Latest Posts

RNS Prizes 2018: The Lhotka Memorial Prize

One of the most pleasurable duties of he RNS is to award a range of prizes, most of them in memory of former members of the Society, in recognition of outstanding work done in service of numismatics. Further information about the Society’s honours and awards can be found here. This year the Society has awarded three prizes (the Lhotka Memorial Prize, the Parkes Weber Prize and the Samir Shamma Prize for Islamic Numismatics), the results of which will be presented in three consecutive posts on this blog over the coming days.


Lhotka Memorial Prize

The Lhotka Memorial Prize was endowed in 1962 by the late Honorary Fellow, Professor J.F. Lhotka (University of Oklahoma), in memory of his father, Dr. J.F. Lhotka.

It is awarded to the author of the book or article in English considered most helpful to the elementary student of numismatics and published in the previous two calendar years. Previous winners can be viewed here.

In 2018 it was decided to award the prize to two authors, whose different but excellent works were judged to make equally valauble contributions to the promotion of numismatic study. These are:


Dario Calomino (2016) Defacing The Past: Damnation and Desecration in Imperial Rome, Spink, in collaboration with the British Museum.

‘Like many rulers, Roman emperors used inscriptions, sculptures and coins to project their authority. But the imperial image could be outraged and subverted for political and religious reasons. The memory of Roman emperors and high-ranking officials could be officially condemned after their death through a process known as ‘damnatio memoriae’, meaning that a person’s memory was attacked and largely erased. This was particularly true if rulers were overthrown or executed. Their names were erased and their portraits defaced. Imperial images were also mutilated and destroyed by Rome’s enemies to contest the imperial authority.’

This volume is available to purchase via Spink and Co. Ltd here.


Peter Thonemann (2016) The Hellenistic World: Using Coins as Sources, Cambridge University Press.

‘Coinage is one of our key sources for the rich and fascinating history of the Hellenistic world (323–31 BC). This book provides students of the period with an up-to-date introduction to Hellenistic gold, silver and bronze coins in their cultural and economic contexts. It also offers new perspectives on four major themes in contemporary Hellenistic history: globalisation, identity, political economy and ideology. With more than 250 illustrations, and written in a lucid and accessible style, this book sheds new light on the diverse and multicultural societies of the Hellenistic world, from Alexander to Augustus. The author assumes no prior knowledge of Hellenistic history, and all Greek and Latin texts are translated throughout.’

This volume is available to view and purchase via Cambridge University Press here.

Society Lecture, 17 Apr: The Iconography of the Coinage of the Valerianic Dynasty

The next Society lecture will take place on Tuesday 17th April at 6pm at the Warburg Institute. Nick Holmes, National Museum of Scotland, will present on the title The Iconography of the Coinage of the Valerianic Dynasty (AD 253-268). Society lectures are open to all and full information about the current lecture schedule can be found here.


Paper Abstract:

Aureus of the emperor Valerian, 253-260 AD. Linked through Wikimedia commons.

The principates of Valerian I and Gallienus have been described as among the most disastrous in Roman imperial history, and Gallienus in particular has been unjustly maligned by both ancient and modern historians. More recent studies have attempted to redress the balance by demonstrating that his 15-year reign was remarkably successful in military terms given the constant threats from with the imperial boundaries as well from external enemies. Less frequently mentioned are the innovations in coin design which took place during this period, reflecting the images which the imperial family wished to disseminate across the empire of themselves and their policies and achievements.

The first part of this study concentrates on portraiture, in particular on the coins of Gallienus, who had himself represented in numerous guises rarely or never previously seen on issues from central imperial (as opposed to provincial) mints. These portraits – military, consular, heroic, etc. – were intended to reinforce the emperor’s claim to the qualities required to rule the empire during the troubled times in which it found itself.

Reverse designs were frequently intended to contribute to the claims of the Valerianic dynasty to be the founders of a new ‘Golden Age’ for Rome. Clearly not all of them can be studied in the course of a single talk, and those themes which have been selected are those which are associated in particular with the coins of these emperors and which contain substantial number of innovative types to illustrate these themes. Unsurprisingly many of these are military in nature, not only highlighting victories achieved but acknowledging and encouraging the support of military units, on which the emperors relied for the continuation of their rule and even of their lives. Adherence to religious observance is emphasised by the sheer numbers of different deities from whom support was sought and the different ways in which they were represented on coins. Finally the frequently misunderstood concept of Virtus is discussed, along with the many ways in which these emperors attempted through coinage to convince their subjects that they possessed that quality.

As the various aspects of the coinage of the Valerianic emperors are studied, mention also has to be made of what can only be described in modern terms as a ‘propaganda war’ by means of coinage being fought between Gallienus and the Gallic emperor Postumus in the 260s AD. Similar themes can be found in the coin designs of the two emperors, as each appears to have tried to match or exceed the claims of the other to be the most effective ruler and defender of the empire.

Numismatic News: The Winchester Cabinet (Leeds)

by R. Darley

We hope that you are enjoying the new RNS blog, including:

  • How RNS grants have been used to further numismatic study
  • Up-coming RNS public lectures and events
  • Updates concerning the Society and our website
  • New and forthcoming publications by the RNS, by RNS members or related to academic study more widely

If you would like to offer content for a blog post, to advertise events or publications or to draw attention to talks, exhibitions or collections near you, please contact Rebecca Darley (

Especially as we enter the Spring and summer period, when grants are being spent but reports have not yet come in and applications for the following year are being assessed, and when our lecture schedule enters its final furlong for the year, we would also like to use the Society blog to draw your attention to other numismatic stories on the web. These will, of course, be interspersed with notices more directly connected to the Society. For a wider selection of other numismatic stories from the UK and beyond, please also visit the RNS Facebook page.

The Winchester Cabinet, in the strongroom of the Brotherton Library, linked from ‘A corner of tenth century Europe‘.

This week’s numismatic news comes from the University of Leeds, which over the last three years has been working to make its extensive numismatic collection more widely known and better integrated into teaching in the university. Some of the English material was published as long ago as 1975 by Elizabeth Pirie in the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles 21 and a short summary of the collection, of around 15,000 items can be found here. Nevertheless, the collection is not yet a part of the Money and Medals database and had not in recent decades been subject to much use. The story of how that has begun to change can be found here and here on the blog A Corner of Tenth Century Europe.

With the help of a Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship one particular section of this collection, an eighteenth-century collector’s cabinet, ultimately received by the University of Leeds in almost pristine condition, has been the subject of a lengthy study by an undergraduate scholar, Emma Herbert-Davies. The results of this investigation can be explored via the project website, Unlocking the Winchester Cabinet and a virtual exhibition. There is also currently a display of coins from the collection on view in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.

Emma Herbet-Davies presenting on the Winchester Cabinet, linked from ‘A corner of tenth century Europe‘.

To any numismatist, coins and medals are probably inherently interesting. None of us began that way, though, and whatever our various routes into numismatics, there must have been a moment when we encountered the thrill – of a connection to the past, of the joy of collecting, of the beauty of the object, of the sense of community this interest can provide. As somebody who has been loosely connected to this project (Emma presented with me at a conference panel on coin collecting, at which I was talking about R. E. Hart, one of the most substantial donors to the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery Collection), it has been exciting to see how coins and their study have reached out to somebody with no prior experience of the subject, and who is now a passionate and charismatic spokesperson for the subject.

Society Lecture, 20 Mar: Kingship, Court Rituals and Coinage in the Mughal Empire

The next Society lecture in the 2017/18 programme will take place on Tuesday 20th March at 6pm at the Warburg Institute. This lecture will be given by Dr Shailendra Bhandare of the University of Oxford, on Kingship, Court Rituals and Coinage in the Mughal Empire.

Society lectures are open to all and full details on the current programme can be found here.


The right to ‘Sikka’- to have coins struck in the King’s name – constitutes one of the fundamental rights of Kingship in the Islamic concept of Kingship. Exercising the right brought legitimacy to the ruler because coins, by their very nature, circulated as a medium of exchange, and their acceptance as such meant acceptance to the one whose authority they bear. Coins thus were instruments of kingly power apart from being just a monetary medium. 

The Mughal rulers of India exhibited an unusual intimacy with their coinage. Coins to them were a medium to exhibit their prowess, patronage and prerogatives. As such coins played a very important role in court culture, where elaborate performances were constructed around ritual exchange and distribution of coins. At the centre of these rituals, was the concept of the ‘powerful king’, considered to be a ‘shadow of the Divine’, who by his nature as such was visualised to have powers of special grace, favours, healing and authorisation. But occasionally sighting him and being in his close presence could also attract the ‘evil eye’ upon him.

Coins were used in ritualised context at both ends of the spectrum of courtly rituals – as objects of favour they could be proudly shown off by the recipient to show they had received the special grace; as objects of propitiation, they could be used as talismans and charms to bring forth particular results of luck, fortune or benefit; as objects to ‘deflect’ the evil eye, coins could be scattered as largesse so the ‘gaze’ of the lesser mortals could be turned away from the king while he processed in stately splendour.

The paper will contextualise Mughal coins in such instances of courtly and kingly rituals. In particular it will focus on Nazar and Nisar, two rituals of the Mughal court which involved the ‘evil eye’ concept at their heart. Apart from providing an illustrative numismatic summary of Mughal coins struck especially for such purposes, it will attempt to problematize the role of such coins in complex socio-political functions such as ‘gift economy’. It will also highlight how such rituals were continued in the Colonial times, when Mughal sovereignty was replaced by British paramountcy. 

Roman coins from excavations at the Lago di Venere: RNS grant report

by Eóin O’Donoghue, National University of Ireland Galway

In May and June 2017, I visited the island of Pantelleria to work with the Brock University excavations at the Lago di Venere, supported by a grant from the Royal Numismatic Society. There I examined the numismatic evidence recovered in excavations at the site from the Roman phase of occupation on the island.


Pantelleria itself is located in the Strait of Sicily, roughly midway between the tip Cap Bon in Tunisia and Agrigento on the southwest shore of Sicily. It has a complex history stretching back to the Bronze Age and perhaps earlier. From at least as early as the sixth century BCE it was occupied by Phoenician settlers and coinage suggests the island was called ‘YRNM; subsequently, it became a point of contention in conflicts between Rome and Carthage in the third century BCE. Eventually the island was captured by the Romans in 217 BCE and became known as Cossura and it remained within their control until at least the second century CE. The excavations are focusing on a Romano-Punic sanctuary situated adjacent to a spectacular lake set within a volcanic crater. The site is providing distinctive insights into an early example of Roman and Punic cultural interaction and ‘hybrid’ ritual practices.


Pantelleria, a view from the site.

Following the Roman conquest, the coinage changed from bearing the legend ‘YRNM to COSSVRA, but importantly, maintained the Punic motifs including Astarte/Isis on the obverse. During my time on Pantelleria I had the opportunity to create a catalogue identifying the coins recovered from the excavations to date. Those recovered primarily come from the last two centuries BCE, with examples of Tanit/Astarte on the obverse coupled with inscription of COSSVRA and laurel wreaths decorating the reverse. Further examples represent more standardised Roman coin types that are also thought to come from Pantelleria. These come from the first century BCE and may represent a period after Roman power had stabilised on the island including the adoption of some Roman cultural traits. Other examples come from elsewhere in the Empire, including a denarius of C. Pulcher from 110-109 BCE, and more coins probably minted on Pantelleria itself. Of most significance in the later coins recovered from the Lago di Venere, as well as from other excavations on the island, is the disappearance of Tanit/Astarte from the iconography, but with the subsequent development of a generic female figure on the obverse. It is perhaps an attempt to be a reference to the goddess Roma, but also to Pantescan and Phoenician reverence for female figures. These are issues which are discussed in more detail in the article resulting from this study.


A denarius recovered from Pantelleria

The coins were recovered from secure stratigraphic deposits. The ceramic materials also suggest the structures that the coins are associated with were constructed and used in the last two centuries BCE; consequently, each set of evidence supports the chronology of the other. While the coins come from definitive ancient contexts they do not appear to be part of a deliberate deposition or a hoard. Instead, they seem to have become accidentally part of the destruction and abandonment fill of the sanctuary site. The reasons for this event, or series of events, is not yet clear.


This initial research will be submitted as an article to The Numismatic Chronicle in early 2018. Further study will be carried out in London when I have the opportunity to examine the coins from Pantelleria in the collection of the British Museum. I hope to write an extended paper that considers the significance of the Punic and Roman coins from Pantelleria, especially considering iconographic continuity and its potential to offer insight into the fluidity of early Roman imperialism, a characteristic that became fundamental in the creation of an empire.