Coins: The original political art?
9 July 2013
Long before the age of mass media, the ancient world possessed a simple way of conveying messages to the populace: through their coins. Although secondary to their economic function, coins provided the easiest way for elites to spread their propaganda among the masses on a daily basis. At a time of limited communication, the durability and ubiquity of coins in everyday life made them invaluable tools to help spread political messages. As the political landscape of ancient Greece and Rome changed, so did the iconography on their coins.
The coins of republican Rome and the Classical Period of Greece did not portray any living person, instead depicting patron gods or goddesses on the obverse, with a symbol of the state or city state on the reverse. The state and its various successes were linked to the patron god/goddess rather than to one individual person, reflecting the democratised nature of ancient Greece and Rome.
The imperial age of Rome and Hellenistic Period of Greece ushered in a change of coin iconography. With the rise of the kings in the Greek kingdoms and the emperors in Rome came the first coins to bear the portraits of living people. The image of the king took up one side of the new coins, with a symbol of state on the other. Thus the rulers linked themselves as not only ruling the state, but being the state. These simple pieces of propaganda have lasted through the ages; with modern coins still following the same design.