Of the two coins I was shown, this was by far the easiest to identify, since the inscription around the edge reads VESPASIANUS. This firmly places the coin in Imperial Rome, at some time between 69 and 79 AD. The portrait on the front of the coin is almost crude, and it has quite a lot in common with modern caricatures. This might be an attempt by Vespasian to distance himself from Nero, whose depiction on coins is far softer and closer to the Greek coin below. Instead, Nero is presented as perhaps slightly meaner and frugal, and far more Roman!
Other than that it was Greek, there wasn't much I could learn from the inscription of the second coin. The portrait was more helpful, however, since the image of a man with the ram horns of Amon is something very common to Alexandrian propaganda. While the coin itself is a silver tetradrachm of Lysimachus, one of Alexander's generals and successors, the coin depicts Alexander the Great instead. This is an attempt by Lysimachus to legitimise his reign, since he wasn't actually related to Alexander in the slightest. So while I got the ruler who minted the coin wrong, at least I got the ruler minted on it correct.
The final point that we discussed was the role of coins and statues as propaganda in the ancient world, particularly in ancient Rome. They're both similar in that they present an official image that reflects on the ruler (for example Augustus is always depicted as young both in statues and on coinage). They're also fairly easy to spread throughout the empire, since coins were moved around by soldiers and merchants, and all imperial statues were created from an approved original. Here the similarities seem to end however. Whereas large statues such as the Prima Porta Augustsus are able to display more propaganda and perhaps make more of an impact, the humble coin is an item which would have passed through your hands every day, reminding you of the benefits brought by the empire. Evidently, both the coin and the statue had a role as propaganda, but in some ways the coin was more effective in reaffirming the imperial message across the empire.
Thank you for reading, and feel free to let me know what you think about this. In particular to those I know who were at Oxbridge interview recently, how did yours go?