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Legend: This term is used by numismatists for the words engraved on coins around the heads and types, usually located along or around the outside edge of the coin. Conversely, an inscription is a term used by numismatists for words and letters in the central areas of the coin, and sometimes actually form the coin's type.
After this distinction, it may be said that most coins bear two legends, that of the obverse (head or front of the coin), and that of the reverse. The former generally serves the purpose of naming the person represented, by his proper name, by his offices, or by certain surnames which his alleged good qualities have assigned to him. The second is destined to publish, whether justly or unjustly, his virtues and his fine actions; or to perpetuate the remembrance of advantages derived through his means to the empire; and also of the glorious monuments which serve to dedicate his name to immortality.
Sometimes great actions are expressed on coins, either in a natural manner, or by symbols which the legend explains. It is thus that on a medal of Trajan, which shows that prince putting the crown on the head of the Parthian King, we find the legend to be REX PARTHIS DATVS (a King given to the Parthians). On the other hand, by a symbol, the victories of Julius Caesar and of Augustus in Egypt are represented by a crocodile chained to a palm tree, with the words AEGYPTO CAPTA.
A considerable number of legends are only the explanations of symbols which form the types of medals, intended to proclaim the virtues of princes, together with certain events of their life, the honours decreed to them, the services rendered by them to the state, the monuments of their glory, the deities they worshipped, and from whom they believed, or pretended to believe, that they had received particular protection.
The legend on a medal is the key to its type, which without it would be sometimes difficultly explained. Amongst Roman medals, the types of those of the first emperors are always studiously chosen, and applied from some motive which the legend reveals to us. In the later empire, on the contrary, the same types and the same legends are continually and without discrimination recurring under all the emperors. The legends which express the benefits conferred on the cities, and spread over the provinces of the empire, are generally very short and simple; without being on that account the less magnificent such as CONSERVATOR VRBIS SVAE (the saviour of his city); RESTITVTOR VRBIS, HISPANIAE, GALLIAE, etc. (the prince who has re-established the city, Spain, Gaul, etc.); SALVS GENERIS HUMANI (the safety of the human race); RXVPERATOR OMNIVM GENTIVM (the conqueror of all nations); ROMA RENASCENS (Rome reviving), etc.
The particular acts of public benefit conferred by the reigning prince are sometimes more distinctly expressed in the legends of Imperial series medals, as REMISSA DVCENTESIMA.
Legends also occasionally point to events peculiar to a province, when they are represented only by ordinary symbols, such as a military trophy, a figure of Victory, etc. At other times the legend specifically indicates the victory and over whom it was gained. Thus on a glorious medal of Claudius the legend tells us of the glorious reception which the soldiers of this army gave to that emperor. In the same manner, the unusual mark of favour shewn to Nero, whilst he was as yet only a princepts juventutis (prince of the Roman youth), in admitting him a member of all the sacerdotal colleges is a fact which has been preserved by the legend Sacerdos co-optatus in omnia collegia supra numerum.
On a coin of Philip I, there is this legend, PAX FVNDATA CVM PERSIS (Peace concluded with the Persians); by which that emperor has left us a monument of the pacific treaty which he made with the people of that powerful monarchy.
The legends of some coins shew the professed attachment of certain princes for particular deities. For example, we become acquainted with the marked veneration of Numerianus for Mercury, from the circumstance of several medals of that emperor exhibiting on their reverse the legend PIETAS AVG round a figure of Mercury.
Jupiter was the tutelary deity of Diocletian; and we see on medals of that prince the legends of IOVI CONSERVATORI; IOVI PROPVGNATORI (to Jupiter the Preserver; to Jupiter the Defender). This emperor also took the surname of Jovius.
Gordian III, having gained a battle by the firmness of his soldiers, who would not abandon their position, cause a coin to be struck which has for its legend IOVI STATORI. The good fortune of the Roman emperors is often recorded on their coins.
The names of particular legions are also recorded in the legends of medals which likewise make known the names of public games, the vows for the emperors; their titles, alliances, adoptions, etc. It is by means of these legends that we also ascertain how long their gratitude lasted, who, having received the empire from their father, or from their predecessor who had adopted them, soon afterwards quit the name and quality of son, which they had at first most eagerly assumed. Trajan began his reign by joining to his own name that of Nerva, whose successor he was by adoption.
Sometimes, however, either ambition or vanity prompted certain emperors to retain and even assume the names of princes whose memory was cherished by the people. Accordingly we find that of Antoninus used by six emperors down to Elagabalus. The circumstance of this name having become common to several princes has indeed occasioned much difficulty in numismatic researches.
The natural position of the legend is around the outside edge of the coin. It is read from left to right on Roman coins. There are instances also in which it is read from right to left; and even partly to the left, partly to the right. Some legends appear only on the exergue; or upon two parallel lines, one above the type, the other at the bottom; sometimes they are placed across; at other times saltier-wise.