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Virtual Catalog of Roman Coins

Professor Robert W. Cape, Jr.
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Reviewed by:
Jack Cheng
Independent Scholar
February 2004

This website makes a fine supplement to lessons on Latin, Roman history, art, and religion. It offers 1,200 images of coins searchable by chronology (155 BCE-423 CE), iconography, inscription, or issuer. Some educational suggestions, though not complete, give good ideas on how to teach from the site.

The site makes a good introduction to numismatics (the study of coins), but has several limitations. The images have been contributed by collectors and dealers; they are not particularly large and the quality varies. For example, details of the coins’ manufacture (how the coin blank was struck on the inscribed die) may be obscure, and even the inscriptions can be hard to read from poorly lit photos. The website offers only a small sampling of the thousands of Roman coins that were minted, and the selection is rather haphazard.

For the beginner, however, the easy navigation, pictures, and clear, simple text descriptions provide an important aspect of Roman life that directly reflects on history and culture. Coins can also provide a great source for portraits of emperors and empresses discussed in class.

The “Main Catalog” establishes a frame on the left that allows users to choose coins by date and emperor, listed chronologically. Alternatively, the index can be changed to a list of families. Choosing a surname (”Julia,” for example) locates coins that suggest a family tree and traces a single lineage through generations.

Teaching resources run from basic trivia (a coin paired with a question, e.g. “Wife of Marcus Aurelius”; “Identify the goddess on the reverse”), to more open-ended questions (e.g., “What do Roman Coins Say about Ancient History?”). Not all of the resources are complete; others are rather banal, but as examples of what can be gleaned from the coins, they provide adequate models for potential quizzes or projects.

The Virtual Catalog of Roman Coins has an extensive links page with about 30 links, well annotated for the casual user. The first set of essays on coinage provide the user with background on manufacturing techniques and meaning and following essays go further in depth about coinage and the Roman world.

One drawback is that most links from the internal pages of the site are broken. Navigate back to the site’s homepage, however, and this problem disappears. The biggest drawback is that the catalog is not comprehensive. Once a larger typology is entered—and multiple examples of the same coin can be compared to discriminate how differently they were struck—this will be a powerful research tool. As it is, the website is an easy place to begin an introduction to numismatics and a useful supplement to any curriculum on ancient Rome.

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