Roman Egypt, Emperor Antoninus Pius Tetradrachm

Date: c. 138 - 161 CE
Alexandria, Egypt

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Item Description:

This Egyptian tetradrachm was minted in Alexandria, and issued in the name of the ruling Roman emperor. They are made of a material known as billon, a combination of silver and copper. While the obverse side typically has a portrait of the emperor, the reverse side of these coins vary, depicting over 150 variants of royals, Egyptian deities, and other figures.

Tetradrachms, the most significant coin in Egypt from the Roman conquest in 30 BCE to Diocletian's monetary reform in 301 CE, were silver in name but increasingly debased over time, with the silver content dropping from about 50% in 21 CE to less than 1% in 296 CE. The production of these coins fluctuated over time, with periods of intense minting activity followed by years of minimal output. These coins often formed the bulk of hoards, collections of valuable items typically buried for safekeeping, providing insights into their circulation and the activity of the mint.

Roman Egypt, a subdivision of the Roman Empire, was established after Rome's invasion of the Ptolemaic Egyptian Kingdom in 30 BCE and lasted until its loss to the Islamic conquests in 641 CE. The province was a major producer of grain for the empire and had a highly developed urban economy. The capital, Alexandria, was the largest port and second largest city of the Roman Empire. At the time, Egypt was not a traditional part of the Roman Empire, but rather was considered the emperor's personal possession. Even Roman senators were not allowed to visit the area without the express permission of the emperor, and coins minted within Egypt did not often circulate outside the region.

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