Thursday, 30 April 2009

Carausius and his brothers

People suggest that the arrangement of the three emperors on the CARAVSIVS ET FRATRES SVI coinage shows a deference to Diocletian in that he is central and flanked by his junior colleagues Maximianus and Carausius. This seems reasonable as Carausius may have been trying to build bridges with the legitimate emperors of the time.

The same may not be strictly true of the Romano-British coins that feature the rulers separatley in that there is a differentiation in the bust styles between Carauius and his two "brothers".

Carausius is usually portayed with a draped and cuirassed bust,

whilst Diocletian and Maximianus are usually cuirassed only, perhaps suggesting the seniority of Carausius, in the British isles at least.

It is by no means an exclusive division of the portraiture but it does appear to have been the normal way.

This looks as if it may be an extension of the convention from earlier times when caesars were bare headed whilst the emperor was depicted laureate. Similarly in the third century when the radiate crown became the usual way of portraying the male personalities on antoniniani the caesars were differentiated frequently by being represented by a draped bust whereas the emperor was draped and cuirassed.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

You can't prove anything.....

Isn’t it always the case when a catalogue is published that new specimens are found straight away as people begin to use it. I’m in the process of updating a catalogue for a particular series of the coins of Carausius and whilst I am checking against significant public and private collections I know new ones will turn up after it is published.

It’s because we’re dealing with an unknown total population. We know what does exist and we may predict what should exist but we don’t know what could exist. We’re dealing with a sample population and therefore we cannot, for certain, prove a hypothesis, only disprove it. I can’t remember my lectures so well but it may be called deductive reasoning (or possibly inductive reasoning).

The example I was given at university, a number of years ago now, was that we could come up with a hypothesis “all swans are white”. We can test this by observation and indeed the hypothesis will hold true until the first black swan is observed.

An example in the coin world is could be the Gallic usurpers. In the 19th century the hypothesis “the Gallic usurpers that issued coins are Postumus, Laelianus, Marius, Victorinus, plus Tetricus I and II” was thought to be true. There was no indication that it was not and all the data from hoards and site finds corroborated it. In 1900 we finally knew with certainty that the hypothesis was not true because a coin of Domitianus II was found. So, we now include him in the hypothesis of the list of Gallic usurpers that issued coins which we will only know for certain not to be true when a new usurper is found. As we are dealing with an unknown total population the hypothesis itself can never be proved true.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Karl Becker, 1772 - 1820

Perhaps one of the most famous ancient coin forgers of the last couple of hundred years is Karl Becker who is known to have produced coin dies for well over 300 coin types. Whilst many were for the Roman series, in particular the gold aurei, he also produced dies for Greek and mediaeval European coins.

In his day, before the accurate reproduction of coins by photography, many of his coins succeded in deceiving collectors and curators of collections. However, in modern times with the accurate photographs of legitimate coins being able to be compared with Becker's actual dies, many of which are kept in the Berlin cabinet, he does not really confuse the experienced numismatist.

His career seems to have taken a number of paths, for example, by 1795 he was established as a wine merchant and from 1798 to 1802/3 he was in business in Mannheim as a draper.

There is a tale reproduced in Hill's biography of Becker that early in the 19th century he was sold a false gold coin of Commodus. When he discovered that it was false he tried to return the coin only to be told that it served him right for meddling in things he didn't understand. This may have been the catalyst for Becker to learn the art of die cutting so that he may take revenge on the fraudster which he eventually did.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Numismatic Reference Books

For the last 18 months I have been standing at coin fairs selling antiquarian, second hand and out of print numismatic books and what has struck me is the reluctance of people to actually buy many of these works.

I can understand that going to a fair you might be more drawn to a new coin purchase, history in the hand as it were, and for the price on some of the books the coin might, at first, appear better value but without the books you are buying blind.

What governs the price of numismatic references? I suppose new ones the amount of work that has gone into the publication, the research and knowledge it contains, the fact that many works aren’t big sellers so set up and print runs are more expensive per unit cost and so on.

Why should a second hand numismatic book cost so much? Again it must be judged on the knowledge/information it contains, is it available elsewhere or is the work the reference for the series, how many people want it and how many are available to meet that supply, given that above we have already acknowledged that some of the references are in extremely short print runs and there may not be an alternative reference for the series. That is always then assuming that it is not an antiquarian book.

The long and the short of it is that many of the most detailed and up to date resources are expensive, but also specialist, and many of the "normal", general, collectors are not willing to pay out significant amounts of money for them.

It depends ultimately how detailed, I suppose, that you want to document, record and understand the coins in your own collection as to how much you will pay for specific references.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Jigsaws; don't you just hate it when........

Just set about doing my 103 piece double sided jigsaw of the Charles II "petition crown" that has been published by the London coin dealers Spink & Son. I got to the end (well really just past the beginning) to find that one piece of the border was missing at the top!

Of the 14 "petition crowns" that are known to exist only three are in private hands, nine are in museums and two are unaccounted for.

The coin they have used is the specimen owned by Geoffrey Cope, the finest known example. He is the collector who has also lent an absolutely superb example of the EXERC BRITANNICVS coin of Hadrian to the British Museum.

There is also an absolutely superb sestertius of Agripina Senior in his collection.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Numismatic biography on Wikipedia

I have spent more than my fair share of travelling of late and indeed I am currently on a train as I type this meagre post. There are, I have discovered, a number of numismatic, or associated, biographies on Wikipedia. Some are merely stubs but others offer quite an insight into the lives of people, the only knowledge of which we normally have is through their published works:

Philip Grierson (largely sourced from interviews printed in Spink's Numismatic Circular)

Lord Grantley (very brief)

Lord Stewartby (very brief)

Joseph Pellerin

John Watts de Peyster Wrote an interesting monograph on Carausius and is, perhaps, more of a historian than numismatist

Joseph Hilarius Eckhel

Henri Cohen

William Henry Waddington

William Stukeley

William Hunter

Laurie Bamford A wonderfully colourful sketch of a collector of British coins, beer enthusiast and singer in a punk band. A worthy wiki biog and one that I would have been proud of.

Sir John Evans

Max von Bahrfeldt

Ya'kov Meshorer

Jean-Jacques Barthelemy

There are probably others and I hope that this encourages some of you to explore further.

Friday, 10 April 2009


I have done a little digging to find out a little more about the work of Venuti, cited in Akerman's letter, posted yesterday.

Rudolfino Venuti (1705-63) was working in the mid 18th century, some 100 years prior to Akerman. Bassoli's book on the Antiquarian Books on Coins and Medals from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century (2001) states that:

"Rudolfino Venuti richly illustrated the medal collection of Cardinal Albini in 1744 (which later passed to the Vatican Library and was opened to the public by Clement XII). The work also included Benedict XIV's additions, and the great classical and modern collection of Cardinal Carpegna."

Sadly his work does not seem to have been scanned onto Google Print, although there seem to be plenty of references to it cited.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

John Yonge Akerman

John Yonge Akerman helped in 1836, partly at his own expense, to found the Numismatic Journal, the precursor to the Numismatic Chronicle, a periodical that continues today.

He also published a number of numismatic reference works, including Descriptive Catalogue of Rare and Unedited Roman Coins (1834), Coins of the Romans relating to Britain (editions in 1836, 1842 and 1844) and Numismatic Manual (editions in 1832 and 1840) .

His books are not rare and I have copies of all the above, including both editions of the Numismatic Manual but my 1840 is rather special to me for tipped inside is a handwritten letter from Akerman on paper impressed with the Society of Antiquaries stamp.


I am favoured with your note of the 27th instant. I never entered upon the subject of the Papal medals, but you will see them engraved and described in Venuti, a Quarto work, easily obtainable.

I am, Sir,
Very faithfully yours,

J Y Akerman

Soc. Ant. Lond.

29. Nov. 1848.

I have not a copy of Venuti or I would with pleasure lend it."

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Saloninus Augustus

The corpus of coins of Saloninus as Augustus is small (not to be confused with his relatively abundant coinage as Caesar), by the latest count it is approximately 50 coins; on gold quinarius and the remainder being base silver antoniniani. In terms of the numbers known this puts his coinage as emperor into the same ball park as Pacatian!

The antoniniani are known in two reverse types, SPES PVBLICA, a type that makes up about 80% of the known types and the significantly rare FELICITAS AVGG that makes up the remainder (pictured above).

The coins known of him are increasing and it was suggested that this is because a number are going unreported or misdescribed as finds or in collections, they being similar to the coins of Valerian II Caesar and even bearing the name Valerianus, (IMP SALON VALERIANVS CAES). That was the case with my specimen (above), languishing in a dealer’s stock for I don’t know how many months, identified and overpriced as a Valerian II but and absolute bargain as Saloninus Augustus.

What are the circumstances of the issue? It is clear from the style the coin is from the imperial Gallic mint, the location of which is uncertain but I favour Trier, an establishment that continued under the Gallic usurpers.

It appears that Gallienus left Gaul for Milan where he established the mobile field army, the equites, around 259/60 leaving Saloninus Caesar in the west. Either as a response to the capture of Valerian, the perceived abandonment of the west during a period of strife, combined with disquiet in the legionary ranks and machinations by Postumus the raising of Saloninus may have been a response to some or all of these factors. What is certain is that he was soon besiged and deposed by forces loyal to Postumus and his very brief reign, not acknowledged on coins from any other mint, came to an end.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Mithradates of Bosporus

I normally inhabit the forum website (link right) but I didn't know quite where I would post this coin on their site as it doesn't fit my current gallery arrangement, nor does it go comfortably into one of the message boards.

It is a bronze coin, a 12 nummia piece, of Mithradates from the Bosporus who ruled for four years from 41-45 AD.

The reverse type shows a lion skin draped over a club in some allusion to Hercules having slain the Nemean lion. To the right is a trident and the left a bow case. Mithradates was the son of Aspurgus and Dynamis and after the death of Caius (Caligula) he was recognised by the Romans as King of Bosporus, c.41 AD. Four years later he was deposed by his half bother, Kotys (45-c.63 AD), after being accused of plotting to overthrow Claudius.
Claudius had withdrawn the Roman garrison under Aulus Didius Gallus from the Bosporan Kingdom and a few Roman cohorts were left with the Roman Knight Gaius Julius Aquila in the Bosporan.

Mithridates despised the situation. He mistrusted Kotys and attempted to regain his throne. Mithridates was able to entice the leaders of the local tribes and deserters into his allies. He was able to seize control of the local tribes and collect an army to declare was on Kotys and Aquila. When Kotys and Aquila heard news of this war, they feared that the invasion was imminent. However, both men knew they had the support of Claudius. Mithridates with his army, engaged in war with Kotys’ army and Aquila’s battalions, in a three-day war, which Kotys and Aquila won unscathed and triumphant at the Don River (this river is now situated in modern Russia).

Mithridates knew that resistance was hopeless and considered an appeal to Claudius. Mithridates turned to a local tribesman called Eunones, to help him. Eunones, sent envoys to Rome to Claudius with a letter from Mithridates.

In Mithridates’ letter to the Emperor, Mithridates greeted and addressed him with great honor and respect from one ruler to another ruler. Mithridates asked Claudius for a pardon and to be spared from a triumphal procession or capital punishment. Claudius wasn’t sure how to punish and deal with Mithridates. Mithridates was captured and brought to Rome as a prisoner. He was displayed as a public figure beside the platform in the Roman Forum along with his guards and his expression remained undoubted.

Claudius was impressed with Mithridates’ mercy from his letter and allowed Mithridates to live. He was spared from any capital punishment and was exiled. Mithridates lived as a destitute exiled monarch until his death. He never married nor had children.

Above is a coin, another 12 nummia piece, of Kotys featuring the Roman emperor Claudius on the obverse and on the reverse a portrait of Agrippina Junior.

Agrippina Junior married Claudius in 49 AD and she also happened to be his neice. Twenty-six years younger than Claudius she had been previously married to Cn Domitius Ahenobarbus and bore him a son, the future emperor Nero. Claudius is believed to have been poisoned by Agrippina in 54 AD in order to make way for her son who, in turn, had her murdered in 59 AD.

Coins as dating evidence

As mentioned yesterday the opening presentation at the BANS Congress in Scarborough was a lively presentation from an archaeologist, Simon Tomson, not a numismatist, on dating techniques and the uses of coins in dating sites.

That took me back some years to when I was dealing with the dating problems of Gallic Empire coin hoards. Many seem to terminate in 274, the date of the last official coins of Tetricus I and II, however, many such hoards a probably buried after that date, but they just don’t contain the coins of the official rulers post Gallic Empire.

Uncleaned Victorinus coins from the Wherstead hoard

By way of an example I cleaned and recorded a coin hoard from Wherstead in Suffolk about five years ago. The find contained 1,026 coins, mainly of the Gallic rulers Victorinus and the Tetrici (plus local imitations) but also a fair number of coins of Gallienus and Claudius II. There was only a single coin of Probus, an example from the Lyon mint, that was able to push the date of the hoard to at least 279 using Bastien’s dating. In more than 1,000 coins the earliest date of the deposit of the last coin rested on a single specimen. But for that coin this hoard would be another “274” deposit. The theory used to be that the coins of the emperors Aurelian through to Diocletian's reform did not reach northern France and Britain, a situation that may not have actually been the case given the large, unpublished, Gloucester hoard from the 1950's that contained many such coins.

This is by no means an isolated example of this phenomenon when you go through the Coin Hoards of Roman Britain volumes and what it stresses is that whilst it is important to be able to correctly identify a coin or group of coins to gain any real understanding of the find you have to know something about how they circulated and how they were hoarded.


Monday, 6 April 2009

BANS Congress 2009, Scarborough

I’ve just returned from the British Association of Numismatic Societies (BANS) Spring Congress at the coastal town of Scarborough. I hadn’t been to one of these events for ten years, nor a local society meeting for about two and I now know why.

The weekend started off promisingly enough with a lively presentation on coins used for dating in archaeological contexts, marred only by a pedantic correction of Valens' regnal years from the audience.

The presentations on the following two days were mixed. The high points included a very good presentation on the numismatic aspects on three naval battles, Actium, Lepanto and the Nile, the quality to be expected not least because the lecturer was also engaged in giving similar talks on cruise ships sailing around the Med. Similarly I gained something from lectures on the Ostrogoths, Northumbrian sceattas and the pennies of Stephen and the anarchy.

Other presentations left something to be desired. A potentially interesting talk on the bust types of Ellizabethan shillings would have benefited from a more up-beat delivery combined with a handout of the comparative types with characteristics and their periods of use, rather than just scrolling through slide after slide of the coins.

The nadir came with a presentation on evidence of self identity on early Roman imperial coins. The images on the slides were small and very difficult to make out, even sitting at the front and would have greatly benefited from being a Powerpoint presentation rather than being done on 2x2 slides.

A final plea, if Powerpoint had been the method of delivery a permanent CD of the talks could have been distributed among the seventy delegates as a permanent reminder of the proceedings.


A brief introduction.....


Welcome to my numismatic blog with my (hopefully) frequent and interesting jottings – how many must start with those intentions? I’m not going to make it daily updates but I want to make it at least weekly.

The subjects covered will probably be aimed at ancient numismatics but the borders are not rigid and I know I’ll cut off at tangents.