Scholia Reviews ns 6 (1997) 15.
Kevin Herbert, Roman Imperial Coins: Augustus to Hadrian and Antonine Selections, 31 BC - AD 180. The John Max Wulfing Collection in Washington University Vol. III. Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1996. Pp. xxii + 92, incl. 42 plates. ISBN 0-86516-332-4. US$50.00.
University of Natal
In the opening sentence (p. vii) of his introduction to this volume,[] Herbert articulates what is clearly a guiding principle not only of the catalogue itself but of his work as a numismatist: to make the subject accessible not only to specialists but to beginners, whether undergraduate or graduate, and to contextualise the study of coinages within broader historical inquiry. This purpose underlies the introductory survey of the reigns of the Julio-Claudians, the civil wars following the death of Nero, the Flavians and the adoptive and Antonine emperors (pp. vii-xviii). A section headed The Iberian, Gallic and Eastern Provincial Coinage (pp. xviii-xx), which completes the introduction, is more or less a gazetteer, and there is little actual discussion of 'provincials' in general, other than a note at the beginning of the introduction justifying the inclusion of provincial coinage and some descriptions under specific emperors (pp. vii and viii).
There is a brief bibliography of standard works of reference and their abbreviations (p. xxi). On the same page are listed general abbreviations, aurei (thirteen are listed by emperor), Roman coins not in RIC or BMC (there are eighteen of these) and Greek coin-legends by emperor. The catalogue proper (pp. 1-73) is arranged chronologically by dynasty, emperor and mint. A few entries contain brief discussion of the coin type.
The indexes are given separately for the Julio-Claudians and Flavians (pp. 74-85) and for the Adoptive and the Antonine emperors (pp. 86-92). Thus each of these two time-spans has indexes for emperors and their relatives, obverse legends, obverse types (where these are not named members of the imperial house) reverse legends (Latin first, followed by Greek) and reverse types. Finally there are 42 black- and-white plates illustrating all the 1053 coins in the catalogue; the photographs, generally excellent, are by the author.
For those of us for whom Roman history ended with Trajan (or worse still, with Nero) it is helpful to have a handbook which covers the roughly 200 years from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius in one volume. Despite its transitions and distinctions between dynasties, the period is broadly cohesive, and Herbert's introduction is informed by the perception that throughout these two centuries the principate was constructed and reconstructed in reaction to its Augustan institution; in a sense, Marcus Aurelius is the last of the heirs of Augustus. (Constraints of space mean that only selected coins of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius are discussed; fuller publication is envisaged [p. xvii]).
An example of Herbert's approach in the introduction is the account of Augustus' principate (pp. vii-viii). Taking as his starting point the princeps' need to accommodate his own exceptional powers to Republican constitutional practice, Herbert succinctly covers the essential events and concerns in relation to the minting history of the reign, which is dealt with in periods and by types and mint centres. (Here it should be noted that while Herbert is generally faithful to his aim of providing a useful introduction for beginners, there are occasional omissions: on p. viii, for example, brief explanations are given of such types as the Julian comet, [nos.13-14] the clipeus virtutis [nos.12 and 15] and the toga picta over tunica palmata [nos.32-3], but not of the capricorn or the altar with sculptural garlands and hinds on cistophori [nos. 112 and 113]).
Some of Herbert's pronouncements smack more of the epigrammatic value judgments of Tacitus, Suetonius and Gibbon than of sober historical evaluation: 'The second emperor was a most able and experienced commander in the field but he proved to be diffident and resentful in his personal and public relations at Rome' (p. ix), 'Claudius, the accidental emperor . . .' (p. x), 'Nero began his reign as the dutiful ward of an informal, multi- layered regency and ended it as a bloated, jealous and murderous tyrant' (p. x). Such generalisations are not altogether a bad thing, in that they engage the interest of the beginning or peripheral historian (and Herbert is not guilty of actual misrepresention), while those who recognise them as problematic will necessarily be aware of the literature in which they are extensively debated. However, some asseverations are a little too glib, as in 'It was also Domitian's condign fate to have the great historian Tacitus expose this [the pronoun is not related to anything in the immediately foregoing text] viciousness in his masterful [masterly?] Agricola' (p. xiii). And if the accumulation of titles on Domitian's coinage 'offers telling evidence of the domineering political attitude as well as of the personal insecurity of Domitian' (p. xiv), are we to assume that Trajan, whose proliferation of titles came, moreover, to be expressed in the honorific dative, was similarly domineering and insecure? Herbert sums him up as possessing 'attractive personal qualities and informed restraint' (p. xv). The inconcinnity arises from a tendency (which Herbert shares with many writers on coins) to over-interpret the message of the coinage. Attractive as the study of coins as instruments of propaganda or mirrors of contemporary concerns undoubtedly is, it must be tempered with caution.
The decision to illustrate every coin is welcome, and it must be said that even worn coins show up well in the photographs, which greatly increases the usefulness of the volume both to students and to numismatists who do not have ready access to the collection itself. Another particularly welcome feature is the inclusion of the provincial coins with those of the central mints; until recently provincial issues have been generally neglected and catalogued separately as Greek coins (if at all), making a synoptic study of particular reigns difficult. []
A very few typographical errors must be noted: on p. viii '. . . provincial mints in the both the West and the East'; inconsistency between Tarraconensis (p. viii) and Terraconensis (p. xi); accomodate (p. xv); and perhaps 'this viciousness' (p. xiii, remarked above) should be 'his viciousness.' The proportional spacing is not always reliable, and there are many instances throughout of spaces within words, or between word end and punctuation mark (e.g. on pp. x-xi I noted embodiment, informal, broke, praenomen, showing, Gaul,). This is a general problem of computer- generated text, which lacks the elegance of traditional typesetting, though it is a relatively small price to pay for convenience, flexibility and relative cost-effectiveness.
The merits of this volume -- its inclusivity, its clarity, the range of coins catalogued and illustrated in a relatively small compass -- far outweigh its few shortcomings. It will be used and enjoyed by numismatists and historians, students and all who share Herbert's evident interest and pleasure in coins.
[] Volumes I and II of the catalogue, both by Kevin Herbert and published by the American Numismatic Society, are respectively The John Max Wulfing (Greek) Collection in Washington University (New York, 1979) and The John Max Wulfing Collection in Washington University: Roman Republican Coins (New York, 1987).
[] The publication in 1992 of the first volume of Roman Provincial Coinage, edited by A. Burnett, M. Amandry and Pere Pau Ripollès (London and Paris) marked the broadening in scope of numismatic studies, in line with more inclusive tendencies in classical historical investigation.