The original coin collection was begun early in the 1960s with a legacy of about a hundred coins from A P Richter to the former department of Latin at Stellenbosch University. Most of these coins were purchased from Spink and Son in London.

The late professor Frans Smuts, former head of the department of Latin, expanded the collection with funds made available by the University, thus procuring a small, but comprehensive hand-picked selection of Roman coins ranging in period from about 269 BC to AD 1041.

From 1973 until 2003, the late professor Bert van Stekelenburg managed the department's numismatic collection and made a valuable contribution to our knowledge about the historical and artistic aspects of this collection.

At present the collection hosts about 180 coins - varying in condition from excellent, to extremely worn. It spans the Republican; Imperatorial; Imperial and Byzantine periods of Roman history and includes two Greek staters and some Roman provincial coins. The collection contains true exempla of coins depicting various deities; ancestral heroes; a number of allegorical figures pertaining to idealised concepts; and allusions to particular events which relate to both Roman myth and Roman history.

Early Republican denarii displayed here, for instance, often feature the helmeted head of Roma, city goddess of Rome, on the obverse, with, on the reverse, the Dioscuri on horseback; sometimes a chariot driven by a god. Even Hercules is shown to transgress the realm of history on a coin struck to commemorate the military command of Pompey the Great in Spain, whereas a commemorative denarius pays tribute to the illustrious Roman general Gaius Marius who was famous for his exceptional Roman military achievement.

From the Imperatorial period (the last years of the Roman Republic 49 - 27 BC) onwards, depictions of the Roman pantheon decline in importance. Coinage from this period features not only individual ancestors, but also contemporary portraiture of prominent military contenders.

Imperial coins in the collection display exquisite art with the portraiture of imperial women. Striking images of these women adorn both obverse and reverse types, and present a showcase of a variety of women, often unconventional both in character and countenance. This kaleidoscope of Roman imperial women includes, among others, from the first century AD, the notorious Poppaea, spouse of Nero; from the early second century, the revered Faustina Maior; from the later half of the second century, the empress Julia Domna; from the third century, the mysterious Otacilia Severa; and from the early fourth century, Galeria Valeria, supreme victim of despotism.

The Imperial coin section features various denominations, commencing with a number of denarii issued by Augustus, and includes inter alia a bronze as in honour of Augustus' naval commander Agrippa; a dupondius commemorating Germanicus' triumph in AD 17; a lepton from Judaea; an antoninianus of Herennia Etruscilla; a quinarius of Allectus; and concludes with a number of follises (which replaced the radiati). Successive emperors, ever since the time of Nero, increasingly reduced the silver content of imperial coinage. By the reigns of, for instance, Gallienus and Tetricus, antoniniani resembled bronze coins with a silvery wash. Diocletian introduced the follis, a silver-washed bronze coin, during his monetary reforms of AD 301. The reverse of these imperial coins frequently alludes to military matters. Depictions of, for instance, military standards and/or various personifications (Victoria, Virtus, Genius, Fides) pertaining to military victories are not uncommon.

Military matters aside, for the purpose of propaganda, idealised concepts such as concord; peace; and piety, for example, are frequently shown to be of avail on the home front as well as in the provinces; under Roman sway people joined in marriage and Roman offspring thrived.

Next, the collection also contains a few examples of denominationally lettered bronze coins from the Byzantine period. Coins from this period show a marked decline in the art of coin portraiture. Depersonalised imperial representations and Christian imagery are frequently depicted on various follises and smaller denominations. These denominationally lettered bronzes became standard throughout the Byzantine world and were discontinued only after the eighth century.

Finally, a copper cavallo from the early Renaissance period completes the collection.


Maridien Schneider

 Greek  Republican  Imperatorial  Imperial  Greek Imperial  Byzantine  Renaissance

Updated 07 / 2020