Over 600 coins document the development from the first coins, introduced relatively late (at the beginning of the 3rd century BC) and initially somewhat coarse, to coins dating from the West Roman Empire under Romulus August(u)lus (AD 476).
Pecunia non olet (money does not stink! ). Few people today realise that this well-known saying with its numerous connotations stems from a disagreement about tax collection between a Roman emperor and his son. Vespasianus (AD 69 79), after having found the state coffers plundered by his predecessor, Nero, introduced among other things a new urine tax. When his son, Titus, made fun of him, Vespasianus held a coin collected under that tax law to his sons nose and asked him if it smelled.
This story, recorded by the Roman historian Sueton, helped to name this special exhibition dealing with Roman money. Over 600 coins will document the development from the first coins, introduced relatively late (at the beginning of the 3rd century BC) and initially somewhat coarse, to coins dating from the West Roman Empire under Romulus August(u)lus (AD 476). In addition, numerous other objects from the Kunsthistroisches Museums Collection of Greek and Roman Art will be on show. The exhibition will offer a historical survey covering the most important events of the Roman Republic as well as all the emperors of the Imperium Romanorum.
It will also deal with topics such as currencies, technical questions, and the propaganda value of Roman coins. In a period lacking any mass media, coins were, after all, the only means by which a message could reach large parts of the population: that is why the reverse of numerous coins depicts the exploits of a ruler, successes in foreign and domestic policy e.g. tax reductions, distributions of money and wheat, and even the completion of buildings (some of which have only survived in a ruined state).
The obverse shows naturalistic portraits of rulers and their relations, the reverse thematic pictures they are original documents of the Roman Empire minted in metal (gold, silver, bronze). Most of the coins on show are particularly rare and beautiful pieces carefully chosen from the wealth of objects housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museums Coin Cabinet, one of the five largest collections of coins of the world.
The catalogue published in conjunction with the exhibition contains photographs of all the coins on show and offers a survey of Roman coins.
30 May 2000
to 31 December 2000