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Coining Images of Power: Patterns in the Representation of Roman Emperors on Imperial Coinage, A.D. 193–284

Coining Images of Power: Patterns in the Representation of Roman Emperors on Imperial Coinage, A.D. 193–284

By Erika Manders (Impact of Empire 15). Pp. xvii + 363, figs. 90, tables 10. Brill, Leiden 2012. $163. ISBN 978-90-04-18970-6 (cloth).

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This revision of Manders’ dissertation is one of the latest volumes of Brill’s Impact of Empire series, edited by Olivier Hekster, who was Manders’ dissertation director and coauthor of a handful of earlier articles.

Manders’ book is one of several recent studies that employ quantitative numismatic analysis and, as such, owes much to Noreña’s study “The Communication of the Emperor’s Virtues” (JRS 91 [2001] 146–68). Noreña created a database of roughly 150,000 denarii found in coin hoards around the Mediterranean to determine the frequency of imperial Virtues as seen in reverse legends. Manders adopts Noreña’s methodology for the period between 193 and 284 C.E. but adapts it in several important ways. For instance, she takes fuller advantage of the complex nature of numismatic evidence by including in her analysis both types (i.e., images) and legends (text). Rather than focusing on imperial Virtues, Manders explores in detail the most numerically significant modes of imperial representation (discussed more below). Manders meticulously shows her work, listing the various reverse types and how she classified them into five large categories. She addresses one of my concerns immediately: several of these legends could be classified in more than one category. In places throughout the book, her total percentages equal more than 100% because she attempts to acknowledge the multivalence of some types. Scholars (I among them) will quibble over her classifications, but her presentation has the virtue of at least allowing the reader to debate her choices. These, however, are issues to be worked out in scholarly articles and conferences over the coming years.

Another important adjustment to Noreña’s study is Manders’ exclusion of coinage minted for imperial family members from her analysis of emperors’ representation. In doing so, she avoids the statistical anomalies that Noreña found (e.g., high occurrence of Pudicitia types). Except in the case of Hadrian and one possible instance of Gallienus, Pudicitia types were reserved for imperial women. Thus far, these adaptations were welcome refinements to Noreña’s pioneering work.

A less convincing improvement to Noreña’s methodology, however, was Manders’ decision to abandon the analysis of coin hoards in favor of coin types as found in volumes 4 and 5 of RIC. Other scholars have shied away from this type of analysis because coin cabinets (upon which catalogues are based) are thought to give undue emphasis to rare and obscure specimens and thus inhibit the study of frequency in quantitative numismatic methodology. Though Manders attempts to ward off criticism by including a number of tables to demonstrate the correlation between “representative hoards” (55–61, figs. 3–16) and the types found in RIC, she does not explain what this correlation is, and her charts are limited to the analysis of divine representation, only one of her four statistically significant categories. The decision to use coin types rather than hoards as a body of investigation means that her database cannot be employed to reveal specific messages that the imperial administration used to target particular civilian or military audiences. This is an unfortunate decision, since it prevents her from engaging in recent discussions with scholars who employ data from hoards to place imperial messages in specific contexts (i.e., O. Hekster, “Coins and Messages: Audience Targeting on Coins of Different Denominatons?” in L. de Blois et al., eds., The Representation and Perception of Roman Imperial Power [Amsterdam 2003] 20–35; F. Kemmers, Coins for a Legion: An Analysis of the Coin Finds from the Augustan Legionary Fortress and Flavian Canabae Legionis at Nijmegen [Mainz 2006]; C. Rowan, Under Divine Auspices: Divine Ideology and the Visualisation of Imperial Power in the Severan Period [Cambridge 2013]). With all that said, however, it is important to acknowledge that the beauty of doing this type of research is that databases can be tweaked and reconfigured to take into account new information that can yield more nuanced interpretations.

After explaining the basic outline of her study in the introduction and her methodologies in chapter 1, Manders explores diachronically the five most significant modes of imperial representation, devoting a chapter to each: “Military Representation” (ch. 2), “Divine Representation” (ch. 3), “Imperial Exempla” (i.e., Virtues) (ch. 4), and “Saeculum aureum” (ch. 5). In each chapter, she reports the historiography of the representation, then turns to her own findings, which she presents in bar graphs demonstrating the percentage that each particular mode of representation occupies in every emperor’s coinage. Manders uncovers some trends in imperial self-representation that for the most part confirm earlier assertions that were conducted without the benefit of quantitative numismatic analysis. Rather than offering her own explanations, Manders often acts as a mediator between other scholars, using her findings to pronounce one theory more convincing than another.

In the second section of the book, Manders tests her diachronic findings and Noreña’s theory of the existence of a canon of imperial characteristics with three individual case studies of Caracalla, Decius, and Gallienus. This allows the author to demonstrate the role that individual emperors played in shaping their own self-presentation and how coinage was used to respond to contemporary events. This is especially clear in her comparisons of coinage minted for Caracalla and Gallienus while they reigned with their fathers and for their sole reigns. During Caracalla’s sole reign, for instance, military representations declined significantly to make room for a whopping 66% of his coinage devoted to divine associations. Manders attributes this shift in emphasis to Caracalla's personal devotion on the one hand and his political agenda on the other. In particular, she suggests a connection between the “Pluto” types and the Constitutio Antoniniana. To a lesser extent, the same shift in emphasis toward divine representation is evident in Gallienus’ sole reign. Manders reads the increase in divine association types as working hand-in-hand with Gallienus’ notion of divine kingship and attributes the new emphasis to the troubled times in which the emperor ruled. To my mind, Manders’ analysis of individual emperors’ reigns is more enlightening than the survey of the entire third century, yet it is here where I most miss her voice. Her evidence allows her to make much bolder claims that may well change the way we have thought about these emperors heretofore. Instead, she busies herself with what other scholars have proposed, offering her own observations in only the smallest of matters of less consequence, such as distinguishing the ways in which different Virtues are represented (e.g., sitting down or standing up) (238 n. 52).

Manders’ book is an important contribution to the study of Roman imperial ideology, and her methodology represents an innovative approach to quantitative numismatic analysis. Her primary audience will likely be scholars interested in those fields. There are various methodological problems to which an overexacting critic could point, as is true with all studies based on quantitative numismatic analyses. To do so, however, would fail to recognize Manders’ breathtaking ambition and scholarly ingenuity. Perhaps because she is a young scholar, Manders unduly feels the weight of tradition on her shoulders. I hope that in later studies, her observations will ring forth like a clarion. I suspect she has some exciting and bold interpretations to offer, and I, for one, cannot wait to hear them.

Julie Langford
Department of History
University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida 33620-8100

Book Review of Coining Images of Power: Patterns in the Representation of Roman Emperors on Imperial Coinage, A.D. 193–284, by Erika Manders

Reviewed by Julie Langford

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1184.Langford

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