by Marvin Tameanko





The ancient Romans were great builders and they commissioned famous ancient architects to construct their buildings. History records their names for posterity including Cossutius, Vitruvius, Severus, Celer, Rabirius and Apollodorus of Damascus. Under these designers the arch, a structural, architectural element, became a symbol for Rome as powerful as the traditional eagle. The emperor Hadrian himself was a self-taught architect who designed the temple of Venus and Rome, the Pantheon and a large part of his palace at Tivoli. So building was a national activity for the Romans and they took great pride in their architecture. Remarkably, the Romans advertised their buildings by engraving their images on their coinage. Archaeologists and historians have derived great benefit from this custom because some of these coins are the best surviving records of these structures and can be used to illustrate their original appearances. In fact, we can often compare the coins today to the remains of antiquities that still stand or use them to reconstruct structures that no longer exist. Beside this, the architectural coins are themselves beautiful pieces of numismatic, sculptural art.

Coin collectors frequently ask me, “Which Roman, architectural coin is your favourite?” Of course I always answer, “all of them”. But if I had to choose, I would select a coin that epitomized Roman architecture and engineering, and illustrated one of their most famous buildings. So my choice would be a coin showing the Colosseum in Rome, because of the history attached to that stadium and because it came to represent the power and prestige attained by the Roman Empire.

The Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum, was an enormous stadium which reputedly could seat 80,000 spectators. It was a marvel of Roman engineering, standing 48 meters high. The Romans held gladiatorial contests, pageants, athletic games, animal hunts and religious events in the area. Even mock-naval battles, using full-sized galleys, were performed in the Colosseum when the arena was flooded to make a lake. The Colosseum became a major focal point for the social lives of the Roman citizens and it later became a physical symbol of the city itself, even as it is for tourists today. A well-known proverb, first penned by the English cleric, the Venerable Bede, in AD 730, tells that- “While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand. When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall, and when Rome falls – the World.”

The Colosseum appeared on coins struck for Titus, 79-81, Severus Alexander, 222-235, and Gordian III, 238-244. These coins show the entire structure in a three-dimensional view, revealing details that can be confirmed by examining the extensive ruins of the structure that still stand today. The most dramatic depiction of the Colosseum, including a contest between an elephant and a bull in the arena, appeared on a magnificent medallion struck by Gordian III. On this coin we can also see the rows of spectators with the emperor seated in his box in the middle. On the left we see the colossal statue, more than 30 meters high, originally of the sun god Apollo but converted into Fortuna, goddess of good fortune. On the right of the Colosseum we see the porch of Nero’s Golden Palace, the only part remaining after it was demolished to make way for the Colosseum. By its legend, MUNIFICENTIA GORDIANI AVG, the coin commemorates the munificence (bountifulness) of Gordian, the emperor, in renovating the stadium.



A bronze medallion of Gordian III struck in 241-244 showing the Colosseum with a battle between an elephant and bull taking

place in the arena. Description Historique des Monnaies Frappees Sous l' Empire Romain by Henry Cohen, No. 165, 166.




Historians claim that we can judge the aspirations, achievements and the level of cultural development of a society by the architecture it produces, and this has proven to be true for the Roman Empire. There are hundreds of fine Roman coins showing architecture on their reverses and, hopefully, this introduction to the coins illustrated on the following pages will encourage viewers to pursue this exciting, specialized area of ancient coin collecting. Welcome to the pure joy of architectural numismatics.











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