Category Archives: Roman

Were Eraviscan imitative denarii a prestige coinage?

The Latin legend RAVIS which occurs on the reverse of this imitative denarius (Fig. 1) has long been associated with the Latin name of a Germanic tribe, the Eravisci or Aravisci. Other legends that appear on imitative denarii that have been associated with this tribe are RAVIZ, RAVISCI, or IRAVISCI (Fig. 2). These coins present several similarities to the Geto-Dacian imitations of Roman currencies, which I have already addressed here.  

Figure 1. ANS 2015.20.2362. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 2. Pannonia, Eravisci. Silver Denarius, after 76 BC. Imitating 393/1. Davis B.II. Freeman 1/A, pl. 29, 1 (same dies). 17 mm. 3.30 g. Nomos AG obolos 17, 20 December 2020, lot 14.

The Eravisci were a Celtic tribe living in the northeastern part of Transdanubia, i.e., the part of Hungary lying west of the Danube (Pliny, Natural History 3.148) (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Ruins of Gellért Hill, one of the most important Eraviscan fortifications.

In the last decade of Augustus’s reign, this region became part of the Roman province of Pannonia with the name of Pannonia Inferior (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. The Roman province of Pannonia Inferior.

There are only guesses as to when and from where the Eravisci arrived in that region, but their presence in the area was known to the Roman historian Tacitus (Germania 28). He writes that the Eravisci moved to the right banks of the Danube from the territory of the Germanic tribe of the Osi, in the area of the Rába River (Tacitus, Germania 43) (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. The Rába River in Hungary (ancient Pannonia), a tributary of the Danube. The region encircled by this river represented the first settlement area of the Eravisci.

Their move to the area of Transdanubia was probably related to the collapse of the hegemony of the Boii in the region. According to the Greek historian Strabo (Geography 7.3.11), this happened as a result of a great defeat of the confederation of the Boii and the Taurisci tribes at the hands of the Dacian king Burebista, whose quasi-legendary rule has been connected to the existence of a pre-Roman Dacian state (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Map of the Dacian Kingdom at around the height of Burebista’s reign, in the second half of the first century BC.

This event might be dated to around 45–44 BC and might represent a terminus post quem for the beginning of the coinage issued in the name of the Eravisci.

Eraviscan coins are all imitations of Roman coinage, mostly Republican denarii struck in the 80s and 70s BC, but also some Augustan denarii. For what concerns Roman Republican denarii, the four main reverse types imitated the issues of L. Papius (RRC 384/1, 79 BC), Cn.Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1a, 76-75 BC), C. Postumius (RRC 394/1a, 74 BC), and L. Roscius Fabatus (RRC 412/1, 64 BC) (Figs. 7–10).

Figure 7. Eraviscan denarius imitating the types of L. Papius (RRC 384/1). ANS 2015.20.2520. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 8. Eraviscan denarius imitating the types of Cn. Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1). ANS 2015.20.2293. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 9. Eraviscan denarius imitating the types of C. Postumius (RRC 394/1a). ANS 2015.20.2524. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 10. Eraviscan denarius imitating the types of L. Roscius Fabatus (RRC 412/1). ANS 2015.20.2375. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

Also, the denarii issued by P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1a, 82 BC) and by L. Manlius Torquatus (RRC 295/1, 113–112 BC) were used as prototypes to the so‑called DOMISA, DVTETI and ANSALI issues, possibly featuring the names of local chieftains (Figs. 11–13).

Figure 11. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1) with the name of the chieftain DOMISA. ANS 2015.20.2361. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 12. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1) with the name of the chieftain DVTETI. Freeman 8 (5/B). 17 mm. 3.26 g. Rauch Summer Auction 2012, 20 September 2012, lot 75.
Figure 13. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of L. Manlius Torquatus (RRC 295/1) with the name of the chieftain ANSALI. ANS 2015.20.2532. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

As a consequence of this wide range of prototypes, the chronology of these issues has until recently been determined very broadly from c. 80 BC to the end of the first century BC.  However, fairly recent studies based on hoard circulation suggests that they were issued from about 40/30 BC to 12/9 BC, with production ending in correspondence with the Augustan conquest of Pannonia or shortly thereafter.

The largest number of finds was recorded within the primary settlement zone of the Eravisci, which according to written and archaeological evidence may be placed within the modern counties of Pest, Fejér and Tolna in modern Hungary (Fig. 14).  

Figure 14. Finds of Eraviscan coins. A: hoard; B: stray find. Dulęba and Wysocki 2017, p. 57, fig. 4.

However, the recent discovery of a hoard of 14 Eraviscan imitative denarii in the Polish village of Czechy, in the region of Cracow, might suggest that the circulation radius of these coins could have been much wider than previously thought (Fig. 15).

Figure 15. Location of the site of Czechy and the cultural situation at the end of the pre-Roman period on a map of modern Poland. A: Przeworsk culture; B: Oksywie culture; C: Baltic circle; D: Púchov culture; E: Tyniec group. Dulęba and Wysocki 2017, p. 52, fig. 1.

As in the case of Geto-Dacian imitations, the function of this coinage has been hugely debated, with foremost scholars in the field arguing for a very limited use, restricted to prestige-related contexts, as suggested by the very limited finds in situ. This might find comparanda in the other coinages issued in the so-called barbaricum, especially in the early production stages of Celtic coinages in northern Gaul.

However, die-links between different issues (most notably the ones bearing the names of DOMISA, DVTETII and ANSALI ) were noted for the first time by Robert Freeman. This element hints at a very coordinated production for these imitative coinages. Moreover, the different degree of wear evident in die-linked specimens suggests an effective circulation (Figs. 16–17).

Figure 16. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1) with the name of the chieftain DVTETI. Same reverse die as the following specimen, but with different level of wear. ANS 2015.20.2517. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 17. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1) with the name of the chieftain DVTETI. Same reverse die as the previous specimen, but with different level of wear. ANS 2015.20.2519. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

The R. B. Witschonke Collection at ANS provides further examples of die-linked specimens, which which also show different degrees of wear (Figs. 18–20).

Figure 18. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of Cn.Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1). This specimen shares an obverse die with the specimen in Fig. 19 and a reverse die with the specimen in Fig. 20. ANS 2015.20.2514. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 19. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of Cn.Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1). This specimen shares an obverse die with the specimen in Fig. 18. ANS 2015.20.2512. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 20. Eraviscan denarius imitating the obverse type of L. Papius (RRC 384/1) and the reverse type of Cn. Lentulus (RRC 393/1). Same reverse die as Fig. 18. ANS 2015.20.2363. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

Finally, an element that seems to be common to all the known Eraviscan specimens is the fact of being consistently lightweight compared to official Roman denominations. For example, the Eraviscan denarii included in the R. B. Witschonke collection have an average weight of 3.27 g. This is a differentiating element in comparison to the Daco-Getan imitations, where several specimens are overweight.  

In sum, it seems very likely that the Eraviscan imitative coinage was a) produced in a somewhat coordinated fashion, as suggested by the numerous die-links; b) a relatively limited phenomenon in terms of chronology and volume of issues, since so many die-links are discovered in a limited sample; c) not (only) a prestige coinage since several specimen appear considerably worn.

The production and circulation of imitations of Roman Republican denarii among the Eravisci thus suggest the existence of an (at least partly) monetized economy, which probably came into existence in the decades leading to the creation of the Pannonian province in the late Augustan Age. Eraviscan imitative denarii are therefore part of a tale of partial cultural and economic convergence toward the Roman world that took place in the course of the second and first century BC in the Mediterranean world at large as a consequence of the Roman expansion. This very topic has been addressed in a three-day international conference held in March 2021 and the coins just presented add further nuances to this fascinating process.

Developments and Preliminary Data Release for the Roman Republican Die Project

Lucia Carbone and Liv M. Yarrow

The following post is a precursor to a Long Table discussion scheduled for Friday, July 16, 1 pm. Please join us then for an open Q&A following the presentation. If you are unable to do so, please feel free to send along any questions or comments to Lucia Carbone and Liv Mariah Yarrow. 

Nearly three decades ago Richard Schaefer began collecting images of Roman Republican coins and organizing these images by one die, either obverse or reverse based on which was most distinctive for each type (Figs. 1 and 2).

Figure 1. An image of some of the drawers in Schaefer’s office, containing pre-processed clippings of specimen images.
Figure 2. Digitized pre-processed clippings on Archer (this specimen RRC 348/5).

In Summer 2020 the ANS released all the digitized images through its online archives (Archer) and connected relevant pages to the types in Coinage of the Roman Republic Online (CRRO).  You can read about the process of digitization and the background to the project in our September 2019 ANS Magazine article, “Opening Access to Roman Republican Dies”. To learn more about the materials on Archer and how to navigate them, see these earlier blog posts. For those interested in the possible research applications of RRDP, especially concerning quantification of coin production, we published an article in RBN 2020, where the data from RRDP were put in the context of the aftermath of the First Mithridatic War (89–85 BCE), in order to show the correlation between monetary production in the provinces of the Roman Empire and the Roman Republican one.

In November 2020 the ANS received a grant for a two-year pilot project to build a database capable of reflecting Schaefer’s die analyses and enabling that work to be expanded in future by both Schaefer and the RRDP team.  The present phase is focusing on the die transcription of Crawford types 336–392 (92–75 BCE).

The reason for prioritizing these decades lies in the fact that in these years Rome found herself battling at the same time with her Italian allies (socii)—the backbone of her fighting force for her conquest and control of the Mediterranean—and with the formidable king of Pontus, Mithridates VI. While Rome’s war with the socii threatened Rome’s own existence in the Italian peninsula, the war against Mithridates promised to annihilate the Roman conquests in the East. These are also the years when historical figures of the caliber of Marius, Sulla, and Pompey rose to prominence. In spite of the crucial importance of this historical period, no contemporary, continuous narrative of this period survives as a whole. Being able to quantify the coinage for this period would provide new historical insights into the funding of different military and domestic projects and allow for a comparison of relative expenditure based on threat or need.

Within this period, we are prioritizing the transcription of a part of Schaefer’s Archive known as ODEC: One Die for Each Control Mark (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. An example of ODEC issue: RRC 378/1c. (ANS 1941.131.177)

As the name suggests, ODEC issues have a specific correspondence between dies and control marks. Usually there is a univocal correspondence between obverse and reverse dies for each of these control marks. Early on, Schaefer realized the value of these types for understanding the coin production processes used at the Roman mint and also for testing and improving statistical models for estimating the original number of dies used to strike an issue.

The funding first enabled Ethan Gruber, the ANS Director of Data Science, to adapt Numishare software to create both a die database and specimen database for coins known only from images, rather than those in collections already connected to and thus represented in CRRO. He then connected the die database (RRDP) and the specimen database (SITNAM) to CRRO.  For most users these new developments are best seen as extensions of CRRO itself: under each type you will see a total of 5,000 more specimens and also information about known dies. How CRRO displays this still being developed (Figs. 4–6).

Figure 4. SITNAM specimens enhancing the number of specimens already in CRRO (these specimens RRC 378/1b).
Figure 5. One specimen of RRC 378/1b as displayed on SITNAM.
Figure 6. Die analysis integrated in CRRO (this specimen RRC 378/1b).

Gruber also adapted an existing, open-source tool, SimpleAnnotationServer, for the RRDP team to work simultaneously on transcribing different parts of Schaefer’s archive and annotating images in Archer (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. A page of Schaefer’s clippings as seen in Mirador, the annotation tool that connect the images on Archer, SITNAM, RRDP, and CRRO.

Thanks to Gruber’s innovation, the RRDP team is gradually understanding the challenges of the material and how to make the transcription process as smooth and as accurate as possible.  What we are sharing now is the results of this early learning process. 

These preliminary technical tools have enabled us to begin the laborious transcription process. This release includes the following Crawford types:












While we aimed to accurately reflect Schaefer’s analyses for all these issues, we also know that the very process of making them available is likely to generate feedback for improvement.  Throughout the transcription process we have regularly consulted Schaefer on his notations and where we had questions regarding his analyses, but mistakes are inevitable and regular updates are a key goal of the RRDP project.  In this we take our lead from Schaefer himself who always welcomes new observations to revise and improve the quality of the die analyses.

Many individuals have been involved thus far on the transcription project, but perhaps the most important team member is Alice Sharpless. Sharpless is currently employed part-time on RRDP, but will work full time from October onwards following the defense of her PhD thesis, “The Value of Luxury: Precious Metal Tableware in the Roman Empire.”  Sharpless brings to the team a wealth of experience digitizing the finds from the excavations at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, as well as her on-going work cataloguing the imperial coins in Columbia Library’s Olcott Collection in advance of the collection’s digital publication.

We are also indebted to a number of volunteers including Miriam Bernstein, a class of 2021 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brooklyn College (dual major in Classics and Religion). Bernstein’s work on RRDP was initially funded by a Kurz Undergraduate Research Assistantship, but even after completing this initial commitment, Bernstein has continued to work in a voluntary capacity.  She’ll be leaving the project in autumn to begin a year in the AmeriCorps’ Literacy Program in Palm Beach, Florida.  However, we hope to welcome her back to the ANS and RRDP in future.

This release has also benefited from the keen eye and interest of Jeremy Haag.  He and Liv Yarrow discovered they were both working on RRC 378 and decided to team up.  Haag has a PhD in Plant Biology and works for Bayer Crop Science as a research scientist, but in his spare time is an avid numismatist with a deep interest in the Roman Republican series.   He will co-present at the Long Table on how RRDP has been forwarding his research. Similar updates on other volunteers and collaborators will be included in each new release.

Our biggest goals are to continue to transcribe ODEC issues, but we also want to refine the transcription process to make it more user friendly and thus enable more and faster transcription. We’ll also be reviewing community feedback and adjusting and refining the display of information. 

If this pilot project is successful, we hope to develop a means by which new materials can be directly incorporated into RRDP through a web interface, so that it can be a living die study that is constantly improving in accuracy rather than a static archive.  We also hope to collaborate with other die study initiatives to ensure the RRDP data is fully integrated into those projects. 

At the upcoming Long Table on Friday, July 16th, titled Digitized die-studies: an update on RRDP and SILVER, this possibility will be discussed in detail by Caroline Carrier. Caroline is the lead post-doctoral researcher on the SILVER project, which is building a database of all known ancient world silver die studies.

The Aedes of Vesta on Cistophori of C. Fannius

Anyone who has been paying attention to the ANS Pocket Change blog or to the ANS Magazine over the last while will be aware that over the course of this year a lot of work has been going on with respect to the large body of numismatic material left to the American Numismatic Society by Rick W. Witschonke in 2015. This includes 524 (14% of the collection) cistophoric tetradrachms and fractions struck for use in the Hellenistic Attalid kingdom and the Roman province of Asia that it became after 133 BC (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Silver cistophorus (Pergamum, ca. 166–160 BC). ANS 2015.20.1210 (Witschonke collection).

Of the cistophori, named for the cista mystica that serves as the standard obverse type, 146 (27% of the cistophori in the collection) belong to a special class known as Later Republican cistophori. These were struck in the relatively brief period from 58 to 49 BC and are distinguished by their inclusion of the names of Roman governors written in Latin. Issues naming T. Ampius Balbus (58–57 BC) and C. Fannius (49 BC) are also notable for their modifications to the traditional cistophoric reverse type. On coins of Balbus the traditional bowcase of Heracles on the reverse is replaced by a tripod (Fig. 2) while on those of Fannius it is replaced by a tholos temple surmounted by a female figure holding a patera and a scepter (Fig. 3).

Figure 2. Silver cistophorus of T. Ampius Balbus (Tralles, 58–57 BC). ANS 2015.20.36 (Witschonke collection).
Figure 3. Silver cistophorus of C. Fannius (Ephesus, 49/8 BC). ANS 2015.20.90 (Witschonke collection).

Curiously, the depiction of this temple, which seems very similar to the aedes of Vesta in Rome (Fig. 4), has excited relatively little interest in the major numismatic studies of the coins.

Figure 4. The remains of the aedes of Vesta in the Forum Romanum.

In the January 1973 issue of the American Journal of Archaeology, Jane Cody argued that Fannius’ temple should indeed be identified with the aedes of Vesta on the basis of Roman Republican denarii of Q. Cassius Longinus (RRC 428) struck in 55 BC. These depict a virtually identical temple that almost certainly represents the aedes of Vesta (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Silver denarius of Q. Cassius Longinus (Rome, 55 BC). ANS 1948.19.203.

The moneyer’s ancestor, L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla, served as prosecutor in the infamous second trial of the Vestal Virgins for failure to honor their vows of chastity in 113 BC. In the 2007 volume of Klio, Linda Zollschan argued that the edifice alluded to the events of 61 BC, in which Fannius and two other members of the college of pontifices (Fannius is consistently described as pontifex on his cistophori) brought the politically-motivated indictment against P. Clodius Pulcher for profaning the female-only rites of the Bona Dea—an important goddess of the Roman state who enjoyed the special patronage of the gens Fannia.  Thus, the temple on Fannius’ cistophori should be identified as the temple of the Bona Dea for Roman political reasons and because, in Zollschan’s view, its design and the appearance of the statue that surmounts it are not appropriate for the aedes of Vesta. She cites several dissimilarities:

1. The aedes of Vesta in Rome had 20 columns and only six are depicted on the temple on Fannius’ cistophori—hardly a convincing argument since the unequivocal aedes of Vesta on the denarius of Cassius is also depicted with six columns as a means of revealing the interior.

2. The denarii of Cassius depict the aedes of Vesta with Corinthian column capitals while Fannius’ temple has Ionic capitals. However, close inspection of numerous specimens of Fannius’ cistophori shows that in many cases, the capitals are actually Corinthian and that the “Ionic” capitals are really Corinthian capitals with overly prominent volutes.    

3. The aedes of Vesta in Rome was mounted on a podium, but the temple on Fannius’ coins has no podium—and yet the aedes of Vesta on Cassius’ coinage also lacks a podium.

4. The statue atop Fannius’ temple is not appropriate for a representation of Vesta. This is a rather more serious argument since specimens exist in which it is very clear that the female image is not veiled—the primary attribute of Vesta (an especially impressive and clear example appears in a recent update to a blog post on Fannius’ temple by Liv Yarrow). This being said, I have not yet been able to find an example of Cassius’ denarius in print or in CRRO or Coin Archives where it is possible to determine whether the statue on the aedes of Vesta is veiled or not.

Zollschan attempted to identify the statue on Fannius’ temple as the Bona Dea on the basis of her scepter and patera—both rather generic attributes—and a supposed serpent at the top of the scepter that she described as visible on one specimen. However, a close examination of the coin image suggests that what she was seeing as a serpent is really the arm of the figure holding the scepter. She also fails to note that the most prominent attribute of the Bona Dea is her cornucopia (Fig. 6)—something that is entirely lacking from the coins.

Figure 6. Inscribed marble statue of the Bona Dea.

Based on the preceding, and on the probability that the die engravers for Fannius’ temple were using a denarius of Q. Cassius Longinus as a model, Cody’s case for the aedes of Vesta still seems quite strong. The potential problem of the female statue may perhaps be mitigated by Flavian aurei that depict the aedes of Vesta in the form it took after its rebuilding under Nero (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. Gold aureus of Vespasian depicting the aedes of Vesta (Rome, AD 73). ANS 1956.184.26.

Here the shrine is shown with only four columns(!) and the cult image of Vesta standing inside. She appears to hold a patera and scepter, but again, it is very difficult to tell if she is actually veiled although we would expect it. Other female statues stand to the left and the right of the aedes, which presumably represent deities other than Vesta. Interestingly, the statue on the right also appears holding a patera and scepter in the same manner as the statue on Fannius’ temple, thus raising the possibility that it could still represent the aedes of Vesta without the image of Vesta necessarily surmounting it.

If Fannius’ temple on the cistophori is indeed the aedes of Vesta and the image was copied from the coinage of Cassius, we must then ask why this model was used. It is tempting to suggest that the denarius type may have provided a convenient image of a Roman temple and was used simply to emphasize Fannius’ status as pontifex. Alternatively (or simultaneously?) the temple may have been intended as a punning reference to Fannius’ name (fanum was a somewhat generic Latin term for a temple or shrine).

It is unclear whether there may have been any political motivation in borrowing Cassius’ type. In 49 BC, Q. Cassius Longinus had become tribune of the plebs with the support of Julius Caesar. Fannius, on the other hand, was clearly a Pompeian at the time of the Bona Dea affair in 61 BC. Subsequent events suggest that he may have changed his political alignment. Cicero implicates Fannius in an alleged plot against Pompey (Att. 2.4) in 59 BC and identifies him as a legate sent to Sextus Pompey by the triumvir M. Lepidus in 43 BC (Philipp. 3.16), all of which might imply an association of Fannius with the Caesarean faction in the 50s and much of the 40s BC. However, Fannius was a political opportunist, and in late 43 BC he switched his allegiance again and became a leading supporter of Sextus Pompey in Sicily. This lasted until 36 BC, when it became clear that the Pompeian cause was doomed and Fannius then threw in with Mark Antony. Thus, it seems not impossible that Fannius’ reuse of Cassius’ image of the aedes of Vesta in 49 BC could have served as a somewhat oblique declaration for Caesar through the person of his tribune of the plebs. It would have been very timely for Fannius to do so considering that he probably departed to take up his position as governor of Asia just as, or not long after Caesar cast his die and the Roman state began its descent into civil war.

A New-ish Cistophorus for the Rebel Aristonicus

The coin presented here (Fig. 1) is one of three known specimens of the cistophorus issued by the rebel Aristonicus in the Lydian city of Stratonicea on the Caicus in the year 129 BCE.

Figure 1. Lydia, Stratonicea. Cistophoric Tetradrachm, year E (= 5, 129 BCE). ECC Series 4 (dies 5/-). Robinson 1954, p. 14 (dies E/-). 27 mm. 12.78 g. Nomos 20, 10 July 2020, lot 236.

It is dated to the year E (=5), an element that seems to prove that the rebel ruled over part of Lydia one year longer than previously thought, i.e., 129 BCE instead of 130 BCE. The first of the three known specimens appeared in the market in 2017, but until the publication of a very recent article by P. O. Hochard on these coins, the generally accepted opinion was that Aristonicus-Eumenes III (Fig. 2) issued coins only for four years, i.e., from 133 to 130 BCE (Figs. 3–6).

Figure 2. Statue of Eumenes III (Aristonicus), King of Pergamum, Bergama, İzmir, Turkey.
Figure 3. Lydia, Thiatyra. Cistophoric tetradrachms, year A (=1, 133 BCE). Kampmann 1978, p. 39, fig. B. ECC – (cf. p.106, pl. XXXVIII, 10, same o.d.). 27.5 mm. 12.58 g. ANS 2015.20.1758. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 4. Lydia, Thiatyra. Cistophoric tetradrachm, year B (= 2, 132 BCE). ECC p.103, series 1, o.d.1. Robinson 1954, o.d. A pl. I, 1–2 (same o.d., but different reverse die). 28.8 mm. 12.56 g. ANS 2015.20.1383. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 5. ANS 2015.20.1326. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 6. Lydia, Apollonis. Cistophoric tetradrachm, year Δ (= 4, 130 BCE). ECC p.103, series 3, o.d. 3. Robinson 1954, o.d. C pl. I, 11–12 (different reverse die). 26.7 mm. 12.56 g. ANS 2015.20.1761. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

In the late spring or early summer of 133 BCE the Attalid king Attalus III (138–133 BCE) died and bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans (Strabo, Geography 14.2, Fig. 7).

Figure 7. Attalid portrait at the Antikensammlung, Berlin. Possibly Attalus III.

A Pergamene decree dated to August 133 refers to the testament and the free status of Pergamum, while also mentioning the necessity of the Roman ratification of the document (Inscriptions of Pergamum I. 149, ll. 4–9). The status of other Asian cities and of the rest of the province is not specified in the Pergamene decree, but ancient sources (i.e., Livy, Periochae 59.3) declared that the whole province of Asia had been freed by Attalus. However, the Romans showed some uncertainties in the organization of the future province of Asia, especially since the tribune of the plebs Tiberius Gracchus (Fig. 8), famous for his proposal of an important land reform in 133 BCE, seemed eager to take advantage of this gift to fund his ambitious program (Plutarch, Tiberius Gracchus 14.1–2).

Figure 8. E. Guillaume, The Gracchi (1847).

As a result of the turmoil that stemmed from Gracchus’ attempt at securing the former Attalid kingdom as the main source of funding for his new laws, the Romans were slow in ratifying the testament. Aristonicus, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of the earlier Pergamene king, Eumenes II (197–160 BC), father of Attalus III, took advantage of the uncertainty and laid claim to the throne, taking the dynastic name, Eumenes III (Florus, 1.35.2).

Prompted by the success of the rebellion, the Roman Senate ratified Attalus III’s testament through the Senatus Consultum Popillianum, probably dated to 132 BCE. Preserved today in several epigraphic copies, this decree indeed states that the Senate ratified Attalus’ legacy in toto, but only up to the moment of Attalus’ death, i.e., before the beginning of the rebellion of Aristonicus.

The ratification of Attalus’ legacy through the SC Popillianum was good news to the Greek cities of Asia that had been declared free, and formed the basis of their support against Aristonicus.  Greek cities such as Ephesus, Pergamum, and several others were favored by the testament of Attalus and therefore favorable to the Romans, since the Senate, with the SC Popillianum, recognized their privileged status of free cities.

Pergamum, the capital of the former Attalid kingdom struggled with unrest during these years.  Epigraphic evidence clearly shows the extreme measures that the civic administration had to take in order to avoid a mass defection in favor of Aristonicus, such as massive grants of citizenship to previous colonists and the confiscation of the properties for people leaving town to follow Aristonicus (Carbone, Hidden Power, pp. 7–14).

On the other hand, numismatic evidence and literary sources show that Ephesus took a clear stance in favor of freedom and, consequently, against Aristonicus’ legitimist attempts.  It is generally acknowledged that post-134 BC Ephesian cistophori are dated according the so-called freedom era. This era, previously thought to be a provincial era, has been now recognized as peculiar to Ephesus (Fig. 9).

Figure 9. ANS 2015.20.1277. bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

The freedom celebrated on the Ephesian cistophori is the one that had been bestowed by Attalus III in his testament to the cities of Asia and ratified by the Romans through the SC Popillianum of 132 BC. In order to defend its own freedom, the city fought and defeated the rebel, who had initially succeeded in conquering several cities in the coastal region of the former Attalid kingdom. After defeat at the hands of the Ephesians, Aristonicus had to flee to the inland Lydian region: first to Thyatira, then Apollonis, finally to Stratonicea, where he was defeated by Peperna in 129 BCE (Strabo, Geography 14.1.38).  

Indeed, Aristonicus’ rebellion reflected a clear dichotomy in the province-to-be. Greek cities such as Ephesus and Pergamum (among others) were favorable to the testament of Attalus and therefore to the Romans, since the Senate, with the SC Popillianum, recognized their privileged status of free cities. On the other hand, the hinterland area, mainly composed of military colonies and royal domains, did not enjoy any of the privileges bestowed to cities.  Therefore, Aristonicus could find some support there.

The cistophori issued by Aristonicus in these momentous years offer a fundamental insight on the rebellion. The rebel was correctly identified as the issuer of these coins in a seminal article by E. S. G. Robinson back in 1954. Contrary to the Attalid (early) ones and the provincial (late) ones, his cistophori are signed by the rebel with his dynastic name BA–EY. This element, together with the regnal year and the ethnic of a civic mint secured legitimation for the rebel. In pursuit of this strategy, Aristonicus behaved as a real heir to the Attalid policy of founding colonies in the rural parts of Lydia, as he tried to seek shelter and legitimacy in these lands. Aristonicus pushed the traditional Attalid policy even further by making the Lydian cities of Thiatyra, Apollonis and Stratonicea cistophoric mints, if admittedly partly out of necessity.  At the same time, the presence of the dynastic name on his cistophori show how different he was from the previous Attalid kings, who sought the legitimation of their kingdom, not of themselves.

The cities where he resided—which had never before issued coinage—were thus given visibility throughout the area and could rival in prestige with the main cistophoric mints of Asia, in spite of the clear quantitative difference in the issues.  The cistophori in the name of King Eumenes are the only cistophoric (and silver) coinage ever issued in the cities of Thyatira, Apollonis and Stratonicea.  The cistophoric production of these mints amounts to a total of 5 tetradrachm observed obverse dies, of which two (A, B) are shared by Thyatira and Apollonis, one (C) is shared by Apollonis year 3 and Apollonis year 4 and now one (E) is shared by Stratonicea year 4 and 5 (Robinson 1954, pp. 7–8).

On the Roman side, three other cistophoric mints were certainly active in the former Attalid kingdom, i.e. Ephesus, Pergamum and Tralles. According to Kleiner and Noe, Pergamum and Ephesus had produced cistophori in the respective amounts of 89 and 59 observed tetradrachm obverse dies in the years 166–134 BC. In the years 134–128 BC, the proportions are inverted, with Pergamum producing only 18 tetradrachm obverse dies, compared to the Ephesian 44. Tralles followed the Pergamene trend, plummeting from a production of 87 tetradrachms obverse dies in 166–134 BC to 20 obverse dies during Aristonicus’ rebellion (Fig. 10).

Figure 10. Cistophoric production in the Attalid kingdom according to ECC (166–128 BCE).

Ephesus then produced cistophori in full swing in order to support the military effort against Aristonicus, while the political paralysis of Pergamum brought to a standstill in the cistophoric production as well. In the same years, the city of Tralles issued cistophori with this monogram:

Together with their stylistic similarities to the cistophori issued by Aristonicus in Apollonis and Stratonicea, could suggest that the city sided with the usurper (Fig. 11). The argument is, however, not conclusive, since the minting could have been imposed.

Figure 11. ANS 1944.100.37571. Bequest of E. T. Newell.

The production patterns of cistophori during Aristonicus’ rebellion confirm the previously mentioned dichotomy of the former Attalid kingdom. On the one side, Ephesus—through its full-swing issue of cistophori—highlighted its legitimacy as minting center and free city after the Roman ratification of Attalus’ testament. Pergamum and Tralles did the same—at least to a certain point. On the other side, Aristonicus and his host cities (possibly including Tralles) sought “royal” legitimacy through the issue of the same kind of coinage.

The manifold ideological use of the cistophorus is thus quite remarkable.  P. Thonemann (pp. 29–32) rightly noted regarding Attalid times that the ethnic of the minting cities and the name of the magistrates allowed the coinage to have a civic “aspect”, while at the same time the coinage, for mere quantitative reasons, was issued under Attalid control and—at least partly—out of royal bullion. The anomaly of Aristonicus is made evident by his use of his dynastic name on cistophori, an absolute unicum among the Attalids. However, it was precisely the “double” nature of the cistophorus that allowed its use for apparently antithetical purposes even in the years of Aristonicus’ rebellion, namely the legitimation of the claims of freedom for some cities as well as Aristonicus’ claims of regality.

Lastly, this new-ishly discovered cistophoric issue from Stratonicea offers new insight on the chronology of the rebellion. Strabo wrote that Aristonicus was defeated by Peperna. Given Aristonicus’ issues known until now, it was assumed that the rebel was defeated during Peperna’s consulate, i.e., 130 BCE. However, the new issue suggested that the rebellion was finally quenched in 129 BCE, when Peperna was proconsul. He then suddenly died in Pergamum and was urgently replaced by Manlius Aquilius, the consul of 129 BCE, who is said by the historian Florus (I.35.2.6–7) “to have pacified the region before organizing it.” In the following year (128 BCE), Manlius Aquilius, together with ten legati, “organized the province as it still is.” The newly studied cistophoric issue thus shows that the Romans—learning from their previous mistakes in the area—wasted no time after Aristonicus’ demise to organize the new Roman province of Asia.

Coinage of the Roman Provinces: Conference Highlights, Part 3

Part 1 of this 3 part post was published on April 12, 2021

Part 2 of this 3 part post was published on April 13, 2021

The third and final day of the conference, chaired by Joel Allen and Liv Yarrow, was dedicated to Roman Republican coinage and its imitations in the Roman World.

Figure 1. ANS 2015.20.2535. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

In the first paper of the day, given by A. McCabe, building on some of his previous publications, shared a study he jointly conducted with the late Roberto Russo. He argued that there were two parallel Roman mints or workshops using the L mintmark, one associated with the city of Luceria and the other with the separate mint or workshop responsible for the LT coinage.

Figure 2. Two different mints for the L mintmark, issued in the course of the Second Punic War. Courtesy of A. McCabe.
Figure 3. Mint at Canusium, with CA mintmark. Courtesy of A. McCabe.
Figure 4. Issue with P mintmark. Courtesy of A. McCabe.

Moreover, the P-mintmarked coins were closely related to the coinage of Canusium, whose production is usually identified by the mintmark CA. The reason for the existence of these closely related issues—yet distinguished by style and weight—issues should be found in the events connected to the Second Punic War. Especially in 215–207 BC, Apulia represented a major battlefield and for this derived the necessity of several camp mints moving with the armies.

Figure 5. Overview of the RRC bronze issues with mintmarks L, L/T and CA. Courtesy of A. McCabe.
Figure 6. Find data and museums L, L-T, P, CA in bronze or silver. Courtesy of A. McCabe.

In a fascinating paper, L. Yarrow connected the production of the uncia, a very rare denomination of which only 94 specimens are known so far, to the political agenda of the moneyers.

Figure 7. ANS 2015.20.2029. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 8. Peculiarities of Roman unciae. Courtesy of L. Yarrow.
Figure 9. Connection with populist agenda? Courtesy of L. Yarrow.

Building on a passage of Cicero (On Duties 3.80) and prosopographical and metrological considerations, she convincingly argued that the production of unciae could be explained by the moneyers’ desire to be seen as addressing popular needs.

Figure 10. Overview of unciae issued by the Roman mint. Courtesy of L. Yarrow.
Figure 11. Two well known populists issuing unciae. Courtesy of L. Yarrow.

The third paper of the session, delivered by P. P. Ripollès, focused on the unofficial imitations of Roman Republican coinage produced in Spain. The RBW Collection includes the highest number of these imitations in the world and thus its contribution to their study is invaluable. In his presentation and in a  series of articles, one of which was co-authored by Rick, Ripollès argued that the Spanish imitations were not counterfeits, but should be considered a local answer to the chronic dearth of small change, caused by Rome’s irregular production of bronze denominations.

Figure 12. Spanish imitation of Roman as, late second century BC. Ripollès- Gozalbes 2016 no. 20a, Group H O19 R16. 33.1 mm. 22.79 g. ANS 2015.20.3517. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 13. Spanish imitation of Roman semis, late second century BC. Ripollès-Witschonke 2015 no. 2a, Group A O2 R2. 25 mm. 9.42 g. ANS 2015.20.3428. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

He also showed that these imitations, produced by a non-state and non-civic mint (or mints), were produced on a large scale, comparable to medium-size mints of the likes of Castulo. The scale of this phenomenon shows that the Romans were not only aware of it, but probably encouraged it.

Figure 14. Comparison between the recorded number of Spanish unofficial asses recorded and the specimens from other local mints. Courtesy of P. P. Ripollès.
Figure 15. Production of local coinages in Spain. Courtesy of P. P. Ripollès.

P. Davis delivered a paper on the Geto-Dacian imitations of Roman Republican denarii.

Figure 16. ANS 2015.47.9. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A die-linked imitation of the Poroschia type.
Figure 17. ANS 2015.47.10. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A die-linked imitation of the Poroschia type.

Again, the contribution of the RBW Collection to this specific field is fundamental, as it includes over 300 specimens of these coins. Davis’ contribution focused on the question of the circulation of these imitations and on the techniques used for their production. The study of these imitations could shed some light on the possibility of a coordinated minting operation in pre-provincial Dacia.

In his paper, F. Carbone discussed the monetary production of the colony of Paestum, which spanned the late third century BC to the Tiberian Age.

Figure 18. ANS 2015.20.593. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. An issue signed by Mineia, a rare female signer in Paestum.

He focused on the role played by magistrates and private citizens in the production of these coinages, showing that the Paestan issues signed by private citizens acquired a comparatively greater importance at the end of the first century BC, while in previous decades local magistrates were the main issuers.

Figure 19. Signers of local issues in Paestum. Courtesy of F. Carbone.

As already seen in Sicily and in Copia, names of Roman magistrates began to appear on Paestan coinage in the early second century BC. The peak of production of Paestan coinages is however to be placed in the first century BC, with the semis as principal coin and progressive disappearance of other lower denominations. The coinage produced by Paestum thus played the role of subsidiary currency, produced (once again) to make up for the absence of small change produced by Rome.

Figure 20. Paestan issues as subsidiary coinage. Courtesy of F. Carbone.
Figure 21. Production patterns of the Paestan mint and economic context. Courtesy of F. Carbone.

In the last paper of the session and of the conference C. Stannard discussed the non-state coinages of Central Italy, especially that of Latium and Campania and their connection to Spain through the shared types and names of the so-called Italo-Baetican assemblage.

Figure 22. ANS 2015.20.1949. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A non-state issue dated to the second half of the second century BC, quite certainly minted in Latium.
Figure 23. ANS 2015.20.1953. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A non-state leaden as, issued by the mint of Minturnae, 150–50 BC.
Figure 24. ANS 2015.20.1937. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. A non-state issue featuring the furnacator, a figure connected to bath-houses, early first century BC.

In Stannard’s words, “this is a monetary history on two levels. At the more general, the non-state coinages of Latium all respond to a single historical conjuncture, namely the crisis in the availability of small change that began about in the middle of the second century BC.

Figure 25. Roman bronze coin and major elements of the non-state coinages of Latium. Courtesy of C. Stannard.

These responses were all very local and involved many players, about whom we know little. Amongst these, the most interesting is the enigmatic group responsible for the Italo-Baetican issues.

Figure 26. Southern Spain in Republican times, showing the anonymous societates exploiting the silver/lead mines of the Sierra Morena, mining equipment, coins and lead seals marked with their symbols, and finds of Italo-Baetican plomos, included in the Italo-Baetican assemblage. Courtesy of C. Stannard.
Figure 27. Coins of the Annii in the Italo-Baetican series in Latium. The Annii were one of the most important gentes involved in the Italo-Baetican trade. Courtesy of C. Stannard.

It is surprising that so widespread a phenomenon seems to have no reflection in the literature of the time. […] The picture, as I have reconstructed it, challenges a number of assumptions about Rome’s presumed policies regarding its own minor coinage and the coinages of its colonies and allies. [It] demonstrates that Republican Rome did not interest itself in or police its colonies’ and allies’ minor coinages, nor supply and them with small change. Legalistic concepts such as ‘the right to coin’ do not seem to have purchase in this area at this time, with consequences for understanding the nature and practice of Roman expansion.” Stannard’s conclusion certainly apply not only to his materials, but also to the colonial coinages of Paestum and Copia and to the Spanish imitations of Roman Republican coinage.

To summarize, as far as we can tell from the evidence presented in the course of this conference, two different phenomena are at play in the western provinces. At the beginning of the second century BC, after silver coinage became a Roman monopoly with the Second Punic War, the Roman denominational system was adopted also for bronze coinage, with very few exceptions. Names of Roman magistrates began to appear on the local bronze coinages, first in Sicily and immediately afterwards in the colonies of Southern Italy.  It seems quite certain that these magistrates were local ones, as is clearly exemplified by the Paestan duoviri and quattuorviri. In the last quarter of the second century BC, with the conquest of Spain, the need for small change became even more acute in the West and led to the creation of a series of non-state coinages ranging from the Spanish imitations of Roman Republican bronzes to the manifold varieties of non-state coinages produced in Central Italy. The enigmatic Italo-Baetican assemblage shows the strong economic and (non-state) monetary connections between Spain and Italy in the course of the first century BC. In the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, the second half of the second century BC is characterized by the beginning of several “surrogate” silver coinages. On bronze coinage, the names of Roman magistrates began to appear in Macedonia and (we now know) in Asia in the second half of the first century BC, but the local denominational systems were preserved.

More research is still needed, but the papers delivered in the course of this three-day conference were fundamental, as they provided an integrated approach to the monetary history of the Roman provinces in the second and first century BC. The proceedings of the RBW Conference, edited by L. Carbone, O. Hoover, and L. Yarrow, will be published by the ANS in the course of 2022.

I also would like to take this chance to thank again the speakers (who also generously agreed to share their slides) and the sponsors of this conference, the American Numismatic Society and the PhD Program in History at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Last but not least, my thanks (and the ones of L. Yarrow and O. Hoover, co-organizers of this conference) go to the over 300 people from more than 30 academic institutions all over the world who attended the conference.

Coinage in the Roman Provinces: Conference Highlights, Part 2

Part 1 of this 3 part post was published on April 12, 2021

The second day of the conference,  March 24, 2021, chaired by Pere Pau Ripollès, focused on “new” coinages in the Roman provinces, namely coinages that featured the names of Roman magistrates. H. Güney focused on the bronze coinages issued in the names of Roman proconsuls beginning in the late 60s BC by the Bithynian cities of Apamea, Bythinium, Nicaea and Nicomedia.

Figure 1. ANS 2015.20.1153. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 2. ANS 2015.20.1149. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 3. ANS 2015.20.2703. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 4. ANS 2015.20.1129. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

The importance of the civic coinages of these Bithynian cities is testified for a later period not only by the sheer number of obverse dies, but by the large radius of their circulation, since a relevant number of specimens of these issues was found in Moesia and other Danubian provinces.

Figure 5. Distribution of the Coins of Nicomedia abroad. Courtesy of H. Güney.
Figure 6. Nicomedians abroad, (by profession). Courtesy of H. Güney.

The presence of these bronze civic issues in different provinces testifies not only to the increased movement of individuals throughout the empire, but also to the growing interconnectivity of the monetary systems in the Roman provinces beginning in the mid-first century BC. In his paper, C. Eilers, presented new evidence for the early (and exceptional) presence of Roman magistrates on bronze civic issues in the province of Asia. Through a well-documented and convincing analysis, he showed that the proconsul of Asia, C. Atinius Labeo, attested on Ephesian cistophori and staters for the year 122/1 BC, is also attested on the bronze coinage of the small Mysian town of Atarnaeus.

Figure 7. ANS 2015.20.12. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 8. Mysia. Atarneus. Bronze, late second century BC. BMC 7. SNG France 131. 19 mm. 6.83 g. Savoca Numismatics 10, 16 October 2016, lot 487.

This paper suggest that Roman magistrates could be involved in local civic coinages as early as the 120s BC, further strengthening the idea of a very early Roman involvement in the coinages of Roman provinces. In her contribution on Macedonia and Thrace, S. Kremydi highlighted the presence of numerous and—in some cases—unique overstrikes on the Macedonian coins included in the RBW Collection, which contribute to solving the problems in the chronology of these coinages.

Figure 9. Macedonian bronze coinage from Pydna to Augustus (168/7 BC–14 BC). Courtesy of S. Kremydi.
Figure 10. Macedonian bronze coinage: an overview. Courtesy of S. Kremydi.

One bronze specimen naming L. Fulcinnius, part of the so-called “Quaestors issues” presumably issued in 148/7 BC, is overstruck on a civic issue from Amphipolis, suggesting that issues in the names of the cities were contemporary to those of the “Quaestors”. 

Figure 11. A new overstrike: Silanus (ANS 2015.20.2144) on Amphipolis. Courtesy of S. Kremydi.

Several specimens of another “Quaestors” issue naming L. Fulcinnius, are overstruck on issues traditionally attributed to D. Silanus and usually dated around 142 BC, and vice versa.

Figure 12. Quaestors’ issues: Fulcinnius over Silanus and viceversa. R. B.Witschonke Collection. Courtesy of S. Kremydi.

These mutual overstrikes seem to suggest that these issues were produced in the same years. Moreover, the RBW Collection includes a specimen of a Thasos-type tetradrachm, again a “surrogate” coinage issued by the Romans in the course of the first century BC, which has been overstruck on a Macedonian Aesillas tetradrachm, issued in the name of the quaestor Aesillas in the same years.

Figure 13. ANS 2015.20.2662. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

The presence of this overstrike (and possibly of an overstrike of Aesillas on a Thasos-type tetradrachm) at the very least suggests a concerted production between the mints responsible for these two coinages, if not their identity.

Figure 14. ANS 2015.20.2196. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

In a groundbreaking analysis of the Romano-Sicilian coinages issued in Sicily in the course of the second century BC, S. Frey-Kupper offered a new periodization for these coinages, based on the 254 specimens included in the RBW Collection and on the 459 included in M. von Bahrfeldt’ s 1904 archive.

According to her new classification, which adds and improves on Bahrfeldt’s intuition, all the issues with Latin magistrates’ names were produced in Western Sicily between 190 and 140 BC.

Figure 15. Coinage in Sicily under Roman rule, pre-imperial. Evolution in three steps. Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.
Figure 16. Romano-Sicilian coins published by Bahrfeldt (n = 489) and collected by RBW (n = 254). Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.

According to her new classification, which adds and improves on Bahrfeldt’s intuition, all the issues with Latin magistrates’ names were produced in Western Sicily between 190 and 140 BC.

Figure 17. Romano-Sicilian coins. Wreath series issues (Bahrfeldt Group 1), 190/180-150/140 BC Magistrate Q.B(aebius). ANS 2015.20.3214 (8.20 g.), 3220 (5.19 g.), 3223 (2.14 g.), 3226 (2.42 g.), 3225 (1.41 g.). Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.
Figure 18. Romano-Sicilian coins. Warrior series (Bahrfeldt Group 2), 190/180-140/130 BC C.Calp(urnius) Cato. ANS 2015.20.3012 (5.35 g.), ANS 2015.20.3031 (4.73 g.). Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.

Moreover, on the basis of very strong archaeological data, she identifies the mint issuing these coins with Lilybaeum, ending a century-long debate on the location of the mint for these Romano-Sicilian coins.

Figure 19. Romano-Sicilian coins. Areas of production and provision. Courtesy of S. Frey-Kupper.

In the last paper of the day, E. Wall presented for the first time an extensive overview on the colonial coinage of the otherwise understudied coinage of Copia in Southern Lucania. According to Livy and Strabon, this colony was founded in 194 BC on the site of the ancient Sibari.

Figure 20. Colonial foundations in Italy. Brill’s New Pauly Suppl. I, vol. 3 : Historical Atlas of the Ancient World.
Figure 21. The contribution of the R.B. Witschonke collection to the knowledge of the colonial coinage of Copia. Courtesy of E. Wall.

The coinage of the colony, which presents several elements in common with the Romano-Sicilian coinages and the coinages of Paestum and Vibo Valentia, followed the Roman denominational system and included the names of Roman magistrates, mostly quaestors and aediles.

Figure 22. The denominational system of Copia. Courtesy of E. Wall.
Figure 23. The semis from Vibo Valentia (Cannatà 2011, p. 140, Figure 10).
Figure 24. All the known issues from Copia. Courtesy of E. Wall.

Copia’s coinage was quite likely issued between 190 and 140 BC, presenting an almost perfect synchronicity with the Romano-Sicilian coinages.

Part 3 of this 3 part post was published on Tuesday, April 14, 2021.

Coinage in the Roman Provinces: Conference Highlights, Part 1

For the fact that the Romans did not export their own coinage into the Greek world does not mean that their presence had no effect on existing monetary patterns.

(Crawford 1985, p. 119)
Figure 1. Conference Poster.

The American Numismatic Society and the PhD Program in History at the Graduate Center, CUNY, had the pleasure of hosting a 3-day conference (March 23–25, 2021) focusing on the coinage produced in the Roman Provinces in the second and first centuries BC (i.e., before the conventional starting date of the Roman Provincial Coinage), as fixed by the authors of RPC in mid-first century BC. The papers, delivered by the foremost scholars in the field, offered a numismatic and historical overview of each region represented by the 4,000 coins included in the R. B. Witschonke Collection. This collection, the catalogue of which will be published in the next months, was assembled by Rick Witschonke, a beloved former ANS Curator and Co-Director of the Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar, in decades of loving and forward-looking study.

Figure 2. Richard B. Witschonke (1945–2015) in 2012. Photo credit: Alan Roche.
Figure 3. Rick with his ANS colleagues and co-supervisors of the ANS Summer Seminar 2007 Andy Meadows and Peter van Alfen. Also pictured, Bernhard Weisser (Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Resident Scholar of that year. Photo credit: Alan Roche.

Rick was one of very few scholars who was (almost!) equally interested in the stylistic subtleties of Roman coinage imitations in the Western provinces of the Roman Empire and in the late Hellenistic coinages issued in the East. He also collected Celtic coinages, whose gradual adaptation to the Roman monetary system has been the subject of several important contributions in the last decade (e.g., the fundamental works by J. Van Heesch and S. Martin), but was hardly included in the studies of Roman coinage in the provinces—with the important exception of M. Crawford— before then.

Figure 4. ANS 2015.20.401. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

Rick was the one who took to heart the idea of “RPC Zero” (i.e., the study of the coinage issued in the provinces of the Roman Empire in the second and first centuries BC, before the Civil Wars), and organized his collection around this. 

As Andrew Burnett points out in a soon-to-be published essay, the broader context of debate about the nature of the coinage and money used throughout the Mediterranean as it fell under Roman power was set by Crawford in his 1985 Coinage and Money under the Roman Republic (CMRR) and then further developed in 1987’s The coinage of the Roman World in the late Republic (CRWLR), edited by Burnett and Crawford. These two books were thus fundamental, as they focused for the first time on the idea of a gradual convergence of local coinages to create compatible monetary systems across the Roman Empire in the second and first centuries BC.

More recently, François de Callataÿ has published several important contributions on the matter, among which his 2011 seminal article More than It Would Seem: the Use of Coinage by the Romans in Late Hellenistic Asia Minor and The Coinages Struck for the Romans in Hellenistic Greece: a Quantified Approach (2016). In these two articles he detailed the idea of local coinages—old and new—struck for the Romans, even if not always in their name. In a 2019 article, Peter Thonemann coined the term of “surrogate coinages” for local coinages “revived” to serve Roman military interests in the eastern provinces of the Empire, using the silver coinage issued by Antiochia on the Maeander in the early first century BC as a case study.

Figure 5. ANS 1992.139.1.

Again, in de Callataÿ’s words, “a most fascinating line of enquiry is to consider large coinages struck suddenly by cities which apparently had little political or economic power. The most reasonable explanation, I believe, must be that, despite their civic appearance, these coinages” (p. 74).

This was precisely the subject of the keynote lecture of the conference, delivered by de Callataÿ on March 23—“Hidden power indeed: the surrogate coinages used by the Romans in Greece and Asia Minor”—which offered an updated overview of new and surrogate coinages issued for the Romans in the East.

Figure 6. Updated overview of “new” and “surrogate” coinages. Courtesy of F. de Callataÿ.

The conference session on March 23, chaired by Andy Meadows, continued on the same vein. Lucia Carbone’s paper mostly focused on the contribution of the R. B. Witschonke Collection to the study of the late cistophoric coinage of the Province of Asia, a “surrogate” coinage issued between 133 BC and the 60s BC. In the specific, the newly studied Phrygian cistophoric mint of Laodicea allows to estimate the impact on the local monetary system of the Mithridatic Wars, fought between 88 and 63 BC in the province.

Figure 7. Late cistophori of Laodicea from the R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 8. Late cistophoric production of the Provincia Asia as estimated from the combination of die studies and hoard data.

Oliver Hoover focused on other “surrogate” coinages, this time issued in Syria. The first one was very likely produced under the last Seleucid king Philip II Barypous (68/7–65 BC).

Figure 9. Anomalous Philip I Philadelphus tetradrachm. Probably Antioch on the Orontes SC 2487A variant. ANS 2015.20.2844. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 10. A possible Roman “Surrogate” Coinage of Philip II Barypous (c. 68/7–65 BC?). Courtesy of O. Hoover.

Hoover convincingly argued that this coinage could have been produced to support the Roman military effort during the Third Mithridatic War, drawing an interesting parallel to the late cistophoric coinage, that supported the Romans during the first two Mithridatic Wars. He also drew the attention to another apparent “surrogate” coinage, an anomalous Philip I Philadelphus tetradrachm, included in the R. B. Witschonke Collection.

Figure 11. Pseudo-Gabinian Pseudo-Philips from the R. B. Witschonke Collection. Courtesy of O. Hoover.

The governor of Syria A. Gabinius (57–55 BC) is known to have struck tetradrachms in the name of Philip Philadelphus, mostly at Antiochia. Judging from metrological and hoard data, the coin in question was probably struck in the 30s BC at an otherwise unknown mint. As already mentioned, the 30s BC are a decade covered by RPC, but this specific coin seems to have followed the standards of “surrogate” coinages, mostly issued in the previous decades.

The following two papers, respectively delivered by Annalisa Polosa and David Hendin, dealt with “new” coinages. Polosa mostly discussed coins issued by the Cilician city of Soli after its re-foundation by Pompey in 67 BC (Plutarch, Pompey 28.4). These coins, bearing Pompey’s portrait, were produced starting in the 60s BC and represent one of the first examples of a Roman magistrate’s portrait on civic coinages.

Figure 12. Cilicia, Pompeiopolis. Bronze tetrachalkon, after 64 BC. Obv. Head of Pompey right. Rev. Nike advancing right, with wreath in right hand, palm in left; around, legend; in field right, OM monogram; Π P monogram. Boyce – (cf. 3e). SNG von A. 5887 21 mm. 6.26 g. ANS 2015.20.1658. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

Hendin’s contribution mostly focused on other coins issued in the area of Decapolis in the Pompeian period. These coins bear the otherwise unattested date “Year 1 Rome.”

Figure 13. Coins bearing the legend LA PΩMHΣ (year 1 of Rome = 64/63 BC) from the R. B. Witschonke Collection. Courtesy of D. Hendin.

The year 1 could not refer other than to the Pompeian Era, which began in 64 BC. These unusual coins should be interpreted either as a military issue or as the product of a mint in the southern part of Syria which came under Roman rule when Pompey arrived in 64 BC. Both these papers, based on coins included in the RBW Collection, highlighted the importance of Pompey’s role in Syria in the transition between “surrogate” coinages issued for the Romans to “new” coinages issued in the name of the Romans.

This is not a rule universally applicable to all the eastern provinces, as exemplified by “new” coinages issued in Macedonia and Greece in the second and early first century BC (e.g., “Quaestor” issues in Macedonia, Thasian-type tetradrachms), but certainly Pompey played a fundamental role in the transition between “surrogate” and “new” coinages for the provinces of Asia and Syria. Summarizing, the papers of the first day of the RBW Conference, mostly focused on the “surrogate” and “new” coinages (according to Thonemann’s definition) issued in the eastern provinces of the empire.

Part 2 of this 3 part post was published on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

Attalid Cistophori and Roman Foreign Affairs in Asia Minor

In his important essay on the coinage of Aristonicus’ rebellion, E. S. G. Robinson famously stated:

The cistophorus, with its writhing serpents and  over-elaborate ornamentation, is perhaps the ugliest coin in the Greek series.  Collectors have tended to pass it by, and, maybe in consequence, it has not yet yielded to the Historian all the nourishment which he might extract from it (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Lydia, Apollonis. Silver Cistophorus issued by Aristonicus, 132–131 BCE. ANS 2015.20.1326. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

While we perhaps do not agree with Robinson’s aesthetic evaluation of the cistophorus, it is certain that the study of cistophoric coinage is instrumental to a better understanding of the history of the Attalid kingdom (later Provincia Asia) at least between the second century BCE and the second century CE, when the Emperor Hadrian issued a significant amount of it (Figs. 2–3). I will focus here, however, on the beginnings of this coinage.

Figure  2. Mysia, Pergamum. Silver Cistophorus, 166–160 BCE. ANS 1951.5.1.
Figure  3. Ionia, Ephesus. Silver Cistophorusof Hadrian, 128–132 CE. ANS 1955.21.12.

The cistophorus, a tetradrachm of ca. 12.5 g, was introduced sometime in the course of the reign of Eumenes II (197–158 BCE). It bears on the obverse a cista mystica (hence the name) and on the reverse two snakes coil around a bow case (Figs. 4–5).

Figure 4. Bust of Eumenes II (putative, also known more generically as the young commander). Herculaneum, Villa dei Papiri.
Figure 5. The Acropolis of Pergamum.

It was a reduced standard—and thus overvalued— silver currency, since it was almost 25% lighter than the Attic-standard tetradrachms that had been issued by the Attalids until then, and that probably continued being issued even after the introduction of the cistophorus. Andrew Meadows has now conclusively shown that the mint of Pergamum kept producing Philetaeri, the Attic standard tetradrachms with the portrait of Philetaerus, the founder of the dynasty, at least until the 160s BCE, i.e., after the introduction of the cistophoric coinage. Meadows’ argument is based on a Westermann’s Group VII Philetairos overstruck on a coin issued by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (175–164 BCE) (Figs. 6–7).

Figure 6. Mysia, Pergamum. Silver Tetradrachm of Eumenes II, 175–164 BCE. Obv. Laureate head of Philetairus right. Rev. Athena seated to left, left elbow resting on shield, crowning ΦΙΛΕΤΑΙΡΟΥ with wreath; bow behind. SNG France -; BMC -; SNG Copenhagen -; Westermark -, cf. Group VII (V.CLIII-R.1). Roma Numismatics 7, March 22, 2014, lot 675. 37 mm. 16.67 g. The following traces of the undertype are visible on the reverse: letters TH-E-O-Y on Athena’s shoulder; folders of Zeus’ himation on Athena’s face; and leg of Zeus’ throne on Athena’s right arm.

The overstruck coin presented in Fig. 6 is of extreme relevance not only because it gives a terminus post quem for this group of Philetaeri, but also because— since it has been proven that this series is contemporary to the first cistophori —it decisively places the inception of the cistophoric coinage in the 160s BCE, not in the earlier decades, as previously thought.

Figure 7. Syria, Antioch. Silver Tetradrachm of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, 173–68 BCE. ANS 1944.100.75257. Bequest of E. T. Newell.

The reign of Eumenes II thus represented a very complex period of production of the Pergamene mint.  Together with cistophori and Philetaeri, the mint also produced three other Attic-standard silver tetradrachms. The first one consists of posthumous Alexanders (Price nos. 1491–95), while the second one is represented by the exceedingly rare tetradrachms with the portrait of Eumenes II on the obverse and the Cabiri on the reverse, now known in three specimens (Figs. 8–9).

Figure  8. Mysia, Pergamum. Silver Tetradrachm, 197–168 BCE. ANS 1951.90.47.
Figure 9. Mysia, Pergamum. Silver Tetradrachm, after 189 BCE. Obv. Draped bust of Eumenes II. Rev. ΒAΣIΛEΩΣ – EYMENOY. Dioscuri (or Cabiri) with piloi; above, two stars; on left, thyrsus; in exergue, AP. All within laurel crown. SNG France 5, 1627. BMC 47 (var). Lanz 156, June 2, 2013, lot 177. 32 mm. 16.74 g.

The third variety of Attic-standard silver coinage, the so-called Athena Nikephoros tetradrachms, were also almost certainly struck in Pergamum, despite the absence of the ethnic (Fig. 10).

Figure 10. Mysia, Pergamum. Silver tetradrachm of Athena Nikephoros, ca. 180–165 BCE. Obv. Head of Medusa facing. Rev. ΑΘΗΝΑΣ ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΟΥ. Archaistic cult statue of Athena Nikephoros, facing and holding trophy and spear. BM 1975,0208.1. 30 mm. 16.06 g. BM, 1975,0208.1.

The complexity of the Pergamene production under Eumenes II could easily be explained with the unprecedented consequences of Roman expansion in the area. In 188 BCE the treaty of Apamea established that the defeated Seleucid king Antiochus III had to abandon Europe altogether and all of Asia west of the Taurus Mountains (Fig. 11).

Figure 11. Map of Asia Minor after the Treaty of Apamea, with the gains of Pergamon (light blue) and Rhodes (light green).

Rome gave the control of a large part of Asia Minor to Eumenes. Antiochus kept the region of Cilicia, while most of Lycia and Caria became part of the Rhodian Peraea. With the placet of the Roman authorities, the Attalid kingdom grew overnight to almost ten times its original size. This sudden expansion created the necessity of a proportionally enhanced monetary production. Part of this monetary demand was met by the already mentioned posthumous Alexanders and Philetaeri, but their production size failed to grow according to the size of the kingdom, as rightly noted by François de Callataÿ (tables 6.3–4).

The gap in monetary supply for the decade immediately following Apamea was thus probably filled by the Pamphylian tetradrachms from Phaselis, Perge, Aspendos, and Side countermarked with the so-called “cistophoric countermarks” (Figs. 12–13).

Figure 12. Pamphylia, Side. Silver tetradrachm, Side, 210–190 BCE (countermarked by Pergamum, ca. 188–183 BCE. ANS 2015.20.1203. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 13. Pamphylia, Aspendus. Silver tetradrachm, ca. 212–182 BCE (countermarked by Pergamum, ca. 188–183 BCE). Obv. Head of Herakles right, wearing lion’s skin. Countermark: bowcase, ΠΕΡ ΓΑ. Rev. AΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ, Zeus seated left, holding eagle in right hand. Uncertain year. Price 2876–2912; Bauslaugh 1990 – (cf.p. 41, but possibly different year). ANS 2015.20.1762. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. 30.1 mm. 16.48 g.

In spite of their name, these countermarks, consisting of a bow in case with the initials of the countermarking authority, are not cistophoric since they bear no cista.  The bow in case would become the reverse type of the cistophori, but it was already present on the reverse of the Philetaeri from the beginning of their production. Also, there is no perfect correspondence between the cities countermarking the Pamphylian tetradrachms and the one that would become cistophoric mints (Fig. 14).

Figure 14. Summary of the identifiable cistophoric countermarks from de Callataÿ 2013, Table 6.6.

Ephesus, the second cistophoric mint in the kingdom in order of importance, is almost absent from the list of the countermarking authorities, and so is Sardis. On the other hand, other cities (Sale, Stratonicea, Toriaion and Kormasa) that would not become cistophoric mints were included among the countermarking authorities.  While the host coins are variously dated between the last quarter of the third century and the first two decades of the second century BCE, Robert Bauslaugh dates the countermarking activity to the years 188–183 BCE and attributes it to the necessity of pushing into the Attalid monetary system the foreign currency resulting from the tribute imposed on Antiochus III by the Romans.

The historian Polybius (Histories 21.42) reports that, according to the Treaty of Apamea, the defeated Antiochus III was to pay  477 talents of “best silver coinage” to Eumenes II over the course of five years. In Bauslaugh’s words, the Pamphylian cities issuing the countermarked tetradrachms:

may have been mints over which Antiochus III retained nominal, if disputed, control after Apamea; but their silver coinages must, in any case, have been available to the Seleucids in substantial quantities, because these and other foreign coinages continuously passed into Seleucid territory.

p. 58

If Antiochus’ payment of this fine to Eumenes II began in 187, it ended in 183 BCE, then it corresponds to the likely period of countermarking. As Bauslaugh puts it: “the countermarks represent a device for placing foreign payments in circulation as they were dispersed to various cities” (p. 63). The 477 talents of Antiochus’ indemnity were thus mostly paid with the countermarked Pamphylian issues that, added to the actual production of the mint of the last Pergamene Alexanders, may come close to representing Pergamene expenditure immediately after Apamea.

In the decade after the treaty of Apamea, there was then no apparent need for yet another silver currency, especially a reduced-standard one like the cistophorus, which would have had a hard time circulating outside the boundaries of the Attalid kingdom. If Meadows is correct in arguing for the beginning of its production in the 160s BCE, then this coinage was created precisely when Roman policy in the East shifted towards a tighter control, as famously exemplified by the behavior of C. Popillius Laenas, who in 168 BCE famously ordered the new Seleucid king Antiochus IV to stop the hostilities against Egypt at once, under threat of a (possible) Roman intervention (Polybius, Histories 29.27) (Fig. 15).

Figure  15. Cilicia, Soli-Pompeiopolis. Silver Tetradrachm of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, 175–168 BCE. ANS 1973.113.1.

Tighter Roman control also resulted in Rhodes being deprived of the tax immunity for its harbor and of its rights over Caria (Polybius, Histories 30.31). In precisely the same years, the friendly relationship between the Romans and Eumenes began to falter.  In 169–168 BCE, Eumenes was accused of having had secret dealings with the rebel Macedonian king Perseus, who had just been defeated at the battle of Pydna (Polybius, Histories 29.6–9) (Figs. 16–17).

Figure 16. Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts. Perseus V of Macedonia surrenders to L. Aemilius Paullus. Painting by Jean-François Pierre Peyron (1802). Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.
Figure  17. Macedon, Silver Tetradrachm of Perseus, 178–168 BCE. ANS 1957.172.711.

As a consequence, the following year his brother Attalus was persuaded to appear before the Senate to discuss his seizure of the Pergamene throne and Eumenes himself, who had come to Italy in order to defend his position, was ordered to leave the country (Polybius, Histories 30.1–3). 

However, it seems apparent that the Romans were not trying to destroy the Attalid power, but probably just trying to avoid its excessive growth, which would have altered the power balance among client kings.  It is only this attempt to maintain the power balance in the region of Asia Minor that could ultimately explain why only a few years later, in 156/5 BCE, the Romans stopped the invasion of the Attalid kingdom at the hands of Prusias of Bithynia, but still left him on his throne (Appian, Mithridatic Wars 1.3).  Moreover, the 500 talents of indemnity that Prusias had to pay to the Attalids in 20 years were probably the bullion used to issue the so-called “wreathed tetradrachms”, issued between 154 and 135 BCE (Figs. 18–19).

Figure  18. Aeolis, Myrina. Silver “Wreathed” Tetradrachm, ca. 154–135 BCE. ANS 1944.100.44224. Bequest of E. T. Newell.
Figure  19. Aeolis, Aegae. Silver “Wreathed” Tetradrachm, ca. 154–135 BCE. ANS 1948.19.1167.

Kings in Asia Minor were thus permitted to exercise a considerable amount of autonomy, as long as they did not alter too much the status quo. The creation of the cistophorus should be understood in this particular light, as proof of the autonomy enjoyed by Eumenes II even in the context of tighter Roman control.

The cistophorus was above all an epichoric coinage, issued in order to enhance the cohesion of the Attalid kingdom. As Peter Thonemann rightly argued, Eumenes II was in no position to create a strictly vertical royal power, as his royal authority was entirely “exogenous,” granted by the Romans, as the king himself bluntly admitted. Eumenes was therefore in need of a more “horizontal” consensus. Indeed, Attalid kings specifically sought civic approval, which must have represented one of the leading reasons for giving the cistophorus the appearance of a federal coinage, rather than a royal one. At the same time, the uniformity of the design, the sharing of some dies between different civic mints (Figs. 20–21) and the sheer volume of issues proves that the Attalids were the ones providing the bullion (Fig. 22).

Figure 20. Phrygia, Apamea. Silver Cistophorus, 150–140 BCE. Obv. Cista mystica with half-open lid, from which a serpent issues to r.; all within ivy wreath. Rev. Two coiled serpents with heads erect; between them an ornamented bow-case with strap at r. On l., monogram (ECC, p. 91, series 21); on r. Dioscurus cap surmounted by star. ECC, p. 91, series 21, dies 24-I (same obverse die as Pergamum 46). 29.3 mm. 12.48 g. ANS 2015.20.1788. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure  21. Mysia, Pergamum. Silver cistophorus, 150–140 BCE. ANS 1965.70.1 (same obverse dies as Apamea 24).
Figure 22. Comparisons between the coinages issued by the Attalids with the late cistophori (ca.133–67 BCE) and Athens (ca.180–45 BCE) from de Callataÿ 2013, Table 6.12.

The cistophorus presented in Fig. 23 probably bears an ethnic of Apamea recut to Pergamum, even if Thomas Drew-Bear and Gorges Le Rider attributed this ethnic to the Mysian city of Praepenissus.

Figure 23. Phrygia, Apamea (recut to Pergamum?). Silver Cistophorus, 166–160 BCE. Obv. Cysta mystica with half-open lid, from which a serpent issues to r.; all within ivy wreath. Rev. Two coiled serpents with heads erect; between them an ornamented bow-case with strap at r.; to l., monogram (see Kleiner 1980, Apamea recut to Pergamum); on r. dolphin downward. ECC (cf. p. 86, series 2. Also ECC Pergamum series 3). 27.1 mm. 12.67 g. ANS 2015.20.1487. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.

In addition, cistophori not only enhanced the prestige of cities with a consistent numismatic past, but were also struck by cities that had never struck coinage before, such as the cities of Dionysopolis, Dioshieron, and perhaps Lysias and Blaundus (Figs. 24–26).

Figure 24. Phrygia, Dionysopolis. Silver Cistophorus, 160–150 BCE. Obv. Cysta mystica with half-open lid, from which a serpent issues to r.; all within ivy wreath. Rev. Two coiled serpents with heads erect; between them an ornamented bow-case with strap at r.; to l., monogram (cf. ECC, p. 79, series 6, 10); to r., sword in sheath, horizontal. ECC, p. 79, series 6, 10. 28 mm. 12.57 g. Solidus Numismatik 71, January 26, 2021, lot 76.
Figure  25. Lydia, Dioshieron. Silver Cistophorus, 166–133 BCE. ANS 1944.100.37595. Bequest of E. T. Newell.
Figure 26. Lydia, Blaundus? Silver Cistophorus, ca. 160–150 BCE. Obv. Cista mystica with serpent; all within ivy wreath. Rev. Bow-case with serpents; BA to the left, EY and a star to the right, AP lower left. ECC (cf. series 7 o.d. 9). 28 mm. 12.59 g. CNG MBS 57, April 4, 2001, lot 425.

The cistophorus thus aimed at enhancing the geographical and political cohesion of the Attalid kingdom by establishing new cistophoric mints in previously under-monetized rural areas and, at the same time, by enhancing the civic role in the production of these coins through its formal civic appearance. This is to be expected of an epichoric coinage, and the eminently local function is also confirmed by its very limited circulation.

The 150s BC, however, marked a turning point in the monetary relations between the Romans and the Attalids. Macedonian mines were reopened in 158 BC, and at the same time cistophoric overstrikes on Macedonian and Thasian coins began to appear. The overstrikes appear on only two Ephesian issues, dated between 150 and 139 BCE, and one Tralles issue, dated between 155 and 145 BCE (Figs. 27–29).

Figure 27. Ionia, Ephesus. Silver cistophorus, 140–139 BCE. ANS 2015.20.1273. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke. Overstruck on a Macedonian tetradrachm of the First Meris.
Figure 28. Ionia, Ephesus. Silver cistophorus, ca. 150–140 BCE. Obv. Cista mystica with serpent; all within ivy wreath. Rev. EΦE, bow-case with serpents; bee to left, serpent on cista to right. ECC, p. 34, series 28. 29 mm. 12.49 g. CNG Triton VII, January 12, 2004, lot 233. Overstruck on a Macedonian tetradrachm of the First Meris.
Figure 29. Lydia, Tralles. Silver cistophorus, 155–145 BCE. Obv. Cista mystica with serpent; all within ivy wreath. Rev. Bow-case with serpents; filleted tripod to the right. ECC, p. 67, series 23. 30 mm. 12.69 g. CNG MBS 57, April 4, 2001, lot 440. Overstruck on a Macedonian tetradrachm of the First Meris.

The coins on which the cistophori were overstruck came from the Macedonian First Meris and Thasos, coinages which were almost absent from the circulation pool of the Attalid kingdom. Their presence in the Attalid kingdom could be explained by an external power coordinating this movement of coinage, probably to be identified with the Romans.

Thus, the cistophorus was initially created as an epichoric coinage, which functioned to strengthen the internal cohesion of the Attalid state. However, Roman involvement in cistophoric production began very early, in the mid-150s BC, well before the kingdom was bequeathed to them by Attalus III in 133 BC. This involvement consisted not only of a sort of indirect control over the conflicts in Asia Minor (as testified by the end of the war between Prusias and the Attalids with the subsequent indemnity), but also of the direct provision of at least part of the bullion used for the cistophori (as proven by the overstrikes).

When Being a Friend of Rome (philorhomaios) Makes you a King (or a Queen)

In the winter of 88 BCE, the proconsul C. Cassius found himself in a little bit of a bind. Earlier that year, Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus, had invaded the Roman province of Asia (modern Turkey) and killed more than 80,000 Italians residing there (Figs. 1–3).

Figure 1. Roman Asia Minor.
Figure 2. Bust of Mithridates VI Eupator Dionysius, king of Pontus and Armenia Minor in northern Anatolia (c. 120–63 BCE). First century CE. Louvre, Paris.
Figure 3. Silver tetradrachm of Pontus, 120–63 BCE. ANS 1972.184.14.

The Pontic king had then swiftly invaded the rest of the Province of Asia, while important cities like the Phrygian Laodicea willingly handed over Roman generals to Mithridates (Fig. 4, Appian, Mithridatic Wars 4.20).

Figure 4. A colonnaded street in the Phrygian city of Laodicea ad Lycum.

C. Cassius and his troops, barricaded in the neighboring city of Apamea, were about to face a difficult winter, since the enemy armies had cut off their supply lines. Then—right when it was needed most—an exceedingly rich man from the Lydian town of Nysa, Chaeremon son of Pythodorus, asked for a private audience from Cassius. Their meeting had game-changing effects for Cassius and his men, as the proconsul himself later wrote in a letter to the magistrates of Nysa. Chaeremon offered to send 60,000 modii of wheat flour to the Roman camp for free. In order to understand the enormity of Chaeremon’s gift, it is important to note that 60,000 modii of wheat corresponded to 633,800 pounds of wheat, which was enough to feed 5,300 men for two months. Thanks to Chaeremon, C. Cassius’ army had enough to survive through the winter. However, this was not enough to stem Mithridates’ triumphal advance into the province early in the following year.

The Pontic king did not take Chaeremon’s initiative lightly, as made evident by the letter he wrote to one of his lieutenants, the satrap Leonippus, where he offered 40 talents of silver to “anyone who apprehends Chaeremon or Pythodorus or Pythion living” or 20 talents to anyone bringing in the head of any of these.” A talent was the equivalent of ca. 100 pounds of silver, which implies that Mithridates was willing to pay a bounty in the enormous amount of 4,000 pounds of silver for Chaeremon’s family.

The wealthy Nysan was thus compelled to flee in order to save his and his sons’ lives. His sons, Pythodorus and Pythion, were sent to Rhodes along with Cassius, and Chaeremon himself took refuge in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. However, Chaeremon seems to have survived the ordeal. An eponymous magistrate by the name of “Chae()” appears on a Nysan cistophoric didrachm at an uncertain date between 90/89 and 68/67 BCE (Fig. 5). Though incomplete, this name suggests not only Chaeremon’s return to his city, but also the fact that he had retained his social rank and possibly his wealth, as he was serving as a moneyer for the city.

Figure 5. Lydia, Nysa. Silver Drachm, 90–67 BCE. Obv. Bunch of grapes on field of oak leaves. XAI. Rev. Club and lion skin surrounded by wreath. Paris, SNG Delepierre 2796. 17 mm. 2.42 g.

Much more certain is the presence in Nysa of the younger son of Chaeremon, Pythion. As suggested by P. Thonemann (esp. pp. 206–08) and W. Metcalf, he should be identified with the ΠΥΘΙΩΝ /ΧΑΙΡΕ, who signed a Nysan cistophorus dated to the sixteenth year of the Nysan Era, i.e., around 74/73 BCE (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Silver cistophorus, Nysa, 68–67 BCE. ANS 2015.20.1344.

Chaeremon’s older son, Pythodorus, relocated in Tralles, where he retained his father’s fortune, which was valued by Strabo (14.1.42) at 2,000 talents. The Roman orator’s Cicero (In Favor of Flaccus 52) unsurprisingly considers Pythodorus one of the richest men in Tralles.

He married Antonia, only known from an inscription from Smyrna, where she is defined as a benefactress of the city. Some scholars have suggested she was the daughter of the triumvir Mark Antony and his second wife Antonia Hybrida Minor, but without any substantial proof. Antonia’s Roman nomen, and the citizenship possessed and exploited by her descendants, must have derived from a citizenship grant by Antonius, who bestowed Roman citizenship to several of his supporters in Asia after the end of the Parthian War. The loyalty of this family to the Romans was thus key to its success, as it will become even clearer for the following generations (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. The descendants of Chaeremon of Nysa and Zeno of Laodicea. Thonemann 2011, p. 207.

One of Pythodorus’ sons, Chaeremon, owner of an estate named Siderous in the vicinity of Tralles, was instrumental in getting much-needed help for Tralles after the devastating earthquake of 26 BCE. Through a personal embassy to Augustus, he secured funds for the reconstruction of the city that from that moment on added “Caesarea” to the city’s name in order to commemorate the generosity of the Emperor (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. Bronze Coin of Augustus, Tralles, 27 BCE–CE 14. ANS 2008.24.6.

Another of Pythodorus’ offspring, his daughter Pythodoris, married the Laodicean Polemon, son of Zeno. Polemo and his father, the orator Zeno, had risen to Roman favor in the summer of 40 BCE, when they defended Laodicea, their city, from the Parthian army, led by the renegade Roman general Labienus (Fig. 9, Strabo 14.2.24).

Figure 9. Uncertain mint in Syria or southeastern Asia Minor. Quintus Labienus, early 40 BCE. Silver Denarius. Obv. Q • LABIENVS PARTHICVS • IMP. Bare head of Q. Labienus r. Rev. Parthian horse standing right on ground line, wearing saddle with quiver attached and bridle. RRC 524/2; Hersh 15 (dies F/13). BNF REP-5739. 18 mm. 3.77 g.

Whether their attempt was successful or not, Mark Antony, on the eve of the reconquest of the province at the hands of the Romans in 39 BCE, established Polemo as tetrarch in Lycaonia and Rough Cilicia. In 37 or 36 BCE Polemo became king of Pontus (Appian, Civil Wars 5.75), a position he retained until his death in 8 BCE (Fig. 10).

Figure 10. Silver drachm of Polemon I of Pontus, Pontus, 36–8 BCE. ANS 1944.100.41481.

The marriage of Pythodoris and Polemo was intended to unite two of the leading pro-Roman families of the province of Asia: the descendants of Chaeremon of Nysa and the Zenonids of Laodicea. The joint destinies of these two families of philorhomaioi, “friends of Rome,” led to the birth of a number of client kings who would rule the Roman East under the Julio-Claudian emperors. The political success of their union is demonstrated by the fact that two of their three children would come to rule kingdoms in their own right. Pythodoris herself, after Polemo’s death, married king Archelaus of Cappadocia (Fig. 11).

Figure 11. Silver drachm of Archelaus of Cappadocia, Cappadocia, 36–17 BCE. ANS 1944.100.62416.

After Archelaus’ death in CE 17 she returned to Pontus, where she ruled until her death in CE 38. Her coinage adopted the Augustean Capricorn on the reverse, giving visual evidence to the clientele relationship between Roman Empire and Pontus (Fig. 12).

Figure 12. Silver drachm of Pythodoris of Pontus, Pontus, 8 BCE–CE 23. ANS 1944.100.41482.

Pythodoris’ eldest son, Zeno, later known as Artaxias III (CE 18–34), was made king of Armenia by Germanicus (Tacitus, Annals 2.56). His coronation is represented on silver coins from Caesarea in Cappadocia bearing the portrait of Germanicus on the obverse, and on the reverse Germanicus crowning Artaxias. These coins might have been issued at the same time of  coronation of Zeno Artaxias or as late as the reign of the Emperor Claudius (CE 41–54) (Fig. 13).

Figure 13. Cappadocia, Caesarea. Silver didrachm, CE 43–48. Obv. GERMANICVS · CAESAR – TI · AVG · F · COS · II. Head of Germanicus r.  Rev.  GERMANICVS / ARTAXIAS. Germanicus standing l. and holding scepter crowns the Armenian king Artaxias. RPC 3629. Künker 153, 14 March 2009, 8623. 21 mm. 7.47 g.

Independently of their precise date of production, it is evident that the central theme is the clientele relationship between Zeno Artaxias and Roman power, further highlighted by local monetary production, where the emperors Tiberius and Livia (Julia) are invoked as “Imperial Gods” (Fig. 14).

Figure 14. Armenia, Artaxata, RY 4 (21/22 CE). King Artaxias III (CE 18–34). AE tetrachalkon. Obv. ΘΕΟΙC CΕΒΑCΤΟΙC ΚΑΙCΑΡΙ ΚΑΙ ΙΟΥΛIΑ. Armenian tiara with five peaks l., star on r., Δ below. Rev. BAC APTAΞIOY TOY ЄB B ΠΟΛЄ KAI ΠYΘOΔωΡΙ. Horse prancing l. beaded border. Leu Numismatik 14, 12 December 2020, 533. 22 mm. 12.95 g.

Polemo and Pythodoris’ daughter, Antonia Tryphaena, married Kotys VIII of Thrace, and bore him three sons who also became kings in turn: C. Iulius Polemo II of Pontus, Rhoemetalces II of Thrace, and Kotys IX of Lesser Armenia. Although she was never queen of Pontus, she is styled as queen on some of the issues struck by her son Polemo II (Fig. 15).

Figure 15. Pontus, Amisus? Polemo II, with AntoniaTryphaena (ca. CE 38–64). Silver drachm, dated RY 14 (AD 51/2). Obv. [BACIΛEΩC] ΠOΛEMΩ-NOC, diademed head right. Rev. Diademed and draped bust of Tryphaina right; ETOYC IΔ (date) around. RPC I 3825. CNG Triton XVII, 7 January 2014, 245. 17 mm. 3.47 g.

Once again, the dependence of these client kings’ power from Rome is made evident by the fact that the imperial portrait takes the obverse, while the jugate portraits of the king and queen (Rhoemetalces II and Pythodoris II) are placed on the reverse (Fig. 16).

Figure 16. Bronze dupondius of Rhoemetalces I, Thrace, 11 BCE–CE 12. ANS 2015.20.2647.

The third child of Polemo I and Pythodoris, M. Antonius Polemo, never became king and stayed in Laodicea, where he was presumably responsible for the production of a bronze issue in the name of Antonius Polemo philopatris around 5 BCE (Fig. 17). 

Figure 17. Phrygia, Laodicea ad Lycum. M. Antonius Polemon Philopatris, ca. 5 BCE. Obv. ΓAIOΣ KAIΣAP. Bare head of Caius to right. Rev. ΛΑΟΔΙΚΕΩΝ. Eagle standing front, wings spread and head to left, between monograms of ΠΟΛΕ and ΦΙΛΟΠΑΤ. RPC I 2900. Leu Numismatik 7, 24 October 2020, 1463. 16 mm. 2.55 g.

The historian Strabo (12.3.29) tells us that “as a private citizen, [he] was assisting his mother [Pythodoris] in the administration of her realm.” However, royal power passed on to one of his sons, M. Antonius Polemo, who became dynast of Cilicia at time of the emperor Gaius (Caligula) (Fig. 18).

Figure 18. Cilicia, Olba. M. Antonius Polemo, high priest. Bronze, dated year 10 (AD 27/28).Obv. Bare head of Marcus Antonius Polemo right. Rev. Winged thunderbolt; Є I (date) below. Staffieri, Olba 30. RPC I 3736. CNG E-Auction 460, 29 January 2020, 411. 23.5 mm. 13.30 g.

The success of these two families, who ascended from the rank of local notables to client kings (and queens) under the Julio-Claudians, shows how advantageous the friendship to Rome was for provincial elites. Their support to Roman provincial power during the momentous years of the Mithridatic Wars first and of the Parthian campaign later made them the ideal candidates to the new dynasties put by the Romans on the thrones of strategically important kingdoms in the outskirts of the Empire. At the same time, it reveals the inclusivity of the provincial organization of the Roman East in the first century of the Roman Empire, when well-off provincial families could aspire and obtain dynastic power simply on the basis of their good services to Rome.

Images of Egyptian Gods on Coins

With its range of hawk-headed and half-mummified deities, the Egyptian pantheon has inspired devotion and intrigue for millennia. Egyptians were drawing, painting, and carving images of their gods well before the first pharaohs, over five thousand years ago. While coined money was not a regular part of the Egyptian economy until the third century BCE, Egyptian religious symbols featured on even the earliest coins. The gods of Egypt and their associated iconographies continued to be seen on the coins of Hellenistic kingdoms and throughout the Roman empire, until as late as the fourth century CE.

The Egyptian god Khepri, for instance, features on some of the earliest coinage, albeit in an indirect way. Khepri is represented as a scarab, or dung beetle. The ancients projected the image of this dung-rolling insect onto the heavens and imagined Khepri as a divine beetle pushing the orb of the sun across the daytime sky. Amulets, seals, and signet rings were therefore often made in the shape of scarabs, sanctified by this holy conveyor of the sun (fig. 1).

Figure 1

The significance and popularity of scarab amulets across the Mediterranean were such that the Lydians and Ionian Greeks in the archaic period (7th–5th centuries BCE) were familiar with both genuine Egyptian scarabs and Egyptianizing “imitations” (Hogarth, p. 205-207). The scarab form translated naturally to the novel medium of coinage and scarabs are found on the obverses of several types of early electrum coins. These include a 1/48 stater in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (fig. 2) and a larger denomination now at the British Museum (fig. 3).

Figure 2
Figure 3

With the spread of Alexander the Great’s empire into Egypt and subsequent Ptolemic rulership, Egyptian religious symbols began to appear on Hellenistic royal coin issues. A ram’s head wearing a headdress is featured on gold staters and silver tetradrachms minted at Memphis, Price type numbers 3963 and 3964, respectively. A beautiful example of one of these staters in the collection of the ANS was discovered in a hoard outside of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, far from its origins in Egypt (fig. 4). 

Figure 4

The ram symbol is either Amun-Re, a principal sun god, or Khnum, a ram-headed creator and protector god, seen here in objects now at the Brooklyn Museum (fig. 5) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 6).

Figure 5
Figure 6

The headdress with corkscrew ram’s horns, a double feather, and central sun disk are common attributes of several gods, including the composite god Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, who had an important cult at Memphis (fig. 7). The headdress evoked divine kingship and pharaonic authority and Hellenistic kings sought to imbue themselves with this kind of power. Much later, an image of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris holding a scepter is shown on Roman Hadrianic coinage, perhaps invoking a similar claim to a divine right to rule (fig. 8).

Figure 7
Figure 8

Religious practices around the Mediterranean were dynamic. They reacted to and reflected shifting political realities. Different gods worshipped in different polities were occasionally equated and then worshiped as a unit. This process of merging—called syncretism—gave Egyptian gods new, multivalent qualities.

The gods Isis and Osiris are prime examples of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman religious syncretism. Egyptian mythology had it that Osiris was a primordial pharaoh who had been murdered and dismembered by his jealous brother. His wife, Isis, reassembled his body parts, which had been strewn along the Nile, and revived him. Thereafter, Osiris ruled over the underworld as king, further informing why Ptah-Sokar-Osiris is shown partially mummified on the coin above (fig. 8). After Isis resurrected Osiris, they had a son called Horus. After challenging his fratricidal uncle, Horus became the god of the living pharaoh and a sky god, usually shown as a hawk-headed man. These stories tied Osiris to kingship and death, and Isis to magic and motherhood.

When merged with Greco-Roman deities, Osiris and Isis became stock representatives of a host of “Egyptian” concepts: healing, mystical language, the afterlife, astrology, and the Nile, among others. The god Sarapis—a unique amalgam of Osiris, Greek Zeus and Hades, and a number of Egyptian solar deities—was consistently depicted on Roman coins (fig. 9). A bust of Serapis features on the reverse of a bronze AE2 of Constantine (fig. 10), a continuation of the same reverse type issued under Maximinus Daia at Alexandria (fig. 11). The related cults of Isis and Serapis became so popular that temples were dedicated to them on the Campus Martius in Rome.

Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 11

Instead of his avian iteration, Horus is often shown on Roman coins in his incarnation as a human child, a figure called Harpocrates. Harpocrates, as a god of children and secrecy, is shown making a shushing gesture on the reverse of a coin of Antoninus Pius (fig. 12). Isis holds Harpocrates on denarii of Septimius Severus (fig. 13) and they stand flanking two busts of other Egyptian divinities in bronze drachms of Trajan (fig 14).

Figure 12
Figure 13
Figure 14

Another Egyptian god of death showcased on Roman coins was the psychopomp Anubis. Anubis, who was shown in Egyptian art as a jackal-headed god, led the souls of the dead through the underworld and was invoked during the ritual preparation of physical bodies for burial. He is shown on a bronze AE4 of Constantine (fig. 15).

Figure 15

He is holding a caduceus—a symbol of Hermes, a psychopomp from the Greek tradition—and a sacred rattle from Egyptian rituals, called a sistrum. While the instrument was originally tied to the Egyptian fertility goddess Hathor, Hathor was frequently assimilated to Isis, even in Egypt (fig. 16). Ultimately, sistra became catch-all visual cues for the land of Egypt itself and a symbol of the personification of Egypt, Aegyptos. Aegyptos is shown resembling Isis on a denarius of Hadrian, reclined and shaking a sistrum (fig. 17).

Figure 16
Figure 17

The thousand years of Egyptian religious imagery on coins continued an already thousands-of-years old artistic tradition. Over the centuries, these symbols bore various meanings for different communities at different times. They were used by issuing authorities to display piety and power, as well as to simply reflect popular forms. From Khepri to Isis to Aegyptos herself, there is a lot more to learn about Egypt’s myths and symbols and how they were engaged with at different points in antiquity. The gods of Egypt, on these coins and elsewhere, continue to raise interesting and important questions about how symbolism and syncretism function in religion and in art.