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Legionary denarii - Cleopatra's silver ?

Hannes M. writes:
I have read that the legionary denarii issued by Marcus Antonius were probably struck on silver out of Cleopatra's treasure. Does anyone know something about this ? Any evidences that this is true ?

Robert K. writes:
I am not sure about evidence, but where else would he have gotten it. Octavian was in control of most of the traditional Roman Silver mining areas.

Dave G. writes:
I have no hard evidence that this is so, but it makes sense. In fact, it's hard to imagine that it was not true, under the circumstances. I don't know how much of a personal fortune Antony had amassed, but Cleopatra clearly had incentive to support him as best she could. Antony was headquartered in Egypt at the time, having gotten cozy with Cleopatra after the assassination of Julius Caesar. After the falling out between Octavian and Antony, the coins were minted to pay Antony's troops fighting against Octavian

(destined to become the first Roman emperor, Augustus).
Octavian had used Antony's relationship with Cleopatra for its propaganda value to fan resentment against Antony and to garner support for an attack on Egypt; officially, Octavian's target was Cleopatra and Egypt. Therefore, Cleopatra would certainly have had a stake in supporting Antony with all available resources, since he was defending her against Octavian. If you're interested, everything I know about it (not much) is at:


Sestert writes:
i dont know if this has any meaning,but my legionary den has a different colour than the rest of my republican silver. Maybe if we gather more descriptions of the meatl used in them.... Maybe im telling bull,but im tired :)

Hannes M. writes:
I don't think that the color is obviously different, but I thought of a non-destructive metal analysis of a
* typical republican/imperatorial denarii of that time
* a legionary denarii
* egyptian silver coin of that time
and compare the results. But I have no egyptian silver coin of that time, nor the possibility of such a metal analysis (but I will ask at the Uni). On the other hand I think that someone already performed such a test. I will do more research on this topic.

Dave G. writes:
The Marc Antony legionary denarii are known for being of much lower- grade silver than the comparable official Roman denarii of the day. Presumably, this is because Antony and Cleo were doing their best to stretch the resources in the face of a possible lengthy war with Octavian's forces, so they put in as much filler as they thought they could get away with.
I'm not an expert, but I heard they were minted in traveling mints that moved with the armies. It would seem impractical to haul so much bulk silver along with the army, but I guess it might be even more difficult to haul an equivalent number of

already-minted coins.

The bulk silver would be more compact. And the consequences of not paying one's troops regularly under those circumstances would probably have been instant disaster, so I'd guess that "I'll pay you when we get home" was not a viable answer. Anyone out there with real information? I've got lots of guesses, but few actual facts. For instance, it occurred to me that the low- grade metal might result from their simply not taking as much care while refining the metal, but this is pure speculation fueled by ignorance. It seems more likely that they deliberately diluted the silver with base metal to make it go farther.

Arthur A. writes:
If more idle speculation would be permitted, the traveling mint with bulk silver carried along would make sense, since the army would have to produce the coins as they were given to the soldiers, rather than just having a wagon full of money carried along, which could get awfully tempting if things tooks a turn for the worse. Essentially, the army would be in charge of putting that silver into the most valuable and spendable form, therefore giving the soliders less incentive to try to grab it before payday.

Hannes M. writes:
Today I had a look into
Sear's History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators, 49-27 BC
and he says that the legionary denarii were probably minted at the headquarters of M. Antonius in PATRAE (near the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth) ...

Marvin T. writes:
After the battle of Phillipi in 42 BC, the Second Triumvirate of Octavian, Antony and Lepidus was established and Antony received all the eastern empire (provinces) as his portion. Plutarch then tells us that Antony commandeered all the treasure of Asia Minor to pay his troops and to support his lavish lifestyle. (Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Antony, 9). Plutarch also tells how Antony seized all the possesions of many wealth citizens. He also despoiled the treasuries of the temples, the banks of their times, and exacted double tribute from cities such as Ephesus (Antony 24).

Antony's coinage has proven to be debased, as most emergency, war-time money was, with a variety of impurities, even iron so it looks like everything made of precious metal was put into the melting pots of the mints that travelled with the army.
This would included silver dishes, spoons, statues, jewelry, along with the coins of the conquered in Greece, Armenia, Parthia, Syria etc.
All these things were made up of different alloys of silver and so the coins were struck with a variety of impurities. They did not have the equipment nor the time to refine the metal.

Cleopatra was too clever to give Antony all her silver and she probably 'hedged her bets' by keeping a large part of her treasure intact in case Antony was defeated. It is recorded that she tried to bribe Romans to get her 18 year old son by Julius Caesar out of Egypt and she filled ships for him with treasure to take to India. After Cleopatra died, one of her friends gave Octavian 2,000 talents of silver to leave her statues standing. (Plutarch, Antony, 86). This money could only have come from the Queen herself.

CICF Roundtable Discussion
Interpreting and Collecting the Legionary Denarii of Marc Antony

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