Richmond Home
Constantius II (Obverse), circa A.D. 324-361, Roman, gold Solidus [S3988], 1 1/8 inch diameter. Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Chris Theodotou, R1979.11.0023. Photograph by Katherine Wetzel.
Sep 17, 2002
throughFeb 02, 2003

Heads or Tails: Ancient Coins from the Permanent Collection

Print this event Add to Outlook Add to iOS Device Add to Google Calendar Add to Google Calendar
On September 17, 2002, the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums, opens the exhibition Heads or Tails: Ancient Coins from the Permanent Collection. This exhibition displays a selection of approximately thirty coins from the more than one thousand ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine coins in the museum's permanent collection donated by Dr. and Mrs. Chris Theodotou and Dr. Pliny Price.
About the exhibition
Heads or Tails reveals extraordinary diversity in coin design by highlighting common themes in ancient coinage, such as religious iconography, military symbolism, and ruler representations. The exhibition also showcases a number of coins that demonstrate the process involved in coin production. The exhibition was co-curated by Ann Blair Hanes (AW '03), University of Richmond art history major, and N. Elizabeth Schlatter, Assistant Director, University of Richmond Museums.

The term "ancient coins" refers to coins produced between 500 b.c.e. to a.d. 1200. The advent of coinage has its origins in Lydia, a small kingdom in the western part of Asia Minor, approximately 500 b.c.e. Coins of ancient times were cast or struck from precious metals such as gold, silver, and bronze according to specific marks of value. For example, coins would be struck with an M, K, I, or E, which stood for their value in nummi (40, 20, 10 and 5, respectively), the base measurement of comparison for coins.

Additional coins could be struck with artistic and stylistic marks identifying rulers and the mints from which they were made. Since coins were so widely circulated, they were often employed as propaganda during an emperor's reign, reflecting the status of his rule. By advertising staple crops, architectural achievements, or even military conquests, coins were a popular and easily understandable way to present an imperial message to the public.

One example of this use of coins as imperial propaganda, highlighted in Heads or Tails, is that of Roman coinage representative of the military. These coins are not only expressive of the civic pride of Rome, but they also put forth the theme of the heroic soldier. Examples on display include images of emperors wearing war regalia with helmets, shields, and spears on the obverse (front of the coin) with representations of the goddess Victory on the reverse of the coin. Included in the exhibition is a Roman coin minted under Constantius II (a.d. 337-361) which has a bust of the ruler on the obverse and a soldier advancing with shield in hand, spearing a fallen horseman on the reverse. Another coin minted under Constantius II shows a layout of a military fortress on its reverse.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the new rulers of Byzantium create a gold coin called the solidus. Common motifs on the solidus included religious figures in accordance with the new Christian empire established under Constantine the Great (a.d. 307-337). Religious coin representations included in the exhibition reveal the bust of Christ surrounded by a halo and holding a cross on the obverse and religious symbols such as a Christogram (a Christian monogram consisting of Greek letters) on the reverse. Other gold coins present images of emperors being blessed by Christ and the Virgin Mary.

The tools used in the production of coins were a balance employed to weigh the blanks of metal, a punch that provided force to imprint the metal, and a lower and upper die containing the designs. Blanks of metal were placed in between the dies and the punch was struck with a hammer squeezing the metal to make an imprinted coin. Heads or Tails includes a section on the process of coin production and displays coin weights and coins marked with different symbols reflecting their value and the mints where they were produced. One coin, produced during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Michael VII (a.d. 1071-1078), is unusual in that it was minted in a concave shape.