ACTA ACCLA, July 2003
MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH ANCIENT COINS
Dupondius of Titus
Titus' short rule as Roman emperor (79-81 CE) was very successful, largely as a result of his lavish expenditures that benefited the public, such as the rebuilding of Rome after a fire in 80 CE.
As a fanatical Roman coin collector, my interest lies in promoting the hobby. It occurred to me that, in addition to the academic and historical aspects of a coin, the circumstances and atmosphere surrounding the acquisition of a specimen may be particularly interesting. After all, collections reflect the personality of their owners, and this may be especially true for ancient numismatics.
I discovered the field of ancient coin collecting in September 1971 while a college student in southern California where the summers are long, hot and languid. I recently had been fascinated with the ancient history depicted in Robert Graves' chronicle of the Roman Emperor Claudius in his books I, Claudius and Claudius the God, and vague notions of a humanistic education floated through my head. On Sundays I was wont to make my way to a local "swap meet" (although swapping was and had been nowhere in evidence for the five or so years I had been frequenting such affairs!.
I was wandering through the aisles looking for additions to my library when I noticed a gentleman proffering coins on a small table. I had given up collecting U.S. coins six years previously, having been sidetracked by puberty, sports and other distractions. I began examining the man's wares, which included U.S. and foreign coins, when a bronze piece about the size of a quarter slid into my vision. It was worn, to be sure, but there was something surrealistic about its appearance. My first acquaintance with antiquity! I felt something new indeed, but it was a feeling of convergence similar to really seeing something for the first time. I wish I could say the heavens opened, with cherubim singing and legions marching, but unfortunately nothing quite like that took place (the important influences became more profound with study and appreciation).
I examined the coin and inquired about its age, pedigree, authenticity and cost. The portrait was of a youngish, jovial, overweight man who appeared to be wearing a bird cage on his closely shorn head. The reverse featured a seated lady holding out a round, plate-like object. Something told me "this man is benevolent and seems to love life." I liked him and the coin; thus I purchased it and put away my newly found treasure. I jealously guarded the coin, anticipating my research in the university library.
I found "my Roman" in a small volume entitled Identifying Roman Coins. The coin was a dupondius of Titus, emperor of Rome at the time the volcano erupted at Mount Vesuvius, and was coined in 80-81 CE; with Salus, the Roman goddess personifying health, prosperity and the public welfare, on the reverse. I spent the next week exhausting the library collection of ancient coin books (about four, if memory serves) and later ordered books through the inter-library loan program.
I was entranced with my Titus. My friends thought I was ill or crazy. I didn't go out; I read about ancient coins; I was obsessed. So many intriguing questions nagged me. How. much has this coin been through in the last 1900 years? Who has held it? How did it get here in such good condition? My fantasy and emotions were given free reign. I had discovered a whole new world--a world with a secret that propelled me into a vast and fascinating hobby.