In the news at RU: ‘Ancient coins taking leap into the 21st century’


Associate professor of classics Corey Brennan, left, and Thomas Izbicki , humanities librarian and curator of the Ernst Badian Collection, with some of the collection’s treasures. Brennan holds a Roman “Aes Rude” dated from 270 BCE, while Izbicki holds a Roman “Aes Grave” from 275-270 BCE depicting an image of Pegasus.  Credit: Nick Romanenko

‘”The unimpressive hunk of bronze would fit easily into the palm of a child’s hand. It carries a significance that far belies its size.”

“Since 2001, the basement of Rutgers’ Archibald S. Alexander Library has been home to a collection of coins dating from the Roman Republic. This mottled green and brown rock, first used as currency some 270 years before the Common Era began, represents the oldest in the array.”

“‘It’s pretty primitive,’ says Thomas Izbicki, nodding toward the battered-looking antiquity.”

“Izbicki, the humanities librarian, is curator of the Ernst Badian Collection, which includes some 1,200 coins spanning the period from ancient Rome to the end of the Roman Republic and the early Empire. The collection document s the emergence of coinage and the money economy that developed between 280 and 31 BCE.”

“‘This is an extraordinary collection, assembled over a 60-year period by one of the greatest ancient historians of our age,” says T. Corey Brennan, associate professor of classics at Rutgers, whose relationship with a professor at Harvard played a key role in bringing the artifacts to the Alexander Library.'”

“Now these pieces of antiquity are entering the 21st century – symbolically, anyway – as a team of librarians and students works to digitize the entire collection. A grant from the Loeb Classical Library Foundation at Harvard is underwriting creation of a web-based public photo portal and archive, making the images accessible to students, scholars of ancient history, classicists and coin collectors worldwide.”

Kabir Golphin of South Brunswick, a sophomore in the School of Engineering, spent the better part of the summer photographing the coins from seven different angles, making it possible for a viewer to sit at his screen and “rotate” the coin he’s examining, even to examine the edges.”

Scott Goldstein, a graduate student in library science at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information, painstakingly recorded details of each coin – year of origin, manufacturer, composition, images on both sides – based on handwritten notes Badian kept.”

“And Classics graduate student Rick Hale designed the portal while he was completing his degree at SC&I.”

 Brennan and Izbicki believe digitizing the coins’ images will make the collection more accessible to scholars and coin enthusiasts. Credit: Nick Romanenko
“’When the project is finished, people will be able to do a robust, faceted search for every coin by weight, denomination, diameter, metal and other specifications,’ Izbicki says. ‘You’ll also be able to search with questions – for example, how many coins carry the image of Mercury?’”

“Adorned with images of helmeted warriors, thunderbolts, chariots, cornucopias and Roman gods, the coins offer insight into the daily lives of the citizens who used them and the rulers who designed them.”

“Izbicki says that in ancient times, coins represented more than vehicles for economic commerce. They were a form of mass media that allowed a government to communicate with its own people and with other states.”

“’Every year you had new young magistrates who would put their own messages on coins,’ the curator says. ‘For example, in periods of the most intense expansion, you find a lot of pictures of victories, images of military trophies. If your relative conquered a country, you would commemorate him with a coin.’”

“How the coins made their way to Rutgers in the first place is a story worthy of an Edward Gibbon treatise.”

“It begins with a gift from classics professor Ernst Badian, one-time John Morris Cabot Professor of History at Harvard, who oversaw Corey Brennan’s dissertation in Cambridge, then kept up with his former student as he began his own academic career – ultimately turning over to Brennan the editorship of the American Journal of Ancient History, which Badian founded at Harvard in 1976.”

“As Brennan tells it, the collection Badian donated to Rutgers in annual installments is notable for its comprehensive nature, for its historical value, and for the fine condition of most of its pieces.”

“’The gift of this collection made Rutgers an important center for teaching and research in this area,’ he says. Especially significant, he adds, is that Badian shared with Rutgers his own scholarship about each coin, casting a fresh eye on longstanding reference works in the field.”

“When Badian died in 2011, his wife Nathlie donated the remainder of his collection to Rutgers. As a result, the university now houses examples from almost every significant coin issue of the Republic period, says Izbicki, who remembers carting the coins to Rutgers in a locked black leather valise after meetings with Badian.”

“Stored in the Special Collections and University Archives in the Alexander Library in New Brunswick, the collection draws visitors – by appointment – from various segments of the community.”

Gary Farney, chair of the Department of History at Rutgers-Newark and a specialist in Roman Republican numismatics, has brought classes to view the coins, for example, as has Serena Connolly of the Classics Department. Latin students from Montgomery High School in Stillman, N.J., also enjoyed a field trip to library’s lower floor, where the coins are kept for security reasons.”

“In the fall of 2005, the university hosted a three-month exhibition of the coins, marking the first time they were made available to the public. A special guest at the opening of the exhibition was Ernst Badian, who delivered a lecture on the development of Roman Republican coinage.”

“The new portal is expected to give scholars and students worldwide a taste of the collection’s value as a teaching tool and a cultural resource. The digital copy of each coin will be preserved in RUCore, Rutgers’ institutional repository, and the tools created for the Badian collection will be made available for other numismatic collections to enable searches across collections.”

AesRude copy

Dating to sometime before 270 BCE: Aes Rude at Rutgers. From the Ernst Badian Collection of Roman Republican Coins.

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