Bronze coin of the city of Alexandria, reign of emperor Hadrian

Roman, AD 134/5
From Alexandria, Egypt

The closed currency system in Egypt under the Romans

The Ptolemaic kings had consciously sought to turn Egypt into a closed currency area. They created their own idiosyncratic weight-standard and insisted on the conversion of all currency at the border, thus ensuring that only locally produced coinage could circulate - this was in contrast to other areas of the ancient world. When the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty came in 30 BC (with the death of Cleopatra VII) the Romans, in line with their policy elsewhere, interfered as little as possible with the status quo. This policy extended to coinage.

Although the Roman administration did not seek to imitate the earlier coin designs of the Ptolemies, they did maintain the closed currency system within the new province of Egypt. Initially a silver coinage was produced, though this gradually became debased into billon until by AD 200 it contained only about 7% silver. Alongside these silver issues a bronze coinage was also produced in three and later four denominations. As with other provincial coinages, the basic design consisted of the emperor's portrait on the obverse (front) and a local design on the reverse. On this example the portrait of the emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38) is shown on the obverse. On the reverse are the busts of the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis between a figure of the god Harpokrates, all above an eagle. Below the gods the date appears in the form of the regnal year of Hadrian: year 18 (equivalent to AD 134/5).

Find in the collection online

More information


K. Butcher, Roman provincial coins: an int (London, Seaby, 1988)

T. Cornell and J. Matthews, Atlas of the Roman world (Phaidon, 1987)

A. K. Bowman, Egypt after the Pharaohs 332 B (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)

A.M. Burnett, Coinage in the Roman world (London, Seaby, 1987)


Weight: 21.650 g
Diameter: 31.000 mm

Museum number

CM BMC Alexandria 749



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore