Web Site Creation. Reprinted from the December 2004 issue of The Celator, Vol. 18, No.12, where it appeared as my regular column The Other Side.
I mentioned to Kerry that I would use this column to publicize my new web site on imitations of Republican denarii. I might as well get it out of the way: http://rrimitations.ancients.info/index.html. The site is an outgrowth of my Celator article of this past spring, with some new commentary and a lot of new coins. Visit early and often! I thought I might write about the process of creating this site, but that's so far off-topic I'm hesitant. There's a little imp on my shoulder though, whispering "You could pretend to be writing about the cataloguing problems you encountered in presenting the coins on the site, and along the way maybe slip in a few tidbits about the travails of web design. They'll never notice." As a matter of policy, one should always pay attention to proddings from imps on shoulders, and this one even claims numismatic credentials, as he seems to have borrowed his fancy little trident from a bronze of Hieron II. I'll apologize in advance to anyone without Internet access, as this column may not be of much interest to you. (I'm not all that sorry though. My wife and I recently broke down and got voice mail at home. As we say on our message, we've decided to enter the 20th Century. Internet holdouts can do the same, only a few years late.)
In fact, creating a useful on-line coin reference does present some intriguing intellectual challenges. For various reasons, I chose to include only coins in my own collection. Partly, I confess to a modicum of pride, but this decision also allows a consistent presentation of description and imaging. It was immediately clear that each die combination would need its own listing, as wildly differing coins often derive from the same prototype., but what about multiple examples of the same dies? I decided not to list them; in other words, to offer a numbered catalogue of die pairs, rather than a corpus of all specimens of a particular die pair.
Most interesting was a problem not really encountered in the world of print. How should the coins be numbered? Well, you start from one and keep going until you've run out of coins. In the present case, I numbered from one for each category of imitation, distinguishing the sequences with a letter prefix, so M12 is the twelfth item in the category of Dacian Imitations. Within each category the coins were ordered chronologically, based on the date of issue of the proposed prototype. That's all well and good, but one of the major advantages to publishing a catalogue on-line is the possibility of frequent updates as new coins are added to the collection. Where should they go? It might seem ideal to place them where they belong in the chronological sequence, and to modify the numbering as necessary. That's a huge job though, because the addition of a single coin would entail renumbering and repositioning all subsequent coins in the category. I knew if I adopted that method, I wouldn't be making very frequent updates after all. I also had technical worries. Renumbering would require in some cases that I republish several pages at a time. This process is simple enough, though a bit tedious, but each change increases the possibility of introducing errors. I learned this the hard way. At one point, some of the HTML code apparently became corrupted when I saved the working model of my home page; when I opened the file again, everything looked the same, but none of the links led to their proper destination. So now I've learned to save everything twice, under different file names, and I'm leery of making extravagant changes. (The goody-goody Nike on my other shoulder insists that I explain that the intricacies of HTML are completely opaque to me. I stand back and let the web design software I use write the code.)
I've cleverly managed to redefine my laziness regarding numbering as a numismatic imperative. I have no idea if anyone will cite the numbers in my catalogue as a reference for another coin, but someone might. If they do, the numbers should stay put. A twelve is a twelve is a twelve, tomorrow and next year. Changing numbers can cause real confusion when new editions of printed references are published. This happens seldom enough due to the glacial pace of numismatic research and publishing, but there has been a revision of RIC I, and the major overhaul and expansion of Roman Coins and Their Values is ongoing. Revisions of several other volumes of RIC are in the works; when these appear, the glacier will have arrived. Hopefully the authors of these new editions will include a concordance with the older work, which would mitigate the problem somewhat, but even then it won't go away, since cataloguers seldom note which edition they're using.
I also considered inserting new coins in the appropriate place in the catalogue but identified with a number and letter. That would maintain an absolute identification for each coin, but would require almost as much effort as complete renumbering. It's also a remarkably cumbersome and unaesthetic solution, as the numbers already have a category letter in front of them. M12, M12a, M12aa etc. is too ugly to seriously contemplate. I somewhat reluctantly decided to simply add coins at the end of each category, continuing the numbering as appropriate. That means that the chronology of the latter portion of each category will be random, which is hardly optimum either. Eventually, enough items may have been added to require a 2nd edition of the web site, completely renumbered (with concordance!)
Other minor dilemmas emerged along the way. I originally designed the site to perfectly fit my monitor at home, but it was pointed out that some viewers would have to scroll horizontally to see the entire page. I dutifully reworked everything to fit within an 800 x 600 screen size. The pages are still too big to be easily printed; I haven't solved that one yet. I positioned everything by eye, so anyone seeking pixel perfect placement won't find it here. All in all, the creation of this site has been an instructive experience. I started out as a complete novice in web design, but I must be at least a Junior Apprentice by now. I'll spare readers most of my technical frustrations, but I can't resist a few examples: Imaging software that enabled stretching and other sophisticated photo modification, but wouldn't permit simple cropping; a spell checker that had never encountered a contraction... I doubt the annoyances were peculiar to the page-making software I used, although other software may incorporate other silly tribulations. Programmers don't think like the rest of us.
I'll wind up this column by changing the subject completely, because I want to publish a denarius imitation I recently obtained. (See In1) It's obviously not Republican, and was probably produced nearer to the Ganges than the Danube, but I couldn't resist. This piece was the only apparent imitation in a group of Tiberius Tribute Pennies found in India; presumably, it was produced locally. Indian imitations of Roman aurei are fairly well known; imitations of denarii are much less frequently encountered. At first glance, the present coin seems to combine a portrait of Tiberius with the Gaius and Lucius reverse of Augustus. These are precisely the types of all denarius imitations, which were without doubt found in India, although I've seen occasional speculation regarding imitations of other Augustus types that may have originated there. However, according to Roman Coins from India by Paula J. Turner, the best study of the subject, Indian denarius imitations are invariably encountered with obverse and reverse types correctly paired. If the present coin is indeed a hybrid, it may be a new discovery. Certainly, the portrait looks like Tiberius. It's been suggested though that the hopelessly garbled obverse legend more nearly resembles that of Augustus and that the resemblance of the portrait to Tiberius is fortuitous. I welcome comments on this, as well as information regarding similar Indian imitative denarii.