, these three coins are some of the last semisses minted.

Hadrian P M TR P COS III eagle-thunderbolt semis.jpg
Hadrian, AD 117-138.
Roman orichalcum semis, 4.06 g, 18.1 mm, 7 h.
Rome, AD 121-23.
Obv: IMP CAESAR TRAIAN HADRIANVS AVG, eagle standing half right, head turned left, wings open but not spread.
Rev: P M TR P COS III S C, thunderbolt.
Refs: RIC 625; RIC 2.3, 624; BMC 1279; Cohen 1167; Strack 579; RCV 3704.

Hadrian COS III Roma semis.jpg
Hadrian, AD 117-138.
Roman orichalcum semis, 8.49 g, 23.3 mm, 6 h.
Rome, AD 125-128.
Obv: HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS, laureate and draped bust, right.
Rev: COS III, Roma seated left on cuirass, holding Victory and spear.
Refs: RIC 2.3 760; RIC 685; BMCRE 1356-57; Cohen 347; Strack 626; RCV 3700.

Hadrian COS III lyre semis.jpg
Hadrian, AD 117-138.
Roman orichalcum semis, 4.12 g, 18.3 mm, 6 h.
Rome, AD 124-25, possibly for use in Syria.
Obv: HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS: Bust of Hadrian, laureate, draped and cuirassed, right.
Rev: COS III S C, lyre.
Refs: RIC 688; RIC 2.3, 758; BMC 1359-61; Cohen 443; Strack 625; RCV 3701; McAlee 547a.

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On 8/7/2022 at 12:38 AM, SimonW said:

Sorry, @Severus Alexander, I completely missed that question.

To be honest, I actually can't tell. You can clearly not rely on size and weight. There is a huge variance for both. Standard reference books usually distinguish the two based on their metal (copper/red = Quadrans, brass/yellow = Semis). Since most of my coins have a patina, it's hard to tell. But I have some where you can see the metal. There are some yellowish that are supposed to be Quadrantes and some reddish that are supposed to be Semisses and then there are some that are more of an orange and you can't really tell what metal it's supposed to be. So I don't know how reliable the metal is. 

As a rule of thumb: if it has the emperor's face on it, it's a Semis, otherwise a Quadrans. For my records, I generally use the denomination given in RIC. For coins issued under Trajan/Hadrian for circulation in Syria, I use Woytek's classification: "AE-19/21" for the smaller denomination (19-21 mm) and "AE-23/25" for the bigger denomination (23-25 mm). Some call them Semis and Dupondius, but I agree with Woytek that those terms rather don't fit.

 

And here are a few of the rather confusing examples (as to metal <-> denomination):

Anonymous, Quadrans (4.31 g), Rome, 81-161 AD.
Obv. Bust of Mars, helmeted, r., cuirassed and draped, seen from behind. Rev. S – C, cuirass. RIC 19 var. (bust draped and seen from behind).

152_IgeYNkFdwT_th.jpg.64c952095767bc0edf86cc0f610008e5.jpg

 

Hadrianus, Semis (3.42 g), Rome, 124-127 AD.
Obv. HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS, bust of Hadrianus, laureate, r., draped, cuirassed, seen from behind. Rev. COS III / S C (ex.), legionary eagle between two standards. RIC 888b var. (bust draped, cuirassed, seen from behind).

271_Arwnxkzx9S_th.jpg.7020727391287cae6d7af72063f528e5.jpg

 

Titus (as Caesar under Vespasianus), Quadrans (16-17 mm, 3.02 g), Syria/Rome, 74 AD.
Obv. T CAES IMP, head of Titus, laureate, r. Rev. PON TR POT, winged caduceus. RIC 1575 (R2). RPC II 1998.

958_GL9xF8gNP8_th.jpg.0ddcfa1a68becd1f5209096db324ee47.jpg

I tried looking into this issue a bit more, and it seems your suspicion, @SimonW, that the metal isn't a good guide is warranted.  This is a useful paper: Giles F. Carter (1988) "Zinc content for Neronian Semisses and Quadrantes and the relative value of zinc and copper in the coins of Nero," ANSMN 33, pp. 91-106.  At least for Nero, both semisses and quadrantes were produced in both copper versions and orichalcum versions, sometimes even for the same catalogue number. Since orichalcum was regarded as more valuable, these versions typically weigh less, but there's quite a bit of variation.  (More data on this in a C.E. King paper on fractions recovered from the Tiber.)  To add to the confusion, orichalcum coins typically undergo a process of de-zincification over time, where the zinc is replaced by copper. I assume this might make a coin whose surface looked yellowish initially look a lot more coppery now.

That said, not all is lost when it comes to figuring out whether we're dealing with a quadrans or a semis.  First, it seems that the RIC catalogue numbers are a pretty good guide, as you say; at least the above authors generally rely on this (and the BMC catalogue) and don't make any comments about contradictory data they've found.  Second, if you do know the metal, it seems weight can help.  Here's a chart from the Carter paper on the coins of Nero:

image.jpeg.c1a8bdc6b86069ad70efb352840a50d3.jpeg

Carter calculates that one gram of zinc was worth about 6 grams of copper.  Given a standard 27% zinc in the finest orichalcum the Romans could produce, this corresponds to 1 gram of fine orichalcum being worth about 2.35g of copper.  Of course we're dealing with coins having a token value, so these correspondences won't be reflected perfectly, but they would be reflected somewhat due to their contribution to the cost of manufacture of the coins.

Assuming roughly those numbers, and the target zinc content that seems to apply to the various denominations, a copper quadrans under Nero should weigh about 2.9g and a copper semis 5.8g. Meanwhile an orichalcum quadrans ought to weigh about 2.05g and a semis 4.1g.  The actual average weights he finds for the coins he analyzed are a bit higher for the copper, and about right for the orichalcum quadrans and a bit lower for the orichalcum semis.

There seems to be a general agreement that the orichalcum coins under Nero (the Asses as well) came after the reform of 64.  King asserts (p. 66) that orichalcum quadrantes seem to have been abandoned after Nero, but doesn't mention the semisses.  This makes me wonder if your rather heavy yellow Mars/cuirass piece might actually be a semis, if the production of orichalcum semisses did indeed continue. (The coins meant for Syria might be an entirely different kettle of fish, of course, so I wouldn't hazard a guess about your Titus as Caesar.)

Earlier quadrantes tend to be around 15-16mm in King's Tiber river dataset (they are fairly corroded from the river) but the norm drops to 13 or 14mm with Nero's reform.  The semisses do tend to be bigger at 16mm+, but King's dataset is pretty limited.

As for weights, here are King's graphs of the distributions for Tiber corroded quadrantes of the earlier emperors compared to the later anonymous types.  The average weight dropped just a little, from about 2.3g to 2.15g.  Given the corrosion, this is consistent with a 3+g weight dropping to something under 3g.

image.jpeg.927b15c9e02585d7fa278da620afea18.jpeg

Overall, while the situation is complicated, it seems weight, diameter, yellowish metal (though not coppery metal due to de-zincification of semisses), and catalogue number can all help distinguish between semisses and quadrantes.  I'm inclined to think the Hadrian fractions with standards and with eagle are all semisses rather than quadrantes, due to module, weight, and their occasional yellowish metal. That's just from casually scanning through acsearch, though, so don't take it too seriously.  It would be interesting to compile a dataset... is there any way of getting that more easily through the acsearch back end, @SimonW?

Note: @Roman Collector, I don't think that 8.64g Hadrian with Roma seated can possibly be a semis... it must be an As.  Is there a catalogue number for a Hadrian As of that type?

 

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Posted (edited)

Thank you very much for sharing the Giles F. Carter and C.E. King papers, @Severus Alexander. I wasn't aware of them. Would you be able to email them to me? I don't have a JSTOR account.

If there were both copper and orichalcum versions of certain Quadrantes/Semisses types, how did the average roman citizen distinguish them? There must be a certain criteria that's easy to spot.

51 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

It would be interesting to compile a dataset... is there any way of getting that more easily through the acsearch back end, @SimonW?

I could certainly provide a list with descriptions and images. Unfortunately, descriptions are unstructured data and you would have to use some algorithm to extract weights and diameters.

51 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

Note: @Roman Collector, I don't think that 8.64g Hadrian with Roma seated can possibly be a semis... it must be an As.  Is there a catalogue number for a Hadrian As of that type?

I believe this is RIC 759, RPC III 3761. It's another one produced for circulation in Syria. I would simply adopt Woytek's denomination classification for Hadrian as well. In this case AE-23/25.

Here's its small brother 🙂 

Hadrianus, AE-19/21 (19 mm, 3.57 g), Rome (for circulation in Syria), 124-127 AD.
Obv. HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS, bust of Hadrianus, laureate, r., draped, cuirassed, seen from behind. Rev. COS III / S C (ex.), Roma seated l. on cuirass, holding Victory in right hand and spear in left; shield at her side. RIC 760 (C). RPC III 3765.

 

826_ai2PEPy6Uc_th.jpg.beb0bd64837eb74ec027c6407225391a.jpg

Edited by SimonW
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