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February 01, 2015

A coin of Gaius (Caligula)

Oderint, dum metuant: ‘let them hate as long as they fear’, a quote commonly accredited to the reign of the Emperor Gaius or Caligula (AD 37-41). Gaius is frequently seen as a manic Emperor. Some speculate his madness derived from epilepsy in a time that had no treatment for this illness, leaving Gaius in a constant state of panic and paranoia. He is accused of sleeping with other men's wives and bragging about killing for mere amusement, deliberately wasting money on his bridge, causing starvation, and wanting a statue of himself erected in the Temple of Jerusalem for his worship, despite the governor Petronius warning him there would be 'rivers of blood'. Once, at some games at which he was presiding, he ordered his guards to throw an entire section of the crowd into the arena during intermission to be eaten by animals because there were no criminals to be prosecuted and he was bored. The later sources of Suetonius and Cassius Dio provide additional tales of insanity. They accuse Caligula of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, and say he prostituted them to other men. They state he sent troops on illogical military exercises, turned the palace into a brothel, and, most famously, planned or promised to make his horse, Incitatus, a consul and actually appointed him a priest.

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Sestertius of the emperor Caligula (RIC 1 36).

It seems hard to believe that one of the finest Julio-Claudian coins, with its exquisite detail, is from the reign of Caligula. The coin, shown above, suggests clever propagandizing. The reverse of this bronze sestertius, which was minted in Rome, depicts Caligula standing togate, whilst the attendants provide an insight into the attire of the early empire with one carrying an axe in his belt. The figure in the centre of the pediment of the temple wielding a spear and patera is likely Divus Augustus. On the left edge of pediment is either Mars or Romulus. On the right corner of the pediment is Aeneas, Ascanius and Anchises, a commonly reoccurring scene in art and architecture. This group communicated legitimacy through descent from Aeneas, fitting since Gaius’ rule was incredibly tenuous. The DIVO AVG clearly refers to the temple of Augustus. Interestingly the plan to build the temple of the deified Augustus was initiated by Tiberius in AD 20, but it was Caligula who opened and finally dedicated the building. The obverse displays pietas, veiled and draped, seated left, holding a patera in her right hand and resting her left arm on a small draped figure, which stands on a base.

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This month's coin was selected by Alfred Wrigley. Alfred is a 1st year Ancient History and Classical Archaeology student who has a great interest in Julio-Claudian numismatics, with particular emphasis on Gaius.


August 01, 2014

The Emperor on a chain: Fashionable coins and questions of personal taste

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Coin of Constantine used as a pendant

This coin of Constantine dates from AD 330-331. It is typical of its type. The obverse displays an image of Constantine whilst the reverse praises the might of the Roman army; two soldiers holding spears flank military standards with the legend ‘GLORIA EXERCITVS’. The modern transformation of this particular coin into a piece of jewellery is not without its ancient precedent, and this has prompted me to investigate the afterlife of coinage in the Roman world.

It is widely accepted that coins are not simply important for their monetary value. To historians studying numismatics their imagery and legends provide evidence for things as diverse as architectural styles to hairstyles. Similarly, at the time of minting, coins held a value which extended further than what they could buy. The way that coins were used outside of the context of financial transactions can teach us valuable lessons about Roman society.

In Petronius’ Satyricon, the character Trimalchio is described as playing a board game with gold and silver denarii instead of the standard black and white counters. Trimalchio is more of a caricature than a character, so we should take scenes like this with a pinch of salt, but the author is here making a point about how the attitude of an individual towards coinage projects a social statement about their personal wealth. Trimalchio’s self-display tells his guests that he can, quite frankly, afford to play with his money. This can be extended to help us to understand why incorporating coinage into jewellery was a way of displaying your wealth and social status.

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Coin of Augustus used as a pendant

© The Trustees of the British Museum

But self-display was not the sole reason why an individual would choose to transform coins into jewellery. Nor can it simply be explained as a fashion, since fashions change and our evidence for coin pendants spans hundreds of years. A study of the iconography of the coins chosen for this purpose suggests that not just any coin would do. Generally our examples are drilled to allow a chain to pass through, or else a loop attached, and the location of this tells us which way the coin was intended to hang. In most cases the coin was orientated to display the obverse, most tellingly, the image of the emperor. For example, the coin pictured here is orientated to display the diademed profile of Augustus. This coin was minted in 2 BC and its use here celebrates the reign of Augustus. Thus one could argue that coin pendants projected a political as well as social message. The modern day transformation of the ‘Gloria Exercitvs’ coin follows this ancient precedent, but this time the choice was motivated by aesthetic value rather than a desire to make a political statement of allegiance to the emperor.

It is debatable whether the Roman jeweller was motivated by the aesthetic, political or social potential of coinage when they set about incorporating coins into jewellery. Clearly, these artefacts pose questions about the nature of Roman society and the nature of its value system; and since coin pendants remain popular today we could trick ourselves into believing that we are not so different from the Romans after all.

eve.jpgThis month's coin was chosen by Eve Bayram. Eve graduated from Warwick in 2014 with a degree in Classical Civilisation. While at Warwick Eve focused on the study of Latin literature, and her disseration was entitled 'Self-presentation in the Latin epistolary genre: Cicero, Seneca, Petrarch.' She is currently interning in the dictionaries department at Oxford University Press.


April 01, 2014

The "King of the Britons" Coin

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Coin of Cunobelinus

Before the invasion of Britain in AD 43 by the Roman Emperor Claudius, we have very little information on the earlier rulers of Britain. Classical accounts speak of only a few British chieftains, so our main source of evidence as to who these rulers were comes from the coins minted by the British kings themselves. Therefore this month’s coin belongs to Cunobelinus, a tribal leader active in South-western England from around AD 30.

This British coin is quite similar to its Roman counterparts. It uses a depiction of a head on the obverse similar to that of the Roman Emperors on their coins, and on the reverse a centaur is depicted. The centaur is a Greek mythological creature, and not part, as far as we are aware, of the pre-Roman British mythology. The use of Greek and Roman imagery was fairly common in this period, but it represents a new design of British coins. Horses had been very prevalent on coins, inspired by Macedonian coinage, but designed in such a local, British way, that they look very different from the depictions of horses in the Greek and Roman worlds. The designs on this coin indicate increased awareness of Roman styles, representing a stronger connection to the Roman world. As a bronze coin, this coin is unlikely to have been used for trade with the Romans, who traded in silver for the most part, although it is possible the ideas expressed on the coins were communicated to the Romans through a different medium. Thus the imagery is more likely to have targeted Cunobelinus’ British subjects. Wine amphorae from Rome have been found in elite burials in this period, indicating there was increased contact and trade with the Romans, and that the British elite were starting to adopt Roman customs. A ruler who was also interested in Roman designs would thus be more favoured as a leader. Thus even before the Roman invasion, the British were already adopting Roman customs and art styles. It was not “forced upon them” by the invading Romans.

Nonetheless, despite the increased interest in Roman culture, the centaur is a strange image to use, seen rarely on other coins even in the Greek and Roman world. The legend on the reverse reads “TAS…ONI…” (TAS[CI]OVA[NIF]), a reference to Tasciovanus, Cunobelinus’ father. Thus perhaps the centaur is being directly associated with Cunobelinus’ father. In Greek and Roman mythology, the centaur is often representative of drunkenness and barbarianism, not an ideal fatherly representation, so perhaps the British saw the centaur in a different way. The British had great veneration for horses, often depicting horses on their coins, so they were clearly a symbol of significance. They were probably representative of power, as horses are strong animals, and they also communicated wealth, as to own a horse costs a lot of money. Therefore a centaur, as a hybrid of horse and man, in British eyes may have represented a man being combined with this powerful creature. In this way, perhaps Tasciovanus is being displayed as the centaur, as a man with the great power and wealth associated with a horse. In this way, Cunobelinus depicts his ancestry as great, which would have made him popular with his people.

Some scholars have seen the Roman head on the obverse as representing the Roman Emperor, and thus the coin is designed to praise the Roman leadership. However, with the legend of “Cunobelin…” nearby, it seems the head is actually representative of Cunobelinus himself. Why he chose to do this can be seen in the Roman biographer Suetonius’ account. He states that the Emperor Caligula received the surrender of Adminius, who Suetonius describes as “Cynobellini Britannorum regis filio”: “the son of the king of the Britons, Cunobelinus” (Suetonius Caligula 44.2). Suetonius’ description seems to indicate that Cunobelinus ruled all the people in Britain, when in reality it was made up of many different tribes, each controlled by their own king. Either Suetonius has got his facts wrong, or perhaps he is buying in to Cunobelinus’ propaganda. There is no British equivalent of an Emperor, a man in charge of a huge amount of lands and tribes, so perhaps Cunobelinus is taking the imagery of a Roman Emperor in order to give the impression that he is even more powerful than just an average tribal chieftain, making him appear the most powerful man in Britain. In fairness, this may not be too far from the truth, as some scholars believe that during his reign, Cunobelinus was acquiring new territory in the South of Britain, so he may have needed to prove he was worthy of this large portion of land. While Cunobelinus probably was nowhere near the sole ruler of Britain, his representation of himself as an Emperor could well have convinced some Romans, as seen in Suetonius’ account, that he was, or at least a major player in British politics. This would help immensely to encourage trade, as Roman traders may have been deceived into seeing Cunobelinus as the most powerful, and thus the richest man in Britain, and thus the best person to go to with their desirable wares.

david_swanThis month's coin is chosen by David Swan. David is currently an undergraduate student of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. His interests include numismatics, and prehistoric Britain.



(Coin image above reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Mail bid Sale 66, lot 46) (www.cngcoins.com))


March 01, 2014

A gold octadrachm of the Ptolemaic Dynasty

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Octadrachm of the Ptolemaic Dynasty

This gold octodrachm was struck at the mint in Alexandria in Egypt, probably under Ptolemy II (this series was likely introduced under Ptolemy II, and was struck until Ptolemy V). The obverse jugate portrait busts are that of Ptolemy II and his sister-wife Arsinoë II (philadelphoi). Both heads are diademed, with that of Arsinoë probably veiled (it is a little difficult to tell). Both busts have a chlamys. The legend within an off-centre dotted border reads ΑΔΕΛΦΩΝ (adelphon), a genitive plural meaning ‘of the siblings’. The reverse depicts the jugate busts of Ptolemy I and Arsinoë I (Soteroi), the parents and predecessors of the obverse subjects. Again, both are diademed and are wearing a chlamys. The legend within the dotted border reads ΘΕΩΝ (theon) meaning ‘of the gods’. This coin presents us with two generations of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt represented on one coin. In light of Ptolemaic iconography up to this issue, this octodrachm is unique, contributing to the on-going iconographic development of Ptolemaic image and ideology.

It was not the everyday bronzes which carried the vanguard iconography of royal ideology, as Ptolemaic bronzes are markedly more conservative and conventional in their iconography, limited to a head of Zeus on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. Nor are silver types particularly innovative, as they tended also to be similarly iconographically consistent. The more radical and innovative ideological presentations seem reserved, at least early in the Ptolemaic dynasty, for gold issues. From this octodrachm we recognise the preoccupation with retroactive referencing to previous sovereigns and predecessors. But there is also a horizontal reference, in the inclusion of wife and sister, placed behind as they are, but tellingly also parallel to the king. Their co-ruling is suggested, as is the influence of the Ptolemaic queen within the royal court. Familial undertones also come through, with insinuations of loyalty, and secure dynastic succession derived from strong familial bonds. In relation to the ruling king, this reinforces the image of legitimacy in his kingship. The near-identical jugate portraits possess a regal bearing; the duplication betrays aspirations of wanting to be seen as an established royal house. As subjective in interpretation this type may be, they are the result of generations of (generally) dynastic development and (particularly) developments in coin iconography. This process was continued little by little, in experimenting with new ideas of imagery, and ways of presenting and announcing those images, one attribute at a time.


This month's coin was chosen by Sean Gallagher. Sean Gallagher is currently an undergraduate student of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. His interests include religious and cult continuity, numismatics and New Testament Greek.


(Coin image above reprpduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., www.cngcoins.com)


November 01, 2013

The YHD Coins of Judah

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Athenian Tetradrachm, 400-353 BC

During the latter half of the fifth century BC, proud Athenians might have professed their coinage to be the world’s reserve currency; the ubiquitous ‘owls’ were recognised even in Persian-held territories. In the dying days of the Peloponnesian War, however, Athens found herself in both military and financial straits: to meet the costs of warfare, the citizens were reduced to plundering gold plate from the statues of Nike on the Acropolis, and the volume of newly-minted ‘owls’ entering circulation was drastically reduced. For undocumented reasons, a short time after, private and public individuals in the Persian satrapy of Judah began producing imitation coinage, featuring Athenian iconography.

Spot the Difference

Our two coins were both minted in the fourth century bc. The silver Athenian tetradrachm is an easily identifiable type: the well-defined helmeted head of Athena on the obverse; the owl, olive spray and the lettering ΑΘΕ [ΝAION] “of the Athenians” on the reverse. At first glance, the design on its counterpart, a Jewish obol, looks like a poor man’s copy. Athena’s features are somewhat oriental, and the owl has lost some fine detail. Perhaps Near Eastern die-engravers were unable to reproduce the Athenian images, or maybe, more likely, the need for a pixel-perfect replica simply didn’t exist. If official ‘owls’ were only required in the Near East and Transjordan for long-distance trading, any political significance of the images would have been lost – it was the worth of the metal that mattered.

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Persian YHD coin of Judah, 375-332 BC

The clearest difference between the two coins is the reverse legend, which on the Jewish coin, is written in paleo-Hebrew and reads YHD (sometimes YHWD). This name is used in the Bible when referring to the satrapy of Judah during the Persian period; also, it is found impressed upon the handles of contemporary jars excavated in Jerusalem. Hence, the legend is openly advertising the provenance of the coin: no one is trying to ‘pass off’ this owl as an Athenian original. Similarly, the replacement of the olive spray with a lily on the reverse signifies its foreign mint: the biblical temple built by King Solomon had pillars decorated with ‘lily-work’, the lily being a traditional symbol of Jerusalem.

Small Change

Over time, especially after the conquests of Alexander the Great, the yhd coin types altered. Without apparent repercussions, the Athenian owl was replaced by a falcon; the profile of Athena by a male head. Yhd coins were never, it seems, consistent with Athenian weight standards and denominations. So we are left with the question: when they began minting, why did the Persian satraps in Judah borrow from the Athenians at all?

The answer is probably to be found in the persistent conservative trend which pervades numismatic history: in order for people to accept that something IS money, it has to LOOK like money. Athenian owls were so widespread during the latter half of the fifth century that local changes to coinage design were necessarily small, in order to preserve wider confidence in the metal’s worth. We might update the idea by imagining the suspicious glance which greets a Scottish five-pound note in Cornwall today: perhaps it is akin to the reception of a newly-minted silver coin in Jerusalem 2400 years ago, although in the ancient case, a lily rather than a thistle gives the game away.


joeThis month's coin was chosen by Joe Grimwade, a second year undergraduate at the University of Warwick. He chose his 'Coin of the Month' after attending the British Museum's Numismatics Summer School, and is about to begin working with Warwickshire's Museum Service on their Roman coinage.


Images above reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Electronic Auction 294, lot 306 and Electronic Auction 220, lot 194) (www.cngcoins.com)


October 01, 2013

Caracalla's "Profectio" Coin

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Profectio coin of Caracalla

In AD 214, the emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninius Pius, nicknamed Caracalla after the Gallic tunic he allegedly wore, left Rome on a journey throughout the eastern provinces. The word PROFECTIO is used in Latin epigraphy to identify when an emperor sets out from Rome on a military expedition, and this word is seen on the legend on the reverse of this denarius. Minted in AD 213, this coin represents the sense of anticipation faced by Romans before the launching of such a force. Coins minted in the same year depict similar types as the coin we see here, as well as other military images such as the war god Mars. Whoever designed this coin, whether it be Caracalla himself or an imperial mint worker, clearly wanted to expose citizens to this upcoming event months in advance. Thus the coin acts as propaganda, advertising the emperor’s militaristic and proactive qualities.

The “Profectio” concept also gives the sense of beginnings being important in Roman life. The fact that the actual beginning of the expedition, rather than the expedition itself, is commemorated on this coin indicates the Romans considered the start of something to be just as worthy as the event itself. This suggests a sense of supreme confidence, as even before it has set off, the Romans believe this journey to be worthy of monumentalising through the medium of coinage, implying Romans were very optimistic about the success of their emperor and army.

The coin also reinforces the emperor’s own desire to be depicted in a military way. The type on the reverse of the coin displays Caracalla himself in military armour, carrying a spear, and it gives the impression of him personally leading the legions, represented by the standards behind him. This portrayal of himself as a great military leader is reinforced by the appearance of BRIT in the legend on the obverse of the coin, which represents “Britannicus”, or “Conqueror of the Britons”. While this title has been passed down from his father Severus (often done by Roman emperors), Caracalla himself can say he played a part in it, as he joined his father on his conquests. Accounts of the time indicate Caracalla actually played no significant role in his father’s Britannia campaign, but it is something an ordinary Roman would be unaware of. Thus even before his Profectio, Caracalla could identify himself as an experienced conqueror. Such a portrayal was probably designed to inspire support from the army, presenting the emperor as someone worth following, and whose rule they should support. However, this did not help him maintain his rule: whilst returning from his beloved Profectio, having dismounted to empty his bowels, he was murdered by a member of his Praetorian bodyguards close to the city of Edessa in Syria.

 

This month’s coin was chosen by David Swan, a second year Ancient History and Classical Archaeology undergraduate. David’s research interests involve Celtic, Roman and Dark Age Britain.


(Coin image above reproduced courtesy of Pecunem.com and Gitbud & Naumann)


September 01, 2013

Denarius showing the temple of Divus Julius, 36 BC (RRC 540/2)

(Coin of the Month, December 2012)

This denarius was struck in 36 BC, crawford_540.jpgand depicts a mournful Octavian on the obverse, and the unfinished temple of Divus Julius on the reverse, and is a great example of the propaganda-tactics Augustus employed to get into a position of such power. This coin is a homage to Augustus’ relationship with the late Julius Caesar, and a display of his divine heritage. The obverse shows a young Augustus – the youthful image that would remain of him past his death, a contrast to previous realistic and less flattering portraits. He is shown here as bearded, which tells us that he is still in mourning, though his adoptive father died eight years previously in 44 BC. The legend reads ‘Imperator Caesar, Son of the Deified, Triumvir for the establishment of the Commonwealth for a second time’, and here the DIVI F (Son of the Deified) is emphatic above his head, and links very well to the reverse. The reverse shows the temple of the Divine Julius, which though begun in 42 BC (upon the spot of Caesar’s cremation), was not inaugurated until 29 BC. The legend ‘Divine Julius’ upon the temple is bold and eye catching.

This emphasis shows just how eager Augustus was to forge a link between himself and his divine heritage through the promise of a temple. The veiled figure is holding an augur’s staff, and must be a statue of Julius Caesar.The star on the pediment has specific significance; it is the special sidus Iulium, and is yet another sign of Augustus’ divine parentage. A short few months after the infamous death of Julius Caesar, Octavian hosted the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris, which was a daring political move in his rivalry against Mark Antony. The Games were held from 20th – 28th July 44 BC, alongside a festival to honour Venus Genetrix, Caesar’s patron deity, and are famous for the star of Caesar incarnate. Octavian claimed that the comet was the deified Julius Caesar, and this was proof that he was indeed the son of a god. Suetonius tells us that the comet shone for seven successive days, and that everyone believed it was the soul of Caesar after Octavian had shouted out. Octavian wasted little time, and used this imagery of the star on coins and every statue of Caesar as a reminder of his divine right to rule. The star appears in much literature too, including Virgil’s ninth Eclogue, and the entire transformation is detailed in Ovid Metamorphoses book fifteen.


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This month’s coin was chosen by Laura Christofis, a final year Classics undergraduate. Her dissertation focuses on the place of invective poems in Catullus, looking in particular at sexual and political poems.


(Coin image above reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, www.cngcoins.com).


The 'Porus Medallion', a silver decadrachm with an image of Alexander the Great

(Coin of the Month, December 2012)

In 326 BC Alexander the Great and his army reached India porus_medallion.jpgwhere they encountered the army of the Hindu king Porus. At the River Hydaspes Alexander managed to defeat his opponent in a closely fought battle across the monsoon-swollen river. Despite this victory Alexander’s army would advance little further into India. Daunted by the skill and number of the native people and terrified by their elephants, the Macedonians mutinied and demanded to return westwards, to which Alexander eventually agreed. After many trials and tribulations the Macedonian army ultimately returned to Babylon where Alexander would live out the last few months of his life before dying suddenly and mysteriously on the 10th June 323 BC.

The “Porus Medallions” or “Franks Medallion” (named after the donor of the first example of the coin to the British Museum) was discovered in modern Afghanistan in the late 19th century. The obverse shows a cavalryman, identified as a Macedonian by his Phrygian-style helmet and characteristic long lance (or sarissa), charging at an elephant with two warriors mounted on its back. The reverse shows another Macedonian horseman, or possibly the same one, this time standing and being crowned by a winged Victory but still wearing his distinctive helmet. However this Macedonian is carrying what could either be a sarissa or a royal sceptre in his left hand, and more importantly in his right hand he holds the thunderbolt of Zeus. The coin is obviously a reference to the Macedonian victory at the Hydaspes and it is just as clear that the Macedonian figure is intended to be Alexander himself, both through his wielding of the thunderbolt of his ancestor Zeus and through the distinctive white plumage which Plutarch tells us the king wore on either side of his helmet. The standing figure mounted on the elephant and brandishing a spear on the obverse has been identified as Porus because of the figure’s height. Porus is described in almost all primary sources as extremely tall, sometimes as over 2.1 metres or 7 feet tall, and the height of the figure on the elephant would certainly tally with those measurements. On some examples of the medallion it is even possible to discern the foot of the rider behind the elephant about halfway up its leg, adding further emphasis to the prodigious height of the man.

The depictions of Alexander and Porus on the medallions are interesting, but it is the dating of the coin that makes it truly fascinating. It is almost impossible to tell exactly when the coin was minted due to the lack of any kind of legend. However the coin has been approximately dated to the very end of Alexander’s lifetime, minted in Babylon either shortly before or shortly after his death in 323 BC. If we take the date before Alexander’s death and accept that it is Alexander himself featured on the reverse, then this series of coins is remarkable. It would represent not only the sole surviving depiction of Alexander the Great produced in his lifetime, but would be the earliest known image of an identified living person on coins. This coinage provides not only an intriguing mystery for numismatists but could also provide remarkable insight into the mindset of Alexander and his views on his own divinity. They also demonstrate, through the use of an image of a living person as a type, the development of coin types as a form of propaganda which would continue to be used throughout history.

190590_10150143776434142_3329395_n.jpgThis month’s coin was chosen by Nathan Murphy, a final year Ancient History and Classical Archaeology undergraduate. Nathan’s research interests include the social and economic function of coinage and the spread of money in the ancient world. His dissertation is focussing on the monetisation of the Roman countryside between the first and fourth centuries AD, looking at the levels of monetary use among rural populations in Roman Egypt, Syria and Britain.

(Coin image above reproduced courtesy of Baldwin's Auctions Ltd, New York Sale XXVII, 304).


July 18, 2013

A week at the museum: The British Museum’s Numismatics Summer School, 8th–12th July 2013

bmThe department of Coins and Medals at the BM is easy to miss: beside an indiscrete steel door at the rear of the money gallery, there is a bell which, when pressed, announces your arrival to the sound of trumpets. Inquisitive tourists watch as you enter. Then, as the door is locked, you realise that you have stepped into a giant safe: every room is isolated, while security cameras inspect your movements from above. This is unsurprising, considering the amount of gold and silver which now lies within snatching distance. Any would-be burglar, however, should consider the following before he melts down his loot – a haul of ancient coinage is today worth much more than the sum of its parts.

Despite this, the first lesson we learnt at the BM’s Numismatics Summer School was that, to those who first created our western coinage system, the quantity of precious metal was all that mattered – coins had intrinsic value and no more. So why bother with coinage in the first place? Why not continue to value goods in oxen or tripods; or in unworked ingots of silver or gold? Perhaps coins were convenient and facilitated trade; or maybe the local king wanted to promote his own standards: the jury is still out, despite the mass of research into these fundamental questions.

Yet, there is still plenty to be gleaned from the hard evidence. I was absorbed by the statistical analysis of coin hoards, and intrigued by the eye-watering, frustrating and (ultimately) rewarding discipline of die studies. The twin processes of discovery and coin conservation were also described – invaluable insight for any aspiring archaeologist. Numismatics has never been an overpopulated field, but this didn’t turn a week with the experts into one of dry academia. The numismatists at the BM are diverse in both personality and approach; they are all devoted to their subject. Their explanations, both clear and comprehensive, brought the coins in the museum to life.

Over the course of the week we handled gold coinage, silver coinage, bronze coinage and alloyed coinage; struck coinage, cast coinage and square coinage; early Greek and later Hellenistic coinage, Roman Republican, Roman Imperial and Roman provincial coinage, iron-age British coinage, ancient Persian coinage, and even a little Islamic coinage to boot. I have come away with skills I intend to apply as I further my classical studies, not to mention a set of atrocious coinage-related jokes… In this spirit, I can safely say that, with the BM’s department of Coins and Medals, if you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound.

by Joe Grimwade


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