Friday, 4 May 2012

Replica Coins - Forbidden forgery art products?

Not long ago, ebay-sellers that offer replica coins were threatened by the possibility that they could no longer sell Roman (and other) coin replica. Too many black sheep sold replica without indicating clearly to the innocent buyers that what they sold were not originals, but coin reproductions, often so well executed that they could hardly be differentiated from their originals. So the question was raised:
"What are the differences between numismatic counterfeits and legal coin reproductions?"
In the meantime, ebay settled for a softened outcome and created a special section for replica on the grounds, as explained by one of the ebay Guides:
'Forgeries of genuine ancient and modern coins fabricated to trick and defraud collectors and investors are illegal. Secton 2101 of the Hobby Protection Act of 1973 describes the requirements for coin reproduction of numismatic items: "The manufacture in the United States, or the inportation into the United States, for introduction into or distribution in commerce any imitation numismatic item which is not plainly and permanently marked 'copy', is unawful and is an unfair or deceptive act or practice in commerce under the Federal Trade Commission Act. . ." [15 U.S.C.41 et al.]
In the UK, the legislation is less rigid, but good replica producers and sellers check that the replica are as close as possible to the originals, while at the same time there is a clear sign on each coin that what you see, sell or buy and collect is stamped as a replica.
Just last week, visiting Eichstätt in Germany, the Museum for the Roman past, I looked at the display of Roman coins, described as findings from the region - yet, the sole Gold solidus was stamped, hence was one of the coins which you can buy at

Again, there are very good reasons for the production and sale of reproduced replica coins:

Collectors and Museums use replica coins for educational purposes to either substitute rare or expensive pieces. Then, scholars, historians, schools and teachers would like to introduce students to Roman numismatics. It is less risky to do this with replica than with originals, and you can still get both the feeling and the right learning outcomes.
Not to forget theatrical productions in film, schools, or just at parties - it is a fantastic possibility to enjoy what people in the past have valued and worked for. And still, replica are not cheap products either. Yes, there are different qualities of replica, but some producers and certainly most of the sellers on ebay provide what people can be proud of, true replica.

Let's finish with the statement of the ebay Guide:

'legal coin reproductions have signifiant commercial uses for businesses, associations, non-profit organizations, and govermental agencies. Legal coin replicas are used in as customer gifts, direct marketing, and fund raising. Some projects require the production of large quantities of legal replicas. It is more economical for a private mint to manufacture these pieces in volume. Legal coin reproductions are often combined with other products. ... Legal coin replicas are often integrated into the designs of commercial tokens for business and governmental agencies. Several years ago, legal Viking replica coins were used in tokens at the the settlement Lief Ericsson established in Newfoundland. ... Today, legal coin reproductions are used as visual historic props in theatrical productions particularly in movies and televisions. Finally, legal coin copies have commercial uses in direct marketing, fund raising, an business promotions in the private and public sectors.'

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Who was the first Roman Emperor? Cesar, Augustus, Claudius?

Thanks to a question to about the description of the Cesar bust - I had to reflect about the question who the first Roman Emperor was.
As always in history, answers are the more complicated the simpler a question is. Wikipedia is right with its statement, at least to some extent, on the title 'Cesar' that Augustus is called 'the first Roman Emperor Cesar Augustus' because Octavian/Augustus (63BCE - 14AD) called himself 'Imperator Caesar'). - while my own statement is not wrong either which derives from the imprecision of the English language (other European languages like German are even worth in this respect). We translate lat. 'imperator' as a technical term in the military sense with a commander-in-chief, general, = στρατηγός (cf.: dux, ductor) (Lewis&Short), in the Roman political and cultural sphere with 'a commander, leader, chief, director, ruler, master', and we know it as an epithet of Jupiter (Cic. Verr. 2, 4, 58, § 129: “signum Jovis Imperatoris”). At the same time, we translate 'Cesar' as 'Emperor' (so, for example, the Wikipedia entry see above).
Now, as an acclamation of victorious generals, the title 'Imperator' is already known since the 3rd century BCE and since Sulla (c. 138 BC – 78 BC), one began to count the number of times one received this title, a usage which was carried on beyond Cesar. Octavian/Augustus, for example, was acclamed 21 times 'Imperator', for the first time probably because of his victory in Brundisium he adopted the 'praenomen Imperatoris' (Inscr. Ital. XIII 1, see D. McFayden, The History of the Titel Imperator under the Roman Empire, Diss., [Chicago, 1920]), but only since Claudius (Emperor 41 to 54 AD), but already Julius Cesar was called imperator and for him this title was no longer simply a commemoration of a victory, but a title and expression of his absolute, dictatorial military power, was even used as part of his name: C. CAESARE IMP. (CIL 1².788). And when Cesar was murdered, Octavian not only was regarded as adopted by Cesar, but also chose as his name that of his 'father', became Gaius Julius Caesar, and later adopted his father's title Imperator Julius Caesar, as if imperator was a first name.This was made official by law in 29 BCE and could even be combined with the number of imperatorial acclamations, like CIL 5.526: IMP. CAESARI DIVI F. IMP. V). Two years later, Octavian settled for Imperator Caesar Augustus - three words that all became synonym of 'emperor' (see
Subsequently, Imperator became the second acclamation after the acclamation as Cesar - hence only from him onwards can we historically speak of a Roman 'Emperor'.
And yet, what do we mean by Roman Emperor? The main distinction is, of course, that he is no longer a representative of a Roman Republic, but the sole dictator in the Roman Empire. And in this respect, only Christian nomenclator stylised Augustus to being the 'romantic' Emperor known from the New Testament, not Cesar, although Cesar was not only the first dictator, but also passed on his name as a cognomen, a title and a political programme to his family and with Flavians beyond his family to all subsequent dictators of the Roman Empire and beyond.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Writing in Roman times - Wax tablets and Codices

It has been widely acknowledged and known that the publication of books in antiquity as books or codices derives from the practice of wax tablets, a use that soon in the 2nd to the 4th century AD has replaced the writing and publishing on scrolls. It is quite an experience to hold such a wax tablet and a stylus in hands and see why it was not solely the Christians that made widely use of the codex, but that any Roman school trained girl or boy would be looking for reading in codices rather than scrolls, as from childhood on they were used to reading not only on a single wax tablet, but, as shown in the picture above, in wax tablets that like a codex were bound together at the back with leather straps.
Or compare the polysided tablet here:

(all products here are authentic replicas, available on  

It is easy to imagine that people who have been trained on writing on such tools were naturally inclined to read codices rather than scrolls.
Although much of the early history of the codex-form of the book production is in the dark, we know rather more about the publication process during the first centuries.

In the so-called Shepherd of Hermas written at Rome in the early 2nd century, we read:
(2) The elderly woman came and asked if I had already given the book to the presbyters. I said that I had not. 'You have done well', she said. 'for I have some words to add. Then, when I complete all the words, they will be made known through you to all those who are chosen. (3) And so, you will write two little books, sending one to Clement and the other to Grapte. Clement will send his to the foreign cities, for that is his commission. But Grapte will admonish the widows and orphans. And you will read yours in this city, with the presbyters who lead the church.[1]
If this short note reflects a typical praxis, then books were published and handed out by the author, once they had been read by a few insiders and amendments had been made even by those first readers. But the publishing remained the author’s responsibility, also the first copying and sending out of the book. The first copies, then went to specifically commissioned people, as in this case to Clement who was the agent for foreign cities. These agents made further copies (as otherwise Clement could not have sent the book to a number of foreign ‘cities’), while others, as here Grapte, used their copy for instruction. The reading out the book to the leading people in the community, the presbyters, without handing it out, lay with the author. Books, therefore, did not simply made their way into the public. As today, there existed proper structures and procedures for the writing, correcting, proof-reading, revising, publishing, copying and distribution process that lead to a diverse readership with regards to location, purpose and intent. And, clearly, codices were becoming the form of this early 'mass' production phenomenon, clearly meant and directed as part of a sales chain of a formal book trade.

[1] Herm. vis 2.4 [8], trans. B.D. Ehrmann, Loeb Library.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Papyrus roll 160 inches or 4 m long

Have you ever held a 160 inches or 4 m long papyrus roll in your hands? It is something very different to read and write about papyrus rolls and codices until you notice the difference in your own hands, sholders, and see it with your own eyes.
It is awesome to hold such a roll in your hands and not only imagine, but also try out what it is like to write on it, then to scroll backwards and forwards to read what you have written, how memorization of earlier passages has to work, how to find references, how to bookmark, where you have left a passage, where no pages are ... and then, hold a book in comparison.
Papyrus rolls have not only disadvantages - you see more at one go, your view is not limited to one page, so the horizon of the context to any given passage is larger, and you have to work your way through a text, as you cannot simply jump from one passage to another distant one. It is rather an organic reading, and the move to a codex can be compared to that between a book and the internet with hyperlinks. Suddenly, you can make connections which the roll does not provide. Instead, it gives progress and development of the content.