Tag Archives: cistophori

Financing Sulla’s Reconquest of Italy (Pt. II)

Fig. 1. Athens. New Style tetradrachm with monogram interpreted as ΜΑΡΚΟΥ (Lucullus)/ ΤΑΜΙΟΥ. Thompson 1313. ANS 2015.20.871 (bequest of R. B. Witschonke).

The second part of this post on the means used by Sulla to finance his campaign in Italy will deal with the coinages issued in the Eastern provinces after the end of the First Mithridatic War, choosing as a case study the “trophies” Athenian New Style tetradrachms and the cistophori from the Province of Asia.

Fig. 2. Athens. New Style tetradrachm with trophies. Thompson 1343. ANS 2015.20.881 (bequest of R. B. Witschonke).

For what concerns Greece, Plutarch (Life of Lucullus 2.2) clearly states that the presence of Sulla and Lucullus during the First Mithridatic War led to a heightened production of local silver coinages.  Military needs, i.e., the need to pay the armies involved in the war against the Pontic king, caused this steep increase in the volume of local issues (Apostolou and Doyen 2017, esp. pp. 399–403). The connection is especially clear in the case of Athens, where the production of Athenian New Style tetradrachms (Thompson 1961, pp. 425–439)  was greatly heightened in the year leading up to the battles of Chaeronea and Orchomenus. While the Romans are likely to have manipulated the Athenian coinage on previous occasions, there is a general consensus that the Romans were directly responsible for 1) the so-called “Lucullan” issues with the two monograms usually read as ΜΑΡΚΟΥ (Lucullus)/ ΤΑΜΙΟΥ. 2) the so-called “trophies issues” (Figs. 1–2).

Fig. 3. Engraving of a marble bust traditionally said to be Lucullus. Hermitage Museum.

The “Lucullan” (Fig. 3) issues, characterized by a higher number of observed dies than any other year before 87–86 BCE, have as a terminus ante quem the battle of Chaeronea in 86 BCE, as these coins were likely intended to finance the military effort against Mithridates.

Fig. 4. Athenian issues struck for Rome. Callataÿ 2016, Table 4.

On the other hand (Fig. 4), the general consensus is that the issue with the two trophies should be dated after Chaeronea, because their reverse type commemorates either the two victories of Orchomenus and Chaeronea over the Pontic king or the two trophies erected by Sulla after Chaeronea, as I have already suggested on the basis of the analogous types used for RRC 359/2 in the first part of this post (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Production estimates of Athenian issues struck for Rome (86–84 BCE). Compare the Esty estimate of 29.5 tetradrachm obverse dies with the 31.9 tetradrachm obverse dies in Callataÿ 2016.

Caution is indeed needed for these estimates since the Esty coverage for these issues is quite low (37.5%). However, the figures in this slide are very close to Callataÿ’s calculations, so this could provide some support to these estimates, in spite of the caution elicited by the small sample.

While the “Lucullan” issues of Athenian-like tetradrachms were probably instrumental to the financing of Roman armies in the course of the First Mithridatic War, the later issue of the “two trophies” tetradrachms could have financed Sulla’s campaigns in Italy or even provided the bullion for Sulla’s issues of denarii.

Since one Attic-weight drachm is conventionally considered equivalent to a denarius, this issue of Athenian-like tetradrachms was produced from 118 denarius-equivalent obverse dies, roughly one-third of the number of dies estimated for RRC 359/2. The similarities in reverse types and production techniques (i.e., die orientation, cf. Part I) between the “two trophies” tetradrachms and RRC 359/2 suggest that these two issues—while differing in relative importance—represented an important source of financing for the Sullan campaigns in Italy.

Fig. 6. Ephesus, Amphitheater at Ephesus archaeological site, with harbor street in the background. Ephesus was one of the Asian cities that took part in the massacre of the Italians and Roman citizens in the wake of the Mithridatic Wars.

For what concerns the Province of Asia, Plutarch vividly describes the aftermath of the First Mithridatic War, after the hasty conclusion of the peace of Dardanus in 85 BCE. After Mithridates’ defeat, Sulla imposed on the Greek cities of Asia Minor (Fig. 6) an indemnity of 20,000 talents. The Plutarchean text also suggests that Lucullus was directly entrusted with the collection of the extraordinary tributes and fines imposed on Asia. This certainly had to do not only with the unusual nature (and amount) of the fines imposed but with extraordinary circumstances, because the societates publicanorum—not military authorities like Lucullus—were entrusted with the exaction of Asian taxes since at least the 120s BCE. The reason for the remarkable absence of the publicani from this process finds a plausible explanation with their lack of human resources after the losses suffered after the outbreak of the Mithridatic War (Appian, Mithridatic Wars 5.22).  One thinks in particular of the Asian Vespers in 88 BCE in which some 80,000 (or more!) Romans are said to have been killed

Fig. 7. A tax-collector, possibly acting on behalf of a societas publicanorum. Funerary tomb relief from Gaul, early second century AD.

The losses suffered by the societates publicanorum in Asia thus enabled Sulla, through his lieutenant Lucullus, to have direct access to the wealth gathered from Asia, with a limited opportunity for Rome to take advantage of it (Fig. 7).

Fig. 8. Lydia, Tralles. Cistophoric tetradrachm (95–90 BC). Carbone 2020 issue XXV.1. 27 mm. 12.55 g. ANS 2015.20.1784 (bequest of R. B. Witschonke).

Plutarch clearly states that Lucullus was actually ordered to strike coins in Asia. Since cistophori were the silver currency overwhelmingly produced and circulating in the province up to the 40s BCE, it can be inferred that the coinage struck by Lucullus were indeed cistophori (Fig. 8). Their production shows a clear increase in the years between the end of the First Mithridatic War and the end of Lucullus’ praetura in 81-80 BCE, as clearly shown by Figs. 9 and 10

Fig. 9. Increase in the Ephesian cistophoric output after the Peace of Dardanus (85 BCE). Callataÿ 1997, p. 178.
Fig. 10. Increase in the Trallian cistophoric output after the Peace of Dardanus (85 BCE). Carbone 2020, p. 219 figure 11.1.

Such an increase was probably caused by the necessity of paying the extraordinary tribute and there seems to be a correlation between the return of Lucullus to Italy in 80 BCE and the decrease in the production of coinage in Asia.

Fig. 11. Lydia, Tralles. Cistophoric tetradrachm (83–84 BC). Carbone 2020 issue XXXIV; 24 mm. 12.54 g. ANS 2015.20.1460 (bequest of R. B. Witschonke). This cistophorus bears the Sullan Era, which is considered to have begun right after the Peace of Dardanus (85 BC).

The presence of a Sullan Era (Year 1: 85/84 BCE, right after Dardanus, Fig. 11) on Tralles’ cistophori and the spike in their production in the years right after the Peace of Dardanus provides a further hint in the direction of a correlation between coinage and Sulla’s demands.

Fig. 12. Calculation of cistophoric production in Asia based on Carbone 2020, p. 227 table 12.2.

Based on the data presented in Hidden Power, this table (Fig. 12) presents the estimate of the cistophoric production of the whole of provincia Asia in the years 85/84–82/81, which are the years between the Peace of Dardanus and the celebration of Sulla’s triumph in 81 BCE. It shows that cistophori were issued in the enormous amount of 202.7 tetradrachm obverse dies between 85 and 81 BCE.  This amount roughly corresponds to 12,162,300 denarii, i.e., 608 denarii-equivalent obverse dies.

Building upon the data that have just been presented, it is possible to estimate that in the years between the end of the First Mithridatic War and his final triumph in 81 BCE, the mint of Athens and the province of Asia delivered in Sulla’s hands coined silver in the amount of 14,520,000 denarii.  The silver coinage issued in Athens and in Asia in the crucial years between Chaeronea and the final triumph of Sulla was thus in quantities equivalent to the Sullan Roman Republican issues, as calculated in the first part of this post.

Moreover, coined silver in Asia corresponded to 2,027.05 talents, only one-tenth of the 20,000 talents extracted by Lucullus on behalf of Sulla. The lavish description of Sulla’s triumph in 81 BCE offered by Plutarch suggests that the dictator had access to enormous resources and the quantitative analyses presented up to now confirm this scenario. Sulla’s resources, both in terms of coined silver and bullion, were thus more than adequate to finance his armies, even if the volume of Sullan issues was not comparable to the one produced by the college of moneyers of 82/83 BCE.

While only metallurgical analyses will hopefully allow to settle the question in definitive way, the quantitative analyses pursued here made the Eastern provenance of the bullion used for the Sullan issues very likely. In sum, M. H. Crawford was right when he suggested that RRC 359/2 (and possibly the other issued analyzed here) “were made with metal from the Greek world, presumably in large measure melted down booty” (p. 124).   The bullion to produce these coinages did indeed come from the East, and it was further integrated by silver coinages produced in Athens and in Asia. 

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.

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).

Cistophoric Mysteries of Laodiceia-ad-Lycum



Gregory Callaghan is a PhD Candidate in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Kolb Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Greg has a wide range of research interests, including Roman Republican politics and the evolution of Athenian democratic institutions. His main focus, however, is the international relations of the Hellenistic Period. His dissertation applies IR theories of status hierarchy and regional powers to the growth of the Attalid kingdom, examining Attalid foreign benefactions through epigraphy and archaeology.

One of the traditional lectures of the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics is entitled “Cistophoric Mysteries.” It is an apt name for a lecture dedicated to the cistophoric coinage of Asia Minor. Known as one of the ugliest coins ever produced, the cistophorus was introduced by the Attalid dynasty on a reduced silver standard, somewhere between 190 and 160 BCE. And that is more or less all that we agree on, with the exact date of its introduction, its nature of production, and to what degree it was a closed currency system still debated. But if we still scratch our heads at the nature of the early cistophoric coinage, this is nothing compared to our ignorance of the late cistophoric coinage. From ca. 105–60 BCE, a generation after the end of the Attalid dynasty, several Anatolian mints issued a second series of cistophoric coinage, which was followed by issues produced by these same mints under the direction of Roman magistrates. It is only now that these later issues of cistophori have begun to receive the scholarly attention they deserve. Helped in particular by the generous bequeathal of Rick Witschonke’s collection of cistophori to the ANS—undoubtedly the finest single collection of the coins in the world—Lucia Carbone and William Metcalf have forthcoming studies that investigate the late cistophori of Tralles and the Proconsular Cistophori, respectively.

Silver Cistophorus of Laodiceia-ad-Lycum, ca. 88–60s BCE (ANS 1944.100.37599).

My project for the graduate seminar picks up on these recent studies by examining the late cistophori of Laodiceia-ad-Lycum. This city is described by Strabo as one of the two great cities of Phrygia, along with Apameia—another late cistophoric mint. Hoard evidence suggests that it began minting cistophori around 90 BCE, and continued into the 60s BCE, when the mint switched from seemingly civic issues to issues stamped with the authority of the Roman proconsuls. My die study of the coinage shows that the mint had a stable output of cistophori through both periods of production. This may seem unremarkable, until we place this in a greater context, both chronologically and geographically. Under the Attalids, Laodiceia produced only 4 identified obverse dies, less than 2% of total cistophoric production. Yet it produced 46 identified obverse dies in the late cistophoric period. Furthermore, in the period of late cistophoric production, Laodiceia produced less than 10% of the total cistophori minted in the province, but it produced over 20% of the proconsular cistophori.

Proconsular Cistophorus of Laodiceia-ad-Lycum, ca. 58–49 BCE (ANS 1944.100.37600).

These substantial changes between periods of production need be explained. Until we have more complete studies of all the mints of the late cistophoric period, we can do little more than speculate. But it seems that around 90 BCE, something occurred at the local level that resulted in Laodiceia springing from a mint hardly worth mentioning, to one producing at the level of its more established neighbor, Apameia. In the decades that followed, as we become more certain of Roman oversight, it is clear that a Roman provincial policy developed that maintained the cistophoric production of Laodiceia, while dramatically cutting the production of other mints. My study of Laodiceia can do little more than draw attention to the existence of these situations, and cannot pinpoint the explanation behind them, but it does provide an important piece of the puzzle that I hope can be completed with the addition of further pieces as more of the late cistophoric mints are subjected to similar scrutiny.