Over the past six weeks I have been cataloguing ancient and Medieval coins from the Baron and Edwards Collections at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and have come across some interesting finds. One Roman coin from the Baron Collection roused my curiosity as it bears a hole, suggesting it may have once had an ornamental function.
Coins were worn as jewellery from the inception of coinage. They were also nailed onto things, such as doors, to praise deities or act as talismans. The location of the hole in this coin, and the fact that it appears to have been pierced from the obverse side, could indicate several things. First, with the hole at the top (where it certainly would have been were it nailed or hanging) the obverse depiction (the head of Roma) is angled so that the goddess stares upwards rather than portraying the bust right-side-up as one might expect.
This suggests the purpose for wearing the jewellery was not purely display. It was worn, not for the status it brought, but for the meaning it held for the wearer and the protection it garnished from the diety praised by his or her depiction (who was made to look upon the wearer as a symbol of this protection). However, it was also clearly to be worn with the head of Roma displayed, a subject which held implicit pride for the city and state of Rome, but also elite social status associated with the priesthood of the Cult of Roma to which men aspired (and thus may have been a symbol of one belonging to the priesthood).
So, status symbol, protective talisman or a coin that simply held sentimental value for some reason or another? It is hard to say, but it is obvious from its filthy state that it was well-worn and, perhaps, well-loved.
Accession Number: LEEDM.N.1854.0038.6025
Author: Melody Flahr, Leeds Museums and Galleries Intern 2010