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Did the empresses have any authority over the designing/minting of coins?


JayAg47

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Interesting question.

I read a paper once theorizing that the emperor actually didn't have much of a hand in coin design, or even approval of a design, and that it was pretty much wholly up to the mint masters (who were usually savvy enough to engage in the required sycophancy!)

But I do wonder about your question. It does seem that empresses were able to influence things even if they didn't (couldn't) have a hand directly in matters, so I would assume that they would be able to influence coin design if they wanted to.

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I think we can only guess.

Its not even clear how much input the emperor himself had over the coinage, and judging by the different patterns of coinage under different emperors it seems that may have varied with some having more interest in it than others. Presumably, in addition to ordering any high level changes and controlling the propaganda message, the emperor at least approved new coin types, but who knows.

It's not hard to imagine that some imperial wives might have had input on how they wanted to be depicted on the coins, but we don't even know in any detail how that process worked other than it seems that from time to time new busts were transmitted to the mints. Maybe it was just a matter of asking her assistants for a particular hairstyle on the day the mint guy was coming.

But no doubt it varied - in cases where the imperial ladies were afforded a variety of less common coin types, it wouldn't be surprising if in at least some cases they might not have been the driving force behind it.

 

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One might assume that the emperors or high officials had direct input on coin design for all family members, as well as the proportions of the coinage in terms of volume of issue. For example, consider Phillip and Phillip II as well as Otacilia Severa. How did they decide on the volumes for each member of the Imperial family? Also, the messages they wanted to convey. The Saeculares issues for the millennium of Rome was commemorated on the coinage. And one sees in the case of Decius the concern for the traditional gods and personifications which was an emphasis of his reign, e.g. celebrating traditional values over newfangled ones like the rise of Christianity.

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2 hours ago, CPK said:

Interesting question.

I read a paper once theorizing that the emperor actually didn't have much of a hand in coin design, or even approval of a design, and that it was pretty much wholly up to the mint masters (who were usually savvy enough to engage in the required sycophancy!)

But I do wonder about your question. It does seem that empresses were able to influence things even if they didn't (couldn't) have a hand directly in matters, so I would assume that they would be able to influence coin design if they wanted to.

That's exactly how I think the designs came about most of the time. Although, Domitian's coinage does show an emperor more engaged with numismatic matters than most! I think it varied from reign to reign.

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The first thing I thought off was Commodus, and his lion dress coinage, I have doubts that anyone but him approved/requested(?) this 😛

It probably also depended on how pushy the reign was of an emperor and how hard he demanded being involved in the design I suppose. 

 

 

 

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I guess early dynastic empresses have limited authority over the matter. I wonder if Sabina and Julia Titi would complain when they see their coins with emperor-looking portraits instead of theirs. 

On the other hand, there are surely coins minted with great portraits, such as Agrippina Junior, Faustina Junior and the five Julias. Just my thoughts.

 

 

Edited by happy_collector
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I would guess they had as much say as they wanted to, as long as the emperor let them. They were higher up the pecking order than the mint workers so could be as interfering as they wanted, but probably didn't bother most of the time.

I doubt the emperor generally got involved but even today the monarch has a say in coin design when they have no power to demand it. Charles III personally approved his portrait, while Edward VIII famously wanted his bust facing left instead of right because he thought that was his good side.

If an engraver made a bad job of a portrait it might be fatal, so surely they would've at least sought approval. Goodness knows what the process was in medieval times, though.

Edited by John Conduitt
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This is just a supposition, but I believe some empresses definitely did have some authority. In a number of cases, the empress drove fashion for the entire empire. Most Romans never saw her directly, but viewed her only through statues and coins. Therefore, I expect that some empresses definitely cared how they were represented on coins. This of course depended on the individual empress and her priorities at the time.

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9 hours ago, Heliodromus said:

I think we can only guess.

That's the truth. Apparently one of the main (only) sources of direct information on this is  from a Biblical quote!  de Callatay wrote an article  addressing this subject and said "A simple but embarrassing question is whether the die-engraver was also responsible for the monetary type, in the sense of a true artist. The answer is likely to be negative. When the Seleucid king Antiochos VII (138-129 BC) granted the right to strike coins to Simon Maccabeus, he wrote: 'I give you leave also to coin money for your country with your own stamp' (First Book of Maccabees: 1.15). Even if recent numismatic research has played down the pivotal role traditionally attributed to coins as the best medium to convey official propaganda, it does not look realistic that the choice of the civic or royal device could have been left to an artisan, however skillful he might have been."

 

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Responsibilty for anything with finances lay in the hands of the "a rationibus" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_rationibus

Ultimately he had to report to the emperor, which - as to common opinion - included selection of coin types, perhaps even an overview of a "coin program"
The emperor definitely had the "last word" - when necessary

 

Regards
Klaus

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On 11/30/2023 at 1:37 PM, CPK said:

I read a paper once theorizing that the emperor actually didn't have much of a hand in coin design, or even approval of a design, and that it was pretty much wholly up to the mint masters

Oef, I highly disagree. For me it's a no-brainer that the propaganda and other messages on coins, including hair styles of the empress, was NOT left to the mint masters. Perhaps SOME coins (very general, no message at all, with general portrait based upon other coin types) was left to the decision of other court members, instead of the emperor.

See also for example: 
https://www.academia.edu/77925941/Coins_and_Messages_Audience_Targeting_on_Coins_of_Different_Denominations and 

https://graduatejournal-leap.universiteitleiden.nl/2021/06/gabriel-de-klerk-displays-of-power-imperial-ideology-on-the-coinage-of-galba-during-the-crisis-of-68-69-a-d/.

Edited by Coinmaster
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I think it's fair to assume that if any women had an influence on coin design it would have been the powerful women of the Severan Dynasty; Julia Domna, Julia Maesa, & Julia Mamaea. The "the three Julia's" were unlike any imperial women before them, they were foreigners from the East who brought with them different religions, different fashions of dress, & all three had some, but limited, political influence. Julia Maesa, the younger sister of Julia Domna, orchestrated the overthrow of Emperor Macrinus, & ushered in her depraved grandson Elagabalus as the new emperor 😮! The link below has a fascinating article written by Anna Komisarof"An Examination of Severan Women and Their Power in the Royal Family".

https://web.sas.upenn.edu/discentes/2023/04/09/an-examination-of-severan-women-and-their-power-in-the-royal-family/

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