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Shouldn't ancient coins be returned to their home country?

Coins were struck all over the ancient world as items of exchange specifically intended to travel widely, spreading news, iconography, propaganda and cultural influence – the further the better. A statue or monument may be difficult to fully comprehend when detached from the context of its intended surroundings and method of display, to the extent these might still exist in any way. Coins on the other hand, as objects of exchange, are and always have been a transient artefact. 

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Where is a coin’s home? Perhaps where it was first struck? Unlike most other antiquities, we usually know where an ancient coin started its life. Do we then for instance send almost all of Rome’s state coinage back to an outcrop on Rome's Capitoline Hill or perhaps just back to the modern nation of Italy founded in 1861? If yes, for what purpose? Italian institutions could not cope and would certainly not wish for this. Neither would the ancient state that created the coins and hoped for them to quickly travel to all corners of their empire. Indeed, contrary to what many may believe, less than 3% of Roman imperial coin hoards are discovered in Italy – that means over 97% of all hoarded Roman coins are unearthed far from Rome in one of the many provinces of the ancient empire. In this way ancient coins still fulfil and indeed surpass the wishes of their makers every day, continuing to spread the names, portraits and messages of their most famed citizens two millennia later, to continents the ancients did not even know existed. 

Does a coin belong where it was eventually discovered? In the country where it, by pure chance, ended its journey through the ancient world? Common, mass-produced coins offer excellent archaeological dating evidence for a site but tell us little beyond this after they are properly recorded. The location of a coin's burial and rediscovery is just one part of its ongoing story and after being unearthed, many coins have had modern journeys just as exciting as their ancient ones. A wondrous realisation to be had when holding a Roman denarius for example, is that it belonged everywhere – designed and struck for use in what is now northern England, Morocco or Turkey. Ancient coins should always be fully declared and recorded upon discovery, before being allowed to continue their journeys and spread their messages far and wide, as originally intended.

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