Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Week 9: "Picture Language on Roman Coins: Approaches and Interpretations"

This was our final meeting and the topic under consideration for our course on methods of interpreting and understanding Roman coin images was "The Importance of Archaeological Context: Nuances in the Semantic System and the Audiences for Coin Images" (handout Deutsch - English).

We began by discussing F. Koening's publication of the coin finds from the necropolis at Avenches and his observation that certain reverse types such as Salus, Felicitas, and Roma were preferred for deposition with the dead. This trend would seem to indicate that the viewers were making judgments about the coins most appropriate for deposition and thus responding to or thinking about certain images, something which was only recognized here via the context. One criticism of the study, however, is the relatively small sample size.

Next we discussed Fleur Kemmers' study of the coin finds from the legionary fortress at Nijmegen, which I have mentioned several times before here and elsewhere. Her detailed and comprehensive study of the finds there also indicated a remarkable concentration of militaristically-themed Flavian coins in contrast to neighboring civilian settlements and the finds from Rome. Her study also examined the logistics of coin supply to Nijmegen and it was demonstrated that these coin types were deliberately supplied to the legions stationed at Nijmegen. This realization provides a new perspective on the semantic system on Roman coinage and clearly shows that, at least at certain times and in certain instances, the Roman state directly targeted certain groups with coins based on specific reverse designs. Future studies of excavation coins may well benefit from attending to the distribution of reverse types as compared with other sites.

We moved on to Hekster's article about the targeting of audiences based on different denominations. This article was not "archaeological" per se, but did distinguish visual programs as they appeared on precious metal and bronze coins and certainly has implications for studies of "coins in context" that address iconography.

Finally, we briefly discussed the last four pages of my recent methodological article on Roman coin iconography that address recent insights into the study of Roman coin images provided by archaeological contexts and then lays out a series of methods and steps that could provide a more encompassing view of Roman coin images in future studies. Among other things, it is argued that using find corpora and inventories, we may better understand the semantic system on Roman coinage by studying the regional distribution of bronze coin types.

Researching and writing this article provided the inspiration for this course when Prof. von Kaenel asked me to instruct a course on the interpretation of Roman coin images.