[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous chapter]
Book IV
Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a note in
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next chapter]
Book V
Chapter 1

Book 4 (continued)

Vol. III
Note I

The Ostrogothic Coinage

The coins of the Ostrogothic Kings figured on the opposite plate, though for the most part contemptible as works of art, furnish an interesting commentary on the peculiar relations existing between Ravenna and Byzantium.

Before describing them, however, let us notice the little silver coin (No. 1), which may be probably ascribed to Odovacar. Its technical description is —

Silver. 'A Half-Siliqua' (twenty-four Siliquae went to the Solidus Aureus, and therefore the Half-Siliqua would be worth about three-pence).

'Obverse. FL. OD[OV]AC. Profile of Odovacar (?) with moustache.

'Reverse. Monogram of Odova surrounded with a wreath.'

The very few coins of this type that are preserved are in poor condition, and the lettering must be considered doubtful; but on the whole it is probable that we have here a genuine coin of Odovacar, and if so, it is important to observe that it bears his own effigy, and that there is no allusion direct or indirect to the Emperor at Constantinople.

We now pass to the Ostrogothic coins. Those here figured of Theodoric and his grandson are thus described: —

No. 2. Silver. 'Half-Siliqua of Theodoric.'

'Obv. D N (Dominus Noster) Anastasivs PP Avg (in reversed letters). Extremely youthful profile of Anastasius with diadem and paludamentum (military cloak).

'Rev. invicta Roma. Monogram of Theodoricvs. Cross and star.'

It will be seen that here we have no effigy of Theodoric, only his monogram. Not one of the Ostrogothic Kings appears ever to have put his own effigy on any gold or silver coin. As we have no copper coins of Theodoric we are unable to say whether he put his effigy on these. The utter absence of portraiture in the effigy of Anastasius will be at once remarked. The at least  p650 septuagenarian Emperor is a young lad of eighteen, of an almost girlish type of beauty.

No. 3. Copper. 'Piece of Ten Nummi of Athalaric.' (As the Solidus Aureus contained 6,000 Nummi, and the Siliqua 250, this piece was theoretically equivalent to one twenty-fifth of a Siliqua, or about a farthing of English money.)

'Obv. invicta Roma. Helmeted bust of Rome.

'Rev. D N Athalaricvs. Warrior standing with spear and shield: in the field S C (Senatus Consulto) and X (Decem Nummi).'

The silver coins of Athalaric bear the effigy of Justin or Justinian; the copper bear sometimes these Imperial effigies, sometimes, as above, a bust of 'Invicta Roma' or of 'Felix Ravenna' a female bust with a mural crown. There is no instance of the effigy of Athalaric being found on a coin.

Of Amalasuntha alone no coins have been found. This fact confirms the view taken in the preceding chapter, that Amalasuntha was not regarded as queen till after the death of her son and the association of Theodahad.

No. 4. Copper. 'Piece of Forty Nummi of Theodahad.'

'Obv. D N Theodahatvs Rex. Bust of Theodahad with closed crown, jewelled robe, and cross on breast.

'Rev. Victoria principvm. Victory marching, on prow, with wreath and palm-branch. S C in field.'

As to this coin I cannot do better than quote the striking words of Mr. Keary (Numismatic Chronicle, N. S. XVIII.157): —

'This is in every way a remarkable piece. It is the first coin ever issued having the portrait of a King of the Teutonic race. The busts which appear upon the contemporary coins of the Vandals, or upon the other coins of this dynasty, are in no sense portraits or attempts at portraits. Though they are surrounded by the name of the King, they are merely conventional busts copied directly from the imperial coins; and the same remark applies to the coins of Theudebert the Frank, which begin to appear about this time. But in the case of the coins before us there can be no doubt that a portrait was intended, and that the features of Theodahad, down to the slight moustache upon the upper lip, are given with as much skill as the artist possessed. The dress, too, is worth noticing. Its magnificence is barbaric, and to our eyes almost Oriental; and we  p651 here see the closed crown which has been throughout mediaeval and modern Europe the symbol of empire. The Roman imperial office was expressed by the diademed head; the Germanic invaders of Roman territory adopted the crown as the symbol of nobility and of kingship. We may guess from these coins that the Ostrogoths, while they took the D N, which was the title applied to the Roman Emperors, did not finally adopt either the imperial title or the imperial diadem. They adhere to the "rex" and the crown, which has, perhaps, more sacred associations for them.'

I may add that we have in this piece an illustration of the paradox which so often meets us in the Imperial coinage, that the worse the sovereign the better is the artistic character of his coins. Also that we may perhaps read Victoria Principum (in the plural) as alluding to the association of Theodahad and Amalasuntha.

No. 5. Silver. 'Siliqua of Witigis.'

'Obv. D N Ivstinianvs PP Avg. Youthful bust of Justinian in armour and paludamentum.

'Rev. Within wreath D N Vvitiges Rex.'

No. 6. Copper. 'Piece of Ten Nummi of Witigis.'

'Obv. invicta Roma. Helmeted bust of Rome.

'Rev. Same as No. 5.'

The conventionality of the numismatic artist has not often been more strongly exemplified than in these coins. The Gothic King, who was during his whole reign at bitter war with Justinian, puts the effigy of that Emperor on his silver pieces: and the warrior, the chief event of whose reign was his long and unsuccessful siege of Rome, stamps the image of 'Roma,' which he too truly found 'Invicta,' on the copper pieces in which he paid the discomfited besiegers.

There are no effigies of Witigis on coins of any description.

The monogram of his wife 'Matasunda' is found on the reverse of a silver siliqua, bearing on the obverse the effigy of Justinian.

No coins of Ildibad or Eraric have been found.

We now come to the reign of Totila (Baduila), whose coins at once tell the tale of the increased bitterness of the feud between the Goths and Justinian.

 p652  No. 7. Silver. 'Siliqua of Totila.'

'Obv. D N Anastasivs PP Avg. Youthful effigy of Anastasius (closely resembling that of Justinian in No. 5).

'Rev. In wreath D N Badvila Rex.'

No. 8. Copper. 'Piece of Five Nummi of Totila.'

'Obv. D N Badvila Rex. Totila, full face, with closed crown and jewelled robe.

'Rev. (florea)s semper. Warrior standing with spear: X in the field.' (Mr. Keary thinks this X is a mistake for V, as from the size it can hardly be a piece of Ten Nummi.)

We see that, on account of the hostility between Totila and Justinian, the effigy of the latter is omitted from the silver coins of the former, upon which that of Anastasius, who has been dead for near thirty years, again appears. On one silver coin, instead of Anastasius the effigy of Totila is figured. Also on the copper coinage, instead of any pretence of celebrating 'Invicta Roma,' Totila puts his own image with a crown not unlike that of Theodahad. One of his copper coins has the likeness of a female with a mural crown, and the legend felix Ticinvs, probably with reference to Totila's coronation at Ticinum.

No. 9. Silver. 'Siliqua of Teias.'

'Obv. D N Anastasivs PP Avg. Feminine effigy of Emperor.

'Rev. D N Thila Rex in wreath.'

All the coins of Teias bear the effigy bear the effigy of Anastasius. Friedländer conjectures that they were struck at Ticinum, both Rome and Ravenna being in the hands of the enemy. The King's name is spelt sometimes Theia, sometimes (as here) Thila.

It will be observed that there are no gold coins in our list, none having been struck by any Ostrogothic King. For the reasons of this abstinence on their part see vol. IV pp611‑612º, and the curious passage there quoted from Procopius.

Byzantine Coins

A few coins of contemporary Emperors are added.

No. 10. Gold. 'Solidus Aureus of Leo II and his father Zeno.'

'Obv. D N Leo et Zeno PP Avg (no plural modifications, though  p653 for two Emperors). Conventional head of Emperor in armour and helmet, holding spear and shield.

'Rev. Salvs reipvblicae: Zeno in exergue. Front figures, man and boy seated on a throne, both with nimbus: cross between them.'

No. 11. Copper. 'Follis or Piece of Forty Nummi of Anastasius.'

'Obv. D N Anastasivs PP Avg. Bust of Anastasius with diadem and paludamentum.

'Rev. Μ (Greek numeral forty). Below ϵ, to denote the fifth year of the Emperor's reign. A star on each side, a cross above. con in exergue.'

No. 12. Gold. 'Solidus Aureus of Justin in Justinian.'

'Obv. D N Ivstin et Ivstini PP Avg (no plural modifications). conob in exergue. Front figures of two Emperors, each with nimbus: cross between them.

'Rev. Victoria Avggg. (sic). Θ (ninth year of Justinian's reign). conob in exergue. Angel standing, holding cross and orb.'

The best information on the subject of the Ostrogothic coinage is to be found in 'Die Münzen der Ostgothen,' by Julius Friedländer (Berlin, 1844), and in the valuable articles on 'The Coinage of Western Europe, from the Fall of the Western Empire till the Accession of Charlemagne,' contributed to the Numismatic Chronicle (1878),​a by Mr. C. F. Keary of the British Museum.

Thayer's Note:

a In that volume (XVIII), pages 49‑72, 132‑165, and 216‑258.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 4 May 20