Deciphering Roman Coin Inscriptions
By Kevin Barry
Titles and Honors in Roman Coinage

Deciphering inscriptions and titles are some of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of ancients collecting. My best advice is patience. It takes awhile for your mind to develop an understanding of what your eyes are trying to tell it. The following is a very simplified technique for understanding coinage titles.

Depending on the condition of the coin, you may have a complete or partial inscription to read. Another bit of advice is to become familiar with the common title or inscription components and study the coins you have to develop your 'eye' .

The image at left is of a bronze coin of emperor Maxentius. I have enhanced and sharpened the title slightly to enable you to more easily view the lettering. Your own coins may be much more difficult to read.

At first glance, all of the title parts seem to run together. Of course it also doesn't help matters that the Romans used 'V' for both 'V' and 'U' on their coins. A similar situation can be found with the letter 'I' and its substitution for both the letters 'I' and 'J'. The inscription seems to read; 'IMPCMAXENTIVSPFAVG'. Doesn't seem like much, does it ?

Try writing the inscription down and take a look at the table of "Titles and Honors in Roman Coinage". By comparing what you wrote down with the list, you may be able to see a pattern emerge.

Now look at the image on the right to see how this title actually breaks down into its components.

The first 3 characters are 'IMP' which is easy enough to find and stands for Imperator. The fourth character 'C' is very often found with 'IMP' and can be seen is the abbreviation for Caesar. The 5th through 13th characters are not listed in the list, so we will put it aside for now and come back to them later. The 14th and 15th characters 'PF' can be found in the list as can the 16th through the 18th which are 'AVG'.

Now it is time to go back to the unknown letters, the 5th through the 13th. We already know the 'MAXENTIVS' does not appear in the titles list. So now what? Now we go take a look at the Roman Names As They Appear On Coins. To do a fast check, click on the 'M' to take you directly to the part of the list with MAXENTIUS.

So now we have the title and the actual name of the emperor. Putting it all together (with the proper spacing), we have;

The full translation of the title reads:
'Imperator Caesar Maxentius Pius Felix Augustus'.

Thats all there is to it. Find one of your own coins, write down the title and try running it through the same steps. With a little practice you will become comfortable with attributing your own coins. You may be surprised at what you may find.

Titles and Honors in Roman Coinage

AVG. Augustus or Augusta (senior ruler, title bestowed on an emperor/empress).
ARM. Armeniacus (conqueror of Armenia).
BRIT. Britanicus (conqueror of Britian.
CAESAR, CAES. or C. Caesar (heir to the throne).
CENS. or CENS. PER. Censor Perpetuus (chief magistrate who determined the size of the senate, appointed for life).
COS. or C. Consul (one of two chief magistrates).
DAC. Dacicus (conqueror or Dacia).
DICT. Dictator (in the Republic, a title conferred during times of emergency).
DIVI, DIVO or DIVA Divine (acclaimed a deity).
D.N. Dominus Noster ('Our Lord').
F. or FIL. or FILI Filius or Filia (son or daughter of the emperor).
GERM. Germanicus (conqueror of Germany).
IMP. Imperator (supreme army commander).
IMP. C. Imperator Caesar.
NOB. Nobilissimus or Nobilissima (noble).
N. C., NOB. C., NOB. CAES. or NOBIL C. Nobilitas Caesar ("Royal Heir").
OPTIMO or OPTIMO PRINCIPI The best ruler or highest prince.
PART. Parthicus (conqueror of Parthia).
PERP. Perpetuatae (forever or for life).
P. F. Pius Felix (dutiful and wise).
P. M., PON. M. or PONT. MAX. Pontifex Maximus (chief priest).
P. P. Pater Patriae (father of the country).
PRINC. IVVENT. Princeps Iuventis (young prince)
TRP, TR P, TR POT, TRIB P, TRIB POT, TRIB POTEST or TRIBUN POTEST, etc Tribunicia Potestate (civil head of state).

Titles in Roman Provincial Coinage

DIVO Theos (Deus)
FELIX Eutyces    EYTY
PIVS Eusebes    EYC
TR P Demarc. Ex.