Thursday, August 20, 2009

Roman Architectural Coin Types and "Audience Targeting": A Preview of the Talk in Glasgow

At the XIVth International Numismatic Congress, I will have the opportunity to speak about an important facet of my dissertation on Roman architectural coin types. The presentation in Glasgow is entitled "Interpreting Architectural Coin Types from Recorded Contexts: The Flavian and Trajanic Periods" and takes place Wednesday morning in the Roman session "Empire - Coin Types (1st-2nd Century)," a session which promises many intriguing topics from colleagues.

In recent years, studies of coin supply and coin circulation rooted in archaeological evidence have attested that Roman bronze coinage was sometimes supplied to certain regions or populations based on the designs that those coins bore. This has important ramifications for the study of Roman coin images, Imperial ideology, and even Roman art as a whole.

In light of these developments in the fields of numismatics and archaeology, I decided to consider the regional distribution of architectural coin types in my dissertation from the Flavian and Trajanic periods since the Flavians and Trajan in particular produced a number of varied architectural coin types.

In Glasgow I will summarize my methodology and the results of this case study. There are, in my view, some interesting results with regard to the distribution and comparative frequencies of denotative types (architectural representations celebrating the construction or reconstruction of a specific monument in Rome) and connotative types (architectural designs evoking broader ideals or historical events other than construction).

For obvious reasons I do not wish to publicize the full results of this unpublished research, but I would like to show one of my pie charts (illustrated) which represents the regional distribution of bronze coin types celebrating construction of the Aqua Traiana for Rome that is one of the more convincing examples my research has yielded for an architectural coin type to targeted the city of Rome. The chart has been adjusted to account for the varying sizes of the corpora from the five main sample areas (Rome, Veneto, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia).

I would appreciate comments and discussion either in advance of or after the XIVth INC.

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Sounds interesting Nathan.


Hi Nathan,

I'm not entirely sure how to interpret the chart, but assume that n=14 refers to 14 coins of this type with known find spots. If this is the case, for the sake of discussion, is it problematic to reach conclusions on the basis of such a small body of evidence? If half a dozen of them happened to turn up in a single find in Slovenia tommorrow wouldn't that turn the previous conclusion on its head?

Voz Earl

Voz Earl


Hi Voz,

Thanks for the comment.

Yes, the problem with many of these types is the number from recorded contexts. For example, some of the arch types or temple types of Trajan I really did not feel comfortable saying anything about since only 3 or 4 are known from excavated contexts in all sample areas. Surely that is not a good sample. I think we are on much safer ground with some of the other types where we do have statistically more significant samples and it is interesting what the most common types are according to the find data. Generally, the connotative types are more abundant than the denotative.

There are 14 Aqua Traiana types which I use as an example here. 8 from Rome, 1 from Veneto, 3 from Germany, 2 from Austria, and 0 from Slovenia. I then take account for the proportional relationships the 8 from is from a sample of 573, the 1 from Veneto is from 433, while for Germany it is 3 out of 2487 and Austria is 2 out of 857. Although, the total number of coins is rather small it is pretty clear that not only does the majority of these types come from the rather small sample of finds from the city of Rome, but also are proportionally much more dominant here than in other areas, which is suggestive of audience targeting geared toward the city of Rome.

I also did not mention some other things that I explored in the course of the research which include how prevalent architectural coin types were in antiquity. My research indicated that architectural designs compose between 2%-4% of all Flavian and Trajanic bronze finds from sample cities (i.e. Rome and Trier). Also the most common architectural coin types according to the find data are connotative in nature, able to communicate broader messages to a wider audience. By far, the most common Vespasianic architectural type from recorded contexts were the Ara Providentiae types which communicated a dynastic message and are just as frequently found in the northern provinces as in Rome. The same goes with Trajan where the Danubian bridge types were much more common than types that celebrated the construction or reconstruction of a specific monument in Rome. This makes sense in view of the fact that personifications are the most common types from both excavations in hoards. When it comes to a depiction of Concordia compared to Basilica Ulpia on Trajanic bronze coins, think of several hundred coins versus 4 from the finds inventories! I think this helps us put into perspective how we have easily over exaggerated the role that architectural designs on the coins played in the wider scheme of coin designs.

All best,