Numismatic and History Discussions > History and Archeology

Vettii cupids - coinmakers or goldsmiths?


I was browsing some old Google-scanned copies of Numismatic Chronicle linked on Ed Snible's site, and came across an interesting article about what was described as Roman wall painting of the coin making process.

The painting, below, is one of a number at the House of the Vetti in Pompeii showing cupids engaged in a number of activities.

Here's the NC article (from 1896!) - pp53-58

And here's an interesting follow-up in a letter to NC 1898 pp294-303

The interpretation of the picture given is of the coin making process taking place in the temple of Juno Moneta.

Now, when I went Googling for a photo of the painting, the best one I could find (cropped and reduced below), was on the site of a goldsmith who interprets the painting as depicting the cupids as goldsmiths rather than coinmakers.  (2nd picture down - click on it for full size)

So, who's right, and if these are coin makers, does the painting seem to tell us anything new?


I cannot see any direct evidence on the painting that would prove these cupids are coinmakers.  The first pair of cupids from the left seems to be working a piece of metal in a fashion not suggesting coin making.  Even if the hammer was the upper die, it would seem that this wouldn't match the process of striking the die itself with a hammer.  Also, the anvil does not seem to have the right shape for a lower die.  It has rounded edges and seems like a regular anvil suited for shaping metal.  The third cupid from the right seems to be using a small hammer, obvioulsy engaged in some detailed work, which does not seem to match the process of coin striking.

Yes - it doesn't seem to correspond to the technique we imagine to have been used, but perhaps there was a different technique used for the precious metals, or maybe just for gold? The 2nd NC article (a letter) suggests that the die pair is being held in fixed die-axis relationship by the tongs themselves.

It seems that the hammer is being wielded with a fair amount of force and imprecision, which naievely seems incongrous with goldsmithing. It's also interesting that at far right there's one cupid apparently blowing though a pipe onto something in the furnace - it doesn't seem like a mass production technique.


I am not at all convinced that this painting explicitly represents a mint.  The letter makes a lot of assumptions about it, but nothing absolutely certain.  I am curious where the information about the change in coin striking methods during Nero's reigh came from.  It wouldn't seem practical to "free hand" strike the flan with the upper die, for it would provide for too many inaccuracies, and 1st century coinage is generally of good standard.  Of course, we cannot generalize about Roman mints from a single source (even if that was a mint), despite the seeming uniformity in mints. At the end, I think this painting could be interpreted as one pleases to see it.  I don't personally see it as a mint, although it would've been nice if it was. 

P.S.  I think the cupid blowing through a pipe in the furnace is doing so just to stimulate the fire in order to help soften the piece of metal which he is holding with the tongs.  The detail in this painting is amazing.

This brings to mind one of the failures, from the modern point of view, of the recording of the history of the Roman empire.
And one of the key differences in the modern (a fairly large span of time) and the ancient point of view.  Literacy in the really modern sense was lacking among the common classes.  Yes, they cold identify coin values, and could  read which building meant what ("a brothel? I was seeking the baths of this small provincial town").
What we get from roman history is the history of a very small percentage of the population.
It would be similar to scholars in the far future trying to reconstruct ancient 21st century America from press realeases of the entertainment industry and government press conferences. Both would likely end:
"and then there were the common folk.  According to the writings and "videos"  of  "Entertianment Tonight", an ancient chronicle of both common and famous people, the common people of the 21st century lived in what they called "apartments" or "suburbs" and frequented the houses of "movies' for entertainment. Some of course lived in the "provinces" known in ancient times as "states" and some lived rurally with nothing but their agricultural or factory jobs and had  little learing or amusment available.
They mostly had boring, hard jobs, and looked to the "politicans" and "entertainers" for amusement when they were not working long days.
Coin production was seen to by the government.  Commoners were employed.
"What's that? A description of how coins were made by commoners?   In the name of the allmighty, why? How boring that would be.  Coins just .......are. It is enough"


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