Review: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Coins in the Museum at Amasya

Stanley Ireland. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Coins in the Museum at Amasya (Ancient Amaseia), Turkey. Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication No. 33/ British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara Monograph No. 27. London: Royal Numismatic Society, 2000. 124 pp., 61 b/w pls. Hb. ISBN 0901405-53-1.

Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Coins in the Museum at Amasya represents the third volume in an ambitious project of the Royal Numismatic Society and the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara to publish the numismatic contents of relatively obscure provincial museums in Turkey. This work is particularly important for archaeologists and historians because these collections are mostly composed of locally found material and therefore can provide a snapshot of the circulating coins of individual regions in various periods. Such collection publications are especially important for field numismatists working at sites in Turkey, as they offer a good indication of the types of coins that can be expected in a given region.

The local character of the Amasya Museum holdings is highlighted by the fact that the majority (85%) of the Greek and Roman Provincial coins are issues of Pontus and the neighboring regions of Paphlagonia and Cappadocia. In these regions, the collection is particularly strong on large bronzes of the Commune Ponti (nos. 79-257), civic issues of Amisos (nos. 264-1249), Neocaesarea (nos. 1301-1380), Amastris (nos. 1422-1488) and Sinope (nos. 1490-1625), and the silver issues of Cappadocian Caesarea (nos. 1787-1953). The remaining 15% of Greek and Roman Provincial coins is primarily made up of coins struck at various Anatolian mints, with a few unexpected issues of Armenian, Syrian, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian kings and cities adding some extra spice to the collection. The Thracian (nos. 42-48) and Bosporan (nos. 50-55) material is not especially surprising since Pontus was connected to these regions through the Black Sea grain trade. An Athenian New Style tetradrachm (no. 49) is the only coin in the collection to have originated at a mint in mainland Greece.

The Roman Imperial coinage in the museum indicates a reliance on mints located outside of the immediate area for circulating silver coinage. Most of the denarii are from Rome, but under the Severans some of the silver comes from Syrian mints (Emesa and Laodicea ad Mare). Some sense of the regionalism that we noted for the Greek and Roman Provincial issues returns under Valerian (AD 253-60), whose antoniniani (nos. 2262-66) were all produced at mints in Asia Minor. The heavy reliance on Asia Minor continued until the reign of Claudius Gothicus (AD 268-70), when suddenly Syrian Antioch became the main supplier of silver to the area around Amaseia. Antioch remained the main source for Imperial coin, assisted by Tripolis, and to a much lesser extent, Rome and Cyzicus until the reorganization of the Imperial mint system under Diocletian (AD 284-305). During the period of the Tetrarchy most of the European and eastern mints are represented in the collection, but under the house of Constantine and later Roman emperors, the Anatolian mints of Constantinople, Nicomedia, Cyzicus, and Antioch emerged as the main suppliers of Imperial coinage to Pontus. The northern location of the Anatolian mints must have made them the obvious sites from which to supply the region.

We may detect a similar regional flavor in the mints identified for the early Byzantine material in the collection. The bulk of the coinage around Amaseia also appears to have been supplied by the northern mints of Constantinople and Nicomedia, with additional coinage coming from the mints of Cyzicus, Cherson, and Antioch. However, unlike the late Roman Imperial coinage, no Byzantine issues of European (except Constantinople) mints, or those of Africa, appear in the Amasya Museum collection. It is also notable that with the exception of a rogue hyperpyron (no. 4560) of John II (AD 1118-43), an overstrike of Michael VII (AD 1071-8) marks the chronological limit of the museum’s Byzantine holdings, no doubt reflecting the collapse of Byzantine authority in Pontus in the late 11th century. In AD 1071 the Byzantine army was shattered by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert near Lake Van, thereby leaving the region and all of Anatolia open to Turkish invasion and occupation. Anatolia was never recovered. Although restrictions of space and historical scope prevented their inclusion, it would have been interesting to see the continuation of the Pontic numismatic chronicle into the post-Manzikert period through the museum’s “considerable collection” of Seljuk, Mongol, and Ottoman coins.

One of the great benefits of producing a collection catalogue of a lesser-known museum, such as that of Amasya, is that it provides the cataloguer with an opportunity to discover previously unpublished types and variants. Ireland does not disappoint in this respect, providing descriptions and photographs of several formerly unknown coins in the Hellenistic, Roman Provincial and Roman Imperial series. The most notable of these new coins are five late Hellenistic issues of uncertain mints of Pontus, Paphlagonia or Bithynia (nos. 1641-1644), four Antonine and Severan bronzes (nos. 1381-1385) tentatively assigned to Neocaesarea, as well as issues of Julia Domna and Marcus Aurelius from Zela (no. 1409) and Nicaea (no. 1638), respectively. A CONSERVATOR MILITVM aurelianianus (no. 2401) of Tacitus (AD 275-6) in the Amasya Museum collection is also unlisted in Roman Imperial Coinage.

An especially intriguing new coin is a Hellenistic bronze (no. 1976) with the types of Zeus head r. and eagle l. on wreath, which the author attributes to an unknown Seleucid king. This identification is reasonably based on the fact that the royal title (but not the personal name) can be read in the upper field and an anchor appears in the left field. However, the typology of the eagle and wreath, and the use of an inscription curving around the edge of the reverse, rather than written in straight lines, are both unusual for Seleucid coinage. Thus, it is tempting to suggest that this may actually be a new coin of the kings of Commagene, who frequently used the anchor symbol as a sign of their Seleucid inheritance. The possibility also exists that the anchor symbol may have no Seleucid connection and that the coin may be a royal Pontic issue. The types of Zeus and eagle on wreath are not entirely unlike the Zeus and eagle on thunderbolt that appear on the civic bronze coinages of Amisos (nos. 367-69, 1209-33) and Sinope (nos.1619-24) in the 1st century BC.

The Amasya collection will be of interest to students of Greek and Roman Provincial countermarks, particularly those of the Pontic region (nos. 35, 61-66, 71, 109-10, 196, 254, 263, 1244) and Cappadocia (1926-27, 1931, 1937). Unfortunately, the countermarks are not always as thoroughly described as they might be and occasionally erroneous descriptions appear. Such mistakes as there are may be partially attributed to the poor preservation of some of the coins. Fortunately, close comparison with similar countermarked examples in the ANS collection allows us to offer a few corrections to the descriptions. For example, the three countermarks appearing on the obverse of no. 63, a bronze issue of Pontus from the late 2nd century BC (SNG BM 972-5), described as “rose and uncertain objects,” are actually a helmet (the rose?), a thunderbolt, and a facing gorgoneion, each in an incuse circle. The gorgoneion countermark reappears on no. 65 as an “amphora” and can also be made out as the “uncertain” countermarks of nos. 61 and 62. Similarly, the “round countermark” on an Alexander drachm (no. 35) is clearly identifiable as the “Apollo head r. with K” countermark, indicative of Calchedon in the period c. 235-225 BC (see M. Thompson, “A Countermarked Hoard from Büyükçekmece,” ANSMN 6 [1954], pp. 18-34 and F. de Callataÿ, “Un trésor de drachmes aux types d’Alexandre le Grand conservé au Cabinet des Médailles à Bruxelles,” RBN 129 [1983], pp. 58-60). The descriptions of the Roman Provincial countermarks are generally much more thorough and include the relevant references to GIC. In addition to the Greek and Provincial material, a countermarked as of Augustus (no. 2094) and two countermarked Tiberian dupondii of Commagene (nos. 2107 and 2110) can be found in the section on Roman Imperial coins.

Also of related interest will be the large number of overstruck Byzantine folles in the cabinets of the Amasya Museum. These coins fall into three main groups: 18 issues of Justin II, Tiberius Constantine and Phocas overstruck with the types of Heraclius (AD 610-41), 26 Class A1, B, C and D anonymous folles of the tenth and eleventh centuries AD overstruck on earlier imperial and anonymous issues (26 examples), and 30 examples of anonymous folles overstruck with the types of Constantine X (AD 1059-67). A single follis overstruck by Romanus IV (AD 1068-71) and another by Michael VII (AD 1071-8) rounds out the collection of Byzantine bronze with multiple types.

In addition to providing numismatists with a valuable overview of the types of coins that circulated in the Pontic region over the course of more than 1500 years, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Coins in the Museum at Amasya also highlights the immense importance of provenance data. Unfortunately, the Amasya Museum inventory ledgers did not always contain information on find spots, often making it difficult to be sure whether foreign coins in the collection should be attributed to ancient trade patterns, or whether they simply reflect purchases by the museum from both legitimate and questionable (16 modern forgeries are catalogued) coin sellers, some of whom may have come from outside of the immediate region. For example, the relatively large selection of bronzes from Syrian Antioch under the Seleucids (nos. 1965, 1972-5) and the Romans (nos. 1977-89) is somewhat unexpected in northern Anatolia. However, the coins that traveled furthest to reach Pontus, two bronzes of Ptolemy IV (180-145 BC) from the Alexandrian mint (nos. 1996-7), may possibly be linked to the trade connections that the Ptolemies maintained with Pontus and other grain exporting states on the coast of the Black Sea. However, without additional information their sequential accession numbers (75.23.3 and 75.23.4) make it uncertain whether the coins were locally found as a group or purchased from a dealer as part of a lot composed elsewhere. Out of the 4,568 individual coins described by Ireland, only two aurelianiani (nos. 2384, 2392) of Aurelian (AD 270-5) and one (no. 2412) of Probus (AD 267-82) have provenance data. They were all found at Kuliçtepe near Amasya in 1974.

The author should be commended for his valiant attempt to catalogue the material contained in the display cases of the Amasya Museum, but which he was not permitted to inspect outside of the glass. The display coins primarily represent a sampling of local Hellenistic silver and bronze issues, late Roman solidi and AE coins, as well as Byzantine folles. Several hoards are also on display in the museum, including hoards of Alexander drachms, Pontic bronze (88 pieces), Constantinian AE coins, and Byzantine anonymous folles (143 pieces). It is unfortunate that Ireland was unable to gain better access to the display material so that he could list the individual coins of each hoard. However, for some further commentary readers may resort to the brief discussion in “Some Groups of Roman Coins in Amasya Museum, Turkey,” NC 158 (1998), pp. 295-8.

Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Coins in the Museum at Amasya is a worthy successor to the previous volumes in the RNS/BIAA project to publish the provincial collections of Turkish museums, and it is hoped that through the high quality of this catalogue and the other monographs in the series, this type of project might also gain some popularity in other parts of the world. One suspects that there are many small regional collections in Europe and the Middle East that could also benefit from proper publication. The numismatic community at large can only profit from this kind of work.

—Oliver D. Hoover