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Strong Women - in Miniature Form
The portrayal of women on coins from Antiquity to the present day

08.10.2009 to 31.12.2010


Alongside their monetary function, coins are at once the national emblems of states and representations of political power. Women subsequently only usually feature on them in the form of a picture or circumscription when they actually held a position of government or in their capacity as the wives and daughters of rulers.

The earliest portraits of queens appear in the 3rd century BC in Egypt, where the wives of the Ptolemies played an important public role as female Pharaohs. Thereafter, portraits of female rulers were also to be found in other Hellenistic dynasties. The portrait of the respective ruler's wife was an integral part, for example, of the Roman iconography surrounding the ruler, in as much as such depictions served to increase the authority of the emperor himself. In the Middle Ages however, the appearance of women on coins became the exception to the rule and the ancient tradition of depicting female members of the imperial house lingered on in Byzantium alone. In the 12th century however, we find a surprising profusion of female depictions on the German bracteates from the time that were made with great artistic finesse. By the end of the Middle Ages the first life-like portraits began to appear.

Apart from such prominent female rulers as the English queens Elisabeth I (1558-1603) through to Elisabeth II (since 1952), the Russian tzarinas of the 18th century or Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780), the spouses of ruling princes also began garnering greater attention in depictions on coins. This became apparent in the 17th and 18th century in the numerous 'Sterbetaler' issued primarily in the German states which commemorated the passing away of the rulers' wives or mothers. In addition, weddings and wedding jubilees started to be commemorated with twin portraits of couples on coins, a practice which has its roots in the 18th century and continues to this day. The numismatic commemoration of women outside royal dynasties and the world of politics first came about in the wave of commemorative coins in the second half of the 20th century.