Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of the emperor. Of Augustus, a noble medallion was found in Herculaneum. There are medallions of Augustus and Tiberius, struck in Spain; and one of Livia, at Patræ in Achaia. One in brass, of Antony and Cleopatra ; reverse, two figures in a car, drawn by sea-horses. Of Tiberius there are many; and also of Claudius, Agrippina, Nero, Galba, Vespasian, and Domitian, &c. The Greek medallions of Roman emperors are far more numerous than the Roman; with a few exceptions, however, all medallions are rare and of princely purchase. Even in the richest cabinet, twenty or thirty specimens are esteemed a respectable proportion.

The parts of a medal are the two sides, one whereof is called the face, head, or obverse; the other the reverse. On each side is the area, or field; the rim, or border ; and the exergum, which is beneath the ground, whereon the figures represented are placed. On the two sides are distinguished the type, and the inscription, or legend. The type, or device, is the figure represented; the legend is the writing, especially that around the medal; though in the Greek medals the inscription is frequently on the

What we find in the exergum is, generally, no more than some initial letters, whose meaning we are usually unacquainted with; though, sometimes, they contain words that may be accounted an inscription.

sometimes contains the date of the coin, expressing in what consulship of the emperor it was struck, as Cos. III., upon the reverse of an Antoninus. Sometimes it signifies the place where it was struck, and to which the coin properly belonged, as s. M. Al. for Signa Moneta Alexandriæ, upon the reverse of a Licinius. Sometimes

area.

The exergum

the name of a province, the reduction of which the medal is designed to celebrate; as Judæa on the reverse of a Vespasian.

We have stated that medals are of great importance to the study of history. They, indeed, furnish the principal proof of historic truth, as their evidence reaches to the most remote ages, as well as to the most remote countries. Vaillant, in his learned history of the Syrian kings, printed at Paris, 1681, first, fixed the dates, and arranged the order of events in ancient historians, by means of these infallible vouchers. Thus he was enabled to ascertain the chronology and progress of events of three of the most important kingdoms of the ancient world; viz. those of Egypt, of Syria, and of Parthia. The study of the Roman medals has, in this respect, an advantage over that of Greek coins, since they serve not only to illustrate the chronology of reigns, but to aid us in the interpretation of particular events. To this purpose, besides the portrait of the prince, and date of his consulship, or of his tribunitian power, we have a representation, or poetical symbol of some grand event on the reverse. In a word, the series of Roman coins presents the very best suite of documents relating to the Roman History. In addition to its historical importance, the medal is frequently a useful guide to geography,' natural history, architecture, ancient monuments, busts, statues, ceremonies, and the like. See Addison's Dialogues on the Usefulness of Ancient Medals. On this subject, also, Pinkerton, in his valuable work on, medals, has some interesting remarks; he says that, to a man of poetical imagination, the Roman coins must prove an ample source of intellectual delight, by means of the

[blocks in formation]

fine personifications and symbols which are to be found on their reverse. Happiness has sometimes the caduceus, or wand of Mercury, which Cicero tells us was thought to procure the gratification of every wish. In a gold coin of Severus, she has heads of poppy to express that our prime bliss lies in oblivion of misfortune. Hope is represented as a sprightly damsel, walking quickly and looking straight forward. With her left hand she holds

up

her garments, that they may not hinder the rapidity of her pace; while, in her right hand, she holds forth the bud of a flower, an emblem infinitely more beautiful than the trite one of an anchor, which is the symbol of Patience, not of Hope. Abundance is imaged as a sedate matron, with a cornucopia in her hands, of which she scatters the fruits over the ground; but does not hold it up, and keep its contents to herself, as many poets and painters have represented her. Security stands leaning on a pillar, indicative of her being free from all designs and pursuits ; and the posture itself corresponds to her name.

Coins also present us with countries and rivers admirably personified. On the reverse of a colonial coin, rude in execution, of Augustus and Agrippa, inscribed iMP. and DIVI. F., the conquest of Egypt is represented by the apposite metaphor of the crocodile, an animal almost peculiar to that country, and at that period esteemed altogether so, which is chained to a palm tree, at once a native of the country, and symbolic of victory. Moreover, a cabinet of medals, of which Rubens is said to have possessed a very magnificent one, may be considered as forming the classic erudition of a painter. We may add, that almost all the uses which connect the science of medals with painting,

render it also subservient to the art of the sculptor, who cannot less than profit by the study of the Greek coins in particular. The connection of the study of ancient coins with architecture, consists in the views of many of the ancient edifices, which are found in perfect preserve ation on medals. Froelich observes, that the coins of Tarsus are very remarkable for a kind of perspective in the figures. On others are found triumphal arches, temples, fountains, aqueducts, amphitheatres, circuses, palaces, columns, obelisks, baths, sea-ports, pharoses, and the like.

The study of medals affords such a variety of amusement and of instruction, that we may naturally suppose it to be nearly as ancient as medals themselves; and yet ancient writers do not furnish us with a single hint of collections of this kind. In the days of Greece, a col. lection of such coins as then existed would not be regarded as an acquisition of any great value, because it must have consisted only of those that were struck by the innumerable little states which then used the Greek characters and language, and of course it would be considered as a kind of domestic coinage, precluded from extension by the narrow limits of the intercourse that subsisted between different provinces and countries. As soon as any communication was opened between the Romans and the Greeks, the Grecian coins were imitated by the Roman workmen, and preserved in the cabinets of their senators among the choicest treasures. In a more advanced period of the Roman empire, indiyiduals must have formed collections of Roman coins; for we find that a complete series of silver was lately found in our island, containing inclusively, all the emperors down to Carausius. From the decline of the Roman empire, most branches of science were enveloped in darkness, till the revival of letters towards the end of the fifteenth century. When literature began to be cultivated in Italy, the study of medals, connected with that of ancient erudition, began to engage attention. Accordingly Petrarch, who in modern times was amongst the first persons in Europe that aspired to the celebrity of learning and genius, was likewise the first to revive the study of medals. This eminent man, having been desired by the Emperor Charles V. to compose a book that should contain a history of the coins of illustrious men, and to place him in the list, is said to have returned for answer, that he would comply with his desire, whenever the Emperor's future life and actions deserved it. Availing himself of this circumstance, he sent that monarch a collection of gold and silver coins of celebrated men. “Behold !” said he, “ to what men you have succeeded ! Behold whom you should imitate and admire! To whose very form and image you should compose your talents! The invaluable present I should have given to no one but yourself; it was due to you alone. I can only know or describe the deeds of these great men: your supreme office enables you to imitate them.” In the next age, Alphonso, king of Arragon, caused all the ancient coins that could be discovered throughout the provinces of Italy to be collected, which he placed in an ivory cabinet, and always carried about with him, that he might be excited to great actions by the presence, as it were, of so many illustrious men in their images.

To those who are desirous of gaining information upon this interesting branch of antiquarian research, we strongly recommend Mr. Pinkerton's Essay on Medals.

« AnteriorContinuar »