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Anil indeed if perhaps they are somewhat inferior in ideality they are superior in respect of reality.
But we begin to notice the first symptoms of decadence already in the days of the Antonines, it went on gradually increasing, and the decline was continual without any break until at length the complete debasement was reached in the third century when the breaking up of the Empire commenced.
The wonderful series of portraits which forms one of the great attractions of the Imperial coinage became gradually valueless and insignificant about the period of Constantine, and after that date went on losing all art value until at last when we draw near to the fall of the Western Empire we may say that Art ceased entirely to be applied to the coinage just as it passed away from the spirit and life of the Roman people.
The very great interest which the Imperial Roman Portraits possesses for all has suggested to me the idea of giving the series of portraits in the twenty-five plates which accompany this Manual.
It has just been said that many of the Imperial heads are both well-known and popular, but there are however some which, on account of their rarity, have become rather less familiar, many that few collectors can hope to possess in their own collections, and may even rarely have the opportunity of seeing in the Public Museums. And moreover this book is not intended for experts, but for beginners who may thus have an opportunity of knowing the rarer heads here illustrated from origiual coins chosen from the best specimens known.
The series begins with the earliest portraits and is carried on to the sixth century, after which period the decadent art no longer presents any interest in regard to portraiture.
The Emperors' heads are sometimes bare, sometimes, on the other hand, they are crowned or veiled, according to circumstances, which however are not always such as to give an easy explanation for the reasons which suggested one ornament rather than another.
For example, though we can easily understand why the veil was reserved for the Empresses, and sometimes also for some of the Emperors when deceased and deified, and why the radiated crown should be used on the Dupondii to distinguish them from the Asses in the first century of the Empire, and in the following period to distinguish the Antoniniani from the Denarii, it is not obvious on the other hand why, on the other coins, the Emperor should be sometimes represented bare-headed, at others crowned with olive or oak wreaths. It may be said that if there was originally a reason it has escaped us now, and one may even admit that much depended on the mere whim of the engravers.
In the later Empire, that is to say, in the Byzantine and Christian period, the Imperial heads no longer bear the wreaths of laurel nor the radiated crowns but merely a diadem or a plumed helmet.
235. The Reverse Types. If the Obverse types of the coins are very interesting on account of the incomparable series of portraits the Reverse types are not less so for they may be looked upon as an open book or a true mirror of the contemporaneous events.
During the Republic the Reverse types present us with a series of myths or ancient deeds; in the Imperial period instead there is unrolled before us the history of the times in all its phases, and that not only on the gold and silver coinage, but also on the bronze.
During the Republic and up to the first few years of the Empire the bronze coins bore constantly uniform types and of a much less interesting nature than those of the gold and silver coins, but early in the Imperial period the bronze coins began to assume the same importance as those of the nobler afetals and sometimes even to surpass them, because the bronze coins offered a larger field for the development ot Art. Religion, political and military life, civil and social life, court life, are all faithfully and continuously recorded on the coins of all three metals (always understanding that the Byzantine period is excluded) thus constituting such a series of commemorative pieces that we never feel the need of medallions, the very name of which is wanting in the Latin language.
236. Religious Types. Religion was always held in high estimation by the Roman State which cultivated it with all care among the people, and made use of it as one of its principal powers in its policy. During the Republic the portraits or the gods always occupied the principal side of the coinage, and even when towards the end of the Republican era and in the dawn of the Imperial the portraits of those who represented the chief power were substituted, the religious type was preserved, if not always, yet generally on the Reverse with representations or legends relative to the rites, sacrifices, the Gods, or Demigods or other personifications which were intimately connected with religion.
Jupiter with his diverse epithets of Optimus, Maximus, Conservator, Pater, Custos, Fulgurator, Propugnator, Stator, Sospitator, Tonans, Victor; Mars, now as a warrior, as the bringer 01 peace, Propugnator, Victor, &c.; Juno, Regina; Venus, Genetrix, or Victrix; Minerva, the warlike or the healing; Apollo the Healer, Salvator, Palatinusj Diana, Felix, or Lucifera; Ceres, Frugifera; Mercurius, Vulcanus, Neptunus, Serapis, and descending to the demigods Hercules with his very numerous epithets, his labours and emblems; Luna, Romulus, Roma, &c.
At a given epoch we sec the Christian emblem introduced, as it were furtively, together with the Gods of Olympus. The figures of Victory hold the cross instead of the palm or a trophy.
The Pagan military standard ana the legionary eagles are changed for the labarum, the monogram of Christ is substituted for the emblems of the heathen; and when the new Religion was finally adopted the figures of Christ, the Virgin, and the cross were represented on the coinage, occupying the whole space of the Reverse.
237. Allegorical Personifications. Allegorical personifications are another characteristic of the Roman coinage; they were the personifications of those abstract deities who, though they had no position on Olympus, had nevertheless temples and altars at Rome and in the cities of the Empire. Abundantia, Annona, Equitas, Felicitas, Concordia, Fides, Moneta, Tranquillitas, Pax, Honor, Pudor, Fecunditas, Salus, Providentia, Valor, and other similar personifications supplied a large number of types for the reverses of the Imperial coins and may all be classed among the religious designs for the coinage.
238. Historical Types. Augustus inaugurated this series on his coins celebrating his deeds and triumphs, his victory at Actium, the conquest of Egypt, the submission of Armenia and Parthia.
His successors imitated his example, the most splendid series on this subject is that of the great Emperors Trajan and Hadrian; and especially on the coins of the latter on which we find memorials oi his voyages in all the provinces of the Empire.
239. Types Concerning Civil And Social Life. The principal events of interest to Rome and the Empire come under this class, the postal reforms of Nero, the fiscal reforms of Galba, the civil reform of Vespasian, the triumphal arches, the Colosseum, the
240. Types Concerning The Court Life. Under this heading we may place the victories, triumphs, games, congiarii (distributions of grain), the military allocutions, the legions (chap. XXXIII) the departures from Rome (profectio) of military expeditions, the returns of the triumphant Emperor (adventus), the sacrifices, domestic solemnities, the vote (ch. XXXIV), the thanksgivings for the restoration to health of the Emperor, and his consecration (chap. XXXI).
241. What has hitherto been said is only to be understood as referring to the first three centuries of the ;Empire. In the period which followed art grew worse, and our interest in the types on the coins issued during the Byzantine Empire diminishes considerably, for the portraits were made ever less recognizable; to such a
monuments, the aqueducts, degree was this the case that were it not for the continuation of the good old custom of engraving the names in the legends the coins could not possibly be classified, so monotonous had the representations become and so utterly had they lost all relation to contemporary history.
The gold solidi became stereotyped in regard to the Reverse types, which had been at first a figure of Victory, but then had no longer any art value, a little later we see on the Reverses a figure ot Christ, the Virgin or a Saint, designs truly ironical in such sad times.
The Silver coinage almost disappeared, and on the bronze coins we no longer find anything except letters or numbers as indications of value or of the mints, and the date of the reign, so that all the interest to be found in them is reduced to the dry matter of chronology.
242. The inscriptions or legends found upon coins constitute one of the most important elements of the study of numismatics seing that we derive from them the greatest number of facts and the greatest aid to that research which is the object of this science.
243. The legends on the Obverse side of the coins generally bear the name and titles of the ruler thereon represented, and it is only to this happy custom adopted by the Roman Mint-masters that we are indebted for the perfect knowledge we have of the Imperial portraits. However a large number of these, not quite all, have been preserved to us also t>y numerous busts and by many statues which Roman munificence has handed down to us, but we owe to the coins the undoubted knowledge of each individual because on the coins themselves the portraits have been handed down to us with the names.
Without the coins all those antique pieces of sculpture which lack inscriptions with few exceptions would have represented to us only unknown personages, as is still the case with many statues which appear on our museums with the inscription head of unknown.
It is certain that these busts and statues represent persons who were illustrious and celebrated in their own day but who had not the good fortune to be represented on the coinage.
Moreover in the later times when it was desired to reproduce in bronze or marble the portrait of a person famed in antiquity, since there existed coins which represented the portrait, it was not difficult to execute the design, but when coins were lacking they had no other means of resort but invention. With what result we may see in the case of the bronze statue of Theodoric in the Imperial Chapel at Innsbruck which the Artist designed according to his imagination and decorated with Hungarian whiskers. Nor should we impute it as a fault since in the seventeenth century the medallion of Theodoric with his true portrait had not yet seen the light.
244. It is indeed to the legends that we owe a great part of our knowledge of the chronology, history, religion, and customs of the ancients.
We should naturally expect that the legends would give us also the value of each coin, but alas! this happy custom of the Republic was given up in the Imperial period, during which, with some few insignificant exceptions, the value was never inscribed on the coins; hence the many disputes on this subject, and the many unsolved problems still existing.
245. Latin, owing to its conciseness is the epigraphic language par excellence, and lends itself admirably to the condensation of ideas and the expression in few words of the Roman greatness.
In no other language are the legends so brief and at the same time so finely expressive and high sounding. The expression of a grand idea or an important action is engraved in two or three words, as for example in the following legends:
LOCVPLETATORI ORBIS TERRARVM
AD VENT VS AVG.
246. The Obverse legends are dedicated, as has been said in the preceding chapter, to the names and titles of the Emperors, Empresses, or Cassars represented on the coins, whilst the Reverse legends refer to the very varied illustrations of events to which reference has been made.
247. The name on the Obverse is written generally in the nominative case (HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS, IMP. PROBVS
Roman Coint. 10