Letter formation in Latin inscriptions

The inscriptions on Roman coins are written in Latin and are normally fairly easy to read. Roman names are normally written in the Latin nominative case:

  • Hadrian becomes HADRIANVS
  • Valentinian becomes VALENTINIANVSĀ 

Sometimes coins are dedicated to an emperor and the names appear in the dative case; hence TRAIANO (meaning to Trajan). Also, in Latin inscriptions J and U are interchangeable with I and V; hence Augustus becomes AVGVSTVS and Julian becomes IVLIANVS.

Bad lettering example
Image: bad lettering.jpg

The only other difficulty in reading Roman coin inscriptions comes when they are badly written. This is often the case on third century radiates and sometimes on fourth century coins. Most obviously confused are As, Hs, Ns, Vs and Cs and Gs. In the example above the letters read N V S A V G. The trick is to be aware of the alternatives - if you think you can read 'HVC' at the end of the inscription, think most inscriptions read 'AVG'.