Sunday, October 02, 2005

State Quarters

Did you know that the Romans had something like state quarters? No, me neither.

One of my hobbies is cleaning Roman coins. You can buy bronze Roman coins, mostly from the Balkans, in lots fairly cheap; they come encrusted from lying in the ground for over 1500 years, mostly date from the period after Constantine, and a decent number of them clean up to be attributable and some of them clean up beautifully.

I bought a lot of 25 lately and picked through them, dumping most of them into water to soak. One was heavily encrusted except for the very center of the reverse, which seemed to show an animal. Perhaps an apis bull coin of Julian the Apostate, I thought, and let it soak for a couple weeks.

Last night I took it out of the water and scrubbed it a little, then starting picking at the encrustation with my thumbnail and a toothpick. Gradually bits started to flake off. A star appeared; that seemed odd. More and more came off until the animal on the back was revealed not as a bull, but a she-wolf, and under her Romulus and Remus - the traditional legend of how the founders of Rome were rescued and nursed by a wolf. Interesting. Under the image was the mintmark of Thessalonica.

The front came clean a little more easily; a helmeted bust facing left, and the words VRBS ROMA. City of Rome.

It turns out that is a commemorative from the reign of Constantine. There was another coin to commemorate Constantinople.

Some things don't change. And I suppose two thousand years from now someone will carefully scrub clean a battered old coin and find the bust of Washington on one side and, say, Crater Lake on the other, and wonder at the fall of empires.

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