The Age of Gallienus
Ancient Coin Collecting 101
Ancient Coin Prices 101
Ancient Coin Dates
Ancient Coin Lesson Plans
Ancient Coins & Modern Fakes
Ancient Metal Arrowheads
Ancient Oil Lamps
Ancient Wages and Prices
Ancient Weights and Scales
Anonymous Class A Folles
Armenian Numismatics Page
A Cabinet of Greek Coins
Caesarean and Actian Eras
Campgates of Constantine
A Case of Counterfeits
Byzantine Christian Themes
Coins of Pontius Pilate
Conditions of Manufacture
Corinth Coins and Cults
Countermarked in Late Antiquity
Denarii of Otho
Die Alignment 101
Dictionary of Roman Coins
Doug Smith's Ancient Coins
Edict on Prices
ERIC - Rarity Tables
The Evolving Ancient Coin Market
Facing Portrait of Augustus
Fel Temp Reparatio
Fertility Pregnancy and Childbirth
Friend or Foe
The Gallic Empire
Greek Coin Denominations
Greek Mythology Link
Greek Numismatic Dictionary
Hellenistic Names & their Meanings
Helvetica's ID Help Page
The Hexastyle Temple of Caligula
Identifying Ancient Metal Arrowheads
Illustrated Ancient Coin Glossary
Important Collection Auctions
Islamic Rulers and Dynasties
Julian II: The Beard and the Bull
Julius Caesar - The Funeral Speech
People in the Bible Who Issued Coins
Imperial Mints of Philip the Arab
Later Roman Coinage
Library of Ancient Coinage
Life in Ancient Rome
List of Kings of Judea
Maps of the Ancient World
Museum Collections Available Online
The [Not] Cuirassed Elephant
Not in RIC
Numismatic Excellence Award
Pi-Style Athens Tetradrachms
Pricing and Grading Roman Coins
Reading Judean Coins
Representations of Alexander the Great
Roman Coin Attribution 101
Rome and China
Satyrs and Nymphs
The Sign that Changed the World
Silver Content of Parthian Drachms
Star of Bethlehem Coins
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum
Taras Drachms with Owl Left
The Temple Tax
The Temple Tax Hoard
Travels of Paul
Tribute Penny Debate Continued (2015)
Tribute Penny Debate Revisited (2006)
Uncleaned Ancient Coins 101
What I Like About Ancient Coins
Who was Trajan Decius
Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.
MEDALLION. - Under this term are, without distinction, comprised all monetary productions of the ancients, whether in gold, silver, brass, the volume and weight of which materially exceed the usual size of coins struck in those respective metals.
There is, however, a difference of opinion amongst numismatic antiquaries as to whether what are called medallions were or were not used for money.
Patin observes that they were made for no other original purpose than that of satisfying the curiosity of princes, as is done this day with fancy pieces (pièce de plaiser).
Jobert, in his Science des Médailles, remarks that their workmanship was too exquisite, and their size too unwieldy for common currency.
Bimard, in his historical and critical notes on the work of the last named writer, agrees that it is most probable not to have been the intention of those, who in ancient times caused medallions to be struck, that they should serve for money; but with his usual cautious and discriminative judgment adds - "I think, nevertheless, that when those pieces had fulfilled their first destination, and were dispersed abroad (distribuées), a free currency was given them in commerce, by regulating their value in proportion to their weight and to their standard of purity. At least I have thought myself warranted in coming to this conclusion, from the countermarks which I have seen on several Greek medallions of the Imperial series, and it is certain that the Greek medallions were real money. It was doubtless after the example of the Greeks, that the Romans put also their medallions into circulation as current coin."
Mahudal, to whose dissertation on the same subject Bimard refers, supports the opinion, "that medallions were pieces distinguished from money, as they were with us from medals." - But, says Millin, "there are other writers, who for from entertaining this opinion, maintain against the system of Mahudal, that we are to recognise money in those medallions which are multiplied from a piece generally acknowledged to be money, such as the tetradrachms and the cistophori, the only pieces with which the province of Asia payed its tributes to the Roman republic ; and by analogy, all the Greek medallions of the same weight and form. Millin himself goes on to instance the fine gold medallion of the Emperor Augustus, found at Herculaneum, which "ought, be says, to be regarded as a piece of money, so likewise those of Domitian and Commodus, all these quadruples of the aurei of Augustus, which weigh nearly two gros. Whatever might have been the weight of their monies, the Romans neither knew, nor employed, more than the two synonyms numi and numismata to designate them all. Marcus Aurelius caused a great number of medallions of the largest volume to be struck, numos maximos, says Julius Capitolinus. A particular word would have been invented to name these extraordinary pieces, if they had been anything else than extra sized money. An inference favourable to this opinion (adds Millin) is derived from types which adorn the Roman medals in each metal ; these types and their legends are absolutely the same with those of the ordinary sized medals. We find, indeed, on the medallions, especially from the reign of Gallienus to that of the Constantines, the figure of Moneta, sometimes alone, at others under the emblem of three women, bearing each a balance. These symbols are accompanied with legends used, in a similar case ; MONETA AVG. ; AEQVITAS AVG. ; MONETA AVGG.; and upon a medallion of Crispus, MONETA VRBIS VESTRAE. Some medallions, few however in number, bear the two letters S. C., that is to say, Senatus Consultus, which are generally placed on the bronze medals of the three modules (first, second, and third brass), and announce the authority of the Senate.—As it is nowhere read that the Senate made largesses or liberalities, the pieces which have the mark of the Senatus Consultus, large and heavy as they may be, were therefore struck by order of that body, only to be used as money.—As to the rest it is generally to be observed on medallions of all the three metals, that they are worn just like the coins. This wearing of the coin is certainly attributable to the same cause, namely the continual rubbing to which circulation exposes all monies. The medallions, therefore, (proceeds Millin,) served for the same purpose, although they were much more rare. They moreover often exhibit a characteristic which only belongs to money, and which is the countermark. Their fabrication, therefore, has always had a commercial object, into which they entered, after having originally been presentation pieces (pièces de largesses).—Such (concludes Millin) was doubtless their first destination. The Emperors caused them to be struck for the purpose of distributing them on solemn days, and on occasions of state pomp. Those who came afterwards into possession of them, were competent to supply with them the wants of life and the demands of commerce."
Amongst the number of writers opposed to this theory is our own Addison, who, in his "Dialogues upon the usefulness of Ancient Medals," makes Philander tell his numismatic pupils that "formerly there was no difference between money and medals. An old Roman had his purse full of the same pieces that we now preserve in cabinets. As soon as an Emperor had done anything remarkable, it was immediately stamped on a coin, and became current through the whole dominions." (p. 147). And a little further on, in answer to Cynthio's question, "were all the ancient coins that are now in cabinets once current money?" our illustrious countryman, through the mouth of his imaginary representative, replies, "It is the most probable opinion that they were all of them such, excepting those we call medallions. These in respect of the other coins were the same as modern medals in respect of modern money. They were exempted from all commerce, and had no other value but what was set upon them by the fancy of the owner. They are supposed to have been struck by Emperors for presents to their friends, foreign princes, or ambassadors. However, that the smallness of their number might not endanger the loss of the devices they bore, the Romans took care generally to stamp the subject of their medallions on their ordinary coins that were the running cash of the nation. As if in England, we should see on our half-penny and farthing pieces, the several designs that show themselves in their perfection on our medals."--(p. 148.)
A later and perhaps more practised English numismatist, the dogmatical but still scientific and sagacious Pinkerton, in his " Essay on Medals," says— "Under the term of medallions are included all the pieces produced by the ancient mints, which, from their superior size, were evidently not intended for circulation as coins, but for other occasions. Medallions were presented by the emperor to his friends, and by the mint-masters to the emperor, as specimens of fine workmanship. They were struck upon the commencement of the reign of a new emperor, and other solemn occasions, as monuments of gratitude or of flattery. Sometimes they were merely what we would call trial, or pattern pieces, testimonia probatae monetae; and such abound after the reign of Maximian, with the tres monetae on the reverse."—(vol. i. p. 273.)
The most recently published observations on the subject in question are from the pen of M. Hennin, a very acute and accomplished French numismatist, who in his " Manuel" of the Science, devotes a chapter to the purpose of defining the difference between coins and medals," (différence des monnaies aux médailles), words which are continually confounded with each other, particularly in reference to the mintage of ancient times.
"Coins" (les monnaies), says the above-named writer, " are pieces of metal which, uniformly and very numerously multiplied, and bearing similar impressions in evidence of their value, whether real or fictitious, serve for an universal medium of exchange against all other objects of value.
"Medals (médailles) are pieces of metal which, multiplied in an uniform manner, without having any precise value, and without uniting the known and determinate characters for standard, weight, and types, are designed to serve in commemoration of events or of personages.'
M. Hennin proceeds to remark that, in giving the name of medals to the money of the ancients, three inconveniences are incurred—the first is that of calling these pieces by what is not their real name ; the second, that of giving a false idea of what they were in the ages of antiquity ; the third, that of confounding thereby antique coins with antique medals, for the ancients themselves knew the difference between one and the other.
So much for the question, whether any of the pieces called medallions passed as coins with the ancients, a matter of no intrinsic importance. It is of much greater moment to notice the different articles belonging to the class of medallions. There were a great number of medallions struck in the Greek cities, subject to the Roman empire, and they are of considerable importance on account of the extent of their inscriptions, which elucidate many extremely curious points connected with antiquity. Pellerin has published and explained many of these medallions, and the Royal Library at Paris possesses a large collection of them. They are particularly useful to beginners, because their legends are more easily read than those on coins of a smaller module, and because they exhibit themselves in a great variety of form.—But passing by the Greek, both Autonomous and Imperial, which though highly interesting in each metal, from the general excellence of their workmanship and the diversity of their types, do not come within the province of this work, we proceed to that more truly Roman branch of the Imperial series, commonly called Latin Medallions. All gold and silver pieces larger than the diameter ordinarily assigned to imperial money may be regarded as comprised in this category, and are all of greater or less rarity.
Medallions are indeed generally more adapted to facilitate the study of antiquity than common medals, because their types present more curious and interesting subjects in reference to mythology, and to ceremonies and customs religions, civil, military, &c., representing as they generally do, on their reverses, triumphs, games, edifices, and other monuments, which are the most particular objects of an antiquary's research. Nor is the information to be derived from medallions less important with regard to the history of art. Their superior size has enabled those who executed them to charge their reverses with more complex designs; and accordingly we find amongst the medallions of the Roman Emperors, many specimens of workmanship almost equal in point of exquisiteness to that of the finest engraved stones.
Millin places at the head of these antique pieces of metal the gold medallion of Justinian, in the French. King's Cabinet. This magnificent product of coinage, not for money purposes, is more than three inches (French) in diameter, and in proportionably high relief. Its extraordinary volume, equal to that of the gold medallion of Tetricus, shews it to have been appropriated to the same use. The perforated rams-horns (bélières, as the French call them), which are attached to the former, clearly point out that it was originally destined to serve as an ornament, principally for suspension from the neck.
With these medallions should be classed those pieces, which are surrounded with borders, encircled with ornamental mountings, and which are double the size of coins, to which, however, their types are common. Sometimes the circles are of the same metal as that 'of those extraordinary pieces, and in that case they are continuous with the field of the coin ; at other times they are found composed of a metal, or rather of a mixture of metals (alliage), different from that of the medallion with which they have been soldered after being placed between the dies. These sorts of medallions do not commence until the reign of Commodus. Sometimes even the circle made of a different metal, or alloy, is itself enclosed in a rim, the material of which still differs from its own. In these singularities is seen a marked intention to place them out of currency. It was the custom to use these extraordinary medallions as ornaments for the decoration of military ensigns, whether they were suspended to them with bélières, or fixed to the standards by means of holes pierced in the centre of their diameter, or whether they were inlaid on them from space to space. Perhaps the medallions which were composed of two different metals were employed for the same purpose.
The largeness of medallions is not to be understood merely in comparison with that of common coins, of which the greater have some advantage over the others. The size of medallions is so considerable, that it sometimes exceeds the ordinary weight of medals by one or two proportions. The thickness, the height of relief, and the extent of surface are the qualities which are held by numismatists in the higher esteem.
A remarkable distinction between the Greek and Roman medallions lies in their different thickness, the Roman being often three or four lines thick, whilst the other seldom exceed one.
M. Mionnet, in some observations which he makes (in the preface to his celebrated work De la rareté et du prix des Médailles Romaines,) on the module of the coins, says,-"Silver medals of the larger size, as they are called, ought not to be confounded with medallions; they are distinguishable by the head of the Prince, which is always radiated, whilst it is laureate on coins of the common size. These medals were not struck till the period from Caracalla's reign to that of the elder Philip inclusive.- As to medallions of gold and of silver, it is very easy to recognise them ; it suffices that they are found to exceed the usual module by their weight, or their diameter ; when however of extraordinary dimensions they are of extreme rarity, and should not be mixed up with the smaller size, which in general are less estimated.-Brass medallions and large brass ' medals have for the most part been frequently the object of mistaken notions with authors , and connoisseurs. Some, for the reign of Postumus especially, have given us for medallions the coins which belong only to large brass; whilst others, for the Lower Empire, have passe off for large brass what can be regarded as no more than middle brass."
The following remarks concerning the Roman medallions are chiefly drawn from Pinkerton and Millin :-Many of these have S. C. as being struck by order of the Senate ; others have not, as being by order of the Emperor. Of Augustus a noble gold medallion was found in Herculaneum. There are many of Tiberius and Claudius. Some of Agrippina, Nero, Galba, Vespasian, and Domitian, are also extant. Those of Trajan and Hadrian have generally a broad rim beyond the legend with indented circles. Above all it was under the reign of Antoninus Pius, and some of his first successors, that very fine medallions were struck. That emperor had a religious respect for all which recalled the history of Rome's foundation and that of her first ages. Thus we find on these medallions Hercules, whom the inhabitants of Mount Aventine thanked, for having delivered them from the giant Cacus ; likewise we see Horatius Codes defending the Sublician bridge ; the arrival of Aesculapius at Rome, under the form of a serpent, &c., &c. These medallions, moreover, retrace many ancient and important features of mythological and heroic history. A medallion of Lucilla represents the combat of the Romans and the Sabines, and Hersilia throwing herself between Tatius her father and Romulus her husband.-A fine one of the same empress has for the type of its reverse that lady walking in a garden and several cupids overturning each other- " A meet emblem (says Pinkerton) of her various amours ; and which calls to mind Anacreon's description of his heart, as a nest in which old loves begot young ones." There are medallions of Commodus remarkable for but superior workmanship : one of them in bronze, Patin has engraved in his "Histoire des Médailles," of which the reverse is enriched with one of the finest sacrificial groups, a master-piece of ancient art.- On another of this emperor we see him and his concubine Marcia ; their heads joined, and she wearing a helmet.- One of Pertinax has for reverse that emperor sacrificing, with VOTIS DECENNALIBVS. Of Septimius Severus there are many. The mints of Gordian III. and of Philip contribute to the number.
Numerous varieties subsequently appear of Trebonianus Gallus, Valerian, Gallienus, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, Maximian I., Constantius I., Constantinus I. and II., Constans and Constantius II.—For a notice of the curious brass medallion of Constans, which represents him standing in a ship, and a human figure in the waves,---see the legend BONONIA OCEANEN. It has been asserted that no medallions were ever struck in the colonies. Nevertheless, Valliant has published one of Cordova and another of Saragossa. The medallions called contorniate, from an Italian word, indicating the manner in which they are struck, are quite a distinct class of pieces.—See the word.
It is very difficult to form a numerous suite of medallions; those extant do not furnish all the Emperors, and thus the series remains always imperfect.—The first who collected any considerable number of these pieces was Gothifredi, a Roman gentleman, who possessed nearly two hundred of them about the middle of the seventeenth century. These he augmented from time to time, and in 1672, when they became the property of Christina, Queen of Sweden, they amounted to more than three hundred.--Cardinal Gaspard Carpegna was also one of the earliest who attached themselves to the task of forming a suite of medallions. He caused one hundred and ninety-five of them to be engraved, and they were accompanied with observations by Buonarotti.—Vaillant has described about four hundred and fifty from Julius Caesar to Constans, which he had seen in different cabinets of France and Italy.--According to a catalogue published at Venice, there were two hundred and twenty-nine medallions in the Museum Pisani.---The Carthusians at Rome had a very fine collection of medallions, which was afterwards sold to the Emperor of Germany; the engravings from it are now extremely rare —In the seventeenth century more than four hundred medallions in the French King's Cabinet were engraved. Their number had been much increased since the acquisition made of all that belonged to Marshal D'Estrées. This suite comprised all the medallions which had enriched the collection of the Abbé de Camps, besides those which appeared with the explanations of Valliant, and which did not exceed one hundred and forty. The Abbé de Rothelin also possessed a very considerable series of them.—Above all, Cardinal Albani's fine series of medallions ought to be mentioned. These afterwards passed to the Vatican ; Venuti engraved and described them. This collection and those of Cardinal Carpegna were, in Buonaparte's time, united to that in the cabinet of antiques is the national Library at Paris, which even before that period was one of the most numerous in Europe. [Restored to the Vatican at the feats of 1815.] In 1806, when M. Millin was Conservateur des Médailles in that magnificent establishment, the number of antique medallions there accumulated was not less than 1,500.