Roman Republican Coins in the British Museum

E Ghey, I Leins (eds) - descriptions and chronology after MH Crawford

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Roman Republican coinage continued

3. Moneyers

In Republican Rome, the treasury was under the authority of the quaestors. In the 1st century BC (and perhaps earlier), a board of junior magistrates (moneyers) are known to have been responsible for the minting of coinage. This consisted of three men, the ‘triumviri auro argento aere flando feriundo’ (meaning ‘three men responsible for casting and striking gold, silver and bronze’), referred to on coins with the abbreviation IIIVIR. A. A. A. F. F., or more usually just IIIVIR for triumvir. Their number was increased to four under Caesar. Other magistrates, such as quaestors and curule aediles, are also known to have issued coins.

In the early years of the denarius, coinage was issued anonymously. From the late 3rd century BC, however, the identity of the moneyer started to appear on the coins in the form of symbols, initials, and monograms. The symbols used were sometimes chosen as puns on the moneyer’s name: for example the use of a whelk shell (murex) on the coins of Furius Purpurio refers to the purple dye produced from these shells, a pun on the name Purpurio. Eventually, a fuller version of the moneyer’s name appeared on the coins.

In the later years of the 2nd century, the coin designs were increasingly varied and alluded to aspects of the moneyers’ ancestry and political achievements. It has been suggested that magistrates seeking advancement used the moneyership to increase their popularity in this way. However it has also been argued that coinage was adopted as another medium for the wider practice of commemoration and celebration of powerful families already prevalent in Roman civic culture [2].

The earliest portraits on coins were of deities and mythological figures, but this gradually gave way to depictions of ancestral figures, as visual references to the moneyer’s family became more overt (for example the politician Q. Fabius Pictor on a denarius of N. Fabius Pictor in 126 BC). At first, depictions of real historical figures and ancestors were restricted to generic representations (usually full-length figures on the reverse of the coin); later more life-like portraits were introduced (such as the naturalistic representation of the head of the moneyer C. Antius Restio’s father, on a coin of 47 BC). Portraits of living people did not, generally, appear on coins until the coinage of Julius Caesar. One striking exception is what may be the earliest portrait of a Roman on a coin, a stater minted in Greece in honour of the victorious general T. Quinctius Flamininus in 196 BC.

The earliest Roman silver appears initially to have been minted in Campania and Naples. With the Second Punic War and the consequent difficulties of communication, there was an expansion in the number of mints, with coins produced in Sicily, Sardinia and Luceria (in modern Puglia) among other places. This phase was short-lived and most coins of the denarius period were minted in Rome.

Coins were, however, also minted under the authority of Roman officials overseas, usually by provincial governors or generals on campaign. Competing factions in the civil wars of the late 1st century BC issued their own coins, and in the last years of the Republican period these military issues sometimes took the place of those issued by moneyers.

In the final years of the Republic there was an increasing tendency for coin designs to relate to current events and living people, although the tradition of emphasising familial connections did not disappear. Coins claiming descent from the deified Julius Caesar underlined Octavian’s authority and prefigured the dynastic elements of Roman Imperial coinage.

  • ^ [2] - Meadows and Williams 2001, pp.41–42.