Beyond the Boundaries of Fantasia: An ancient imagining of the future of leadership

Money Talks

Power and the money, money and the power.- Coolio, "Gangsta’s Paradise"

There are many sources for ancient leaders. Arguably most, if not all, that comes down to us from the ancient world has something to do with leadership and community organization. Coins provide a special insight into ancient leadership because they tell us how the leader wanted to be seen throughout his or her community, even by those who might not know how to read or who might never have access to the ancient leader's other familiar modes of self-promotion: public speeches, sophisticated artwork, and grand monuments. Roman coinage, our subject for this module, served as a medium of communication in the Roman world. Coin types, the images on the coins, and legends, the inscriptions on the coins, advertised various political, religious, or military events. In the Roman Republic, coins commemorated the ancestral deeds of many Roman families. During the Roman Empire, coins depicted the portraits of the emperors and publicized contemporary events and the ideologies of their reigns. Today, in a world of social media, such as television, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, news can reach us in a matter of minutes. However, in the Roman world, artistic media, such as coins, were at times the only way to broadcast the "news" (e.g. the result of a victorious military campaign) – in this way, coins are both a medium of commemoration and of information. The field of numismatics is fascinating: there is a coin for every occasion!

The aim of this module is to discover how numismatics can contribute to our understanding of the type of leader that Augustus was (on this first Roman emperor see also "Spirits in the Material World"; here are some important dates in his career).  We will examine what insights contemporary Roman coinage (from the mid-first century BC to the succession of Tiberius in AD 14) can provide regarding the nature and chronology of formation of the Principate. To what extent are Octavanic/Augustan coins “new”?  We will see what changes, if any, occurred in typology and on legends through a comparative investigation of prior Hellenistic and Late Republican visual media in order to determine what traditions they drew on and what, if anything, was innovative. We will investigate the portraits and full-length representations of Augustus as well as major political (e.g. civic), militaristic (e.g. commemoration of a military victory), and cultural (e.g. religious) iconographical themes.  We will also analyze the representation of Augustus in other contemporary Augustan works of art (e.g. statuary, reliefs, cameos, and gems), architecture (e.g. the Forum of Augustus with its Temple of Mars Ultor), and literature (e.g. Virgil’s Aeneid and Augustus’ Res Gestae) to determine what type of Augustan personage(s) can be found across a wide range of media.  Thus, at the end of this module, you will be able to better understand the developing image of Augustus through the simultaneous use of various types of media (e.g. you will be able to determine whether or not Octavianic/Augustan coinage and the Res Gestae reflect similar themes).

  1. To introduce the field of numismatics, specifically to gain a better understanding of numismatic cataloguing and research.
  2. To explore the age of Augustus through a careful consideration of coins and gain a better understanding of some aspects of ancient (and modern) leadership by exploring numismatic evidence.
  3. To answer the following questions:

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