Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

A NEW portrait of the Queen will appear on coinage minted from 1 January. But is this good enough in Mr Blair's thrillingly New Britain?

Greek coinage from the beginning (c. 7th century BC) sported both the place of a coin's origin and associated figures - gods and animals were especially popular. Then artists became more daring. The labours of Heracles, a drunken Dionysus on an ass, and very wellendowed satyrs carrying off nymphs give some indication of the scope offered to the imaginative coin-artist. Portraits of the living came to prominence with Alexander the Great (4th century BC), and from then on coinage was in the realm of personal propaganda.

Romans, being good republicans, steered clear of such monarchical tendencies. Early coins typically bear a picture of Roma on one side and a god on the other. But they knew the value of propaganda. From 211 Bc the production of coinage was put in the hands of moneyers, young men at the start of their political careers, and coins began to show the moneyer's personal touch - towns of origin, deeds of ancestors, and even the astonishingly wonderful achievements of a moneyer's patron. …

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