As a senior, I am required to take the senior seminar in the Classics. It is divided up into sections, and the section that we are currently in is numismatics. For those of you who don’t know, that’s the study of coins. This seemed like it could be really fun. We had a guest come into the class, who is a numismatic as a hobby, not profession, but who really knows a lot. He brought in a bunch of coins, and we all got a chance to look at them, learn about them, and hold them.
There’s something really cool to think that you’re holding a coin that was likely once held by an emperor. Or that the coin you held was almost definately buried with a corpse to pay the ferryman on their journey across the river Styx.
However, the class itself was not that cool. I enjoyed looking at the coins and trying to figure out what they said on our own, but then once everyone had seen all the coins, we started discussing them, as a class. In detail. About the imagery. Oh. my. god. Then, when we were done discussing all those coins, he pulled out ANOTHER BATCH OF COINS. This class is two and a half hours.
The next week was almost the same. But better. I mean, I do find this interesting, it’s just … I feel like going over each coin by ourselves AND as a group was a bit much. Perhaps if each person/pair had been given a coin to examine, then afterwards they could have all been passed around, so we could all look at it, I think that would have been a lot more interesting.
On the other hand, I hate discussions, and I seem to be the only one at my entire school who does, so maybe it’s just me. I would much rather listen to a professor lecture all class than discuss something as a class.
Anyway, for the third week, tonight, we were each given a mystery coin, that we had to examine, and then we get to present it to the class. And while it seems kinda annoying to have to go into office hours and look at the coin (we couldn’t take them with us), I really did enjoy this project.
Here is my coin:
On the front it has a depiction of Emperor Crispus, surrounded by the text FL IVL CRISPUS NOB CAES. It means Flavius Julius Crispus (his name), nobilissimus Caesar (most noble Caesar).
The back shows a turreted camp gate with a star overhead, and the words PROVIDENTIAE CAESS, which means something like the foresight of the Caesars. I’m not quite sure. At the bottom are the letters SMANTZ, which refers to the place where it was minted, in Antioch.
I didn’t really find anything that exciting about the coin itself, but I had fun looking up the history of it. After all, who has heard of Emperor Crispus? Nobody.
Crispus, born in 303AD, was the oldest son of Emperor Constantine and a woman named Minervina, who was either his consort or his first wife. He was named Caesar (a title of power, not just a name) in 316 AD. He served as consul three times and governed Gaul at one point. He was also a big military general. He led forces against the Germans, and won a large naval battle against Licinius (the brother in law of Constantine, or his son, I’m not sure which Licinius it was). It was the naval battle that really won him fame as a general, because they were outnumbered almost 2 to 1. My coin is probably referencing the fact that he was a general, because he is wearing armor and there is a gate to an army camp on the back.
Crispus was executed for treason in 326. No one is exactly sure why, but the common theory is that his stepmother, Fausta, was jealous of him and set him up. She tried to seduce him to get Constantine mad, but when Crispus refused, she told Constantine that he had tried to seduce her (kinda like the wife of Pontifar and Joseph). Constantine had him tried for treason and he was killed. A few months later, Fausta was killed. Some believe that Constantine found out what she had done and had Fausta suffocated in an overheated bath.
Not everyone believes this, because he suffered damnatio memorae, which means that all traces of him were wiped out of the records as best as they could. But if Constantine found out that his son was innocent, wouldn’t he have forgiven his memory? Maybe not, who knows.
Crispus was also married, and he had a son, but no one knows the name of the boy, or what happened to him. It’s amazing to think that even though we know so much about the Romans, there is still a lot that we don’t know. It’s finding out stuff like this that got me interested in the Classics in the first place. Not so much what we do know, but what we don’t know.
This coin project actually ended up being fun, which kinda surprised me, to be honest. I suppose it’s because I like puzzles, and this is like a puzzle, trying to figure out what things on the coin mean. And then I learned something new, which I feel hasn’t really happened in a while. Language classes that focus on translating really don’t teach much, and I’ve kinda missed learning. So if I got nothing else out of this project, at least I got to learn stuff from it. And I had fun while doing so.