Coin Typology of

Serdika *

Topography and History

Based on archaeological evidence, the location of Serdica can be pinpointed to the area around modern-day Sofia. 1  The city was, as the numismatic findings suggest, 2  near the Oiskos River and lay on the important Roman military road, the Via Diagonalis, 3  which connected the cities of Rome and Byzantium. 4  It has still not been clarified whether or not the city’s origin was a Thracian or celtic foundation, 5  or if it developed from a Roman fort. 6  What is considered certain, however, is the military confrontation between the Roman legions of Crassus and Serbian tribes in 28 BC, in which the Romans were victorious. 7  After Crassus' victory, a Roman-allied Odrysian tribe settled upon the conquered territory. 8  During the conquest of Dacia under Trajan, the tribe of the Bessi, among others, is attested epigraphically in the region of the later Serdica. 9 

As indicated by its epithet, Ulpia, 10  Serdica was raised to the status of a colonia under Trajan, 11  whereby the community received the legal status of an autonomous Roman city. 12  In the later imperial period, Serdica and other towns in the Thracian interior benefited from the Roman rule and experienced a great economic boom, 13  which was not least due to the city’s strategic position for Roman warfare. 14  In the 2nd century AD, the city was surrounded by a defensive wall. 15  Later, in AD 214/215, Caracalla is known to have stayed in Serdica during his travels through Thrace. 16  Serdica reached its next apogee during late antiquity under Constantine and his successors. 17 

  1. Ruzicka 1915, 3; Danov 1979b, 267.
  2. Oberhummer 1923, col. 1669; Ruzicka 1915, 3.
  3. Danov 1979b, 267.
  4. Ruzicka 1915, 4.
  5. See Danov 1979b, 267.
  6. Oberhummer 1923, col. 1670.; Ruzicka 1915, 3; Varbanov (Vol. III) 2007, 217.
  7. Danov 1979a, 123–127; Danov 1979b, 268.
  8. Ruzicka 1915, 4.
  9. CIL X 1754. See also: Ruzicka 1915, 4.
  10. On the specific meaning of the epithet Ulpia in Thrace, see: Danov 1979a, 175.
  11. Oberhummer 1923, col. 1670; Ruzicka 1915, 4.
  12. Ruzicka 1915, 4; Varbanov (Vol. III) 2007, 217.
  13. Danov 1979b, 271f.; Oberhummer 1923, col. 1670.
  14. Ruzicka 1915, 4.
  15. Danov 1979a, 175.
  16. Oberhummer 1923, col. 1670; Ruzicka 1915, 5.
  17. Oberhummer 1923, Sp. 1670; Varbanov (Vol. III) 2007, 217.

State of Research

The first type compilations have already been presented by L. Ruzicka  1  and N. Mouchmov  2 . Important additions are provided by the extensive catalogue of N. Hristova  3  Building on this, we have set the goal for ourselves to include in our type catalogue the other verified coin types mentioned by I. Varbanov, the coin types published within the framework of the Roman Provincial Coinage Project, and especially coins from the commercial trade, in order to ensure that the coin types of Serdica are recorded in our database as completely as possible.

  1. Ruzicka 1915.
  2. Mouchmov 1926.
  3. Hristova 2007.

Minting System and Typology

The first bronze coins in Serdica were minted during the rule of Marcus Aurelius, who had apparently established a mint in the city. 1  Since there are coin types with a portrait of his brother, Lucius Verus, on the obverse as well as types featuring the two emperors together on the reverse, it can be stated that the terminus ante quem for the coinage of Serdica is AD 169, the year of Lucius Verus’ death. 2  A variety of coins were also minted under Caracalla, 3  but there was a gap in the city’s coinage for almost 40 years after his death. 4  Minting activity resumed briefly under Gallienus. Coins in Serdica were issued in three nominal levels, which in our type catalogue—deviating from the nominal structure proposed by L. Ruzicka—are alternatively designated as two-, four-, and five-unit coins. Different governor names are inscribed on the five-unit coins of Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, and Septimius Severus. A single medallion minted for Faustina II must also be added.

  1. Ruzicka 1915, 4; Oberhummel 1923, Sp.1670; Danov 1979b, 272.
  2. Ruzicka 1915, 4.
  3. Danov 1979b, 273; Oberhummer 1923, col. 1670; Ruzicka 1915, 5.
  4. A coin sometimes assigned to Elagabalus can be clearly assigned to Caracalla. See: Varbanov (Vol. III) 2007, 275; Mouchmov 1926, 130f., Nr. 500.

The Coinage of the Late Classical and Hellenistics Periods

Relatively few coin types were minted under Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, with two- and three-unit coins predominating and four-unit coins being the exception. It is striking that a preference for Egyptian deities stands out with regard to the motifs on the reverse. 1  However, this finding could also be due to contingency and is not really representative given the small number of different types. Of particular note is an impressive medallion featuring Faustina on the front and Nike in a biga on the back; 2  it is the only known medallion from Serdica.

Both two- and four-unit coins were minted under Septimius Severus. A predilection for different eagle representations is apparent, whereby an eagle gazing in various directions is depicted standing with a wreath in its beak on either a globe, 3  on lightning, 4  between two standards, 5  or on the ground. 6  In addition, the percentage of types with imperial representations on the reverse is relatively high. . 7 

As mentioned previously, the majority of coins in Serdica were minted during the reign of Caracalla, which is reflected in the large repertoire of different motifs featured on the reverse. Two coin types which show both Caracalla and Geta on the reverse should be noted: in one, they are facing each other and hold a prize crown together 8 ; in the other, they stand to the left and right of a tropaeum and set their feet upon the backs of bound prisoners. 9  Three-unit coins were exceedingly rare, as there are only two different types known with relatively few individual copies. On the surviving two-unit coins, different representations of Eros 10  as well as various animals 11  appear as reverse motifs.

As far as the coin types of Geta are concerned, there are two categories. On the one hand, some coins were issued for Geta as Caesar. These types, dated to between AD 197 and 205, are featured on two-unit coins whose reverses mainly depict personifications and animal motifs, and also occasionally deities. On the other hand, after Geta’s designation as Augustus in AD 209, Serdica minted various five-unit coins whose reverses featured primarily classical representations of gods, personifications, or the emperor. On these, a preference for the healing gods Asclepius and Hygieia is apparent.  12 

After the aforementioned 40-year minting gap, some five-unit coins of Gallienus are present. 13  As is typical for the coinage of the so-called soldier emperors, the obverse legends are kept relatively sparse. In the emperor portraits on this coinage, it is striking that Gallienus is depicted disproportionally and with the radiate crown. Most of the reverse motifs are chosen from the common repertoire of gods, but particularly noteworthy is the large number of types with different representations of Tyche. 14  The rendering of a genius who holds a statuette of Tyche in his right hand is particularly striking. 15  The representation of Selene is also remarkable, 16  especially since it is not common on other Thracian coins.

The Coinage of the Roman Imperial Period

The variety of Apollo representations with emphasis on different jurisdictions of this god suggests that he may have been a local main deity. 1  Also noteworthy are the various depictions of Eros, as he appears not only as a death genius with a torch, as in other mints, 2  but also riding either a dolphin 3  or lion. 4  He also appears as a thorn-puller, 5  as a companion to a lion-riding Heracles 6  or to Apollo with the epithet Iatros, 7  playing with another Eros, 8  or socializing with Psyche. 9  Furthermore, the appearance of the Egyptian gods Isis, 10 . As a portrait bust with a lotus blossom or crenellated crown: [CN_Type564]; [CN_Type659]; [CN_Type818].} Serapis 11  and Harpocrates 12  in the coinage of Serdica is quite remarkable. The fact that Serapis and Isis each appear on coins as a bust image suggests that there was public worship for these deities. 13 

Our type catalogue represents the state of research from August 2019 and does not take into consideration any coin types that have become known later. Further information, especially about new types, is always welcome.

  1. Ruzicka 1915, 6f.; Danov 1979b, 280.
  2. CN_Type637; CN_Type681; CN_Type767.
  3. CN_Type745.
  4. CN_Type746.
  5. CN_Type487.
  6. CN_Type621 For this coin type, both L. Ruzicka and N. Mouchmov interpret the small figure behind Heracles as Nike. Ruzicka 1915, 47, Nr. 275; Mouchmov 1926, 117, Nr. 406. However, Varbanov interprets this figure as Eros instead. Varbanov (Vol. III) 2007, 256, Nr. 2356–2357.
  7. CN_Type526. As a statue group in a tetrastyle temple: CN_Type8713. For this coin type, L. Ruzicka interprets the small figure next to Apollo Iatros as the youthful Asclepius. Ruzicka 1915, 34, Nr. 170; (in the tetrastyle temple) p.60 Nr. 368. The interpretations of Varbanov and Mouchmov, who see an Eros here instead, seem more plausible. Varbanov (Vol. III) 2007, 239, Nr. 2143; (in the tetrastyle temple) p. 262 Nr. 2455–2456; Mouchmov 1926, 72, Nr. 117; 119; (in the tetrastyle temple) p. 120, Nr. 429.
  8. CN_Type638.
  9. CN_Type626; CN_Type11511.
  10. With sistrum and situla: CN_Type488; CN_Type498
  11. As portrait bust: CN_Type502; CN_Type667; CN_Type740; CN_Type817. As Hades-Serapis with Cerberus: CN_Type505; CN_Type723; CN_Type796; CN_Type11551; CN_Type11583. Standing with a sceptre and raised right arm: CN_Type514; CN_Type870; CN_Type630; CN_Type686; CN_Type11574
  12. CN_Type566; CN_Type657.
  13. Ruzicka 1915, 6; 8.


  • Danov 1979a = Ch. Danov, Die Thraker auf dem Ostbalkan von der hellenistischen Zeit bis zur Gründung Konstantinopels, in: ANRW 7.1 (Berlin/New York 1979) S.21–185.
  • Danov 1979b = Ch. Danov, Philippopolis, Serdika, Odessos. Zur Geschichte und Kultur der bedeutendsten Städte Thrakiens von Alexander d. Gr. bis Justinian, ANRW 7.1, (Berlin/New York 1979) 241–300.
  • Hristova 2007 = N. Hristova, Monetosečeneto na Trakija I-III v. : Serdika = The coins of Thrace I-III c. A.C.: Serdica (Blagoevgrad 2007).
  • Mouchmov 1926 = N. Mouchmov, Les Monnaies et les Ateliers Monétaires de Serdika (Sofia 1926).
  • Oberhummer 1923 = E. Oberhummer, Serdika, in: RE II A,2, 1923, 1669–1671.
  • Ruzicka 1915 = L. Ruzicka, Die Münzen von Serdika, in: NumZ 8, 1915, 1–82.
  • Varbanov (Vol. III) 2007 = I. Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins. And their Values, Vol. 3: Thrace. From Perinthus to Trajanopolis (Bourgas 2007).