Last week I noted that "little bugs us numismatists more than misstatements in the general press or worse, in books." That's still true, although ferreting out the truth isn't always straightforward.
Last week Jared Dawber wrote:
I have recently read Colleen McCullough's book The First Man in Rome. In the glossary (which is generally quite helpful) she describes the Sestertius as a "small silver coin". As any numismatist with even a passing interest in Roman coins will attest, the Sestertius is most certainly not small or silver. I do not think this is being picky at all. One would hope that authors specializing in historical fiction would strive to get such easy-to-verify facts straight.
Douglas Mudd, Curator of the American Numismatic Association's Edward C. Rochette Money Museum writes:
I just read Jared Dawber’s comment on First Man in Rome in the latest E-Sylum – actually McCullough is right – the first appearance of the sestertius as a coin was in silver and it was quite small – valued at 2.5 asses or 1/2 a quinarius or 1/4 denarius. The coins were only issued from 211 – 206 BC.
The brass sestertius that Jared refers to and that most of us are familiar with was not introduced until the time of Augustus (around 18 BC). So for the time period which the First Man in Rome discusses, McCullough is perfectly correct – in fact I am very surprised and impressed that she caught a numismatic detail that most numismatists, even those who collect Roman coins, would miss. Yet another reason why the First Man in Rome series is one of my favorite historical novels!
Wayne Homren, Editor
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