Just Five Coins?!

Next Sunday, August 1, 3 pm, I’m have an outdoor book event at a local bookstore and the audience will mostly have never thought much about either coins or Romans, a collection of local friends and family and perhaps any interested members of the community. Yes, it is open to the public. Yes, I’ll be signing books (reserve a copy for pick up on the day at a 10% discount). Yes, it will be live streamed (sign up here to get the link).

While I have a great deal of experience teaching coins, I usually have a captive audience of college students who know there is likely to be a test and I get a full hour plus and all the powerpoint slides I want. This is a completely different challenge. I need to keep it under 20 minutes. Ideally under 15. I have to pay to print large posters of any images I want to share (outside venue = no ppt) and I must assume the know nothing and I cannot be boring.

SOOOOooooo. My plan is to talk about five coins and try to hit all the most important points about Roman republican coinage with just those five coins.

Preliminary line up:

  1. Elephant and Pig
  2. a Quadrigatus
  3. a Bigatus
  4. Faustulus
  5. Brutus’ Libertas

Elephant and Pig

  • Coins don’t have to be round and small
  • The Italic monetary tradition is different than the Greek
  • We make mistakes when we want to connect the pictures on coins to our most famous stories


  • Romans struck coins to circulate with Greek coinages and thus imitating Greek conventions
  • Heads (=obverse = anvil die) and Tails (=reverse = punch die) correlate to how coins were manufactured
  • Roman coinage reflects Roman religion, and we don’t always know for certain the mean of the images
  • Crisis –> Change

So-Called “Bigatus

  • conservative, stable designs is the norm for ancient coinages
  • Denarius = 10 asses
  • an innovative new denomination but one whose influence is still felt today
  • Roma: goddess? personification?
  • Dioscuri: Battle of Lake Regillus: Proof of Divine Favor
  • Signed Issues: another Greek habit but one eventually to ‘take over’ of the Roman coin design tradition


  • With Mediterranean-wide hegemony conservative coin design is no longer a necessity, even as the denomination itself remains stable
  • New designs speak both to community identity in new ways, using an existing visual repertoire
  • Diverse legend functions: Denomination marks, Moneyer’s name, labeling of the design, missing ROMA

Brutus Libertas

  • Still the denarius! Incredible stability and recognizably of the denomination
  • Radical design shifts
  • Use of shared past to comment on the shared present
  • How the individual is also communal
  • Foreshadowing…?!?!

Yeah that’s going to run longer than 15 minutes isn’t it….

Thoughts? suggestions?

NOW I need to get my image files and figure out where I’m getting them printed. Bonus result is I’ll have some pretty sweet posters for my office!

Leaving my self this sweet specimen so I can find it in future when thinking about RRC 235/1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s