VOTA: Introduction & Context

Introduction & Context

Since the sixteenth century, a special and enigmatic late Roman token series, the ‘Vota Publica’ tokens (also known as the 'Festival of Isis tokens'), has received attention from antiquarians, dealers and collectors, although mainly as curiosities

Produced in either bronze or brass, these coin-like objects depict the effigies of Roman emperors from Diocletian (AD 284-305) to Valentinian II (AD 375-392) on the obverse (‘imperial’ series) (Fig. 1).

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Fig. 1: AE, ‘Vota Publica’ token, ‘imperial’ series.

Stack’s Coin Galleries Sale, 20.10.2010, lot 234.

Instead of an imperial image they might also carry the busts of Serapis, Isis, or Hermanubis (or the jugate busts of Serapis and Isis) (called the ‘anonymous’ series) (Fig. 2). A number of ritual scenes and images referring to different aspects of Egyptian and Isiac cults are shown on the reverses, which are mostly accompanied by the legend ‘Vota Publica’ (= ‘public vows’). 

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Fig. 2: AE, ‘Vota Publica’ token, ‘anonymous’ series.

CNG Triton 7, 12.01.2004, lot 1053

Although commonly held in museums across Europe and America, sold on the art market, or occasionally found on archaeological excavations, the ‘Vota Publica’ tokens have mostly been little studied and poorly understood in scholarship to date. The project will thus redress this imbalance, bringing these neglected artefacts into the broader historical, archaeological, and cultural discourse.