Review: The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima

Jane DeRose Evans. The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima Excavation Reports, Volume VI: The Coins and the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Economy of Palestine. Boston: The American Schools of Oriental Research, 2006. Hb. 240 pp., 2 indices, 4 b/w and 4 color plates. ISBN 0-89757-074-X. $84.95.

Herod the Great, the client-king of Judaea under Augustus, is infamous in Jewish, Christian, and pagan Roman literature for his paranoid fear of being overthrown by relatives and children, a fear that resulted in the murder of several heirs and the tradition of the Slaughter of the Innocents. On the subject of this behavior, which almost cost him his kingdom, Caesar Augustus is said to have remarked ironically that he would rather be Herod’s pig than his son (Macrobius Saturnalia 2.4.11). Thankfully, the expression of Herod’s megalomania was not limited to bloodshed alone—as Augustus must have known, or he would have had him deposed—but also manifested itself in more positive ways. Not least among the latter was the extensive building program Herod instituted to adorn his own kingdom and other cities of the Roman Near East. After the refurbishment of the Temple, which by all accounts (even those generally hostile to the king) was spectacular, the jewel of Herod’s architectural achievements was his foundation of Caesarea Maritima on the site of the old port of Strato’s Tower.

The present book by Jane Evans is the sixth volume chronicling the finds from the exploration of Herod’s showcase city conducted by the Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima (JECM) from 1971 to 1987, and it looks at the physical remains of the wealth (2,734 coins) that once passed through it. Over the course of two chapters and a catalogue, the author presents the finds and attempts to use them to answer various numismatic and historical problems as well as to interpret Caesarea’s place within the larger context of coin circulation in the ancient Near East.

One of the perennial questions about Caesarea is the foundation date for the pre-Herodian settlement at the site. Evans rightly points out that the current numismatic evidence does not strongly support the influential view that Strato’s Tower was founded in the fourth century by Abdaštart I of Sidon (see R. Stieglitz, “Strato’s Tower and Demetrias Again: One Town or Two?” in Caesarea Papers II, ed. K. Holum, A. Raban, and J. Patrich [Portsmouth, R.I., 1999], 359–360). The only fourth-century coin from the site is a bronze of Aeolian Cyme (no. 1), which the author suggests may have arrived decades later than c. 350–320 BC, its probable period of issue. This view is supported by the contents of the Ascalon 1988 hoard (CH IX, 548), which was closed in c. 100 BC but included fourth-century bronzes of western Asia Minor.

While Evans recognizes the numismatic evidence as a potential argument e silentio against a fourth-century foundation for Strato’s Tower, the coins seem to offer a more positive argument for settlement in the late third, or, perhaps more likely, early second century BC. Excluding the Cyme piece, a possible (but not illustrated) issue of Antiochus I, and a third-century bronze of Side that probably came to the site in the context of the Seleucid conquest of Phoenicia and Coele Syria in 202–195 BC (see D. T. Ariel, “Coins from the Synagogue at Korazim,” in Z. Yeivin, ed. The Synagogue at Korazim: The 1962–1964, 1980–1987 Excavations [Jerusalem, 2000], 35), no fully attributable coins date before the reign of Ptolemy IV (222–204 BC). The sole identifiable Ptolemaic coin in the catalogue is attributed to Ptolemy V (no. 43), but see C. Lorber, “The Last Ptolemaic Bronze Emission of Tyre,” INR 1 (2006): 17–18, for the probability that it belongs to Ptolemy IV. Two other uncertain Ptolemaic coins of the same type and module (nos. 383–384) most likely belong to this same Tyrian series of Ptolemy IV, although issues of Ptolemy II or Ptolemy III cannot be ruled out in the absence of illustrations. If the Ptolemaic coins all belong to Ptolemy IV, then there is a remarkable absence of coins not only for the fourth century but also for the bulk of the third century as well. On the basis of the great dearth of coins from the fourth and third centuries BC and the sudden appearance of relatively numerous issues of Antiochus III struck in the aftermath of the Fifth Syrian War, it is tempting to think that Strato’s Tower might have been a Seleucid foundation of the early second century. Unfortunately, there are no JECM finds that can help with the controversy over whether Strato’s Tower was refounded as Demetrias by the Sea in the mid-second century BC (see A. Kushnir-Stein, “The Predecessor of Caesarea: On the Identification of Demetrias in South Phoenicia,” in J. H. Humphrey ed., The Roman and Byzantine Near East [Ann Arbor, 1995], 9–14; O. Hoover, “A Seleucid Coinage of Demetrias by the Sea,” INR 2 [2007]: 77–87).

For the Seleucid period at the site, the author notes a shift under Antiochus IV from Antioch and Tyre to nearby Ake-Ptolemaïs as the primary supplier of coin, but this appears to be an artifact of her use of somewhat outdated attributions for the Seleucid coins (all come from A. Houghton, Coins of the Seleucid Empire in the Collection of Arthur Houghton [New York, 1984]). The four small bronzes of Antiochus III with standing Apollo reverse (nos. 9–12) that she attributes to Antioch may very well be from Ake-Ptolemaïs, which is now known to have operated as a subsidiary of Antioch and whose products are commonly found in Israel (A. Houghton and C. Lorber, “Antiochus III in Coele Syria and Phoenicia,” INJ 14 [2002]: 49–50). Three small serrate bronzes of Antiochus IV with Apollo seated on omphalos reverse (nos. 14–16) have also been reattributed to the mint of Ake-Ptolemaïs on the basis of find evidence (SNG Spaer 1108–1129). This means that only six (perhaps seven, see below) Seleucid coins of Antioch—each of a different king—are known from the site and that Caesarea is more in line with other cities of the region in having Ake-Ptolemaïs as their primary source of coinage. The case of Tyre is especially interesting, because the Caesarea finds (nos. 40–42, 44–50) illustrate both the importance of the city as a regional mint under the Seleucid kings and the continuation of this status in the Roman period (nos. 51–67). It is also notable that the same Antioch types of Alexander I, Alexander II, and Antiochus VII found at Caesarea (nos. 18–20) also occurred in the Northern Israel 2002 hoard, which was primarily composed of small bronzes of Antiochus III and Antiochus IV from Ake-Ptolemaïs (see CH X, forthcoming).

Before leaving the Seleucid material, it is necessary to mention two historical errors and an attribution mistake that have somehow crept in. On page 31, Ptolemy I’s seizure of Phoenicia and Coele Syria from Laomedon of Mytilene in 320 BC is identified as the First Syrian War, although this title is normally reserved for the conflict between Antiochus I and Ptolemy II in 274–271 BC. The author also succumbs to the old view that Seleucus IV faced severe financial difficulty as a result of the Peace of Apamea. This interpretation has been shown to fail in light of the hard economic evidence for the king’s reign (see G. Le Rider and A. Houghton, “Les ressources financiéres de Séleucos IV (187–175) et le paiement de l’indemnité aux Romains,” in Essays in Honour of Robert Carson and Kenneth Jenkins [London, 1993], 49–67). Much as the removal of Laomedon and the finances of Seleucus IV have been misinterpreted, so too has a poorly preserved bronze with cornucopia reverse (no. 7). In the catalogue it is tentatively described as a new example of a unique hemidrachm of Antiochus IX. However, the coin’s diameter (16mm), weight (2.46g), and the fact that it is made of bronze all conspire to make this identification impossible. One wonders whether the coin might not actually be an Antioch issue of Demetrius II (SNG Spaer 1613), which employs a cornucopia of similar type to that found on the Antiochus IX hemidrachm and would fit the diameter and weight criteria. Unfortunately, the coin in question is not illustrated in the plates.

As only six Hasmonaean coins serve to represent the late second and the bulk of the first centuries BC at the site, the author makes the good point that this may be evidence for abandonment and for Josephus’s remark that Strato’s Tower was “worn out” when Herod adopted it as the site for Caesarea Maritima. The gap in finds of Tyrian coins, which extends into the early second century AD, also supports this interpretation and is remarkable considering the general importance of Tyre as a regional coin supplier. Evans’ useful discussion of the Herodian and procuratorial issues that abound at the site touches on the controversial question of dating the transference of minting from Jerusalem to Caesarea Maritima. She is probably right to see the mint of Caesarea open with the large module bronzes of Agrippa I with Hellenizing types and to attribute all prutot to Jerusalem. The presence of six Greek and Latin inscribed provincial Judaea Capta types of Titus and Domitian (nos. 88–93) among the finds may tend to support the view that these coins were indeed Caesarea mint products and not struck elsewhere, as has been suggested (K. Butcher, review of Roman Provincial Coinage. Supplement I and Volume II. SNR 79 [2000]: 203).

Notable Roman provincial finds include a new type combination for Trajan at Dora (no. 70) and a previously unknown combination of a Salonina portrait obverse with a Gallienus hexastyle temple reverse at Tyre (no. 62). Among the imperial coins was found an apparently unpublished antoninianus variant of Maximian’s CONCORDIA MILITVM series from the Cyzicus mint (no. 476). The separate discoveries of nineteen countermarked bronzes primarily of Caesarea under Domitian are also important as they serve to confirm the suspicion that several male-head countermarks (GIC 115, 133, and 135) were applied in Caesarea. Two variants of this countermark type can now be added to Howgego’s corpus, as can a new countermark featuring a standing female figure (the Tyche of Caesarea?) applied to a Caesarean coin of Diadumenian (no. 114).

Especially interesting for the Roman period is the author’s attempt to use the presence of “foreign” coins such as the antoninianus of the British usurper Carausius (no. 481) and coins of the Axumite Kingdom (most likely fifth-century imitations from Egypt) (nos. 375–382) and Vandalic Carthage (nos. 1777–1881) as a possible sign of the continued functionality of Caesarea’s port. Evans acknowledges that the date of the harbor’s closure is disputed on the basis of the physical remains, but the relatively large quantities of North African coins combined with the evidence of imported pottery from this region in the late fifth and early sixth centuries AD appear to make a case for a late closure. On the other hand, a similarly strong presence of Axumite and Vandalic types at other inland sites may indicate the importation of small change for regional use and therefore makes it difficult to draw inferences from the finds about the harbor at Caesarea (see G. Bijovsky, “The Currency of the Fifth Century CE in Palestine—Some Reflections in Light of the Numismatic Evidence,” INJ 14 [2002]: 196–210).

For the most part, the Byzantine finds at Caesarea follow patterns similar to those reported for Jerusalem and Sardis and exhibit the same absence of postreform folles of Justinian I known from other sites in Palestine. A good explanation for this gap still remains to be found. Particularly notable among the Byzantine coins are thirty-two folles (mostly issues of Maurice Tiberius and Heraclius) countermarked with the monogram of Heraclius, which now confirms the suspicion that the countermarks were applied in Palestine and probably at Caesarea. On the basis of the dated Heraclian pieces, Evans argues that the countermarks were probably applied to revalidate older coins beginning in c. 630–634 as an emergency means of paying the army during the ongoing conflict with the Islamic Arabs. If this interpretation is correct, as seems likely, we would also add that the true severity of the financial situation facing Heraclius might be gauged by the fact that both official issues and imitations were countermarked. An Heraclian monogram countermark (Hahn type 1a) appears on an imitation purporting to be a follis of Theupolis (Antioch) (See P. Pavlou, “A Byzantine Countermark on a ‘Follis’ Bearing the Mint Signature of Theupolis (Antioch),” ONS Newsletter 127 [1990/1]: 357–358). Three other Heraclian pieces with rare eagle countermarks that were almost certainly applied in Egypt are also notable. As Evans notes, their presence combined with the large influx of Alexandrian dodecanummia and hexanummia at Caesarea in AD 613–618 (nos. 2678–2680, 2683–2706) lend strong support to Hahn’s iconographic arguments for dating the Egyptian countermarking to c. 613–617.

The material ends with five Arab-Byzantine fulus of the seventh century AD, which might be worth further investigation. While they all might very well be typical pseudo-Byzantine types as the bald descriptions imply, one wonders whether the small-diameter (13mm) three emperors standing fals (no. 2730) might potentially be an Umayyad “imperial image” issue from the mint of Tabariyya (Tiberias) (see S. Album and T. Goodwin, Sylloge of Islamic Coins in the Ashmolean I [Oxford, 2002], 88–89 and nos. 590–593). The coin, which is not illustrated in the plates, would need to be checked for any remains of the Greek or Arabic mint name for confirmation. Likewise, the low weight (2.51g) and small diameter (20mm) of a facing bust fals raise the possibility that it is an Umayyad “imperial image” coin from the mint of Hims (Emesa) (see Album and Goodwin 2002, 85 and nos. 538–558), but again it would be necessary to look for evidence of the Arabic mintmark to be sure. A Constans II follis described as coming from an uncertain mint (no. 2727) might be better classed as a pseudo-Byzantine piece. Its somewhat crude style and corrupt legend (the usual ANEOS to the right of the denomination mark has become IMEO) indicate that it is an imitation of Constans’ ubiquitous Constantinopolitan series. The surviving numeral in the exergue suggests an issue of year 6 (AD 646/7) as the likely prototype.

The author wisely warns against the all too frequent attempts to use coin-loss data as an index of prosperity, noting, for example, that increased deposition during the runaway inflation of the later third century AD suggests a relationship between loss and devaluation rather than increased wealth. In reaching this conclusion, the author echoes the serious concerns about interpreting coin deposition recently expressed by Kevin Butcher (“Small Change in Ancient Beirut,” Berytus 45–46 [2001–2002]: 31–36). Nevertheless, she occasionally slips back into prosperity-index mode when she links some increases in coin loss with known periods of construction and affluence at Caesarea (i.e., in AD 100–130s and 346–363). Evans also breaks some new ground by using Annual Average Coin Loss statistics (a methodology normally employed for western European sites) in order to make more meaningful quantitative and chronological comparisons between the finds at Caesarea to those of some twenty other sites in Palestine, Phoenicia, Syria, and western Asia Minor. Hopefully this useful methodology will be added to the interpretive arsenals of others presenting coin finds from Near Eastern sites in future. The Annual Average Coin Loss statistics for Caesarea are reinforced by the results of the chi-square test presented in appendix 2. However, we would question the utility of developing a profile for finds at a “normal” eastern city. When coin deposition may be driven by social forces within individual communities as much as by accident, how can a general concept of “normalcy” have much meaning? Indeed, one wonders whether the use of labels like “normal” might not inadvertently create red herrings for comparative archaeology.

In addition to the main discussion of the find coins and the comparison between sites, Evans also includes two appendices. The first is an excellent republication (with corrections and new commentary) of the 1993 Caesarea hoard of ninety gold solidi (closed c. AD 395) found in the socket of a grinding stone, while the second contains the chi-square test for Caesarea, as mentioned above.

The catalogue lists all of the coins from the fourth century BC to the sixth century AD excavated by JECM between 1971 and 1987, but the arrangement of some of the material is not as user friendly as it might be. For example, rather than presenting the Seleucid and Ptolemaic coins by ruler as in many other excavation reports, they are listed by mint before the autonomous and provincial issues of the cities in question. This arrangement is a little problematic, because it tends to widely separate coins identifiable by dynasty, but not by ruler or type, from the other related issues and because, as we have seen, some of the mint attributions are not absolute for these rulers. The listing by mint is also hampered by the placement of some cities under peculiar geographical headings. The Galilean city of Gaba is inexplicably located under the heading for Syria rather than under Galilee, while the Syrian metropolis of Antioch ad Orontes [sic] does not appear under Syria proper but under Coele Syria. Damascus, on the other hand, is listed under Syria, when it is properly speaking a city of Coele Syria.

Four black-and-white plates depict general finds from the site and are of very good quality, even if the coins illustrated therein are less than pristine specimens and the images are occasionally rotated at odd angles (i.e., 25, 358, 2651, etc.). It is a little disappointing that only plate 1 plus the first row of plate 2 are devoted to the Hellenistic and Roman provincial issues, but specialists will certainly appreciate the inclusion of many specimens that were probably countermarked at Caesarea and the new provincial types of Trajan and Salonina. The remainder of plate 2 is taken up with examples of the Roman imperial, Vandalic, and Axumite finds, while the final two plates illustrate Byzantine finds, especially those with Heraclian countermarks. The color plates illustrating the Caesarea gold hoard are excellent both for their detail and their capture of the great beauty of the material. One can almost feel the warmth of the solidi glowing on the page.

Like the stone markers that indicate the stages of the road built by the Tenth Legion to connect Caesarea with the inland cities of Judaea, The Coins and the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Economy of Palestine marks an important new step in the development of our understanding of southern Levantine coin finds. Although caution must be used with respect to some of the Hellenistic material, Evans has presented much new data that will certainly help to pave the way for future study of the economy at Caesarea Maritima and in the surrounding region.

—Oliver D. Hoover