Roman Coin Project
I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that one of the assignments for my January class was to clean and attribute (identify) an original coin from the late Roman empire. Well, I finished the project last Thursday and gave my presentation in class, so I thought I'd post about it here! I'll give the paper I turned in and then some other notes of my own :)
|This is before much cleaning had happened. It wasn't that clear in person (and it has NEVER been that colour) but the flash helped!|
Attribution of the coin:
Constantine I (the Great; AD 307-337); AD 317-321; AE-3; 18mm.
OBV: Laureate, mantled bust left, holding mappa and sceptre on globe; IMP CONSTANTINVS AVG[VSTVS]; "Imperator, Constantine Augustus."
REV: Jupiter standing left, holding Victory holding wreath on a globe, and leaning on sceptre; wreath in left field, r in right field; IOVI CONSERVATORI AVGG; "Jove, saviour of the emperors."
SMK in exergue; Cyzicus mint.
|After cleaning, sans flash. He's a bit rusted in spots but the writing is legible in person.|
Constantine I, called the Great, was emperor from AD 306-337. He is best known for being the first Christian emperor, as he legalized the religion and protected Christians from persecution with the Edict of Milan in 313. He also presided over the Council of Nicea in 325. Constantine was an experienced warrior and general. His army was one of the best, and had a lot of practise, as in addition to campaigns in Gaul and Britain, Constantine had to deal with several upstart would-be Emperors and an assassination attempt. Despite this, however, his reign was fairly peaceful.
This coin was minted in Cyzicus somewhere between 317-321, during a period of peace when the barbarians were fairly quiet and the usurpers had been suppressed. The legends and iconography seem to express this feeling of success and peace; the reverse of the coin depicts Jupiter holding winged Victory standing on a globe, perhaps to express Constantine's victory over his enemies and the relative peace of the Roman world. (The figure of Victory also brings to mind the description of winged Victory on a globe in the house of Lucius' aunt in The Golden Ass.) The obverse shows a prosperous-looking Constantine, wearing the laurel wreath symbolic of Caesar-hood, and holding map and sceptre. Again, the map may symbolize Constantine's control over the known world, and the sceptre shows him to be supreme ruler. The "story" of the coins seems to be one of peace and prosperity.
|The reverse of the coin, with Jupiter holding Victory.|
Thoughts on the project: This was SO MUCH FUN. I know it probably makes me hopelessly nerdy, but this was one of the best projects I've ever done. I loved being able to handle such an old coin, one with history, you know? Roman coins are so much more interesting than our modern ones. The slight irregularity of shape, the worn lettering, but in spite of the fact that it's 1,700 years old, you can still see the hairs -- the individual hairs -- on Constantine's head. It was fascinating to do research online, first to try to identify my emperor and then to narrow down exactly what coin it was I had. There were so many variations of this one - similar, but not exactly the same, because they were all made by hand and in different parts of the empire.
Did you know olive oil is a great cleaning agent? I soaked Constantine in oil for a couple of weeks, and in distilled water for a couple of days. He got scrubbed with an old toothbrush most evenings. In the last couple days I also rubbed gently with a soft cloth dipped in oil - this got a lot of the dirt off and cleared up the lettering amazingly. My coin was probably originally silvered - covered with a very thing coating of silver over the main bronze. There are a couple spots where this still shows in person, although I couldn't capture it in the photos.
|Constantine I in all his glory, as clean as I could get him, with a nasty-looking growth of rust on his chest.|
I wish I had an unlimited budget so I could collect, clean, and attribute many more coins! This was so much fun... actually, it might be a good thing I haven't the funds, because I would never get anything else done. My recital would probably suffer.
I doubt anyone else will be as enthused about this as I was, but I wanted to share anyway!