Kevin Herbert, Roman Imperial Coins. Augustus to Hadrian and Antonine Selections, 31 BC-AD 180. The John Max Wulfing Collection in Washington University vol. III. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1996. Pp. xxii + 92, 42 plates. ISBN 0-86516-322-7 (hb), 0-86516-332-4 (pb).
Reviewed by Anthony A. Barrett, University of British Columbia, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This volume is the third in a series undertaken by the author to catalogue the ancient coins in Washington University's extensive Wulfing collection. The first two covered the Greek and Roman Republican holdings. This volume represents a complete catalogue of the issues from Augustus down to Hadrian, and a selection from the first two Antonines (the latter restriction was necessary to keep the text to a reasonable length, and complete publication is planned in the future). The catalogue is prefaced by an introduction, and comes with extensive indices. It includes a number of variants not previously published.
One might begin by noting some very happy features. The decision to provide a catalogue of the complete holdings (with the single restriction noted above) was a sound one, and even more laudable was the decision to provide an illustration, on good-quality plates, of every piece catalogued. This does mean that the arrangement of the plates on the page is, at times, a little illogical, to make best use of space, but the minimal inconvenience is richly offset by the advantage of completeness. The editor must be applauded also for his broad- mindedness. He has included provincial issues along with the imperials, reflecting the growing recognition of the interest and importance of the former, which until recently have tended to be neglected as merely local emissions. He has also included and illustrated a "Paduan" sestertius (Nero 124, reverse of Ostia Harbour) from the famous class of Renaissance forgeries, clearly identified as such. This is not, of course, a Roman coin and its inclusion may annoy the purists but is fully justified in a catalogue intended in part for students, who should be made familiar with these dangerous replicas.
Herbert begins with a fourteen page introduction. Since this covers some two hundred years it must, by necessity, be brief and make some generalizations that are bound to offend somebody (such as the bold assertion that the population of Trajan's empire was 52 million [p. xvi]). It is no serious discredit to him that I should draw attention to a few questionable details. Herbert assumes that defacement of a coin represents wrath against the emperor depicted on it (p. ix). That may well be the case, but the situation is probably much more complex. One can cite numerous examples of coins with images of such relatively benign figures as Augustus and Agrippa defaced by the chisel. The disfigurement may, in fact, on occasion represent some form of monetary management rather than a political statement.1 Also, the silver drachm minted in Cappadocia (no. 170) in AD 32-4 in honour of Drusus, son of Tiberius, a decade or so after the young man's death, need occasion no great surprise- memorial issues are far from rare, and the coin can surely have nothing to do with the dubious revelation made after Sejanus' fall in 31 that Drusus had been a victim of the ambitious prefect (p.ix). But these are relatively minor points. The only general criticism of the introduction concerns the section on provincials. Some definition of provincial coinage would have been very useful for the non-expert, especially since "imperial" coins are confusingly sometimes minted in provinces (like Cappadocia). It would also have helped to provide some account of the relationship of the imperial to the provincial mints, and the probable purpose and validity of the latter. Instead, the space is used up by information on the history and amenities of the minting towns, with material from the Blue Guide and such details as the influence of the Maison Carrée at Nimes on the Virginia State Capitol, all interesting, but not especially helpful for the task at hand.
The introduction is followed by a generally useful bibliography and list of abbreviations. Herbert should perhaps have made clear that the second edition of the fundamental RIC (1984) is really a replacement of, rather than a revised edition of, the first (1923). Also, for beginners, some explanation of the arrows (die axes) and the figures (weight in grammes) preceding the descriptions might have helped.
The layout of the catalogue proper has a distinguished pedigree in the American Numismatic Society practice. The obverse is described first, then the reverse, then numismatic and bibliographic information. It is only at the beginning of this last section, before the axis and weight, that the item is numbered, with the number set at the far left of the page. Some, including this reviewer, find the system rather confusing, and the casual consultant must avoid the tendency to assume that an entry begins at the point of the numbering and thus embraces the description of what is, in fact, the next coin. This problem is compounded by the occasional typographical error where the Obv/Rev symbols have got out of place (e.g., no. 151).
Discussions in catalogue descriptions must be kept to a minimum, although Herbert is not consistent in this regard. The famous "Agrippa as" he attributes without elaboration to Caligula (nos. 199-201), possibly correctly, but it could have been noted that the coin is much debated and that its attribution is far from certain.2 By contrast, he engages in a lengthy and necessarily inconclusive discussion of the identity of the temple and figures on Tiberius' "Temple" sestertius of AD 36-7 (no. 160).
As in the introduction there are bound to be places in the catalogue where the editor will not convince everyone. The bare head with the legend "Britannikos Kaisar" on the otherwise unattested Alexandrian diobol (no. 238) must surely be that of Britannicus, not Claudius. The latter is always laureate on Alexandrian issues. Moreover, although Claudius was entitled to the honorific of "Britannicus" he never used it, preferring to reserve it for his son. Also, I question Herbert's assertion that the aquila between the infantry standards on the Galban denarius (no. 344) symbolized the military power that would determine the future. But only one comment might be seriously misleading to the non-experts, the suggestion (on Claudius, no. 213) that the low value bronze quadrans would have reached "the greatest number" of buyers and sellers. In fact the frequency of finds and the die evidence suggest surprisingly that the quadrans had a very low and severely restricted mintage. Its value as a propaganda piece might rather have been that, as the finds indicate, it reached the limited but targeted populations of central Italy and certain frontier armies, groups the emperor would especially have wanted to win over.3
Such isolated and inevitable quibbles should not be allowed to create a false impression. Historians, students and, indeed, anyone with a general interest in numismatics will be grateful for this excellent volume, and will find it, along with its two earlier companions, an engaging and invaluable work of reference.
1. H. Zehnacker, "La trouvaille de La Villeneuve-au-Chatelot (Aube)", Trésors monetaires 6 (1984), 9-92 reports a hoard of 1184 coins, a mixture of Gallic and Roman, Republican and Imperial. Some 90% of them, including coins of Nemausus depicting Augustus and Agrippa, are disfigured by a chisel, usually with an X on the face. It is noteworthy that the Republican pieces are also disfigured. A fit of pique on this scale would have been an expensive proposition! J.P. Giard, "Le trésor de Port-Haliguen", RN 9 (1967), 119-139 cites examples of the image of Augustus on "altar of Lyons types" damaged by a chisel. J. LeGall, BSNAF (1981), 351, reports coins of Augustus, Tiberius and Claudius damaged by the chisel, along with undamaged coins of Nero!
2. H. Kuethmann, "Die Praegzeit der Agrippa Asse", SMzB 4 (1954), 73 (Tiberius); C.M. Kraay, Die Muenzfunde von Vondonissa (Basel, 1962), 35 (Tiberius to Nero); S. Jameson, "The Date of the Asses of M. Agrippa", NC (1966), 95-124 (Tiberius to Claudius); H. Chantraine, Novaesium III (Limes Forschungenen Bd. 8, Berlin 1969) (Caligula); J. Nicols, "The Chronology and Significance of the M. Agrippa asses", ANSMusN 19 (1974), 65-86 (Caligula to Claudius), cf. W. Trillmich, "Zur Muenzpraegung des Caligulas von Caesaraugusta", MDAI(M) 14 (1973), 151-73.
3. R. Reece, Coinage in Roman Britain (London, 1987), 28-30.