American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

'Eid Mar' denarius, struck for Brutus, 43-42 BC. (1944.100.4554)


The first curator of Roman and Byzantine coins was appointed in 1946. The prior history of the department--as a branch of Greek numismatics--was dictated in part by the tradition of E. T. Newell, whose collections have so enriched the Society at large. There is some evidence to show that late in his life Newell became more seriously interested in coins of the Roman and Byzantine worlds, but his first and predominant love was always Greek numismatics. Nonetheless his 20,000 Roman and Byzantine coins still form the largest single component of the Roman and Byzantine collection, though in particular areas other individuals have made greater impact.

The department includes all coins conventionally identified as Republican or Imperial, as well as the silver coins of the imperial provinces and all coins of Roman Alexandria. There are approximately 6000 coins of the Republic, about 56000 of the mainstream imperial coinage, about 3000 provincial silver and nearly 13000 of Alexandria. All of these areas have experienced significant growth in recent years, and all are under active development.

The single greatest strength is the aes grave, the early, heavy copper coinage of Rome. Spectacular pieces, ultimately from the Strozzi collection, were acquired at Wayte Raymond's sale of the J. P. Morgan collection in 1951; and the purchase of the Wulfing collection (1954) and the E. R. Miles bequest (1967) both broadened and deepened the holdings.

Richard Hoe Lawrence is best known for his work, over a century ago, on Paduan imitations of Roman coins; but he was also among the earliest donors to the Roman department. In 1938 his widow gave his collection of Republican silver coins, which can almost invariably be relied on to provide the finest specimen of any series. George Clapp, the great collector of large cents, donated the collection of E. P. Robinson in 1941, the year of the Newell's death; and while there have been few large donations since, purchases have helped to round out control-marked series, early anonymous issues with symbols and monograms, and rare varieties otherwise missing from the collection. Newell's collection remains the core, but it too has been augmented by other gifts. Over the years Mark and Lottie Salton have given hundreds of coins in memory of Felix Schlessinger, almost all selected to fill gaps in prior holdings. For many years (1954-1980) imperial aurei were given anonymously by Mrs. H. L. Chalifoux; her gifts eventually totalled over 400 pieces. The purchase of the Tell Kalak hoard in 1956 yielded at one stroke over 2300 silver coins, and the Bastien collection, purchased in 1984, nearly 2300 late Roman copper-based coins. The later empire remains an area requiring development, mainly in the precious metals.

The last two decades have seen a reformulation of the conventional definitions of "Greek" and "Roman" for the imperial period; still, tradition dies hard, and there are legitimate arguments about how to arrange material in a fashion likely to be useful to the student. Many silver coins of the empire, whatever language they bear, were struck on imperial authority, but copper coins were mainly (though not exclusively) produced on local initiative. As a consequence imperial silver now resides in the Roman department, while copper remains in the domain of the Greek curator. The Society possesses the largest comprehensive collection of Alexandrian coins anywhere, which also resides in the Roman department.

The collection still has areas of weakness, particularly in the later empire, but taken as a whole it belongs solidly in the first rank of collections worldwide.

The collection is entirely recorded in the Society's computer database.

The Society is currently engaged in a major collaborative project to create an online reference tool covering all coin types of the Roman Imperial period: OCRE - Online Coins of the Roman Empire.

Inquiries about the Roman collection and the OCRE project should be directed to Gilles Bransbourg.

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