Charles Patin: Coins and Condemnation

Charles Patin: Coins and Condemnation


This online exhibition utilizes select texts from the collections of the Edward Worth Library (1733) to tell the story of the noted numismatist and physician, Charles Patin (1633-1693) (See Fig. 1). More information about the library collections can be found online at Patin was an exciting figure, who defied Louis XIV’s condemnation in order to thrive in seventeenth-century scholarly Europe. Patin’s story combines the scholarly pursuits of medicine and antiquity with the darker world of the illegal book smuggling trade.


Fig.1 Portrait

Fig. 1 – Portrait of Charles Patin from Fulvio Orsini (1662) Familiae Romanae in Antiquis Numismatibus, ab urbe condita, ad tempora divi Augusti, Paris


History of Coins

Patin was a keen numismatist, a person who collects or studies coins and medals, which was a scholarly pursuit undertaken by many individuals throughout history and a hobby that persists to this day. The material remains of antiquity of the Greek and Roman worlds have fascinated Western society for thousands of years. They are multi-faceted objects, considered integral to several fields, such as the history of art, economics, politics, religion and technology, and tend to survive in the archaeological record where other natural materials do not.

The earliest coins date to the beginning of the seventh century BC in Asia Minor. Before the seventh century BC, people utilized a bartering system. The first coins were created from an alloy of gold and silver called electrum, which occurred naturally in the Pactolus River, west of Sardis. The availability or lack of metal would have dictated the kinds of coins created during this early period. Eventually electrum fell out of use and gold and silver became the favoured metal. At this time, coins carried the value correlating to the amount of precious metal they contained. Because of this intrinsic value and their portable nature, coins circulated widely and for a long time, with many people collecting or hoarding them throughout history.


Greek Coins

Early coins had no inscriptions, just punches or images, but with time, they developed into a type with both verbal and visual indicators. In the late sixth century BC coins began to display their ethnics, or issuing authority. For example, an Athenian coin would have ATHE inscribed upon it in Greek. Coins also began to display religious imagery, either directly (a particular deity, for example Athena) or indirectly (an animal or attribute associated with the given deity, for example the Athenian owl (See Fig. 2)), as well as local myths and traditions. The obverse (what we know as ‘heads’) began to display a bust or portrait of the ruler/issuer of the coin with inscription, while the reverse (what we know as ‘tails’) showed the deity or its associated animal or attribute.

In these early times there were two techniques available for the creation of coins – casting in a mould or striking by die, the latter of which seems to have been the most popular. Dies were hand-engraved and were struck into the heated metal to create the inscription or image on the coin face. The blank flan (metal disc), probably heated, was placed between an anvil and a punch, with the obverse die below and reverse die above. A hammer was placed above the punch and struck in order to imprint the design from each die onto the obverse and reverse coin faces.


Fig.2 Greek Coin

Fig. 2 – Silver tetradrachm from Athens, c.480 BC (British Museum, available online at:



Roman coins

Throughout the late sixth century BC and beyond, coinage spread from the western Aegean to Italy, Sicily, France and Spain. Between the late fifth century and early fourth century BC, Greek coins hit their peak of artistic achievement. In the fourth century BC, the city state model began to change and Rome started to rise as a dominant power. As the extension of power spread throughout Italy, booty was collected, often in the form of precious metals and this provided an appropriate material for the creation of Roman coinage. Early coins were generally silver with some bronze token coinage.

After the Second Punic War (218-201 BC between Carthage and Rome) Roman coinage became the predominant type used in the Mediterranean (See Fig. 3). After the death of Julius Caesar, there was a significant production of coins in several metals and under the Emperor Augustus, they depicted individuals and their attributes. It is believed that Augustus collected Greek coins and may have used them for inspiration for his own coinage.


Fig.3 Roman Coin

Fig. 3 – Brass sestertius of Nero c.64 – 66 AD (British Museum, available online at:


Coin Collecting

Antiquity has held a fascination for many people throughout history. The Renaissance signalled a coin collecting boom and a time where categorization began, which we can consider the birth of serious numismatic study. At this time, the nobility were great collectors of antiquity and even employed artists to recreate ancient coins in medallion form, which became collectible in their own right. In terms of numismatic study, coins would have been categorized chronologically or by geographic location and many people wrote treatises and texts on them. Patin was part of this scholary trend.


Charles Patin: Biography

Patin was born on the 23rd of February 1633 in Paris, the third son of one of the most celebrated doctors of seventeenth century France, Guy Patin. He had a typically aristocratic education, encompassing several languages that would prove useful later in his life: English, French, Greek, Italian, Latin and Spanish. It was said that he could read at age 3 and write at 4 and that the first book he read was Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. He was sent to school at the Jesuit College at Beauvais and defended his philosophy thesis at the age of 14. After this, he decided to become a physician and registered at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris on the 28th of April 1654, of which his father was the dean. As well as showing an aptitude for his new discipline, Patin also began to collect coins and publish works about them. It is believed that in 1663 he acquired the coin collection of Louis-Henri de Loménie, Comte de Brienne. As well as collecting coins and undertaking scholarly pursuits, Patin and his father were embroiled in a dangerous activity, the smuggling of counterfeit and prohibited books into and out of Paris.


Book Smuggling

During the rule of Pope Paul IV in 1559, a list of books banned by the Church called the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was created. These indexes continued to be published until they were abolished in 1966 and acted as a form of censorship on topics and themes that were deemed harmful to the Church. However, illegal trafficking of texts did occur in defiance of the Papal ruling. On the 15th of September 1666, Patin and his father were arrested while trying to enter Paris in his father’s official faculty dean carriage. Upon searching the vehicle, authorities found a vast quantity of prohibited and counterfeit books destined for dissemination in Paris. On the 27th of July, a barrel full of books on its way to Guy Patin was seized and during a search of Patin’s home between the 11th and 12th of November 1667, over one thousand illegal books were discovered hidden in various places throughout the building; behind latrines, above bed canopies and inside a harpsichord. These so called “bad books” were mostly from Belgium and Holland, with 56% of books seized in 1666 from the Elsevier publishing house, a company founded in 1580 that still publishes today. In Paris at this time, there were few religious texts discovered during seizures, as the materials were usually political in nature, with popular literature, pamphlets, satires and polemics also discovered.


Exile and Travels

Patin found himself in hot water with King Louis XIV when his involvement with this illegal book trade was uncovered. It appears that Patin, may have taken the fall for his father, who does not seem to have been charged with anything. Patin, however, was condemned to the galleys ‘in perpetuity’ for his defiance. Instead of condemning himself to this dreaded punishment, Patin decided to exile himself, fleeing France and travelling Europe, spending time in London, Germany, Holland, Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland before eventually settling in Padua, Italy. He published his extensive European travels in Relations Historiques et Curieuses de Voyages en Allemagne, Angleterre, Hollande, Boheme, Suisse, etc. (1695) (See Fig. 4). During his exile he created a scholarly network of important people throughout Europe.


Fig. 4 Map

Fig. 4 – Detail of map of Europe from Patin (1695) Relations Historiques et Curieuses de Voyages en Allemagne, Angleterre, Hollande, Boheme, Suisse, etc. Amsterdam


This is a map of Europe that includes many of the countries Patin visited during his exile. His early education in several languages (English, French, Greek, Italian, Latin and Spanish) was useful to him during this time, as he had the necessary linguistic skills to make powerful friends and allies in several countries.



Patin spent the rest of his life in Padua, becoming the head of the University’s Medical Faculty, much like his father in Paris. He became the coordinator of the city’s cultural institutions in 1676, a member of the prestigious Academia dei Ricoverati in 1678 and was granted a knighthood of San Marco by the Doge for his work. His Lyceum Patavinum (1682) was a prosopography, or collection of biographies, written by Patin to document the lives of significant thinkers, physicians and philosophers he met in Padua (See Fig. 5).


Fig. 5 Lyceum

Fig. 5 – Image of Ioannes Cigala from Charles Patin (1682) Lyceum Patavinum, Padua


This is an image of Joannes Cigale (or Ioannis Kigalas), a Cypriot scholar of Philosophy. He was born in Nicosia, Cyprus in c.1622, and studied at the Greek school of Agios Athanasios in Rome, where he graduated with a degree in Philosophy in 1642. In 1666, he moved to Padua and became a Professor of Philosopy and Logic at the University, writing several texts in Greek. His brother was the controversial Ilarion Kigalas, Archbishop of Cyprus from 1674-1678.


Under his guidance the Academie dei Ricoverati (later known as the Accademia Galileiana) recruited new members and published new works. Among these new members, were Patin’s own wife Madeleine and two daughters, Gabrielle-Charlotte and Charlotte-Catherine, both of whom went on to be writers. Gabrielle-Charlotte even published works on numismatics, like her father. Interestingly, the University of Padua granted a philosophy degree to Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia in 1678, a highly unusual achievement for a woman in this period; she is considered to be one of the first women ever to have obtained a degree. It is evident that Patin supported his own daughters in their education, by helping them to publish texts. It has been suggested that both his wife and mother were strong women and independent thinkers and this may have influenced his view of women. This public support of women’s education proved to be futile, however, as the University of Padua refused to let any more women study there for many centuries.



Although Patin is best known for his numismatic studies, he did write some texts on medical matters (See Fig. 6), one of which is part of the Worth collection, his Oratio de Scorbuto (1679). It is said that Patin admitted medicine was his wife, while numismatic study was his mistress.


Fig. 6 Scurvy

Fig. 6 – Title page from Charles Patin (1679) Oratio de Scorbuto, Padua

This was one of a few medical texts that Patin published in his lifetime. It is a treatise on scurvy, a dangerous disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency first noted by Hippocrates (c.460-370 BC). Scurvy is mainly associated with sailors and pirates, unable to access fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C and it killed many millions between the 13th and 19th centuries.


The Worth has a significant number of Patin’s texts on coins, the most remarkable of which is the Familiae Romanae in Antiquis Numismatibus, a text by Fulvio Orsini that Patin augmented and published. This is a vast volume with beautifully illustrated coins on almost every page, categorised alphabetically by Roman family surname.


His Imperatorum Romanorum Numismata is another lavishly illustrated text, the artist named as D. Petro Mauroceno. The coins are categorized by emperor and include analyses as well as imagery.


Fig. 7 Caligula Coin

Fig. 7 – Coin image from Charles Patin (1697) Imperatorum Romanorum Numismata ex ære, mediæ et minimæ formæ, Amsterdam

The coin illustrated dates from the time of Gaius ‘Caligula’ of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, who ruled as emperor from 37 – 41 AD. He was the first emperor to dedicate coins entirely to women. The coin depicts his three sisters; Agrippina, Drusilla and Julia Livilla clad in Greek chitons. Often they hold attributes of the divine personifications; Securitas, Concordia and Fortuna, which promote their public image as full of piety and grace.


The final numismatic text featured in this exhibition is Patin’s Thesaurus Numismatum, Antiquorum & Recentiorum (1683). This depicts large size coin images, both obverse and reverse, as well as descriptions of each.


Fig. 8 Faustina

Fig. 8 – Coin image from Charles Patin, (1683) Thesaurus Numismatum, Antiquorum & Recentiorum, Venice

This is another seminal numismatic work by Patin. Like his other numismatic studies it comprises both illustrations and analyses of coins. The page you see depicts a coin bearing the image of Faustina the Elder, or Annia Galeria Faustina, another female figure in Roman history. She was the wife of Antoninus Pius, who became emperor upon Hadrian’s death and ruled from 138 – 161 AD. When her husband became the emperor, she was granted the title Augusta, becoming Faustina Augusta, as we can see here in the coin illustration. Upon her death in 140 AD, a devastated Antoninus deified her and issued coins to the ‘Divine Faustina’.


Later Life and Legacy

After Patin had spent many years rejuvenating Padua and contributing to the scholarly life of the city, Louis XIV granted Patin him grace to return to Paris. One would assume Patin be eager to return home, but he was a stubborn character and instead replied, “Of what grace do you speak? I know not my crime”. It is possible that Louis XIV realised the importance of Patin’s reputation and wanted to bring him back so that his intellect and scholarly connections could be exploited. Patin refused to return to his home country, a great insult to the King’s act of goodwill, and instead chose to live out his days in Padua. He died on the 13th of October 1693 in Padua, leaving behind a legacy of courage, perseverance, and an unending love for ancient coins.



Beacon for Freedom Website, “The History of Censorship”, available online at: (Accessed: 25-6-2015)

Encyclopedia Britannica Online, “Coin Collecting”, available online at: (Accessed: 25-6-2015)

Fabre, A.J. (2014) “Charles Patin  (1633-1693) Un Medecin Rebelle à la Cœur du Royal Soleil“ available online at : (Accessed: 22-6-2015)

Ferté, P. (2010) “De Paris à Padoue, Le Grand Tour d’un Universitaire Proscrit par Louis XIV : Charles Patin Numismate (1633-1693)“ Les Cahiers de Framespa, 6, available online at : (Accessed: 22-6-2015)

Hornblower, S. Spawforth, A. (1998) The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization, Oxford University Press

Metcalf, W.E. (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage, Oxford University Press

Wacquet, F. (1979) “Guy et Charles Patin, Père et Fils, et la Contrabande du Livre à Paris au XVIIe Siècle“ Journal des Scavants, 2: 125 – 148

Wacquet, F. “Patin, Charles“ Oxford Art Online, available online at: (Accessed : 22-6-2015)


Text by Ms Ella Hassett, Library Assistant, The Edward Worth Library.


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