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Eckhel on Roman Imperial Coins

Eckhel 's introductory remarks in vol. VI of his Doctrina Unmourn, Vienna 1796, which may be translated/paraphrased from the original Latin as follows:

      I proceed to the explication of the coinage of the Roman Empire. The world has not yet seen an empire more revered and famous than that of the Romans, whose very name evokes a magical admiration. But that great merit would matter little for my present project, unless the Roman Empire overshadowed earlier empires not only in power and majesty, but in the copiousness, importance, and variety of its surviving coinage. Although an incredible quantity of Roman Republican coins have come down to us, they nevertheless leave us unsatisfied in many ways. The earliest Republican coins were in bronze only, silver was only introduced at a later date, and gold was hardly used at all. The types on the coins in either metal showed little variety, until the vanity of the moneyers and their desire to boast about their ancestry alleviated the boredom caused by the ancient simplicity. Yet the result was still not what later generations might have hoped for. Instead of ancient exploits, some of them fabulous, we would have preferred to see contemporary events depicted in the coinage, along with at least some indication of when the coins were minted. The coins of the emperors present a different picture. Apart from the regular use of all three metals, the types often recorded contemporary history, be it exceptional deeds accomplished at home or abroad, benefactions granted by the emperors to the people, honors voted to the emperors, and whatever else seemed worthy of record throughout the great empire. In this respect Roman imperial coins far surpass those of earlier empires, however famous, which with almost no aid to history tended to repeat a single type, so that if you have seen one coin of a particular king you might think you had seen them all. Compare the coins of Philip II, Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies, Lysimachus, and others. As to dates, although we do not always know the exact year of issue, we can at least be certain that the coins were struck during the reign of the emperor whose portrait they bear. Another fact which is bound to bring pleasure to those who are interested in the history of the past is that the series of Roman emperors extends over fully fifteen centuries from Julius Caesar to Constantine XI, and the coins show us their portraits, and offer reliable, uncorrupted testimony of an empire at one time the greatest in the world, gradually laboring under its own weight and declining, and finally lapsing into utter barbarity and losing its former artistic capabilities.

        Since this vast and extensive class of ancient coins not only brings great profits to historical studies, but delights the soul through its reflection of the past, it is incredible to say how eagerly, from the Renaissance on, not only noblemen but private people too have devoted time and money to collecting these remains of Roman antiquity, with an affection that has remained undiminished until the present day. It is to their enthusiasm and efforts that we owe the rich collections known from that time, and published for the benefit of the educated world. Once collectors had done their duty by acquiring and assembling these treasures, scholars did not want to be remiss in performing theirs, whether by publishing catalogues of the collections, or explaining the coin types, or showing how to distinguish genuine coins from false ones, an ability which is among the most essential in this branch of studies.

        Eckhel then proceeds to a review of the literature on Roman coins up to his day.

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