Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Silver coins go back a long way, because they're a compact, recognizable, and, when minted by a trustworthy government, reliable measure of value. There are examples of silver coins still existing that were already ancient when this one was minted, at Rome 2,149 years ago.
I don't know the details, but I think in late Republican times, before the Roman Empire came along, coins were produced under the sponsorship and at the expense of rich individuals, which is why this one is inscribed with the name Marcus Baebius Quinti filius Tampilus, abbreviated on front and back.
The obverse (head side) is a beautiful head of Mercury, Roman version of the Greek messenger god Hermes, rendered with great economy of line, and the surname Tampil(us). The reverse shows a naked charioteer driving his team of four across a ground line inscribed "Roma," and below the remainder of the patron's name: M(arcus)Baebi(us) Q(uinti) F(ilius),
The denarius was the most common Roman coin, in circulation from 200 BC to late empire times, although the silver content was gradually debased over time. So this is one of the high-grade ones, a 90-percenter: 4.5 grams of silver or 1/72nd of a Roman pound.
We've had 90% silver coins in this country too. The last of these went away at the start of Vietnam, in 1965. The last 90% silver dollar was the Peace Dollar, last struck in 1935.