Ancient Imitative Coinage


Kolchian Alexander III imitative gold stater (4.2g). Kolchis/Colchis, c. 200-150 BC, Mitchiner 1518, Dundua 9212, Kapanadze 1969 10-13, Kapanadze 1967 5, Lang Table 1 No's 5-6. Wildly abstracted Athena and Nike, with reverse legend having degenerated into dots. Surfaces of coin are recessed deeply inside wildly protruding rims.




Typically coin collectors look down at coin imitations. They're not the real thing -- they're inauthentic, ersatz, artificial, bogus, false, fake.

But there's a wide range of imitations of ancient coins, from modern tourist fakes and marked replicas to fourrees (ancient plated counterfeits) and contemporary (ancient) imitations and adaptations. They're all variations on a theme, and collecting and studying them can deepen your appreciation of original ancient coins and help you differentiate them from the copies. They can also be fascinating in themselves.

The most respected of the copies are the ancient derivations. They're not counterfeits or forgeries, but they are copies. Because of the widespread use and common acceptance of some ancient coins as good money, they were copied in other regions and circulated there as legal tender. From one perspective, ancient imitative coins are just crude knockoffs. But from another perspective, imitative coinage represents in a tangible and enduring form the intersection of different cultures, the borrowing of something from one culture by another culture and the alteration, and occasional improvement, of it. This is one of the agents of progress.

The most widely copied ancient coinage includes Athenian Owl tetradrachms; Philip II staters, tetradrachms, and drachms (prototypes of much Celtic coinage); Alexander the Great/Philip III tetradrachms and drachms; Thasos tetradrachms; Roman Republican denarii, Claudius asses; Roman Imperial denarii of various emperors (prototypes of limes denarii); Claudius Gothicus and similar antoniniani (prototypes of barbarous radiates); and Constantinian bronzes. Those doing the copying circled the classical world of the ancient Greeks and Romans and included, undoubtedly among others, the Celts, Franks, Goths, Vandals, Dacians, Thracians, Skythians, Anatolians, Kolchians, Huns, Persians, Baktrians, Arachosians, Indians, Ceylonese, Arabians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Samarians, Judeans, Philistines, and Egyptians. With some Roman-era coins, the distinction between ancient imitations and ancient counterfeits isn't always clear.

Sometimes imitative coins were a region's first coinage, though not all regions initiated coins this way and not all imitative coins were any given region's first coins. The practice of making coins that closely imitated other coins continued until well into the 20th century in many places throughout the world. Among modern imitatives are Tibetan rupees based on Indian rupees, Guatemalan 1- and 5-peso coins based on U.S. Lincoln cents, and U.S. Morgan dollars based on French coins of the Second and Third Republic.

In a broad sense, most coins, including those today, are derivative of earlier ones. The common practice of using a person's head on the obverse (heads) and an animal (with a tail) or other symbol on the reverse (tails), for instance, derived from the coins minted by the ancient Greeks. But the term imitative coinage, as I'm using it and as others commonly use it, has a far narrower definition, meaning coins that closely copy contemporary or recent coins minted by others.

Ancient imitative coins are often called "barbarous imitations," which creates negative connotations. "Barbarous," as the word is typically used today, means lacking in refinement, coarse, and even savage, despite the fact that one of its definitions is simply primitive and that the word "barbaric" is probably better suited to conveying these negative elements. "Barbarous" used in connection with coinage suggests coarse, even cloddish, styling. And "imitation" isn't quite right either because these coins aren't slavish copies and because the best of them are interpretative, not imitative. These coins should more correctly be referred to as adaptations, not imitations.

There's no ideal term for these coins. Perhaps what would work best is "imitative" with a descriptive preceding it, such as Egyptian imitative, Baktrian imitative, Thracian imitative, and so on when you know who minted them and tribal imitative or Eastern imitative when you don't.









Athenian Owl imitatives

Alexander the Great imitatives

Lysimachos Lion imitatives

Parion Medusa imitatives

Thasos tetradrachm imitatives

Constantine the Great imitatives

Miscellaneous ancient imitatives








Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.