Coins of the Twelve Caesars – INTRODUCTION – read online



Twelve Caesars coins – INTRODUCTION

This first attempt to introduce the science of ancient Numismatics into American study is respectfully commended to all who prize the accuracy of history, and would encourage home enterprise in a new and expensive effort. It consists in supplying sets, one each, of the original coins of The Twelve Caesars, (Julius to Domitian, b.c. 48 to a.d. 96,) with scientific “readings” of them, and of the accurate engravings of 217 more.

Thus the privilege may be enjoyed here, as it is by students abroad, of looking face to face upon those who have long occupied niches in the temple of History; of reading, in type and legend, the religious aspirations of remote ages; of handling Roman monuments that were old when civilization in other lands was new; and finally, of making good advances in the science of Numismatics itself. To be able to read these coins under sure instruction, so that each letter and character yields its meaning, as it did to Greek and Roman eyes eighteen centuries since, is an advance in Numismatic study worthy the beginning of a new century in American annals.

The manner in which every coin, and each of the 217 engraved coins, is “read,” in the following pages, leaves but little call for an introduction. The Obverses and Reverses supplement each other in making clear the historical meaning of the monuments, and so, “showing forth a knowledge which touches as well upon the small as the great estates of men.” Let it be borne in mind that historical Numismatics does not subsist merely in explaining the coins; that is the less intellectual business of the coin-dealer. But to make the monument give tongue,— to render it vocal, so to speak, in enriching history with those precious details that constitute its light and warmth,—this is the work of the true Numismatist, and herein lies the secret of the enthusiasm germane to the vocation.

It is here that American teachers— those who at much expense and trouble have provided themselves with genuine coins,—have halted and lost sight of the real aim of Numismatics. To describe the coin is but little more than the office of the money-changer. A correct set of labels, and care in replacing the bits of money in their proper nooks, and the work of such a teacher is done. With him, ancient coins are but curiosities, his cabinet but a museum of rarities. Modern Numismatics, it may be observed, differs toto coslo from ancient; the latter alone, in any elevated sense of the term, is historical.

An American or English coin, for instance, has nothing upon it to suggest the year in which it was struck, save the figures expressing the date; if they are abraded the date is lost. Nor is it of the least importance whether lost or found, because it has no connection with any event that occurred the year of its coinage. To look for national history in the issues of our mint, we must inspect Medals instead of coins. Coins now-a-days, in ever}r country, are but coins, bits of metal stamped by the sovereign power for purposes of traffic. But these coins, of which sets of twelve each are now offered to American readers of history, were not only representatives of value, mediums of traffic, and marked as such by the fingers of the millions whom, so many centuries since, they faithfully served, but they correspond with the modern idea of Medals, inasmuch as each one is a leaflet of history, one moiety being upon the Obverse, the other upon the Reverse of the monument.

 Vero dulce atqtte jucundum, hastens one of the oldest college presidents in our country to say, ” has been his study of these twelve coins and these 217 engraved representatives of as many more by the light of the exact and laborious readings, furnished in this monograph.” If we cast an eye over the whole circle of the productions of human genius, perhaps we shall perceive none of such grand importance and utility to mankind as history. Most of the other efforts of the mind only interest individuals as such; but history, when executed with philosophic candor and propriety, concerns and instructs whole empires, indeed the whole universe.

By it, statesmen and states are taught, from the example of former and other nations, and that of their own in preceding times, to propagate measures that contribute to the general welfare, and to guard INTRODUCTION. against evils which are often unforeseen, and in consequence not warded off, only because they are not known to have existed in ancient periods, nor the methods investigated which then prevented or mitigated them.

But the very basis of history is truth; without which the causes of human action, nay the actions themselves, are disguised, and the instructions, arising from the narration, totally lost, or converted into an empty chimaera. Now the sole evidence we can have of the veracity of a historian consists in such collateral documents as are palpable to all, and can admit of no falsification. Such, in modern times, are public memoirs, instructions to ambassadors, letters of state, and the like vouchers, which every person allows to be irrefragable.”

To these we may add, in the highest and noblest sense, historical coins. The art of reading Greek and Roman coins is a rare gift among American teachers. The quaint forms and crowded state of the letters, the excessive abbreviations of words necessary to compress so much matter within the limit, and the absence of punctuation-points, have rendered these monuments sealed pages to the most. In choosing 217 engraved models’ for the make-up of this work, therefore, we have rather sought variety of type than elegance of workmanship. This will be apparent in inspecting, upon page 32, the coin-cuts of Nero.

Nothing would be easier than to select from his numismata in the three metals, elegant specimens of numismatic art. But they would fail to afford sufficient variety necessary to due advance in coin-reading. As it is, we are borne out in our opinion by all who have gone over these pages, that a careful comparison of our twelve coins and the 217 engravings, together with the letter-press, will go so far to make one expert in the art of reading Greek and Roman coins, that future progress will be comparatively swift and easy. Loth to lay down the pen, we add, and the reader will pardon us for repeating it,—that one of the greatest pleasures derived from the handling of ancient coins, is that they bring us en face with historical persons. They present themselves to us as entire monuments.

With an original coin in legible condition, the argument is complete. Statues, columns, pyramids, suffer from the ravages of barbarian force and the inimical touch of time. Paintings are too ephemeral for mention in this connection. But the 7netal, the dense heavy bronze particularly, which was the people’s money, most abundant, most vocal with types, is “faithful to its trust”; and the courtly poet at Rome, fondly contemplating the immortality of his genius, could promise himself nothing better than that his verses should be more enduring than the bronze coins lying before him that spoke the glory of Caesar and the beneficence of Augustus.




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