Numismatic and History Discussions > Books and References

Reliability of References for Roman Imperial Coins

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Steve Minnoch:
Hello all,

Please forgive what is likely to be a fairly lengthy post.

The most heavily used comprehensive reference (in English anyway) is of course RIC.  However many of the volumes are well out of date, and contain a significant number of errors regarding dating and assignment of mints etc.

If I outline my impressions of reliability volume by volume:

I: Seems to be pretty reliable, apart from Claudian-era bronze where it seems a little scratchy?
II: Relatively reliable, as so many of the coins can be easily dated from the titles, but not particularly ambitious for the undated coins of Trajan and Hadrian which it only gives to quite wide ranges.
III: Pretty much the same as II.
IV: Seems to make a number of serious errors in mint attributions and dating, and again is not particularly ambitious in trying to date coins that are not explicitly dated.
V: Forgive me if this sound harsh, but I find both parts of Volume V to be almost useless.   It doesn't seem to have been much of an advance on Cohen at all, for example for Valerian & Gallienus it only separates the listing by mint (often inaccurate) and doesn't even arrange the coinage by the dates it offers, when it provides them.  Even if correct it wouldn't seem to offer much of an advance to Cohen in understanding the patterns of the coinage.  Many coins of Probus and Aurelian, for example, seem to be misattributed for mint and entire issues appear to have been completely omitted.
VI-X As far as I know these volumes are superior to most of the others, and I'm not aware of any bad mistakes, (although there are obviously several omissions and I presume there must be mistakes when dealing with issues this complex). Volume IX doesn't seem to venture much beyond the self-evident and the coinage of this era perhaps could be arranged more precisely?

In most of these regards BMC doesn't seem to be much better, although it is preferable to have many more examples illustrated.

Any views on how fair these assessments are?

Naturally then one might look for more accurate references and arrangements.  I wonder if anyone might have formed a list of what could be considered the "definitive" arrangements as the current knowledge stands, even if this is articles/monographs on a reign-by-reign basis?  (I am certainly NOT asking for anyone to produce one for me from scratch here, by the way)

Finally, I have access to a few references that go behind RIC, and it would be nice to get an impression on how reliable they are in turn. (I haven't been able to find any specific reviews on the internet anyway)

1. Philip Hill, The Dating and Arrangement of the Undated Coinage of Rome AD 98-148.
I have trouble following some of the arguments presented, and I question whether this coinage can be arranged as precisely as it is in this book.  David Sear seems to have accepted it's conclusions wholesale in the latest volume of Roman Coins and Their Values, (sometimes dangerously as some of the types he lists can be related to several listings in Hill's book, but he provides only the date of one).  In particular I wonder about the remarkable conclusion that coins struck in the name of Hadrian with lifetime titles were stuck under Antoninus Pius? (Sear 4537-4543).

2. Philip Hill, The coinage of Septimius Severus and his family of the mint of Rome AD 193-217
Unfortunately little of the basis the arrangement is based on seems to have been published, and again I find it hard to credit that the coinage can be arranged as precisely as it has been here.

Both of Hill's books seem to be based on the "cycle theory of mint production" that I understand is also the basis of BMC vol VI?  I have been told by Curtis Clay that BMC VI is unreliable for Severus Alexander, so does that mean the basis of these two books is also on shaky ground?

3. Edward Besly & Roger Bland, The Cunetio Treasure.
I've only just come across this very interesting book.  Although most of the arrangements are second-hand, the way they are presented seems convincing as far as I can tell (and it is great to have so many specimens illustrated, a major flaw in most RIC volumes!).

Thanks if you've managed to read through this rambling post ... my thanks to anyone who is prepared to help my understanding with any of these matters.

Best regards,

I only have volumes IV and VI and whilst IV needs a shakedown, which I know that Curtis has been working on, VI seems fine apart from the problem where the dividion between VI and VII was made. The issue with this is that the coinage of some emperors traverse both volumes and it would appear that some coins have made it into both volumes with their attributions being impossible to differentiate. I have avoided V for the very reasons given above despite collecting the coinage Tacitus, Probus and Florian. I have found other means to attribute the coins as much of the information in V seems inaccurate from what I can gather. I know that for the coinage of Probus, there have been many fundamental errors, such as the allocation of a Bust type A, which is Radiate, draped bust right, whereas all such coins have since proven to be Bust Type C, Radiate draped and cuirassed bust right. Some coins that do not have cuirass have been described as having them, such as some of the Heroic nude with aegis bust. There are many, many unlisted types, legends etc. and unlisted officina are commonplace. And that is just the coinage of Probus...
Since one of my focus areas is on Lugdunum, I bought the Bastien volume that covers Tacitus, Probus and Aurelian and then rely on help when needed to fill in the gaps.

      Hill's two books are based (a) on an incorrect theory, that of cyclical production and (b) on almost no true evidence, in the form of portrait studies, die links, hoard evidence, etc.  As a result most of his chronology is arbitrary, and more likely to be wrong than right.
      To take a particularly blatant example, Septimius struck very little bronze coinage between 198 and 209, yet Hill assigns to 199, the second year of the "bronzeless" period, the VENVS FELIX type of Julia Domna, which is common on sestertii!  The BM itself has three spec. of this sestertius, they are present in every large collection and frequently appear on the market.  Contrast this with sestertii of Domna truly dating to 198-209: the BM has a single spec. of one type, and in thirty-five years of diligent searching I have managed to acquire three specimens!  
      Julia's VENVS FELIX type actually belongs to 195, four years earlier than Hill claims.  He makes this kind of mistake, while pretending to date the coinage not only to the correct year, but to the beginning, middle, or end of the correct year!
      Hill's posthumous coinage of Hadrian, and coinage of Antoninus allegedly still Caesar after Hadrian's death as part of the supposed struggle with the Senate over Hadrian's deification, though unfortunately swallowed by David Sear, is also nothing but fantasy and error.  The coins of Antoninus Caesar were struck under Hadrian, as traditionally believed; nor are the youthful-portrait aurei of Hadrian a posthumous issue, since one of them was found in the Erlaa hoard buried c. 132-3!
       It is a shame that these two books were ever published, for they bring very little true progress and are mostly speculation and outright error which can nevertheless easily mislead the unwary.
       I have said quite a lot about RIC and BMC in other posts to Forum, but have no time now to summarize and repeat my opinions.

Steve Minnoch:

--- Quote from: curtislclay on April 06, 2004, 01:04:53 pm ---       It is a shame that these two books were ever published, for they bring very little true progress and are mostly speculation and outright error which can nevertheless easily mislead the unwary.

--- End quote ---

Doubly regrettable given David Sear seems to have taken the dates from these works into the latest edition of his book verbatim.

David Atherton:
By in large which series is more reliable, the RIC or BMC? I'm thinking about buying the relevant BMC volume for my collecting era instead of the RIC...seems like the BMC is more comprehensive. Does anyone who has access to both care to comment?


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