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Augustus, the first coin collector?


JayAg47

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I often see people claiming Augustus being the first coin collector, although I'm not sure about the sources.

normal_AVG.jpg.e3b4b5b0ed8d3411ede8ddc05fd98309.jpg

What sort of coins do you think he would've collected? coins of the Roman republic? Greek tetradrachms/ gold staters/ dekadrachms? very first electrum issues from Lydia? or I'm sure visitors would've gifted him some of those exotic coins from China!

While absolutely unlikely, just imagine if archeologists find coins attributable to the collection of Augustus himself, the provenance of those coins!

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I’m quite sure that some people at that time collected coins. Not sure if Augustus - but people were obviously aware of old coin designs and their meanings.

For example:

rubens-hercules-berthelemy-gordian-knot-

Tetradrachm of Alexander IIi as Heracles, 336-323 BC (Source)

And a few centuries later Commodus had the same idea:

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Denarius of Commodus, 192 AD (mine).

Here is what Suetonius wrote about Augustus:

Quote

75 B 1 Festivals and holidays he celebrated lavishly as a rule, but sometimes only in a spirit of fun. On the Saturnalia, and at any other time when he took it into his head, he would now give gifts of clothing or gold and silver; again coins of every device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money; another time nothing but hair cloth, sponges, pokers and tongs, and other such things under misleading names of double meaning. He used also at a dinner party to put up for auction lottery-tickets for articles of most unequal value, and paintings of which only the back was shown, thus by the caprice of fortune disappointing or filling to the full the expectations of the purchasers, requiring however that all the guests should take part in the bidding and share the loss or gain.

(Source)

Sounds as if they enjoyed looking at coins from different times, kings and places. It seems like someone must have collected these coins and apparently, Augustus found them interesting enough to give them as presents.

Edited by Salomons Cat
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One thing I've often wondered is how many of our coins come from recent hoards and how many have just bounced around for centuries in collections? That begs the next question whether there are coins in collections now that were also in collections in Roman times and have just passed from person to person. Ironically many of these coins would be cheaper now because they're presumably worn.

Here's my only Augustus, which is the same type as yours.

Augustus.jpg.be8a72ac5fb4e8d05c4cc595540adfd3.jpg

AUGUSTUS (27 BCE-14 CE)
Denarius. Lugdunum.
19mm 3.77g
Obv: CAESAR AVGVSTVS DIVI F PATER PATRIAE. Laureate head right.
Rev: AVGVSTI F COS DESIG PRINC IVVENT / C L CAESARES.
Caius and Lucius Caesar standing facing; two shields, two sceptres; lituus and simpulum above.
RIC² 209

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1 hour ago, kirispupis said:

how many of our coins come from recent hoards

The large majority are recent. As in last 150 years, hoards  or individual  finds. The melting pot was  by  far the most common way to deal with old  coins until quite recently. Even leading  Victorian collectors were quite content to pick the best of a hoard and  say melt to the rest. Taker the 1870  large  Eretria  hoard - a few collectors  picked their favourites but the vast majority were melted.

Bunbury (I  have a couple of his coins) used to  say most Greek coins were mostly rough and  boring and advised people  not to  bother with  them - "To the ordinary collector, indeed, the coins of Athens offer but little attraction"...etc

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Suetonius's phrasing, in contrasting "old pieces of the kings" with "foreign money" -- "he would now give gifts of clothing or gold and silver; again coins of every device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money" -- implies that the "old pieces of the kings" were not foreign, but Roman. Given that the quasi-mythical Roman kings issued no coins, there's something about the entire story that doesn't quite ring true. So I don't really know what to think about what Augustus collected.

However, apart from any private collections, somebody -- at the Roman mint or elsewhere -- must have preserved examples (or even dies) of old Roman coins for centuries, long after they were out of circulation. Otherwise, the "restitution" coinage of emperors like Trajan (including old Republican types) and Trajan Decius (inlcuding coins as far back as Augustus) would not have been possible. 

As far as concerns the possibility of coins being handed down continuously from ancient times to the present -- rather than being dug up at some point from below ground -- I am quite certain that there isn't proof of a single example of such a coin. Unless they're hidden somewhere in the depths of the Vatican next to the Menorah from the Temple at Jerusalem! As far as I am aware, the oldest known continuous pedigrees for any ancient coins extend no further back than Renaissance Italy, which still leaves more than a millennium to go.

 

Edited by DonnaML
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The thing that strikes me there are at least two kinds of coins from Medieval times that hearken back to the coins of the time of Probus. The helmeted, spear hefting coins of  Saxon England rulers and or the Turks in Asia Minor (Arquids I think). Don't really think the coins were collected but it's possible (I suppose) that some old Roman money was known and may have been circulating. 

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1 hour ago, DonnaML said:

Suetonius's phrasing, in contrasting "old pieces of the kings" with "foreign money" -- "he would now give gifts of clothing or gold and silver; again coins of every device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money" -- implies that the "old pieces of the kings" were not foreign, but Roman. Given that the quasi-mythical Roman kings issued no coins, there's something about the entire story that doesn't quite ring true. So I don't really know what to think about what Augustus collected.

However, apart from any private collections, somebody -- at the Roman mint or elsewhere -- must have preserved examples (or even dies) of old Roman coins for centuries, long after they were out of circulation. Otherwise, the "restitution" coinage of emperors like Trajan (including old Republican types) and Trajan Decius (inlcuding coins as far back as Augustus) would not have been possible. 

As far as concerns the possibility of coins being handed down continuously from ancient times to the present -- rather than being dug up at some point from below ground -- I am quite certain that there isn't proof of a single example of such a coin. Unless they're hidden somewhere in the depths of the Vatican next to the Menorah from the Temple at Jerusalem! As far as I am aware, the oldest known continuous pedigrees for any ancient coins extend no further back than Renaissance Italy, which still leaves more than a millennium to go.

 

Coins that show the Roman kings do exist, even though they weren’t issued by them. Maybe he meant something like this?

default.jpg

(Art Institute Chicago)

The denarius issued in Rome by the monetary magistrate L. Titurius Sabinus in 89 BC shows on the obverse the head of Titus Tatius, (the mythical) king of the Sabines, and on the reverse a scene relating to the history-legend of the Rape of the Sabine: two young, moving, hold in the arms two women trying to break free.

It's a suggestive composition both for the sense of movement and immediacy of significate. According to the legend, Titus Tatius was chosen as Sabini's commander in order to seek revenge for their women kidnapping. After the peace was established that Romans and Sibini should be a unique population, ruled by Titus Tatius and Romolus. (Source)

So, I assume that Augustus might have collected coins like this one 🤔 

Edited by Salomons Cat
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49 minutes ago, Salomons Cat said:

Coins that show the Roman kings do exist, even though they weren’t issued by them. Maybe he meant something like this?

default.jpg

(Art Institute Chicago)

The denarius issued in Rome by the monetary magistrate L. Titurius Sabinus in 89 BC shows on the obverse the head of Titus Tatius, (the mythical) king of the Sabines, and on the reverse a scene relating to the history-legend of the Rape of the Sabine: two young, moving, hold in the arms two women trying to break free.

It's a suggestive composition both for the sense of movement and immediacy of significate. According to the legend, Titus Tatius was chosen as Sabini's commander in order to seek revenge for their women kidnapping. After the peace was established that Romans and Sibini should be a unique population, ruled by Titus Tatius and Romolus. (Source)

So, I assume that Augustus might have collected coins like this here 🤔 

That's a reasonable interpretation. Or coins like these, showing Numa Pompilius (the second king) and/or Ancius Marcius (the fourth king):

Roman Republic, L. Pomponius Molo, AR Denarius, 97 BCE, Rome Mint. Obv. Laureate head of Apollo right, L• POMPON• MOLO / Rev. Numa Pompilius [legendary second king of Rome after Romulus], holding lituus in left hand, standing right before a lighted altar, at which he is about to sacrifice a goat, which is led by a victimarius standing left, NVMA•POMPIL in exergue (MA and MP in monogram). Crawford 334/1, RSC I Pomponia 6 (ill.), BMCRR Italy 733, Sydenham 607, Sear RCV I 214 (ill.). 19.7 mm., 3.86 g. * (Purchased from Marti Classical Numismatics, Barcelona, Spain, Aug. 2020; ex Spanish collection.)

image.png.3c3dee9c9de5d7e9beafbc80c8934b63.png

*See RSC I at p. 77: “This type is an allusion to the supposed descent of the gens [Pomponia] from Pompo, one of the sons of Numa Pompilius, who is here represented as sacrificing to Apollo.” Crawford’s interpretation is the same; see Crawford Vol. I at p. 333.

Roman Republic, C. Marcius Censorinus, AR Denarius, Rome 88 BCE. Obv. Jugate diademed heads, right, of kings Numa Pompilius, bearded [legendary second king of Rome], and Ancus Marcius, beardless [his grandson, the legendary fourth king of Rome], no control-mark / Rev. Desultor on horseback galloping right, wearing pileus [conical cap], with second horse at his side, holding whip with right hand and holding reins for both horses with left hand; in exergue, C•CENSO; no control-mark. Crawford 346/1i [no control-marks], RSC I Marcia 18a [no control marks], BMCR 2367 [no control-marks], see also id. 2368-2393 [various control-marks], Sydenham 713, Sear RCV I 256 [illustration has control-mark].  17 mm., 3.72 g. [Purchased from Munthandel G. Henzen, Netherlands, Feb. 2021.] [Footnote omitted.]

image.jpeg.14a8e50ea682aa229e662e25deed1d7f.jpeg

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4 hours ago, DonnaML said:

 including old pieces of the kings and foreign money" -- implies that the "old pieces of the kings" were not foreign, but Roman.

 

I think by old kings, Suetonius means the old Greek kings. By the time of Suetonius or even Augustus, the Greek lands were part of the Roman empire, thus not considered foreign. Or he could've meant the coins of the Etruscans!

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