Friday, 26 February 2010

The entry of Constantius II into Rome in 356AD

Constantius II, AE maiorina, Siscia mint, RIC VIII Siscia 257

Roman coins of the fourth century AD take on a rather uniform and quite stylised approach to portraiture where the individual features of the emperor can be lost. They almost become caricatures with quite staring, cold eyes. Expressionless!

I then came across a passage in the writings of Ammianus Marcellinus, the historian who wrote an imperial history from Nerva in the first century through to the late fourth century, of an imperial visit of Constantius to Rome in 356 AD which certainly made me look at the imperial image, as presented on the coins, in a different way.

"As he (Constantius) approached the city he let his eye dwell without expression on the senators paying their humble duty and the venerable images of the patrician families"

And continues:

"The emperor was greeted with welcoming cheers, which were echoed from the hills and river banks, but in spite of the din he exhibited no emotion, but kept the same impassive air as he commonly wore before his subjects in the provinces. Though he was very short he stooped when he passed under a high gate; otherwise he was like a dummy, gazing straight before him as if his head were in a vice and turning neither to right nor left. When a wheel jolted he did not nod, and at no point was he seen to spit or to wipe or rub his face or nose or to move his hand. All this was no doubt affectation, but he gave other evidence too in his personal life of an unusual degree of self control, which one was given to believe belonged to him alone"

Constantius II, AE maiorina, Siscia mint, RIC VIII Siscia 251

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Two Saxon penny fragments

I recently photographed and posted a message on FORVM (site link left) about a Saxon penny I have of king Edgar. At the same time I photographed two other penny fragments in my posession.
The first coin is of Burgred of Mercia made by the moneyer CENRED (the remnants of his name "....ENRED" can be seen across the centre of the reverse).

Burgred ruled Mercia between 852 and 874 and was successful in a campaign to subdue northern Wales. However, it was a period of Danish raids and he had to appeal to the kings of Wessex, Ethelred and Ethelred's brother Alfred (the Great). Unfortunately the Danes managed to drive Burgred from his kindom and he fled to Rome where he spent the remainder of his life, and was buried, according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, in the church of Sancta Maria in the "eternal city".
The second coin is one of Ethelred, 865-71, much scarcer than the Burgred coin, made by the moneyer Manninc (and again "MANN......" can be seen across the centre of the reverse). The portrait side of the coin also exhibits the Saxon D for the letters TH as the king's name "AEDELR....." runs around the top of the coin. He was killed at the battle of Merton, 23 April 871, one of eight battles he fought that year against the Danes.

The site of the battle is unknown. Suggestions include the borders of the London Borough of Merton, Merton in Oxfordshire, Marden in Wiltshire or Martin in Dorset. The more westerly locations tend to be favoured because King Ethelred was buried in Wimborne Minster in Dorset shortly afterwards.

A further and more likely location for the battle is Merriton, on the banks of the River Stour, a few miles downstream of Wimborne, thus providing a simple journey by barge with the body of King Ethelred. The medieval manor of Merriton was situated on what is now the southern perimeter of Bournemouth (Hurn) Airport.

Given the links between the two kindoms it is perhaps not surprising that the design of the two coins is similar

Saturday, 20 February 2010

William Warham

We are all familiar with the traditional bearded image of Henry VIII as an old man and on his later coins that is how he is portrayed. However on his earlier coins he is portrayed in profile as a much younger, clean shaven man.

On this half groat (or two pence piece) minted, as the reverse tells us, in Canterbury (CIVITAS CANTOR) there are the initials W and A by the side of the shield. These letters are the mark of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham (born c. 1450 and died 22 August 1532).

He was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, was Keeper of the Great Seal 1502-4, Lord Chancellor 1504-1515 (and was succeeded in both those posts by Cardinal Wolsey) and, as already noted, was Archbishop of Canterbury between 1503 and 1532 (and was succeeded by Thomas Cranmer).

It is said that his favourite phrase was ira principis mors est - "the King's anger is death", a very succinct comment on the time he was living in.

Archbishop Warham, c.1527, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Saturday, 13 February 2010

An unlisted bronze of Saitta in Lydia

This small (18mm diameter) bronze coin of Saitta in Lydia has been in my coin fair stock for six months and attracted very little attention from the buying public. Not an unattractive coin on one side is a female wearing a turreted crown, often referred to as Tyche or a city matron goddess, on the other is Herakles standing holding a club and the lion skin over his arm.

However, I came to catalogue it properly to list it in my online sales and was quite surprised to find it absent in all the references that I checked; Lindgren I and III, Imhoof-Blumer's Lydische Stadtm├╝nzen, British SNG's online,, ANS online collection database, or SNG Glasgow. It also does not appear to be in the ISEGRIM database.

It turns out to be a rare little coin, or so I thought, until another message board member posted an illustration of a similar coin from their collection, albeit from different dies. Still, that's only two known specimens so far!

As for it staying in my fair stock, well, maybe it will come out of there for the time being.
I've just found out that this coin is listed and described as very rare in Mionnet's supplement volume 7 (published 1835), coin no.413, citing Sestini's record of a specimen in the Fontana collection. I never fail to be surprised how useful Mionnet's seven volume catalogue and nine volume supplement actually is.

Friday, 12 February 2010

For Sale

Occasionally I want to have a bit of a clear out and now is one of those times. I've added a "FOR SALE" link underneath my avatar that will take you to a site that is hosting a few of my items for sale. The site holds auctions but, for the items I've listed, the prices are fixed so the price you see is the price you pay (plus postage). Payment is by PAYPAL only. All items are guaranteed genuine and as described.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

A late Sestertius of Severina

Many people incorrectly call this bronze coin of Severina an As, rather than a Sestertius which it should properly be known as. This is perhaps the last substantive issue of the Roman bronze denomination, the swansong of a denomination that limped on sporadically from this period to the coinage reform of Diocletian and Maximianus in the period 294-6 (yes, I know the original sestertii were silver). This issue was accompanied by a double Sestertius and an issue of Denarii.

Severina was the wife of the Roman emperor Aurelian (270-5), although she only appears on the later coins of the reign, after the base silver reform in c.274 AD.

As an aside this photo has been taken with the light at a different angle to previous shots of mine in that a more vertical angle, rather than transverse or oblique angle, has been used. It's produced a reasonable image of a coin with somewhat rough surfaces.

Friday, 5 February 2010

MA Thesis, "Constantine the Great: the Coins Speak

On a numismatic message board that I visit, albeit one that I am not a regular contributor to, I came across an interesting thread where one of the members had placed a link to his recently successfully examined MA thesis from the Middle Tennessee State University.

The work on the bronze coinage of Constantine I examined the political motives behind some of the coin types chosen and their historical significance, as well as bringing in historical sources and metallurgical analyses.

Whilst one might want to debate some of the phrasing used and some of the ideas expanded I think the work has some interesting points to make and is amply illustrated to reinforce the discussions, without it becoming a picture book.

The author is to be commended for making his work so available and free of charge, I know my post graduate thesis is not available on such generous terms (although it is available from the publishers, Archaeopress, for around £30).

Yet instead of being congratulated on the message board he has been the subject of an extremely vigorous cross questioning of his ideas in what seems such an unfriendly manner, an examination much more hostile than many a research student's formal viva! Don't get me wrong, question ideas by all means but don't bite the hand that feeds. Such a shame as he is now regretting posting the link in the first place.

If you want to read what Victor Clark has to say on the coins of Constantine the Great his thesis can be downloaded HERE.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A junk box quarter thaler of 1624

I always scour junk boxes at coin fairs, containers that hold cheap coins in bulk that are a fixed price. In one such box last weekend I came across a renaissance silver coin, 28mm in diameter and dated 1624 priced at £4.

I buy such items for the "enjoyment" of puzzling what they are and, after a little gentle cleaning, I was able to identify it as a quarter thaler of Sigismund III, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, 1587-1632. He was also ruler of Sweden between 1592-99.

The word "thaler" later got corrupted and morphed into the word "dollar", still the unit of currency in so many parts of the world.

The portrait, sadly half flat, shows the crowned king with a large ruff around his neck, fashion of the age, remember the portraits of Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, wearing his armour and holding a vertical sword.

The Wikipedia page on Sigismund III can be found HERE.