Cost: Free

Coins and Power

Ordinary Meeting of Fellows (Fellows and Guests Only)

Coins and Power: Thomas Smith and the Rediscovery of Roman History in Elizabethan England

Lecture by Andrew Burnett FSA and Richard Simpson FSA

Still unpublished and virtually unknown, this work from c. 1562 is the first original English work using the evidence of ancient coins; one of the manuscript copies, perhaps belonging to Robert Cotton, is in the collection of the Society. In it, Thomas Smith tried to determine the wages of a Roman soldier (still a controversial subject!) and compared ancient Roman coin values with contemporary English ones. This was particularly relevant at the time, influencing the great recoinage of 1561-1562: debasement, as Smith argued from the Roman evidence, was a sign of decline. Smith was one of the successful advocates of this painful reform, regarded at the time as one of Queen Elizabeth's greatest achievements. The book provides much information about contemporary numismatics in England, mostly in Cambridge, all of which is new. A circle of friends and scholars shared an interest in numismatics: they overlap with the 'Cambridge connection' (the group of scholars/politicians/courtiers like Cecil, Cheke and Ascham who brought about the smooth transition of Elizabeth's succession).

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