Coin Glossaries

Ancient Coin Glossary

Find definitions for commonly used words referring to ancient coin designs, elements and inscriptions – including abbreviations found on ancient coins.

Augustus – "Honor majestic" A word related to the priestly arts. The Senate granted this title to Octavian, who then adopted it. It placed him above the rest of the state as protector of Rome. Used by emperors that followed him. Shown as AVG on coins.

Barbarian – At the height of the Roman Empire, Romans looked at everyone outside their domain as strange and uncivilized foreigners.

Caesar – Heir to the throne, junior emperor. First used by Octavian to advertise his connection with Julius Caesar, and then used by later rulers. Shown as C or CAES on coins.

Centurion – Soldier in charge of a century of men (80 men), smallest unit in the Roman army.

Citizen – Any male 15 or older who was a free man within the Roman republic. Citizenship gave voting, religious and social rights along with required military service.

Consul – An annually elected office – the highest and most coveted – in the Senate. It was sometimes held by the emperor himself. While there was no political power attached to the position, it commanded respect. Shown as cos on coins, followed by numbers indicating times office held.

Emperor – "A man who rules an empire." Comes from the Latin word imperator.

Germanicus – A title honoring military successes in Germany. Shown on coins as GERM.

Gloria Exercitus – "Glory to the Army," first used by Constantine the Great.

Imperator – Commander, leader. Title of honor awarded to a victorious general. Later, granted to emperors for military victories. Shown as IMP on coins.

Legion – A Legion was made up of 10 cohorts (480 men to a cohort) or 4,800 men.

Magnus – "The great"

Optimate – Conservative faction in the Senate.

Optimus Maximus – "The greatest and the best"

Praetor – A leader; literally means "goes before" or "leads."

Praetorian Guard – Usually the emperor’s personal bodyguards.

Praetorian Prefect – Commander of the Imperial Guard, usually the best legal mind in the government and responsible for the emperor’s safety.

Prefect (Praefectus) – Overseer, civil or military officer. Title given to a person of standing in the Roman world.

Princeps – First citizen, leader or best leader.

Province – Areas outside Italy ruled by Rome; Britain, Gaul, Spain and Egypt were just a few of the many provinces in the empire.

Senate – A council of senior men selected from civil offices who directed the Roman state.

Tribunicia Potestas – Tribune of the people. Gave emperors veto power and right to convene the Senate. Shown on coins as TRP, usually followed by numbers. Indicated renewal.

Usurp – To seize control by force or illegal means, as of the Roman Empire or a portion of, such as Gaul.

Vota – Vows taken by the emperor upon taking office.