The PNNA Memorabilia Catalog

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by Greg Franck-Weiby

This year’s piece is modeled on a silver siliqua of the Roman Emperor Honorius (393-423). In a conventionalized style, the ‘portrait’ of the Emperor is probably more not unlike the subject than the accurate and vivid individualized portraits of 1st and 2nd century Roman coins. The original inscription of “D(ominus) N(ostri) Honorius P(onti) F(ex) AUG(ustus)” has been replaced with “PACIF(ic) NW NUMIS(matic) ASSO(ociation)” in the typical Roman style of abbreviations without dots or breaks.

The reverse shows a seated figure of a female personification of Rome, holding a ‘victrix’, like a Greek ‘nike’, a winged female personification of the spirit of victory, holding forth a laurel wreath. The original inscription of “VIRTUS ROMANORUM” (‘virtue of the Romans’) has been replaced with “TUKWILA WA APRIL”. The year date 2005 in Roman numerals (“MMV”) replaces the original model coin’s mint mark, “MDPS” for Mediolanum (the modern city of Milano in northern Italy) ‘pusulatum’ (‘pure silver’).

The designs of the PNNA souvenir commemoratives for the years 2003, ‘04, and ‘05 have been based on hand hammered coin types so that they could be struck on site at the conventions without requiring heavy machinery. Designs were chosen that were hoped to be of interest to U.S. coin collectors. The ‘03 piece was based on the Massachusetts Bay Colony pine tree coinage of 1667 - 1682 as being among the first coinage produced by English speaking colonists in North America. The ‘04 piece was based on the ‘Carlos y Juana’ type of the Mexico City Mint, (1537-‘72), the first European style coinage produced in the Western Hemisphere. Broadening the historical horizon, this year’s piece is the first ancient type in the series.

Intellectual and political leaders of Europe and the English speaking world have long looked to the history of the ancient Romans for clues on how to conduct a large scale civilization and for images of what ‘civilization’ should look like. Renaissance leaders were inspired by the ‘greatness’ and power of the Romans. Thinkers of the 18th century ‘Age of Enlightenment’ who visualized the democracy America’s founders pursued, looked to the ancient Greeks for inspiration, while Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire provided a cautionary catalogue of the ‘mistakes’ that doom a great civilization.

America’s Founding Fathers and leaders of the ‘Federalist’ period looked to the history of the early Roman Republic for institutions such as the Senate and the rule of law as well as for the public service ideals of the citizen-farmer like the Roman general Cincinnatus. (George Washington was called ‘the American Cincinnatus’.) By the late 19th and early 20th century, Americans were fascinated by the history of the early Roman Empire as America began to become a new world power. Now, in the early 21st century, it is the history of late Roman Empire that reflects our reality.

The late Roman Empire was a degenerate civilization dominated by fear and ruled by an institutionalized Christian Church-State. Endless, fruitless wars and the taxes required to support them depleted the vitality of Roman civilization and gave birth to feudalism as the Roman ruling class struggled to preserve pathological concentrations of wealth, control sources of dwindling resources and defend over-extended borders against alien people denounced as ‘barbarians’, even while the barbarians joined and invigorated Roman society.

One of two Emperor sons of Theodosius I (“the Great”) - Honorius - was a weak and ineffectual Emperor. His reign saw the loss of the Province of Britain to the Saxon pirates, while the Province of Gaul was over run by other German tribes, primarily the Franks (whose name means ‘the free’). No strong Emperors succeeded Honorius at Rome, and a little over half a century after his death, the last Emperor at Rome was deposed by Goths.

The silver siliqua was a much diminished successor to the Roman silver denarius coin, and it was valued at 24 to the gold solidus, while the solidus was 20% lighter than the gold aureus of the early centuries of the Empire. Silver coinage was very limited in the 4th century, and ceased to play any monetarily significant role after the time of Honorius as the Roman middle class and its urban retail economy ceased to exist, leaving only the gold coinage of the Patrician elite and an entirely inadequate coinage of tiny coppers for everyone else. Compared to the still abundant inflationary bronze issues of the 4th century, all Roman coins of the 5th century are scarce.

PNNA 2005 commemoratives struck in .999 fine silver weigh about one penny weight (1.55 grams) and are close to the weight of the specimen the design was copied from, although that was well below the theoretical weight standard for the denomination of 2.25 grams. The collector set pieces struck in .999 fine gold weigh a little over 2.25 grams, and thus have about the same gold content as the ‘semissis’ or half solidus coin of the 4th and 5th century. Copper strikes of the type in the collector sets would correspond to the “AE3" coins of that period, i.e. ‘third size bronze’ (the actual denominations of the coppers of the period, and their relation to the silver and gold units, are not known).