Numismatics Roman Coins
bronze silver types money coinage greek value denarius reverse head
NUMISMATICS ROMAN COINS - the Roman coinage is of two great classes, - the republican, commonly called the family coinage, and the imperial ; the first lasted from the origin of money at Rome to the reform of Augustus in 16 B. C. , and the second from this date to the fall of the Western empire in 476 A.D. The origin of the republican coinage is one of the hardest problems in archeology. The evidence of the money is at variance with that of the ancient writers, and in setting these aside we are at variance with the best authorities of our time ; but the general principles of criticism must be maintained here as in other matters of early Roman story.
The oldest money of Rome was of bronze, and it is stated that it was first cast as us rude. This statement is confirmed by the discovery of shapeless masses of bronze, evidently broken off from large quadrilateral masses, and then rendered of a roughly uniform weight. To the res rude succeeded the les signatum, the stamped bronze. This step is attributed to Servins Tullius by ancient authority; it is said that he adopted the types of a sheep, ox, or pig; and large masses of bronze have been found which present animal types, including the pig. These are held to represent the coinage traditionally attributed to the regal age, though it is admitted that they arc for the most part contemporary with the first circular money, the libral, the origin of which Mommsen dates about 450 B.C. All the masses, however, which bear a distinct type are clearly later than 300 B. C., as is proved by their style ; and in the case of the elephant type we are forced, by the first appearance of the animal in Italy under Pyrrhus, to adopt a still later date. Moreover, the data of 450 is too early for the origin of the circular money ; consequently the idea of any trace of the supposed regal coinage must be abandoned, though the late ingot may be descended from a currency intermediate between the m-s rude and the libral circular money. The first regular Roman coinage consists of a series of cast pieces, the as of a pound weight, libral, and its chief divisions, the semis (half), triens (third), quadrans (fourth), sextans (sixth), and uncia (twelfth). The as was not cast of full weight ; the older specimens usually weigh from 11 to 9 'niche, on an average 10. The origin of this system is assigned by Mommsen to the decemvirs, on the ground of their legal institution, and particularly from the condition in the Lex Julia Papiria (430 is.c.) that fines should not be paid in cattle but in money. Admitting the law to be correctly stated in its original form, it proves no more than that money was current in Rome. The libral coinage cannot, either in style or in types, possibly be much anterior to 350 me. It is easy to mistake barbarism for archaism, but a practised eye will see that the types of these coins do not present a trace of archaism, and are imitations of the types which originated in the latter part of the 5th century, and were in fashion in the fourth. The heads of Jupiter and the beardless Hercules are of this class. We must therefore suppose that the fines were paid in metal by weight or in Greek money, which if it was bronze no doubt was also weighed.
At first there was no corresponding gold or silver, but the pound of bronze was held to be equal to a scruple of silver. Campanian gold and silver money with the name of the Romans or Rome was next struck to supply the want. The silver is of Greek weight, with types usually connected with Roman legend. From one of the earlier reverses being distinctly borrowed from the money of the Syracusan tyrant Agathoeles, who began to reign in 317 B.C., we cannot date the first issue before about 300 B.C. The scanty gold in two or three groups is evidently of later dates ; it presents great metrological difficulties. The libral as fell in course of time from a weight of 10 to one of 8 uncke, and was at length reduced to a weight of 4, or that of a triens, and thus became triental. This is shown by the colonial coins of Italy to have occurred about 269 B. C., probably in that very year, when the silver coinage of Rome began. The dupondius (2 asses), tressis (3), and decussis (10) were now issued at Rome, also the semuncia (i oz.) and the quadruncia (I oz.). Casting was ultimately abandoned and all coins struck, and by about 254 B. C. , or soon after, the triental system became sextantal ; the multiples of the as and divisions of the uncia now cease. The silver coinage was first issued in 269 m e.; it consisted of the denarius of 4 scruples or 72 grains (72 denarii being struck to the pound), the quinarius of 2 scruples, and the sestertius of 1. As the old as libralis was equal to 2i triental asses, the new sestertius was equal to the as libralis ; as the coin was still in circulation this was inevitable, and the words sestertius and us grave are used synonymously. The relative value of silver to bronze being thus maintwined, the silver sestertius was exchanged for the old as of 10 micro, which was a real coin, whereas the new as of 4 uncim (triental) was a mere token. The value in the bronze, X, was inscribed on the denarii instead of IV. The bronze money soon became a token currency. The victoriatus was issued in 228 me., not much after the denarius ; it was of 3 scruples, or three-fourths of the heavier coin, and was intended to serve in the provinces for the Illyrian drachms of light Attic weight ; it could pass at Rome. The first purely Roman gold money is that of Sulla, probably struck in Greece. Julius Caesar struck similar coins in 49 B.C. To Octavian is due the settlement of the gold coinage. In 217 B.c. the standard was reduced ; the denarius was struck at 80 to the pound, and the as became uncial. The denarius remained stationary for nearly three centuries, and its purity was maintained. The fate of the divisions of the denarius is too complicated to be here noticed, but it may be remarked that in 104 B.c. the quinarius appeared with the type of the victoriatus, which had disappeared, but with its own mark Q. When the as fell from sextantal to uncial, the value changed from one-tenth to one-sixteenth of the denarius, but, as troops were still paid at 10 asses to the denarius, the X almost always appears as the mark of value on the silver piece. By this reduction the relation of silver to bronze fell to less than half the original value still current in accounts, and became 1 to 112. Thus the bronze money represented more than double its metal value. In 89 B.c. the semuncial as was introduced, and from 80 B. C. bronze coinage ceased until Augustus issued his new currency in that metal.
The Roman coinage was struck both in the city and elsewhere. Consequently the Roman, Italian, and other issues must be carefully discriminated. In the city the right of striking was delegated to the monetary triumvirs, who could coin individually or together, but as a rule they acted independently. The earlier bronze and silver coins have fixed types. The obverse types are - for time as the head of Janus Bifrons, for the semis that of Jupiter, the triens Pallas, the quadrans Hercules, the sextans Mercury, and the uncia Roma. The reverse type is always a prow. The marks of value are - for the as I, for the semis S, and a certain number of balls equivalent to the value in ounces for the lower denominations. The original types of the denarius were for the obverse the head of Roma with a winged helmet and the mark of value X behind, 'and for the reverse the Dioscuri on horseback charging. In 100 B.C. a new type is introduced for the obverse, and a new reverse appears a century earlier, but the great abundance of types dates from 93 B.C. These are so characteristic that it is necessary to notice them particularly. The primary religions motive is to be traced in them as in the types of Greek money, but their having been selected to distinguish families instead of cities or peoples gives them a character of their own. It is this character which ultimately rendered the introduction of contemporary portraits almost a matter of course. The subject of the obverse is usually the head of a divinity, or a personification, or a traditional or an historical personage, ultimately one living, and the reverse bears a mythological, symbolical, traditional, or historical subject.
The following are the chief classes to which the types may be reduced :- Head or figure of a divinity worshipped at Rome ; as head of Jupiter (fain. Petillia), figures of the Dioscuri (Junia) or of a divinity worshipped by the family or individual striking time coin, as head of Neptune (Pompeia, coin of Scxtus I'ompeius).
Sacred natural or artificial object ; as pontifical implements (Antonia). This class is not large ; sacred animals rarely occur.
Head or figure of a personification of a country or town ; as heads of Hispania (Carisia), Roma (Julia), Alexandria ()Emilia).
Head or figure of an allegorical personage ; as heads of Pavor (Hostilia), Pallor (id.), Halms and Virtns (Fufia, Mucia).
Fabulous monster ; as Scylla (Pompeia).
Head or figure of an ancestral personage ; as head of Nuina (Calpurnia), Ancus Marcius (Marcia).
Events connected with ancestors ; as figure of Marcus Lepidus, as TVTOR REG[IS], crowning Ptolemy Epiphanes (!Emilia).
Places connected with historical exploits, and of a votive character ; as pharos of Messene (Pompeia, of Sextus, probably commemorating the sea-fight off Messene, 38 me.).
Symbolical representations of contemporary events ; as a general welcomed on landing by a country or city (Minatia).
Heads of living personages exercising dictatorial power, or in very high authority ; as head of Sulla (Cornelia).
Representations connected with military matters ; as legionary- standards (Antonia).
Besides time principal designs there are symbols and numerals, generally to be regarded as having been indicative of successive issues from the mint. The inscriptions, which are in the nominative, are usually on the obverse time name of the personage represented and on the reverse the name of the person who issued the coin ; time latter sometimes occurs on the obverse. Some of time most curious types strikingly illustrate Roman instinct.. Being the choice of a multitude of persons of different families, they have an individuality lacking to the money of the Greek cities, which gave little choice to the coining authority or to the artist, and to the Greek royal coinages, which slipped speedily into .heraldry. The family coins show a delight in recording the achievements of the house, and sometimes are so personal as to rank with modern medals, the spirit of which is even outdone in such a subject as Sulla's dream. With the Greeks the historical sense is latent until the age of the kings, and then does not pass beyond portraiture and at first a scanty symbolical commemoration of events ; with the Romans, even before portraits are introduced, the desire to record events is intensely strong. Thus we have not only such legendary subjects as the rape of the Sabines and Tarpeia crushed beneath the bucklers, which may be classed with the Greek mythical types, but also past historical events, as Marcus Emilius Lepidus crowning Ptolemy Epiphanes, to whom he was governor, and Paullus Ernilius raising a trophy, while Perseus, king of Macedon, and his two children stand before him, and also events of the present, as the reverse type of Brutus, the cap of liberty between two daggers with the inscription EID MAR, and on a piece of Sextus Pompey the pharos of Messene above a Roman galley and for reverse Scylla striking with a rudder. The special mythology and superstition of Rome is not less fully illustrated, as well as the coming in of Greek ideas, in such a manner that many types thoroughly Greek alternate with purely Roman ones. The art of the republican coins reflects that of contemporary Greek money, but is never equal to the better style of the late Hellenic issues.
The history of the imperial coinage is full of metrological difficulties. Those arise from the conditions fixed by Augustus (16-15 B. C. ), by which the emperor alone coined gold and silver, the senate alone bronze. Consequently the senate was wholly at the mercy of the emperor. Augustus struck the amens at 40 to the pound, equal to 25 denarii at 84 to the pound. He introduced a new bronze coinage in two metals, the sestertius of 4 asses and dupondius of 2, both in fine yellow bronze (orichalcum), and the as semis and quadrans in common red bronze. The finer coins were struck on the standard of the as of a quarter of an nncia, the inferior ones on that of the half uncia. This gives the following proportionate values : - The as is nearly equal in size and weight to the dupondins, but is distinguished by its metal and inferior fabric. All the bronze bears the letters S.C., scnatus consult°. Emperors not acknowledged by the senate are without bronze money ; thus we have no specimens of Otho or Pescennius Niger.
Nero reduced the aureus to path of the pound, and the denarius to Ath, its purity being officially reduced. Under Trajan there was a - further debasement of the denarius. Marcus Aurelius fixed the aureus, which had recovered its weight; at path of the pound ; the denarius had already been further debased, and under Septimius Severus it was half alloy. Caracalla introduced a new coin, called after bins the argenteus Antoninianus. It was struck at ,11-oth to ut4th of the pound, and seems to have been originally a double denarius struck on a lower standard. The characteristic of this coin is that the head of the emperor is radiate as Sol, that of the empress on a crescent as Luna. Under Elagabalus the taxes were paid in gold alone ; this was ruinous, for the treasury paid in debased silver at nominal value, which had to be used to purchase gold by the taxpayer at real value. Under Severus Alexander there was the latest large issue of denarii and sestertii. The senate made another effort to continue a bronze currency by striking under Philip the large bronze qninarius or Philip ms xreus, while the base metal argenteus bad become a piece of bronze washed with silver. At length in the time of Gallienus the argenteus contained no silver whatever. Aurelian (270-275 A.D.) attempted a reform of the coinage by which the previous coin was reduced from its nominal to its intrinsic value. The coins were now of tinned bronze and marked with their real value, 20 or 21 denarii of account, the signs XXI, KA (Greek), and XX being used as indexes of value. These coins replace at once the base silver and the bronze, which now disappear. The moneying right of the senate had become illusory by the depreciation of silver, which had ceased to have any real value. Aurelian entirely suppressed this right ; Tacitus and Florian restored it for a few years, after which the S.C. disappears from the coinage. The reform of Aurelian caused an outbreak at Rome which was of a serious character, but it was maintained by him and by Tacitus. Aurelian also suppressed all local mints but Alexandria. It was the work of Diocletian to restore the issue of relatively pure money in the three metals. Before 293 A.D. the coinage of silver recommences with the denarius of the standard of Nero,.1-EFth of the pound, marked with the figures XCVI. Between 296 and 301 A. D. two tinned bronze coins were struck, the follis and the centenionahis. The follis was marked XXI, like the similar but very much smaller Coin of Aurelian. The denarius was the unit of reckoning.
Constantine, probably in 312 A.D., desiring to rectify the gold coinage, which had long been quite irregular in weight, reduced the chief gold piece to Tim-d of the pound, and issued the solidus, a piece destined to play a great part in commercial history. It was never lowered in weight, though many centuries later it was debased, long after it had become the parent of the gold coinages of Westerns and Easterns alike throughout the civilized world. The index LXXII is sometimes found on the first solidi ; and after 367 A.D., when the edict of Constantine was renewed, the Greek equivalent OB was constantly used. Under Constantius II. (360 A.D.) and Julian the silver denarius or argenteus was suppressed, and the siliqua of Tilth of the pound took its place. The follis having been withdrawn by Arcadius and Honorius, was reissued a century later by Zeno, with XL to indicate the value of 40 denarii. It will be seen that a fuller system of bronze was originated by Anastasius, the Byzantine emperor.
Under Augustus the Roman monetary system became the official standard of the empire, and no local mint could exist without the imperial licence. Thus the Greek imperial money is strictly Roman money coined in the provinces, with the legends and types of the towns. Many cities were allowed to strike bronze, several silver, and one, Ctesarea in Cappadocia, gold. The silver becomes Limited about Nero's time, but lasts under the Antonines. Afterwards there are a few currencies of base metal. The bronze increased in mints and quantity in the second century,but, through the debasement of the Roman silver, one city after another ceased to strike about the middle of the third. Only Alexandria and Antioch survived by following the tactics of Rome with their own base metal coins. Purely Boman gold and silver was coined in certain of the provinces, in Spain and Gaul, and at the cities of Antioch and Ephesus. NI'llen the base silver had driven the Greek imperial bronze out of circulation, Gallienus established local mints which struck in pure Roman types. Diocletian increased the number of these mints, which lasted until the fall of the empire of the West, and in the East longer. These mints were, with others added later, Lou dinium (or Augusta), Camulodunum, Treviri, Lugdunum, Are-late (or Constantina), Ambianum' Tarraco, Carthago, Roma, Ostia, Aquileia, Mediolanum, Siscia, Serdica, Sirmium, Thessalonica, COD - stantinopolis, Heraelea, Nicomedia, Cyzicus, An tioehia (ultimately Theupolis), and Alexandria. A few were speedily abandoned.
The obverse type of the imperial coins is the portrait of an imperial personage, emperor, empress, or Cesar. It begins under Julius Gesar, though the republican money goes on under Augustus, in whose reign the privileges of the moneyers ceased. The type only varies in the treatment of the head or bust, - if male, laureate, radiate, or bare ; if female, sometimes veiled, but usually bare. The reverse types of the pagan period are mythological of divinities, allegorical of personifications, historical of the acts of the emperors. Thus the coins of Hadrian, besides bearing the figures of the chief divinities of Rome, commemorate by allegorical representations of countries or cities the emperor's progresses, and by actual representations his architectural works. The inscriptions are either simply descriptive, such as the emperor's names and titles in the nominative on the obverse, or partly on the obverse and partly on the reverse, and the name of the subject on the reverse ; or else they are dedicatory, the imperial names and titles being given on the obverse in the dative and the name of the type on the reverse. Sometimes the reverse bears a directly dedicatory inscription to the emperor. The inscriptions on the earlier imperial coins from Tiberius to Severus Alexander are generally chronological, usually giving the current or last consulship of the emperor and his tribunitian year. In the latter part of the third century-the mints are indicated by abbreviations in the exergue of the reverse, with also the irember of the issue. There are sometimes signs of value in theaeld of the reverse. These characteristics apply to the pagan empire ; under the Christian empire there are modifications, mainly in the character of the reverse types. These are generally allegorical and free from pagan intention, though their source is pagan, as in the common types of Victory. Purely Christian types are rare. The most remarkable is the Christian monogram formed of the Greek letters XP. The inscriptions are simpler, and in the reverses necessarily show the same change as the types. Of great interest is the inscription HOC SIGNO VICTOR ERIS, on coins dating not long after the victory of Constantine over Licinins. There is some variety in both types and inscriptions, but little that is absolutely new.
The art of Roman imperial coins, although far inferior to that. of Greek, is well worthy of study in its best ages, for its intrinsic merit, for its illustration of contemporary sculpture, and on account of the influence it exercised on medival and modern art. These coins were first designed under the revival of Greek art, during the influence of the New Attic school. The Romans had properly no art of their own. Their greatest temples and the statues of their gods were copies or imitations by Greeks of Greek originals, besides such earlier statues as were brought from Greece. The Greeks who were first called iss to work for their masters were the artists of a school which was emphatically imitative, not in any way inventive, and their successors were debased by the false taste of their patrons.
There is a marked inferiority in the Roman coinage to the GrcecoAsiatic work of the same times. With a tendency to follow the dramatic styles, the artists who worked at Rome had power enough to produce fine and highly characteristic portraits, of which the famous bust, miscalled Clytie, is the most striking example. Thus, though the grandeur and the purity of design and execution of the older masters are gone, we have in their place a strikingly faithful portraiture, which is deeplygratifying to the historical sense. The best age is the Augustan, which may be said to last through the rule of the Claudian emperors, and is decidedly under New Attic influence. This is succeeded by the second, that of the Antonines, from Trajan to Commodus. The Augustan work is larger and more refined, that of the Antonines more elaborate and laborious. Then follows a swift decline, with a temporary revival in the age of Diocletian and Constantine, when an attempt, necessarily weak, was made to improve the art of the coins ; thenceforward it slowly declined. In the Augustan age two manners may be recognized, the Greek and the Graeco-Roman, the one repeating earlier works, the other portraying living persons and events. Under the Antonines we notice, as a distinct reaction against the poor idealism of the age, which even occasionally endeavoured to treat portraits in an ideal style, a vigorous realism which looks like the actual parent of the Italian Renaissance in its classical phase. Midway between these stands the realistic style of the age. Among the finest examples of art in the Roman coinage are the portraits of Livia as Pietas, Justitia, and Salus, and that of the elder Agrippina. For stern realism the head of Nero is most remarkable, the growth of whose bad passions may be seen in the increasing brutality of his features and expression. The medallion series is full of charming subjects, though when they have been treated by Greek artists of earlier ages the contrast is trying ; the most satisfactory are the representations of older statues ; the purely new compositions are either poor inventions, or have a theatrical air that removes them from the province of good art.
III. - MEDIxl:AL AND MODERN COINS OF EUROPE.