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General Courses


(8 C: Michaelmas)

Instruction in how to read and understand Linear B tablets covering both epigraphy and approaches to interpretation. No previous experience required.



Supplementary classes, including sessions on topics related to Part II courses offered in Ancient History

(4 C: tbc)
(4 C: Easter, tbc)

The course is open to students of all branches of Classics and will cater for all levels of preparation (Part I, Part II, and graduate students). No previous experience of coins is required and at least one bye-class on coin-identification and on reading coin-catalogues will be offered.

Its aims are:

  1. To enable takers to recognise areas in their other work (whether research papers or written examinations) where it might be appropriate to look for relevant numismatic evidence, whether or not "coins" or "coinage" figure in a particular thesis-title or are explicitly listed among the topics to be covered in the syllabus of a Tripos paper;
  2. To enable takers to gain the confidence to tackle a book or article in which numismatic topics are discussed; and
  3. To enable takers to pose questions on the procedures and conclusions reached in the numismatic literature, rather than proceed on the basis of blind acceptance.

In addition to graduate students (who should consult the Graduate Courses entry; and the Handbooks for MPhil and PhD candidates), the course has in recent years attracted both Part IA students and Part II candidates, the latter offering various combinations of A, B, C, D, E, and X Group papers. Part II thesis-topics on which advice has been sought since 2012-13 include the Iconography of the coinage of Ptolemy I, the Roman electoral system, Roman republican coinage and the gens, Julius Caesar, the legacy of Brutus & Cassius, libertas and res publica in late republican and imperial ideology, Augustan miniatures, the Flavians and Judaea, Trajan (three different proposals), Pompeii, N. Italy in the 3rd and early 4th centuries AD, ancient cartography, and the ventennio fascista.

The classes will be fully illustrated and (with discussion) will run for two hours. The syllabus of the main (Thursday) series will be problem-focussed, rather than a chronological narrative of Greek and Roman coinage (for which see, below, the Oxford Handbook), and will seek to examine the strengths and limitations of the different and sometimes apparently contradictory sorts of evidence employed in trying to understand how coins behaved in the ancient world. The course unashamedly takes the perspective of students working principally from printed sources – coin-catalogues, find-reports, and mint-studies – and a primary objective will be to provide you with a critical framework for approaching such sources. The interaction of literary, material, and comparative arguments will, it is hoped. assist in the development of more widely applicable research techniques and an understanding of how information is evaluated.

The Thursday series (16:00 to 18:00) will offer a rich mix of general procedures, exemplified, so far as possible, by material related to the interests of individual class-members.  Interested students are strongly advised to attend the Prelimanary meeting (15 January 2020) and the first two sessions on “Looking at coins”, for their sideways approach to the subject. Later topics will include what can be learnt from the way coins are made and what weight should be given to the designs that appear on them. Set pieces from previous years include a critique of a particular site-report (Coins from the centre of Rome) and the reception of Greek and Roman coins from the Renaissance onwards (e.g. The image of Alexander the Great in fifteenth century Italy). A visit to the Bank of England Museum (refurbished in 2014) and to the British Museum's Money gallery (refurbished in 2013), either at the end of Lent Term or at the beginning of Easter Term, will complement the Cambridge classes.

In addition to the Thursday series, it is proposed to offer a number of additional classes (Friday afternoons, from 16:00 to 18:00) beginning with a bye-class (17 January 2020) on reading coin-catalogues and continuing with sessions offering a more detailed discussion of topics related principally to C-group papers. The scope and structure of these supplementary classes will depend upon intending takers' interest and availability, though it is probable that they (like the Thursday series) will continue during the first four weeks of Easter Term.

Students minded to offer a thesis on a numismatic topic or one that is likely to draw on numismatic data are encouraged to contact TRV as soon as possible, by e-mail to He will be available (by appointment) for one-to-one meetings in the Classics Faculty early in Michaelmas Term. There will be a meeting for all interested students on Wednesday, 15 January 2020 (i.e. immediately before the start of the lecturing term) to introduce the course and to decide the distribution of topics between the two series.

Preliminary reading: P. Grierson, Numismatics (Oxford, 1975); M.H. Crawford, ‘Numismatics’, in M.H. Crawford (ed.), Sources for Ancient History (Cambridge, 1983); C. Howgego, Ancient History from Coins (London, 1995); S. von Reden, Money in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge, 2010); W. Metcalf (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage (Oxford, 2012); and F. Martin, Money: the unauthorised biography (London, 2013).

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