Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 7 >> Connective Tissue to Cooke >> Contorniati


ancient, coins and roman

CONTORNIATI, Ici5n-tor-ne-i'te, ancient medals which have occupied the attention of antiquarians for a long time, and, on account of their rarity, are highly esteemed in cabinets. They are formed of a thin plate of metal (not of two different sorts, as is often supposed) with a flat impression. They differ from other ancient coins by having a furrow upon both their sides, where the others have a wreath of pearls. These hollowed lines (It. contorni) may have occasioned their name. Another charac teristic of genuine contorniati is a cipher com posed of the letters EP or PE, of which no satisfactory explanation has as yet been dis covered, together with numerous impressed characters, and a great number of palm branches, the cavities of which are often filled with silver. They are also added by a second hand, and thereby are essentially distinguished from the amonograms,a so called in the lan guage of the mint. They resemble the sigma sncusa (contremarques) on the Roman medals. All the contorniati are of bronze, and equal in size to the large bronze coins called medaglion civil by the Italian collectors. Their form is

various, their workmanship rude and their in scriptions are frequently different from the usual curial style upon the ancient coins. From these circumstances we may conclude that they did not belong to the age of the Roman emperors whose image they bear, but to a later one. Eckel, in his masterly treatise on the contorniati, follows the opinion of Morelli and Mahudel, who consider them to have been made from the reign of Constantine the Great to that of Valentinian. It has been ascertained that they were not struck by public authority; and the ancients have transmitted no account of their destination, which must, therefore, be left to conjecture. The frequent representa tions of race-grounds, palms men shouting to the charioteers, and even tie images of the emperors upon them, make it probable that they were distributed as tickets of admission or as certificates to successful competitors in the games at the circuses in Rome and Constan tinople. Consult Smith, (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.>