Society Student Lectures, 20 Feb: Coins of the Eleusinian Mysteries and Roman lead tokens

On Tuesday 20th February the Society welcomes to its lecture series two researchers early in their career. This recent initiative in the Society lecture programme has received great feedback as a chance to listen to cutting edge research and support the future of numismatic study. The two talks to be presented on this occasion both relate to subsets or local versions of classical coinage series and their meaning for users and producers. The lectures, which will run consecutively, will begin at 6pm in the Warburg Institute. Society lectures are open to all and full information about the current Society lecture programme can be found here.


Charlotte Mann, University of Warwick, Spent or Saved? The Circulation of Festival Coins Struck for the Eleusinian Mysteries

A token of Mitreius, linked through from ‘Gaius Mitreius, Magister Iuventutis, and the Materiality of Roman Tokens‘ by Charlotte Mann.

The bronze coins produced for visitors to the Eleusinian mysteries between 500-400 BCE constitute a small, but intriguing, subset of Athenian currency. Struck with Eleusinian ritual imagery and the ethnic ‘of Eleusis,’ these coins raise questions concerning deme administration, festival organisation and mint management in Classical Athens that are of interest to historians and numismatists alike.

This study explores the role of Eleusinian festival coins within the ancient Greek economy. What happened to these festival coins when the mysteries were complete? Did they maintain an economic role, entering general circulation, or were they demonetised and discarded upon the festival’s conclusion? Or, alternatively, was the monetary character of festival coins superseded by their sacred associations, causing them to be withdrawn from circulation and saved as momentos or votive offerings to the gods?

This project uses excavation reports, hoard data and museum collections to gather and map the movement of Eleusinian festival coinages throughout the cities and sanctuaries of Greece. The data assembled presents an image of festival currency that contradicts the behaviour expected of low denomination coins. Unlike civic bronze pieces, that are expected to remain within the city of issue, festival bronzes are found in cities far beyond Athens and its territories, proliferating commercial areas and small cash hoards, while being noticeably absent from burial sites, temple inventories and votive deposits. The resulting impression, that Eleusinian festival coins maintained an economic, rather than a sacred or commemorative character, offers new insights into the use of small denomination currency and the ‘tokenality’ of ancient coins.


Denise Wilding, University of Warwick, Token Identities: Discerning the role of leaden tokens in the formation of group identities in the Roman Empire

A spintriae in the collection of the University of Liverpool, linked through from ‘Tokens from the Roman Empire‘ by Denise Wilding.

Previous studies on the leaden tokens of the Roman Empire have been unable to reach a consensus as to their purpose, and no scholarship has focused on the role that they played in the everyday lives and identities of past communities. Studies undertaken by Rostovtzeff (1903), Milne (1908, 1914, 1922, 1930 and 1935) Thornton (1976) and Mitchiner (1984) have catalogued certain tokens, or focused on discerning their use through their imagery. Previous work has not, however, considered lead tokens from across the Empire in light of their archaeological contexts in order to investigate their purpose, or theorised their potential for mediating social identities.

This paper will draw on ongoing research to address this lacuna by contextualising the role played by tokens through analysis of their findspots and archaeological contexts. A selection of provinces from across the Empire shall form case studies in order to discern the extent to which their distribution across a variety of different contexts (temples, houses, rubbish dumps, baths, stray finds) can inform us as to their purpose. Through this, consideration will be given to the variation in their contexts of deposition in different provinces of the Roman Empire, and the implications this has for discerning their use.

This paper will also outline the potential for ascertaining how the tokens were perceived by those in the communities who used them, and the extent to which they were tied to group and civic identities both through their use and their iconography. For example, the imagery depicted on leaden tokens is diverse, and varies depending on the place of origin, thereby providing scope for investigation into the link between material culture and collective identities.