Ancient Roman Coinage

Ancient Roman coins were some of the earliest coins in history. Bronze, copper, gold and silver coins made up Roman coinage.

(Looking for ancient Roman coins? Look no further.)

Because these coins were made of valuable materials like gold and silver, they had intrinsic value.

Around 300 B.C., the Roman Republican government introduced coinage (about three centuries after Greece, an embarrassingly late time) to its Republic. Because coin systems had already been established, Romans knew all about how to use their currency. Rome was a well-established republic at the time.

The coinage included some oddities. This included bronze bars called “stuck bronze” that weighed around 50 oz. with a high iron content.

Bronze bar, 450 B.C.

Bronze bar, 450 B.C. Courtesy of LmK, CC 3.0

Following Greece’s example, Rome created its own circular coins illustrating myths and scenes with gods and goddesses. Greek coins greatly influenced these designs.

When Julius Caesar took over, he issued coins with his profile. These were significant as they were the first coins to feature a living person. They served to spread Caesar’s image through Rome and beyond. Caesar also released coins showing Venus or Aeneas in the attempt to associate himself with divinity. Other emperors went even farther, however; in 192 Commodus ordered coins featuring himself dressed in a lion skin in an imitation of Hercules, proclaiming himself to be an incarnation of the famous hero.

Caesar profile coins continued even after Caesar’s assassination, along with featured gods and goddesses.

Romans put a lot of moral value on the images in their coins. The philosopher Epictetus wrote as a joke: “Whose image does this sestertius carry? Trajan’s? Give it to me. Nero’s? Throw it away, it is unacceptable, it is rotten.” Romans would not really throw away their coins, but the images still certainly meant a lot to them.

There is more to learn in the world of ancient Roman coins, but these are the basics.

Traveling with Art: Mount Vesuvius and Naples, Italy

The legendary Mount Vesuvius sits nearby Naples, Italy, and has inspired both horror and awe in its nearby residents.

The painting you see above shows a Southeastern view of Naples, with the Vesuvius volcano in the background behind the Tyrrhenian gulf.

In the mythology of the labors of Hercules, Hercules finds a place called “the Phlegraean Plain” or “plain of fire” “from a hill which anciently vomited out fire … now called Vesuvius.” Historians suggest that Hercules may have been considered a patron of the volcano.

Someone's having a bad day

An 1872 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Despite the cheeriness of the painting, Mount Vesuvius is the volcano famous for its eruption in 79 AD that buried and destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in layers of ash. Since then, it has erupted 50 more times.

The city Herculaneum was buried in 75 feet of ash!

Pliny the Younger provided a valuable first person witness of the 79 AD eruption. Twenty-five years after the eruption, he wrote an account to his friend describing Pliny the Elder, his uncle’s, death through the burying of Pompeii. Pliny the Elder commanded a fleet of warships and attempted to use the ships to save the people on the shores of Pompeii. But his attempt was unsuccessful, as Pliny the Younger describes:

“. . . the flames and smell of sulphur which gave warning of the approaching fire drove the others to take flight and roused him to stand up . . . then [he] suddenly collapsed . . . his body was found intact and uninjured, still fully clothed and looking more like sleep than death.”

At the time, Pliny the Younger was 18 miles away and fled with his mother as far away as possible from the eruption.

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A modern view of the sunset over Mount Vesuvius and Naples.

Vesuvius had erupted before 79 AD, about every century until 1037 AD, when it quieted for 600 years. But it woke up once again in 1631 and, since the area had grown around the sleeping mountain, killed about four thousand people.

How’s that for some cheerful history?

Today, the city of Naples, Italy looks out on its beautiful gulf. The city has issues with homelessness and keeping clean, but inhabitants will tell you that it’s like no other city in Italy in its environment and culture. Naples does not have a huge influx of tourists, thereby allowing visitors to really get to know the place by admiring the beautiful gulf of Naples and exploring its many pizzerias. 745px-Partenope_Street_Naples_Italy

Naples has a special population, too. Many stray dogs live there, but they are better cared for than any stray dogs you’ll find elsewhere. The tour guides to the ruins of Pompeii regularly pool together money to feed the dogs. And the dogs have reportedly fine-tuned their begging performance to tourists in restaurants. Visitors report that the dogs seem happy and friendly, and that they have become a part of the city’s culture.

Naples truly has an aura unlike any other city in Italy, and with Mount Vesuvius looking down on the city, it’s an unforgettable place.

Sources:

Pliny the Younger’s account

Naples tourism

The Wiki