Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Numismatics in Leiden: more than two sides to the same coin

Numismatic research of Roman coin hoards in the Netherlands

2018 - 2020
Liesbeth Claes
Leiden University Centre for Digital Humanities
Coin hoard Buren 2014 (Nationale Numismatische Collectie, De Nederlandsche Bank, picture: P.J. Bomhof, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

The use of numismatic sources is incorporated in Claes’s research project “Dialogues of Power”. This project aims to analyse the legitimising dialogue between Roman emperors and their Germanic legions during the so-called “crisis of the third century”. By doing so, this project will shed new light on how the loyalty of soldiers towards their emperors was established and which communication strategies emperors used to (re-)gain the political and military stability that ultimately helped to reunify the Roman Empire after the crisis.

Because imperial coinage is a direct vehicle for imperial communication, various messages, visual and verbal, could be disseminated by them. In the third century, silver coins still formed the major part of soldiers’ payments. This means that the imperial centre had an excellent tool to send messages addressing the military. For instance, messages of victories or trust in the army on these silver coins could flatter soldiers in order to win their loyalty.

The analysis of coin messages will be based on coin hoards, deposited between AD 180 and 285 in and near the military zone of the Lower Rhine limes, especially at the military camps in Germania Inferior. Although hoards often represent a random sample taken from circulation, hoard-based samples represent an untouched record from antiquity, providing information about the period in which the coins were used and deposited. Moreover, these coins from hoards give us additional information as opposed to single coin finds. The date of the youngest coins in a hoard give us a terminus post quem for the date at which coins stopped to be added to the hoard and the composition of a hoard can give us an idea about the date of the deposition of the coins, which may be different from the closing date. Most coins composing a hoard were probably withdrawn from circulation within a short space of time before the date at which the saving process ended. All in all, it can give us an idea when certain coin messages were disseminated. Additionally, hoards are found abundantly at the Empire’s northern border, and more importantly, the coins’ withdrawal from circulation was not related to the messages on them.

In collaboration with the Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire (CHRE) Project (University of Oxford). For more about the collaboration with the CHRE, see also this blog post.

Paul Beliën

Curator of the National Numismatic Collection, that is managed by the Dutch Central Bank in Amsterdam and visiting lecturer at Leiden. Paul is, amongst other things, responsible for identifying coin finds from the Netherlands and adding the data to the Dutch coin finds database NUMIS. He supervises the transfer of the hoard data from NUMIS to the CHRE database. NUMIS currently contains information on about 278.500 coin finds.

Liesbeth Claes

University lecturer at Leiden University. Her research focuses on the mechanics of power during the Roman Empire, in which coinage plays a pivotal role. Through her research, Claes has analysed several hoards of the Netherlands, and subsequently, she has a substantial database with coin hoard data on the Netherlands. Through her expertise, she can contribute on several domains to the CHRE project.

Two numismatic courses in Leiden

In Leiden, students have the opportunity to follow two numismatic courses.

In the BA course “Antieke munten als bron voor de Oudheid” students learn how coins can be used as a source of knowledge of the ancient world. The course consists of two parts. The first part offers an introduction to the history of coinage and its use in the Greek, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine world. Discussions about trade, economy, politics, propaganda and identity are recurring themes. In the second part, the course deals with academic debates around coin production, coin circulation and use, die studies and iconography. During this course, the students also participate in a workshop, studying coins that are part of the Dutch National Numismatic Collection in Amsterdam.

The MA course “Roman Numismatics: a practical guide” builds further on the BA course by focusing on the development of the different monetary systems in Rome and the spread of Roman coinage over the Empire. Yet, above all the course wants to offer students practical tools to work with ancient coinage. Students will learn to find and use numismatic catalogues and online databases and they will practice how to identify Roman coins and interpret coin finds. Additionally, they will follow some workshops on how to enter coin material in a database. Each student gets the opportunity to do a (literature) study on the history, composition and archaeological context of a selection of coin hoards. In this way, they also contribute to the CHRE project by checking or refining its data under the guidance of the lecturer. Former students involved within this project were: A. Bogman, F. Janse van Rensburg, K. Joosse, P. Nicolaas, M. Hugen and H. Khair.

Class of 2018. Second row: B. Noordervliet, R. Hagedoorn, S. Jesse, Ž. Zupan, C. Papatola, N. Gastaldi, S. Wen, I. Nederpelt. First row: M. van Haeringen, L. Claes and B. Wang. Missing from the photo is M. Pelger. 

In 2019, a Digital Humanities Day was organised at Leiden University. Prof. dr. C. Gazdac gave a workshop on submitting and correcting data to the Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire database to the students of the MA course and other interested persons. In doing so, students also learned how to deal with hoards that were not properly registered and they acquired new digital skills. For the same audience, S. Betjes gave a workshop on using the database OCRE. In the evening, Prof. dr. C. Gazdac also gave a lecture on “General and specific patterns of coin hoarding in the light of the Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire Project”.

In the course of 2020, the MA students T. Akyazi, Z. Jennings, J. Mc Aleenan, L. Onderwater, I. Roelofse, G. van Everdingen, L. van Loon, D. van Midde , directed by the ResMA students M. Ciobataru, L. Petrassi, I. Verbiesen and J. van Dam, made a survey of the closing dates of the coin hoards of the Netherlands. A preliminary look at the chronological distribution of the coin hoards in the Netherlands (incl. golden single finds), based on the dates of their closing coins, gives the following:

First century BC: 18 hoards
First century AD: 79 hoards
Second century: 57 hoards
Third century: 62 hoards
Fourth century: 16 hoards

For their survey, the students made a geographical division between the Northern and Southern parts of the Netherlands, based on the area of the (old course of the) Dutch Rhine as the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Two charts were produced, showing the number of coin hoards found in the Southern and Northern part of the Netherlands, based on their closing dates . The first chart is made with the intervals of the reigns of the emperors from Augustus to Commodus, whereas the second chart uses larger time periods, such as dynasties, as intervals from the start of the reign of Augustus (27 BC) until the end of the reign of Theodosius I (AD 395).  

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