Communicating Power

Was the purpose of numismatic art to communicate power, and to which group of people? 

The expansion of the Roman Empire is mirrored in the spread of imperial symbols on local coinages, which in turn included the Roman dictatorship of Seleucid, Ptolemaic and Attalid existing currencies (Howgego 1995: 39-57). The imperial image reflected the duties of the emperor (Noreña 2001: 146). Those who formed the image on coins followed generally patterns of political and social events as ‘liveliness on coins reflects political instability’ (Wallace-Hadrill 1986: 70). Coinage acted as a kind of branding for the emperors both before and after death, and it was important to the emperor and his reputation that his image was executed appropriately (De Blois 2003: 24). Local deities were instead represented on the reverse of the coin, with the emperor usually having a presence on the obverse (Burnett 2011: 3).  ‘Coinage reflects in complex ways the relationship between ruler and subject’ (Howgego 1995: 44).  The changes to coinage after Roman conquest was immediate and local productions initiated by the local government were immediately halted (Howgego 1995: 57). To the contrary, some cities minted their own coinage in response to a restored freedom, showing a conscious recognition of the relationship between power and numismatic imagery (Howgego 1995: 41). An example of this is the two Jewish revolts that evoked nationalistic coinages to celebrate newfound freedom (Millar 1993: 366-74).

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