Garys Coin of Month article for August 2013 (Volume 2 Number 12) features an NGC AU-53 Spanish provisional government 1870(74) DEM, 2 Peseta. Divided into two parts, this article will examine the link between the 1870(74) 2 Peseta and Hadrian's empire some 1,700 years earlier. Part 2 will be more focused on the technical aspects of the 2 Peseta coin and its historical context following the ouster of Queen Isabella II from the Spanish throne.
The use of persons on coins to represent a place or a concept dates back to ancient Greece. Copying the Greeks, the Romans used deified feminine personifications on their coins to represent the various regions of their empire. By utilizing those personifications in creative ways, their coins became tools to disseminate propaganda. Without an alternate means of mass communication, circulating coins were quite effective in spreading propaganda from one person to another.
The use of coins to manipulate a subjugated people continued during Hadrian's reign as Roman Emperor (AD 117-138). For instance, the presence of the Hadrian's bust on the coin's obverse and a deified personification on the reverse effectively raised Hadrian's status to that of a god. Believing Hadrian to be a god, the people who feared him as such were more likely to be compliant. However, in Judea this type of propaganda rarely worked because the Jews did not worship the Roman gods, much less the Roman emperor. This eventually led to Hadrian's hatred and persecution of the Jews.
For the most part, Hadrians reign was a peaceful one with the exception of a major uprising in Judea. Furthermore, Hadrian had powerful allies in Rome to represent his interests and cover his back. These factors allowed Hadrian to travel extensively throughout the Roman Empire focusing on public works projects, and thereby solidifying his reign. Moreover, everywhere Hadrian went he issued coins to commemorate his visit and his public works projects. In doing so, the people of each region would be constantly reminded of Hadrians so called benevolence towards them.
The area of the Iberian Peninsula then known as Hispania, and today includes both Portugal and Spain enjoyed many privileges granted to it by the Roman Empire. Among those is an intricate network of roads, aristocrat status for the ruling class, numerous public works and construction projects, and a robust economy brought about by trade with Rome. Additionally, this area served as a training ground for the officers of the Roman army. Interestingly, Italica near Seville in Hispania is the recognized birthplace of both Hadrian and his predecessor, Trajan.
This brief history of Hadrian dovetails nicely into the allegorical context of the ancient coins issued during his extensive travels. The positions of the deified personifications on the coin are the key to understanding the various allegories. For example, a Judean coin issued after putting down the Bar Kokhba revolt (AD 132-135) shows a deified personification representing Judea standing before Hadrian pouring out libations from a patera (a shallow bowl) in honor of Hadrian. On a coin featuring Britannia circa AD 134-138, a subdued Britannia appears seated on a rock loosely holding an upright spear with a shield resting on the ground by her side. Interestingly, some historians are suggesting that she is actually sitting on Hadrians Wall signifying the defensive barrier built by Hadrian to protect Britain from the invading Scots.
On the ancient coin pictured in my collage with the 2 Peseta coin, Hispania appears in a reclining position holding a laurel branch signifying triumphant victory. The reclining position also represents something altogether different from the previous poses I described. For a person to be depicted reclining they had to be free. For it is only a free people who reclined at the table while the servants served them. Therefore, it seems that the allegory of this coin is Hispanias reward for their loyalty to Rome.
Of all the regions in the old Roman Empire, there was perhaps none more influenced by Roman culture than Hispania. Now more than 1,700 years later, the lingering effects of Ancient Rome became apparent in the obverse devices of Spains new coins issued shortly after the Glorious Revolution of 1868 and the ouster of Queen Isabella II.
What seems to have been more a military coup than a revolution resulted in the establishment of a Spanish provisional government in the place of the deposed monarchy. Once in power, that government proceeded with the difficult task of forming a new and permanent government. This was to be no easy task, especially considering the rivaling political factions (liberals, moderates, progressives, carlists, and ) sitting at the negotiating table.
Along with the provisional government came a new monetary system, the third decimal coinage. Hailing back to the Roman use of coinage, Spains new coins needed to send a powerful message that would resonate with the Spanish people. Thus, in that the design features of the 2 Peseta are almost identical to that of the ancient Hispania coin is no coincidence.
While the features on the reverse of the ancient Hispania coin and the obverse of the Spanish 2 Peseta are nearly identical, the allegory of the 2 Peseta is quite different. This starts with subtle differences in the obverse devices of the 2 Peseta.
On the ancient coin, a reclining Hispania is holding a laurel branch and in doing so is freely giving glory to Rome and Hadrian. On the Spanish 2 Peseta, a reclining Hispania is extending an olive branch of peace to a free people of all political stripes.
Unfortunately, forming a fair and equitable government for all the people is a difficult task that Spain grappled with for some decades to come. This causes me to be thankful for the 200+ year old government we have here in the United States and not take it for granted.
In summary, the desired effect of the allegory in the design features of the 2 Peseta coin failed just as they did with the Judean coin. In spite of this, while we have many more avenues to disseminate propaganda today, coins will always be an effective means to do so. Remember, the old cliché that states, A picture is worth a thousand words. Also, remember that as long as coins are issued by governments, their design features will be politically motivated.
Please join me next month when I will have much more to say about this fascinating coin.
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