Simon Glenn, our Numismatics Project Officer, gives an update on the Special Collections’ Numismatics Project.

The project started in January 2018 and has made great progress since our last post.  It is improving knowledge of the large collection of coins held in Special Collections and their accessibility. Our recent focus has been the diverse Thackray Coin Collection given to the University by Mr Paul Thackray.

At the beginning of the project we recruited six volunteers to help work on the Coin Collection. They wrote labels for 1,200 newly-catalogued East Asian coins, then moved onto the 1,635 Roman Provincial coins and have contributed 253 hours’ time over 14 months. We are very grateful as this has enabled the project to achieve so much. Our volunteers have enjoyed working closely with a diverse group of coins and have gained valuable experience in Special Collections.

Roman Provincial coins are an interesting source of historical evidence. They are distinct from Roman Imperial coins, which were produced centrally under the direct authority of the Emperor. Provincial coins were struck by individual cities, mainly in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  They are an important source for studying, amongst other things, cultural identity.  Although cities were required to use the portrait and titles of the Emperor or a member of the Imperial family on the obverse of their coins, they chose their own design for the reverse.

For example, this coin of Hadrian struck at Alexandria in Egypt in ad 133 or 134 shows the portrait of the Emperor on the obverse, while on the reverse the image has a distinctly local flavour. The Egyptian goddess Isis is shown, holding a sistrum, an Egyptian percussion instrument, and a sail with the famous lighthouse of Alexandria to the right. The language on the coin is Greek.

Coin of Hadrian
Coin of Hadrian AD133-134 showing Hadrian on the obverse and Isis on the reverse, RPC III.5895. Image credit Leeds University Library.

The collection of Roman Provincial coins spans a broad geographical area as well as a considerable period of time: from Spain in the west to Syria in the east and from the mid first century bc to the end of the third century ad. All of these 1,635 coins have been photographed and are available to view in the Special Collections online catalogue. With such a large number of coins we have developed a new Coin Collection search page. This allows the collection to be searched in ways tailored to numismatic material.

The coins are presented with references to publications that deal with individual coinages. Many of these works are very old and a new standard reference work is in progress: Roman Provincial Coinage (RPC), five volumes of which are already available. The international project is an enormous undertaking involving more than twenty authors working on ten volumes.  We have shared the images of coins from the University collection with the RPC project and they can be included at individual authors’ discretion in their work. Selected coins will appear in the printed volumes and online with links back to the Special Collections page. The sharing of images has resulted in a unique coin in Leeds being discovered.

This coin shows two busts facing each other on the obverse: one the emperor Gordian III (r. ad 238–244), the other the god Serapis. It is part of a series of coins on which different divine figures are depicted on the reverse. On our coin the goddess Hera appears. Similar coins, featuring Hera, are found in other collections. The University of Leeds specimen is unique in showing a peacock, a bird with a sacred connection to Hera, on the left below the goddess’s outstretched arm.

Coin of Gordian III
Coin of Gordian III, AD 238-241 showing Gordian and Serapis on the obverse and Hera on the reverse. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Where coins from the University of Leeds have been included by the authors of Roman Provincial Coinage, such as the above example, the RPC project has kindly shared cataloguing information with us, allowing our entries to be improved with additional details such as the Greek legends on the coins.  This is a great example of cooperation.