An archaeologist was once heard to remark that 'Coins are only well dated pieces of metal'. He was, of course, wrong: coins are not usually well dated nor are they necessarily made of metal. But these small technical points of fact aside, the drift of the comment well reflects the place that coin studies have occupied in the archaeological world. Coins are perceived as dating evidence, as art objects and as a unique species of evidence that is best left to the numismatist and confined to the museum strongroom at the earliest possible moment. It is the purpose of this short book to bring to the attention of archaeologists and historians something of the full potential of coin evidence. If numismatic studies are to transcend the mere identification of coins it will be in collaboration with scholars who need the answers to questions which push the numismatist into areas of speculation which are at the very limits of inference in his specialist field. By the same token the optimistic misuse of coin evidence by archaeologists may be curtailed by the reasoned understanding of the numismatist of the complexities of coin production, circulation and survival. In this work I have tried to bring coin studies out of the closet and expose some of the techniques of study which have been developed in the fields of dating, economic and social studies. In doing so I have deliberately ignored the problem of coin identification. This can be learned, by hard work, from a pile of coins or from study in a coin collection, but not from the pages of a book.
The emphasis throughout this work is on Roman coinage. This is not because this is the only area in which numismatic techniques can be used but because it is the author's own field of research. The same sort of work is being done in other coin series, in other periods and by other workers. However, it is the coinage of Rome which forms the largest component of the archaeological record and it is the classical past which occupies the attention of a very large part of the archaeological profession, so that emphasis on this period may not be entirely out of place. If there is a single thread within this work it is that the study of processes, not things, should be the concern of the applied numismatist. It is a process which underlies the issue, use and loss of coins. The individual coin is merely the representative of a complex series of events. Furthermore, there can be no understanding of the evidential value of coins in the mass without the recognition that they are an expression of political will and economic forces. What the archaeologist has to deal with, as does the numismatist, is the residual evidence for the operation of these forces filtered through the frequently bizarre behaviour of individuals. .....................................