The D'Argenio Collection of Coins and Antiquities Part 1

Explore the coins of Ancient Greece, Byzantium and The Roman Republic

By The Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

The D'Argenio Collection of Coins and Antiquities Part 1, explore the coins of Ancient Greece, Byzantium and The Roman Republic.

Denarius of Emperor Tiberius (14 - 37 C.E.) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

One of Seton Hall University’s most distinguished collections, the D’Argenio Collection of Coins and Antiquities, includes coins of ancient Greece, the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire and Byzantium as well as a small collection of related artifacts: oil lamps, game pieces, weights and terra cotta figurines. Donor Ron D’Argenio became interested in ancient coins when taking courses in Greek drama and history as an undergraduate at Fordham University in the 1970’s. In 2001, he generously donated his collection to Seton Hall University in memory of his father, Rinaldo J. D’Argenio, who served in World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star for his valor. Ron D’Argenio is a practicing attorney working in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The collection is available for study and research by students and scholars.

Early Greek Arrowhead Money (6th - 5th century B.C.E.) by GreekThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Advent of coins

Long before coins became a form of exchange, gold and silver were used for trade across the ancient world. Without any standardized units of measure, these precious metals had to be weighed at the time of each transaction. This cumbersome process of verification led to the advent of coinage backed by a governing authority. It is generally understood that the first coins in the west were minted in the kingdom of Lydia, which is in present-day Turkey, in the 7th century B.C.E. Persia and ancient Greek city states soon began using coins for commerce. This Greek Arrowhead coin is one of the oldest examples in the D’Argenio Collection of Coins and Antiquities.

Denarius of Emperor Augustus (27 B.C.E. - 14 C.E.) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Coins as historical evidence

Coins are some of the most important sources of information about nations, people and cultures. Because coins were made of durable materials, they survive in larger numbers than most artifacts. Archaeologists and historians have come to rely on coins to reconstruct the past using the dates, images and inscriptions to aid in reconstructing cultures from which little else endures.

Denarius of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 - 180 CE) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

How coins were made

The making of coins was a complicated undertaking that required many of laborers and craftsmen. Before coins could be minted, metals had to be mined and processed. The metals were then either molten and poured or hammered between dies. The images contained on the dies were made by skilled craftsmen. A team of experienced laborers could strike up to 20,000 coins daily. This coin features the likeness of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. The irregularly shaped blank resulted the design being cut off on the upper right when struck.

Black Sea Dolphin Money (6th - 5th century B.C.E.) by GreekThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Early coins from ancient Greece

Some of the most interesting, though crudely formed examples of coins in the collection include this dolphin coin from Olbia, an ancient Greek settlement on the Black Sea (present-day Ukraine.) This busy trade outpost was, and still is, habitat to large populations of bottle-nosed dolphins. Scholars speculate that the Olbians may have placed a spiritual significance on the dolphin, leading to this unusually shaped currency.

Coin, Quadrans (27 B.C.E. - 14 C.E.) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Coins and power

Early on, ruling classes realized the power of money to convey their authority and principles across vast regions. The front of coins often featured portraits of leaders, while the reverse might reflect personal, religious or political beliefs. In a time without printing presses or mass media, this might be the only opportunity for a leader to connect with their subjects. This quadrans of Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of the Roman Republic, also features an eagle on its reverse, symbolizing imperial rule. The symbol of the eagle endures today and is used on heraldry and coinage throughout the world, including that of the United States of America.

Tetradrachm of Nero (64 - 65 C.E.) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Coins and value

The silver denarius was the standard monetary unit of the Roman Empire. Its value was tied initially to the weight and purity of the silver it contained. Over time, as the empire fell into decline, emperors began to debase the intrinsic value of coinage. The emperor Nero (54-68 C.E.) lowered the weight of coins during his rule to balance deficits. Successive emperors followed suit. Within 150 years or so, the denarius was devalued to the point that it contained less than 50% silver. This tetradrachm coin featuring the head of Nero in profile is a silver/copper alloy and was circulated in the region of Alexandria, Egypt during Nero’s reign.

Christ Follis (8th - 9th century C.E.) by ByzantineThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Coins and religion

Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. He decreed it as the state religion and pronounced tolerance for its followers. This large bronze coin, or Christ Follis, was issued in the Middle Ages. Instead of depicting the emperor, it features a likeness of Christ seated on a throne wearing a crown and vestments, his right hand raised in a blessing. The first coins with Christ’s likeness were gold, and as the empire began to struggle financially, the coins were later minted in bronze.

Quadrigatus of Janus (225 - 212 B.C.E.) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

The Roman Republic 

The Roman Republic was established in 509 B.C.E. when the  Etruscans, who had ruled for hundreds of years, were overthrown. Once free, the Romans established a republic, a government in which citizens elected representatives to rule on their behalf.  The Roman Republic lasted until 27 B.C.E. when Julius Caesar declared himself dictator, paving the way for the era of the Roman Empire which began in 31 B.C.E. when Julius Caesar's great-nephew Octavian, also known as Augustus, was crowned as the first emperor following a military victory in Northern Africa.

Marcus Claudius Marcellus

Under the Roman Republic, coins were not adopted as quickly as in other regions of the Mediterranean. The denarius was the predominant coin and remained in circulation for almost 450 years. Coins of this period often feature images of Roman gods on the front (obverse), to conflate their virtues with those of the rulers. This coin was most likely issued during the second Punic War when Marcus Claudius Marcellus - a general being groomed to be a caesar – led Roman troops to victory. Marcellus died of illness before he was able to ascend to leadership. This coin features the image of the god Janus, who presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence, war and peace in ancient Roman religion and myth.

Denarius, Lucius Julius Caesar (103 B.C.E.) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Lucius Julius Caesar

was a Roman statesman and lauded general. He commanded several Roman legions during wartime. This coin features the image of Mars, god of war, wearing a crested helmet - a symbol of victory and leadership.

Denarius of Antony and Octavian (40 - 39 B.C.E) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Antony and Octavian

The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation in the final civil war of the Roman Republic. Marc Antony betrayed the Romans by siding with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt against Octavian’s forces who represented Rome’s interests. Octavian triumphed. This front of this coin depicts the bust of Marc Antony and the reverse depicts the bust of Octavian prior to the dissolution of their alliance.

Denarius of Furia (63 B.C.) by RomanThe Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

Lucius Furia Brocchus

The Furia family (or gens) was one of the oldest and most distinguished in the Roman Republic. This coin was minted when Lucius Furius Brocchus was moneyer. This family held many of the highest offices. The obverse of this coin features the bust of Ceres, goddess of agriculture and fertility. She is flanked by her attributes; on the left, an ear of corn and to her right, a grain of barley.

Credits: Story

This exhibit is a small sampling of The D'Argenio Collection generously donated to Seton Hall University by Ron D'Argenio. For more information about the collection please visit https://shu.edu/walshgallery to contact us.

This exhibit was brought to you by The Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University.

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