ACE Lesson Plan

Part One: Setting the Stage for Studying Ancient Coins


ACE CD: “Wages and Food Costs in Ancient Rome” and “Roman Weights & Measures” handouts

ACE Website: Bookmarks and Links


By the end of the lesson segment the students should have some idea of the cost of living in ancient Rome. Students should have considered what life would have been like for them in ancient times and may develop a curiosity about the future lesson segments and ancient history in general from putting ancient life into terms with which they are familiar.

1. Ask students what profession they might have chosen as ancient Romans. A senator? A legionnaire? A blacksmith? Have prepared materials on various Roman occupations, salaries, etc. at your disposal.

2. Ask students their thoughts about the earliest forms of money. Point out that the Latin word for money, pecunia, comes from the word pecus, meaning “herd”, “flock”, “cattle,” “beast.” You may want to discuss briefly the development of coinage, introducing the ideas of intrinsic and token value.

3. Ask students to estimate how much of their or their parents’ income is devoted to buying food. The average is not more than 20% in the United States. Using the provided wages and food costs tables, have students determine how much of their income would be devoted to food, based on the profession they chose. If a profession is not listed in the materials, the wage can be extrapolated from other similar professions.

4. Have students compare the foods they eat today with the staples Romans ate: The average adult male in ancient Rome consumed two pounds of bread a day, with meat seldom if ever being on the menu.

5. You may also wish to discuss clothing in ancient Rome. Have the students talk about their favorite clothes today, and about how many such articles of clothing they own now. Then, have them determine how many outfits their chosen profession could have provided after food costs.

6. Close the day’s lesson by discussing how frugality was a necessary part of almost every Roman’s life. The poorest of Romans received grain free, but social programs in ancient Rome were quite limited in scope. Announce that in the next lesson, students will receive a genuine ancient coin.

This part of the lesson could be done as an informal, group discussion designed to get students involved by making them ask, “How did the ancient Romans survive?” It may be appropriate to assign the students an activity, such as a report on “A Day in the Life of My Chosen Ancient Roman Profession” to further whet their appetites for the coins!

Part Two: Distribution and “Metrology” of Your Coins

Metrology is the recording of the size, shape and mass (weight) as well as the metallurgical makeup, if able to be determined, of coins. These measurements are always undertaken by serious numismatists. Information about these parameters may be crucial later on in the identification phase.

Background Reading for the Teacher:

ACE Website: Bookmarks and Links: Ancient Roman Coinage: “Production of Ancient Coins” by Jere M. Wickens  ( ) and “Roman Imperial Denominations” (bronzes from Constantine on) and “Late Roman Empire” from Beast Coins

( )

----Attributed (identified) coin sent as sample by ACE for passing around the room

----The coins provided by ACE packaged in small envelopes or film canisters

----“Coin Data Recording Sheets” – copy one per student (from ACE CD)

Essential tools:

----rulers with mm divisions

----magnifying glasses

----scale accurate to .1 gram

----individual storage container for coins



This lesson segment is intended to introduce students to the techniques used to evaluate ancient coins by having them observe and record specific details about their coins and compare their findings to the findings of others. It also introduces the concepts of intrinsic value coins versus token value coinage.

1. Distribute one coin to each student “sight unseen" (keep the rest as spares in case students' first coins are unable to be attributed). We have found that putting the coins into individual, small manila envelopes (available quite inexpensively at office-supply stores) minimizes jostling for the “biggest” or “most attractive” and allows the teacher to tell the students to wait until instructed to open them. They may also be distributed in the small film cans or other containers. This gives the teacher a moment of the students’ undivided attention to explain that they are authentic coins, perhaps as much as 2000 years old. These are the very coins used by the people who were the soldiers, blacksmiths and senators of ancient Rome. Emphasize that the quality of the individual coins will vary greatly, since they are “as found” – this is genuine archaeological work and each coin is, in fact, a tiny “archaeological site”!

2. Ask the students to study the coins and compare theirs with those of students sitting nearby. Have the students determine whose coin is the largest and whose is the smallest. Measure the largest and smallest coins, and write this on the board. Beginning now and continuing throughout the project, the students should begin recording data in their “Coin Data Sheets”, as the information becomes known. Based on the diameter of the coin, most students will be able to determine a denomination. (Since we do not know the name of very small bronze coins from the late Roman Empire, numismatists have derived a classification system according to diameter, labeling the bronze coins as AE1, AE2, AE3, or AE4. See “Roman Denominations”

3. Discuss how coinage came into existence and the differences between intrinsic value and token value coinage. Based on that discussion, ask the students what category they think their coin fits into. All the coins you have received are bronze or copper. There is an extremely small chance there may be a silver piece found, but not enough to set up any expectations along these lines. Explain that silver and gold were also used. Silver and gold coins are said to be coins of "intrinsic value" in that the precious metal in them has value beyond being representative of the issuing authorities’ power to describe it as “money”. Bronze (all copper alloy coins are referred to as bronze, despite the fact that some are made with alloys closely resembling brass) coins have “token value” in that the metal in them is worth far less than the value assigned to the coin itself. The buying power of token money rests solely in the establishment of mutual acceptance between buyers and sellers that the coin represents value. In other words, token money has no value except that groups of people agree to accept it for goods or services. Some have found that showing the class a US quarter and a similarly sized washer can be a useful object lesson in what distinguishes a coin from another, similarly sized, stamped piece of metal. Ask if anyone wants to trade you a quarter for the washer, etc.

4. By the end of the class, students should have filled in diameter, weight, denomination, and material on data sheets, then stored their coins in their individual containers with names clearly labeled. Tomorrow the attribution begins!

Part Three: Identifying your Coins
(2 sessions probably needed—you may want to hold these in a computer lab!)

Background Reading for the Teacher:

ACE CD:  “Frequently Asked Questions”

"Attributing Your Roman Coin"

"One ACE Teacher's Guide for Teachers"

“Map of Rome’s Imperial Mints”

“Anatomy of a Coin" All Parts (these have wonderful diagrams—you may want to print these out for your


“Ancient Coin Identification Guide” (you may want to print several copies of these for students or have

students view them from the link at the ACE web site)

“Coin Imaging Tips (Scanners, Digital Cameras,”

Also explore the Attribution Project Help section on the ACE website for more tools.

----Teacher should also spend time looking at images on the ACE CD and the online attribution sites linked through the ACE website

---Teacher may also want to read more about the background of Roman coins as summarized on ACE CD, “John Ryan’s Talk on Ancient Coins,”  and “Mark Lehman’s ACE Lecture for NJCL Conference" Also  on the ACE Website, “Bookmarks and Links: Ancient Roman Coinage: Eight Hundred Years of Roman Coinage” by David R. Sear. (


----magnifying glasses

----students’ coins and “Coin Data Recording Sheets”

----Scott Uhrick's “Ancient Coin Identification Guide” (several copies to float around classroom--or access this from the ACE website in a computer lab because the images are better quality)

----ACE Handouts, “Anatomy of a Roman Coin" (several parts)

----ACE Handout “Roman Empire & Mint Map”

----one or more computers to run the ACE CD or to access on-line attribution resources, OR two days in a computer lab


This segment will introduce students to the various features of Roman coins, such as the inscriptions, portraits, reverse devices, mint marks, etc. Using the information they obtain from observing and recording these features, they will try to identify the emperor during whose rule their coin was issued, as well as the era and the city in which it was minted. This is another good session for photographing coins so that students can ask questions of ACE numismatists on the Yahoo discussion group.

1. Using the “Anatomy of a Roman Coin” pages, explain these features to the students. Other sources on the web have been listed at the site for more detailed inscription help.

2. After interpreting and recording the legends, the students should then be able to begin to identify the issuing Emperor, with the help of the “Ancient Coin Identification Guide,” coin images on the CD and website databases.

3. They should also try to identify the mint mark, if one is present, to determine where the coin was minted. If a Greek character is present, it indicates the workshop, for example “E” {Epsilon} SIS as a mintmark would indicate the Fifth workshop of the mint at Siscia (SIS). Greek characters were used for numbers in primarily Greek-speaking areas, P, S, T, Q, etc in Latin speaking areas.

4. If students cannot decipher enough of an inscription on the obverse for attribution, they can often identify the type of reverse of their coin. Illustrations on reverses are quite repetitive and stylized, and depend less on inscriptions for identification. Refer to the “Common Reverses – Anatomy of a Roman Coin III” handout.

We encourage students with questions to post pictures of their coins at the general ACEHelp online discussion group (available through the ACE website). There is a template (ACE CD and website) available for helping students describe their coins to the numismatists. Experienced numismatists and historians will be glad to share hints and tips to help the students pin-down the trickier attributions that may come up.

Part Four: Conclusions and Follow-ups

From here, how you proceed is largely based on your resources, imagination, and the personality of your class, but here are some ideas:

----encourage or require participation in the essay contest

----investigate with students the process of minting coins

----give students follow-up practice with deciphering inscriptions using on-line abbreviation, emperor, and mint lists

----have students (or teacher) prepare power point presentations that summarize or extends the learning in the classroom

----build a web site using the digital images of your students’ coins with their attributions, and link essays entered in the contest

----have students create a bulletin board featuring elements from the coin unit

----invite a coin collector to come talk to your class