Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS

AUGUSTUS FREDERICK, DUKE OF SUSSEX, K. G.

&c. &c. &c.

WHOSE UNWEARIED AND IMPARTIAL ATTENTION TO THE INTERESTS OF THE SOCIETY

OVER WHICH HE PRESIDES

COMMANDS THE RESPECT AND GRATITUDE OF ALL WHO ARE ANXIOUS FOR

THE PROMOTION OF SCIENCE,

AND

WHOSE UNIFORM CONDESCENSION AND KINDNESS TO THOSE WHO ARE ENGAGED IN

SCIENTIFIC INQUIRIES

ARE SO BENEFICIAL TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF KNOWLEDGE,

THIS HUMBLE ATTEMPT TO SHEW THE ADVANTAGES OF MEDALLIC STUDIES

IS INSCRIBED,

WITH THE DEEPEST FEELINGS OF RESPECT AND GRATEFULNESS,

BY

HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS' DUTIFUL

AND MOST OBEDIENT HUMBLE SERVANT,

WILLIAM HENRY SMYTH.

INTRODUCTION.

So many works on the subject of Roman Medals have already appeared, that to add to their number may be deemed nothing better than lost labour; yet after the trouble of collecting an important series, its value is necessarily enhanced in the estimation of its collector; and he is tempted, not perhaps unreasonably, to think that an accurate description of it will not be without its use. To explain the circumstances which gave birth to the present work, and the view with which it was composed, it may be proper to state, that having enjoyed unusual opportunities while professionally employed in the Mediterranean, and having, for several years, examined a vast quantity of coins, and filled cabinet after cabinet with specimens of all sorts and sizes, I finally decided upon restricting myself to the Roman Imperial Large-Brass, as by far the most interesting series, since they delineate with fidelity, and preserve with little variation, more portraits of real characters; give more perfect representations of implements, dresses, buildings, and symbols; record a greater number of remarkable events; fix precisely more chronological dates; and afford better traces of manners and customs, than any other class of coins.

I have not, however, been inattentive to the claims and beauty of those belonging to other series, having studied with admiration the high antiquity and exquisite taste of the Greek, Sicilian, and Carthaginian medals, and I regard the Consular coins as a valuable treasury of the types and symbols of the primæval families of Rome; although in the greater part of them, the difficulty of positive identification, and of precise chronological arrangement, so well known to medallists, greatly diminish their historical and literary value. But in proportion as my attention was devoted to the Large-Brass, each emblem became more distinct and instructive, and every item rose into importance, so that when viewed with the diligence which these medals deserve, they are found to display an infinite store of information. To point out the illustrations afforded to History, Chronology, and Geography, by this series, is the great object of the present Catalogue, which, diffuse as it may appear to some, might have been much and not unprofitably enlarged, had not the writer's time been almost wholly devoted to professional duties.

The study of Medals has been branded with the epithet of pedantry, by illiterate persons, or such as have only heard of the fancies and visions of pretended Virtuosoes. If the study of history, however, is deserving of attention, no where will

be found more sure or unsuspicious vouchers for its truth, than in these small but durable monuments of the power and arts of ancient Rome. Considering the very numerous public and private collections which exist throughout Europe, and the great convenience they afford of ready reference, it is only surprising that we should meet with any well-educated person to whom they are entirely unknown. Yet extraordinary instances of such ignorance occasionally occur, even where the possession of some valuable coins might naturally have prompted an enquiry concerning them. Such want of knowledge exposes the possessors of these rarities to many mortifications; it deprives them of the pleasure of justly estimating the value of what they possess, makes them the dupes of such as are interested in deceiving, and occasions severe disappointment when they meet with a good judge who is honest enough to tell them the truth. I was once much amused by seeing a coin unrolled from a paper, with great care and solemnity, which turned out to be nothing more than a Hadrian worn almost smooth. Its owner was highly pleased when told that it was undoubtedly genuine, but proportionably disappointed and incredulous when informed that its value might be "about three-pence." But this was nothing to the blunder of a pretended Connoisseur in the South of France, who, after shewing me a wretched medley of worthless things, produced, as the most precious article in his whole collection, a bronze medal, and added in a tone of exultation

66

Voilà, Monsieur, une médaille unique; c'est du grand philosophe Zènon !” It was a small-brass of the Emperor Zeno. For persons who will not take the trouble to be better informed, it is a dangerous thing to dabble in antiquities; and the unhappy mistake of the French virtuoso reminds me of a worthy English gentleman, who was on the point of sending home an old brass cannon, inscribed with the name of Hadrian, as a proof that gunpowder was known to the Romans.

He is but a young numismatist who imagines that coins derive their principal value from their metal. The Romans may have made brass medals the depository of their exploits with more care than gold or silver, under the certainty that, as they did not so much tempt the cupidity of the possessor, or the dishonesty of servants, they were not so immediately exposed to the danger of the melting pot, and were, therefore, more likely to be permanently and widely circulated. At all events it is generally admitted, and a thorough knowledge of the subject confirms the opinion, that Augustus reserved for himself and his successors the right of coining gold and silver, and left the brass and copper under the direction of the Senate, whose official signature, as it may be termed, is expressed by the well-known siglæ S. C. A further confirmation of this implied compact exists in an inscription found at Rome, and thus given by Gruter-" Officinatores monetæ aurariæ, argentarie

1

« AnteriorContinua »