One of Louis XIV’s favorite rooms in the palace of Versailles was his Cabinet des Médailles, containing 21,000 ancient and modern specimens. The attempt to emulate and surpass antiquity led to a “medallic history,” a series of medals illustrating events in his reign. Plans for the series were made over the course of five decades by a specially created committee, which later became permanent as the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. The historical events to be commemorated were chosen by the playwright Jean Racine (1639–1699); advice on the Latin inscriptions and classical imagery came from such leading intellectuals as Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636–1711) and Charles Perrault (1628–1703).
In 1702, after many false starts and alterations, the 286 medals were released in a uniform series of 41 millimeters diameter in gold, silver, and bronze. The series was accompanied by an illustrated publication in two formats: a large deluxe folio for distribution by the king to diplomats and other important individuals, and a more modest quarto version. Copies and translations soon appeared abroad.