Question on decent rulers on Ancient Coinage

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by kevin McGonigal, Apr 15, 2018.

  1. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    I like to collect coins and currency with famous people on them. Not really hard to do, except that I like to collect images of people who have been pretty decent people, not angels, but also not monsters. In the Ancient period I am starting to wonder if any of these personalities on coins were reasonably "good guys". Now, I do not expect to project modern day notions of ethics and morality onto ancient figures but the more I study these people, especially the rulers, the more I am wondering if ANY of them were admirable characters by any universal ideas of humane behavior. Alexander the Great, whose coins are common, and Julius Caesar, whose coins are not, slaughtered vast numbers of their fellow human beings in establishing their fame. Even rulers we might find acceptable, marginally, like Augustus or Marcus Aurelius committed acts most of us would not be comfortable with. And some were so terrible, even to contemporaries, that damnation memoriae seems like a good idea. So, what I am asking is, for those who collect ancient and medieval coinages, from your studies, have you found any of these people whose images are on the coins of this period to be what we might consider decent people. Thanks.
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  3. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    You will find that the conception of "decent" to ancient cultures was quite different from our modern ideas of morality.

    One possible contender to look into is Antoninus Pius.
    Roman Empire
    Antoninus Pius, AD 138-161
    AR Denarius, Rome mint, Struck ca. AD 140-143
    Wt.: 3.01 g
    Dia.: 17 mm, 6h
    Obv.: ANTONINVS AVG PIVS PP TR P COS III; Laureate head right
    Rev.: AEQVITAS AVG; Aequitas standing left, holding scales and sceptre
    Ref.: RIC III 61; RSC 14

    A. Pius was the fourth of the popularly styled Five Good Emperors that ruled Rome at its height. His reign is noted for being remarkably peaceful for the time and for the fact that he never had to leave Italy while emperor. He earned the title Pius either for having his adopted father Hadrian deified, for physically supporting his aged father in law in senate meetings or for pardoning innocent people who had been condemned to death.
  4. ycon

    ycon Well-Known Member

    Hadrian is another you might look into. There are also coins which (I believe) were minted during the reign of Siddhārtha Gautama's (Buddha) father while he was a prince, which are collected for their close connection to him.

    More to the point though is that you've set up a paradox for yourself. You want coins of ancient rulers but are (not unreasonably) unwilling to accept an ancient code of morality-- as such I think you'll have a very hard time fulfilling your goal.

    It might behoove you to consider the fact that nearly anyone who has had sufficient power to mint coins has nearly inevitably abused that same power. I don't think it's coincidental that many people who are held up as historical exemplars of morality eg. Jesus, St. Francis, Buddha himself, renounced money and material wealth.

    The majority of the direct quotations of Jesus' in the gospels are about his very clear distaste for wealth. For Jesus money was both a symbol of evil ("it is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.") and a symbol of the Roman state ("Give unto caesar what is caesar's and give unto god what is god's."). You might find money minted with his face on it but you certainly won't find money minted by him.

    I say this as a non-christian, non-believer, simply to point out that in our inherited system of morality your aversion to holding up mass slaughterers such as Alexander or Julius Caesar as heros may stem from a similar place.

    I collect coins with historical figures for many reasons, but mainly because I find them interesting. Morality has never been much of a criteria for me, because if it was I would either have nothing to collect, or I would have to argue that historically held up heroes such as the ones you mentioned (or innumerable others) were "good guys" despite the atrocities they committed-- an approach to history that is all too common and symptomatic of a myopic and self-serving present.
  5. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Good guy...

    India - Shakya Janapada
    AR 5-Shana
    6th-5th Century BCE
    25mm x 21mm, 7.05g
    Obv: Central Pentagonal punch plus several banker's marks
    Rev: Blank
    Ref: Hirano Type I.8.29
    Coinage from the Ghaghara Gandak River region.

    At this time, any of the 16 "Janapada" was defined as a tribe, country, kingdom, or a republic in northern India. Shakya was a Republic (ah, I love the Republics!), in northern India near present day Nepal.

    "Prince Guatama Siddhartha 563 BCE to 483 BCE, the son of the king of the Shakya people (Republic). Siddhartha reached enlightenment, becoming The Buddha at the age of 35.

    The Gautama Buddha then traveled to the deer park near Benares, India, where he gave his first sermon and outlined the basic doctrines of Buddhism. According to Buddhism, there are “four noble truths”: (1) existence is suffering; (2) this suffering is caused by human craving; (3) there is a cessation of the suffering, which is nirvana; and (4) nirvana can be achieved, in this or future lives, though the “eightfold path” of right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration."
  6. Aethelred

    Aethelred The Old Dead King Supporter

    I believe that generally what makes a person "good" (if any of us can really claim to be "good") is not the same thing that makes a ruler good (as in effective).

    So you may need to look to the less effective rulers like Severus Alexander and Henry III of England to find decent people (who were not very good rulers).
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  7. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Yes, I think so. too. There is not much written about him because his life contained so little scandal.
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  8. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    As Curtisimo already mentioned, these 5 emperors are considered as good and wise men:

    in brass:


    in silver:

  9. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Thanks for those thoughts. In my life of collecting, other artifacts in addition to coins, I have concluded that to collect items from some groups or individuals is, in a sense to perpetuate their memory, almost as though in approval of what they did as well as recognition of what they did. For that reason I steer clear of modern items. Believe me I am not any kind of paragon of individual virtue and i understand that the ancient and medieval world had a very different code of morality and ethics but still I had rather have in my collection coins and artifacts that memorialize the good that humans can do. Too bad the ancient Greeks did not mint coins with Apollonius or Hippocrates on them.
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  10. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Thanks for that. Are there any coins of the Sub-Continent that are contemporary to the Buddha in time?
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  11. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Certainly better than the likes of Caligula and Nero. I don't think the Dacians quite saw Trajan in the same light as the Romans did. I sometimes think that the emperors of the late Third Century like Aurelian, Claudius Gothicus and Probus might prove to have been capable and decent if only we knew more about them. The idea, though intrigues me that perhaps my collection should concentrate on those "good emperors" especially as their coinage tends to be less expensive than those of the First Century. I'll have to ponder that suggestion.
    galba68 likes this.
  12. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Yes, I had just posted some of these in another thread, but here they are again:

    INDIA Gandhara 6-5C BCE (I have seen this listed as 600-300 BCE) AR Shana or 1/8 Shatamana 15mm 1.4g Six armed Taxila symbol pellet between - Blank - Pieper 12 Rajgor Series 41

    India Matsya AR Vimsatika 650-600 BC stamped bankers.jpg
    India Matsya AR Vimsatika 650-600 BC stamped bankers

    India Gandahara AR Bent Bar 11.3g  650-600 BCE RARE two dots - also have on BOTH sides VERY RARE.jpg
    India Gandahara AR Bent Bar 11.3g 650-600 BCE RARE two dots - also have on BOTH sides VERY RARE
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2018
  13. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I see no value whatsoever in applying 2018 values to assessments of ancient rulers. It is very popular today with American heros of previous generations losing their status because they were slave owners (Washington, Jefferson). Most wealthy Virginians owned slaves. That does not make it right but it is a fact. All Roman Emperors owned slaves.

    I would suggest you avoid ancients altogether. If you wanted to apply then current standards in such a judgement, you might collect Consecratio coins showing rulers judged to have been good by their successors. You will still want to drop a few of them (Commodus, Caracalla) whose elevation was political rather than merit based but the group as a whole are relatively good. Now some will suggest that Constantine I, a saint in the Orthodox church, might have been better had he not killed his son Crispus, his wife Fausta and co-emperor Licinius but we each will have to judge where we draw the line.
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  14. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Buddha was a Good Guy...
  15. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    It certainly is a difficult criterium: separating the Good Ones from the Baddies. The first principle of coin interest is: Do Whatever You Want! I often think about the good and the bad in collecting. But what you think about rulers is all in your head.

    Roman history may look all clear because you learned good old standard history, Edward Gibbon, Sallust and all, but many facts our school history teached us have grown unsure, or patent lies. Constantine the Great and his family was not so holy. Alexander the Great may be compared with Genghis Khan, Cyrus the Great is only a Good Man through the eyes of Xenophon and many emperors were not so bad as historians in the service of their victorious adversaries try to let us believe.

    Gordian III may have succumbed on the battlefield, probably he was not murdered by Philip the Arab; Valerian may have lived in peace in a luxurious Persian prison instead of meeting a gruesome end. Commodus was vilified and probably never fought as a gladiator himself. Some things I recently learned.

    Keeping a historical distance, that's what I do, so I can put Caracalla AND Geta AND Macrinus AND Elagabalus in my collection. AND rulers I don't know anything about, like the one on this little Soghdian coin (700 AD) with his quirky smile. Was he a bad ruler? A good one? I'm the happy ignoramus.

    5685 SO.jpg
  16. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    You don't create an empire by being nice to people. While not every ancient ruler would qualify as a psychopath by modern standards, even the good ones (e.g. Marcus Aurelius, Antoninus Pius, etc.) had flaws. I happen to be a fan of Vespasian, and overall he was on the "good" side of Roman emperors. He was modest and temperate in his lifestyle, was even-handed in applying justice, and Suetonius reports that he was so tender-hearted that he would weep when he had to condemn a man to death. Of course, he did go ahead and condemn those men, and he had no qualms in killing tens of thousands in Judaea; but after all, they were rebels who had murdered their legitimate Roman overlords and committed impious acts against the gods, so I'm sure Vespasian didn't lose much sleep over their fate.

    Yes, and how many empires did he rule? ;)
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  17. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Today, 520 million Followers of Buddhism.
  18. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    @Alegandron (or anyone else who can help): This is something I found confusing when I started researching early Indian coins of the janapadas (and other early Indian states such as Yaudheya and Kuninda). Many of them are referred to as "republics". The defining feature of a republic is the fact that government is not controlled by a hereditary monarch. Yet all of these ancient Indian "republics" seem to have had hereditary kings! Am I missing something here, or is there a vastly different definition of "republic" that is being used?
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  19. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    I do not know. I recall a scrap of reading somewhere, where they were more of a chieftan, perhaps elected. I am still learning this area of ancient history and its coinage.
  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Of the emperors, who other than Vespasian had a sense of humor?
    ‘Vae, puto deus fio’
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  21. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Well, there was Caligula and that Senator Incitatus business. I'm sure the Romans got a got snort out of that.
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