All 46 entries tagged Coin Of The Month
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March 01, 2017
When we imagine an ancient battlefield we envisage a landscape strewn with discarded weaponry and bones. However, battle sites also yield a wealth of numismatic evidence, which allow historians to speculate about the size, administration and movement of imperial forces.
Approximately 1500 Roman coins have been excavated from the soil of Kalkriese, where the German tribesman Arminius defeated three Roman legions led by the general Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Battle of Teutoberg Forest in AD 9 (Rost and Wilbers-Rost (2011) 119). This numismatic evidence has potential to shed light upon events at the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest, which is plagued by uncertainties ranging from the location that the battle itself to exactly how many men Varus had on the march and the administration of the imperial army in the early imperial period.
A wide range of imperial currency has been found. These coins include a small number of gold aurei and quinarii excavators believe fell from a single purse, and more than seven hundred silver coins, which played an important role as the ‘vehicle’ of military pay (Howgego (1985) 20). Alongside these precious metal coinages, large quantities of low-denomination bronze and copper coins have been uncovered. Legions used great quantities of bronze and copper coinage to make day-to-day transactions, and the important role of low-denomination coins to the military economy is demonstrated by the volume and unique character of copper issues found in Kalkriese. Most are imperial issues of the second 'Altar' series, which were produced by the mint at Lugdunum between AD 2-4. The proliferation of a particular series is striking, and invites speculation about the provision of currency to the legions in the early imperial period. Though the mechanisms through which imperial coins reached the army are uncertain, evidence of consignments of coinage being sent to legions can be found throughout the literary and material record and the prevalence of a single series suggests that similar processes have occurred here (Caesar BC 3, 103, 1; Robertson (1968) 61-6; Howgego (1985) 21).
This assemblage of copper coins is also distinguished by the high proportion countermarks, which appear upon 96% of issues (Berger 1996). During the imperial period, countermarks were not only applied to worn imperial coins or civic issues to make them acceptable to soldiers as pay or change, but were applied in order to systematically validate coins prior to their dissemination to the troops (Crawford (1985) 47). In the early years of Augustus' reign, the imperial titles IMP and AVG were used to identify legionary currency and to imbue them with clear allusions to imperial authority, as precursors to the legionary symbols or monograms that would come to be the customary countermarks applied to legionary currency. Three distinct countermarks appear upon the Lugdunum aes issues. Two, IMP (imperator) with the lituus symbol and AVC (Augustus) (shown below), are common imperial countermarks, which allude to Augustus and are quite ordinary symbols of imperial authority.
|AVC countermark on an aes of Augustus from Lugdunum.|
Varus' countermark as legate on the Rhine on an aes of
Augustus from Lugdunum.
The third countermark, however, appears to present an exception to this rule. It is the personal monogram of the general Publius Quinctilius Varus, who led forces on the Rhine as an imperial legate between AD 7-9. The countermark (shown above) contains the first three letters of the general’s name, VAR, in ligature, within a rectangular stamp, and was certainly applied to imperial bronzes at some point during Varus’ short tenure in Germany. This was not the first time Varus’ name had appeared on coinage. Varus had issued civic bronzes with his portrait while a proconsul of Africa and consular governor in Syria, an activity mirrored by consuls Volusius Saturninus and Fabius Africanus in Africa and Fabius Maximus, Cornelius Scipio and Asinius Gallus in Asia Minor (RPC 1 4535; Howgego (1982) 10) (shown below). He also led a coin reform in Antioch, issuing civic bronze in 7/6 BC and silver tetradrachms in 6/5 BC, during which his countermark- VAR in ligature- was applied to issues from Laodiceia (Syria), Gabala and Chalcis sub Libano circulating alongside new issues (Howgego Cmk 658-9; Howgego (1985) 3 and 7). The similarity between the countermark placed upon Syrian issues and the countermark that appeared upon the western bronze issued to legions stationed in the Rhine is striking (Howgego (1985) 3). However, while the economic function of the countermark placed on Syrian coins is evident, whether the monogram applied to legionary currency in the Rhine fulfilled the same function is worthy of debate.
|Varus' proconsular issue (RPC 4535).|
Can we attribute an ulterior motive to Varus’ use of his own name for the countermark? Although countermarks bearing the name and titulature of those in power were applied to bronze coins in legionary camps on the Rhine with regularity during the Julio-Claudian period, the events of the late Republic were evidence that the strong bonds of loyalty felt by soldiers for their commanding generals were encouraged and cemented through the distribution of pay and cash bonuses. Varus' monogram upon a piece of imperial coinage was a public statement of his role in the dissemination of payment and reward, and it is possible that it was used in place of IMP or AUG countermarks to encourage the personal loyalty of his legions.
Furthermore, the discovery of aes issues whose portraits of Augustus have been mysteriously disfigured by gouges and scratch-marks among the aes found at Kalkriese add a layer of uncertainty to the activities of Varus and the loyalty of his legions. Whether Roman legionaries or victorious Germans were the agents of this defacement is unknown. Though the first publication of these coins suggested that these slashes were administered by Roman troops dissatisfied with imperial authority (Berger (1996) 55), we should question whether soldiers would consider a silent act of disapproval worth the demonetisation of their coinage, and ask why they would carry defaced currency onto the battlefield, where a large portion has been found. Kemmers and Myberg suggest an alternative thesis- that the defacements were carried out by victorious Germans, who wished to destroy the image of the emperor on the obverse side and the image of the Altar at Lyon, where representatives from Gaul were required to pay annual obeisance to the cult of Roma and Augustus on the reverse (Kemmers and Myberg 98-99).
Though it is tempting to use the proliferation of Varus’ monogram and the defacement of the emperor’s image as evidence of shifting loyalties among Varus’ legions prior to the Battle of Teutoberg Forest, we must not be too quick to condemn Varus through such circumstantial evidence. There is no proof that these disfigurements were carried out by Roman legionaries, nor any suggestion that Varus was cultivating the loyalty of his men (despite accusations of embezzlement levelled by Velleius (II 117). Indeed, consular governors were permitted to authorise the production of coinage and to issue coinage that contained their name and image during Augustus’ reign. Varus, who already had proconsular coins and countermarked civic issues to his name when he assumed control of the legions on the Rhine, and had taken a strong interest in coinage and finance throughout his career, may have considered the act of countermarking his legionary coinage with a personal monogram a continuation of his early monetary activities. Without evidence to the contrary, we should consider his activities exemplary of the administrative freedom permitted to consuls and legates in the early years of the empire, rather than an attempt to court the loyalty of his legions. Though its seditious nature can be discarded, the precise character of Varus’ countermark remains one of the many mysteries of the Battle of Teutoberg Forest.
This month's coin entry was written by Charlotte Mann, a Masters student at the University of Warwick with a strong interest in numismatics. She is currently investigating the impact of imperial presences upon the provincial coinages.
Amandry, M, Burnett, A and Ripolles, P (2005) Roman Provincial Coinage Volume 1 (London: British Museum Press).
Berger, F. (1996). Kalkriese 1: Die römische Fundmünzen. Mainz, Verlag Philipp von Zabern.
Berger, F. (2000). Die Münzen von Kalkriese. Neufunde und Ausblick. In Die Fundmünzen von Kalkriese und die frühkaiserzeitliche Münzprägung. Akten des wissenschaftlichen Symposions in Kalkriese, 15.-16. April 1999. ed. R. Wiegels. Möhnesee, Bibliopolis: 11-45.
Crawford, M. (1985). Coinage and Money under the Roman Republic. Berkley: University of California Press.
Howgego, C (1982) ‘Coinage and Military Finance: the Imperial Bronze Coinage of the Augustan East’ in The Numismatic Chronicle v142 (1963) 1-20.
Howgego, C (1985) Greek Imperial Countermarks: Studies in the Provincial Coinage of the Roman Empire (London: Royal Numismatic Society).
Kemmers, F. and N. Myrberg (2011). Rethinking numismatics. The Archaeology of Coins. Archaeological Dialogues 18: 87-108.
AVG countermark: © The Trustees of the British Museum (1925,1007.8)
VAR Countermark: Reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Electronic Auction 116, lot 194) (www.cngcoins.com)
Varus' proconsular issue: Reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Auction 93, lot 990) (www.cngcoins.com)
February 01, 2017
In 1903 the Roman historian Michael Rostovtzeff published a catalogue of lead tokens entitled Tesserarum Urbis Romae et Suburbi Plumbearum Sylloge, "The Lead Tokens of the City of Rome and the Suburbs". Naturally, the presumption has been that this was a catalogue of tokens which were found (or known to be found) in Rome and its surrounds, but close examination of the tokens, and the catalogue itself reveals that this is not necessarily the case.
Lead token showing a lighthouse, with ANT on the other side.
22mm, Rostovtzeff 64. (Image from Coin Forums).
Rostovtzeff appears to have created the catalogue by consulting major museum holdings across Europe; many of the tokens illustrated in his plates, for example, are those held in the British Museum. And while some of these tokens may have come from Rome or its suburbs, we cannot presume this was the case, particularly when we know of other findspots. The lead token above, is known from several specimens listed by Rostovtzeff in museums in Rome. But one example was also found in Hadrumetum in North Africa. In fact, reading the Tesserarum Urbis Romae et Suburbi closely reveals the findpots of other tokens, some of which are very far from Rome indeed.
|Rostovtzeff no. 509|
no. 509: a token with Minerva or Roma on one side and the legend SAT on the other was found at Aquileia (an example is pictured right).
no. 863: a one sided token with what is probably Diana Lucifera and the legend SVB CVRA was found in what was likely a vill context in Frascati.
no. 1193: a token with the legend COR THAL on one side and the Three Graces on the other, was found at Lake Nemi.
no. 3119: a single sided token showing Venus was found at Smyrna.
Other references to Postolacca throughout the catalogue also suggest that some of the tokens included probably originate from Athens. Other tokens, which were found in the Tiber and published by Dressel in 1922, are noted by Rostovtzeff as "in Tiberi reperta" and can be securely associated with the city of Rome. We might then more properly see this catalogue as a list of tokens "from the Roman world".
This month's blog was written by Clare Rowan, an Assistant Professor in the department, and lead investigator of the EU-funded project Token Communities in the Ancient Mediterranean.
Dressel, H. (1922). Römische Bleimarken. Zeitschrift für Numismatik 33: 178-183.
Rostowzew, M. (1903). Tesserarum urbis romae et suburbi. St. Petersburg.
December 01, 2016
This minuscule silver coin was struck in Macedonia at all probability in Aigai, the ancient capital city of the Kingdom, late in the 5th century BC. It is an obol, a silver fraction, struck during Archelaus’ reign (413-399 BC). The types of the coin are worthy of careful examination since they shed light to the pursuits and exploits of the Macedonian kings as well as the ideology of their time.
During the 5th century BC the kingdom of Macedonia was slowly emerging from the periphery of the Classical world, gradually transforming into the dominant imperial state built by Alexander the Great. The circumstances that led to the beginnings of coinage in Macedonia and Thrace are hard to reconstruct. The tribes in the area of mount Pangaion and colonies of the city states of Southern Greece first produce coinage sometime late in the sixth century BC, the complex pattern of which presents many riddles to modern-day numismatists. Obviously the rich precious metal resources of the area, especially the mines of Mount Pangaion, played an important role. The tribute inflicted by the Persian king gave the impetus.
|Mount Pangaion (Wikimedia)|
After the retreat of the Persians the king of Macedon, Alexander I, the so-called Philhellene who had cleverly sided with the winners, established his position in the world of the Greek City States. According to Herodotus, Alexander simultaneously proclaimed his Greek and Macedonian connections. He also highlighted his (and his dynasty’s) glorious ancestry from the Temenids. As a result he was granted the right to participate in the Olympic Games (Herodotus 5.22.1-4 and 8.137-139). Thucydides confirms this (2.99.3). A dedicatory inscription to “Heracles of our fathers” (ΗΡΑΚΛΗΙ ΠΑΤΡΩΙΩΙ) found in the tholos of the Palace in Aigai also bears testimony to this legend. But it was only under Archelaus, Alexanders I’s grandson, that Heracles took his place on the obverse of the silver issues, a practice that it would become common for all his successors.
Alexander I’s regal coinage continued the preceding tribal coinages as far as weight, types and denominations were concerned. Major innovations were the use of two different coin standards for the octadrachms and the tetradrachms, and the use of heavy and light tetrobols that belonged to these two distinct weight systems. The obvious reason was the need to ensure interchangeability of the Macedonian regal coinage with the rest of the Greek currencies. The upheavals of Pediccas’ reign (451-413 BC), the son of Alexander I, had an impact on monetary policy. During his reign minting activity was restricted to the issue of heavy and light tetrobols.
It is under Archelaus (413-399 BC) that the Kingdom of Macedon was reorganised and its place in the Greek world consolidated. Roads and fortifications were built, the hoplite infantry was formed and the urban centres of an expanding middle class simultaneously exhibited civic identity, cohesion and loyalty. Artists from the rest of the Greek world, most prominent among them the architect Callimachus, the painter Zeuxis, and the Attic tragic poets Agathon and Euripides, moved to Macedonia and produced their works there, making Macedonia a flourishing centre of letters and the arts. Thucydides praised Archelaus as the king who had accomplished for Macedonia more than his eight predecessors taken together (2.100.2). Regarding his financial policy the weight standard was reduced, possibly due to a shortage from the mines. Bronze series were issued for the first time.
On the depicted obol struck under Archelaus Heracles is shown beardless and youthful. He wears the lion scalp and skin that refer to his first labour: The Nemean lion. Heracles, who is also to be found on the obverse of the staters, is here portrayed as the legendary ancestor of the dynasty. The dynasty of the Argeads claimed ancestry from the Temenids of Argos. Temenus was the great-great grandson of Heracles. Τhree brothers of his lineage moved from Argos to Macedonia and founded their kingdom there (Herodotus 8.137). The word Argeads derives from Argos and it should be remembered that in Homer ‘Argive Danaans’ is the collective designation for the Greeks.
The wolf of the reverse bears also connections to Argos. The wolf is closely related to the local cult of Apollo Lykeios and is deeply rooted in the mythological tradition of the city. A wolf as the badge of the city is carried on the obverse of all Argos’ coin series. A wolf was said to have attacked the herd of grazing oxes before the walls of Argos. The people of Argos thought it was an omen and gave power to Danaus because just like the wolf, Danaus had never before been with the Argeians but prevailed over the leader of the herd, who, just like the current king of Argos Gelanor, had to yield. Danaus erected a temple to Apollon Lykeios and dedicated a cult statue (Pausanias 2.19.3-4). Wolves were offered as sacrificial victims (schol. Soph. El. 6). The wolf though could refer also to the hunting as appropriate activity of the Macedonian king.
This month's coin was chosen and written by Mairi Gkikaki, a Greek archaeologist and a research fellow on the Project Token Communities in the Ancient Mediterranean. She is particularly interested in the financial and social aspects of Ancient Greek Coinage.
Hatzopoulos, M. B. (2011). Macedonians and other Greeks. In Lane Fox, R. J. (ed.) Brill’s Companion to Ancient Macedon: Studies in the History and Archaeology of Macedon 650 BC to 300 AD. Leiden; Boston: Brill. 51-78.
Kraay, C. M. (1975) Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. London.
Coin image reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., Mail Bid Sale 84 Lot 217 (https://www.cngcoins.com)
November 01, 2016
Antoninianus. RIC V 64
Obverse: IMP AVRELIANVS AVG. Radiate and cuirassed bust of Aurelian facing right.
Reverse: ORIENS AVG. Sol Invictus holding laurel-branch and bow, treading on fallen enemy.
Γ (mintmark) behind Sol, XXIR in exergue.
This is an antoninianus (a denomination theoretically worth 2 denarii) of Aurelian, who was emperor of the Roman Empire AD 270-275. It is worthy of study because of the sheer amount of information we can draw, in terms of military, economic and religious history, from this one type of coin.
We see that Aurelian wishes to be seen as a military figure; this is conveyed through his depiction on the obverse in armour and on the reverse the depiction of Sol treading down on an enemy. To properly understand the meaning of this imagery we have to consider the state of the empire as Aurelian comes to power. The empire has fragmented with Queen Zenobia ruling in the east out of Palmyra and Tetricus declared emperor in the West as part of the Gallic Empire (see map below). In AD 272 Queen Zenobia, who was in control of Egypt, cut off the grain supply to Rome. Aurelian responded by taking his army east and defeating her, regaining control over the eastern portion of the empire. In AD 273 he gained the title Restitutor Orientis (Restorer of the East) which he placed on his coinage (RIC V 140). In 274 after returning to Rome, Aurelian marched West, defeating Tetricus at the Battle of Chalons, reunifying the empire and gaining the title Restitutor Orbis (Restorer of the World). This coin type has a date range of AD 270-275. At the beginning of his rule, imagery of victory might have been associated by the average Roman citizen with Aurelian’s victory against the barbarians at Alemanni in northern Italy. In AD 275 this type of imagery might have been interpreted as representative of the victories that had reunified the empire (Zosimus 1.25). In this case the legend on the coin, ORIENS AVG, refers to the east, and suggests that the intended message was Aurelian’s successes in this region.
Map of the Roman World in AD 271
The economic history this coin reveals is also interesting. The radiate crown on Aurelian’s head is there to indicate that this is an antoninianus rather than a denarius. This denomination was introduced in AD 215 to combat a lack of silver. Its introduction may have helped generate the rampant inflation that led to the silver purity of the antoninianus crashing to just 3.79% by AD 270. This specific coin is an example of what followed: Aurelian reformed the coinage, motivated by a desire to restore some confidence in the currency and to curb inflation. We know this because the legend in the exergue of this coin reads ‘XXI’. This was a guarantee that 20 of these coins could be exchanged for one argenteus of pure silver (20:1, XX:I). The coins were promised to have 5% silver, although if we actually drilled into the coin we would probably only find a purity of 4.1%, due to surface leeching of silver over the years. Another part of Aurelian’s coinage reform was increasing the physical weight of the coinage; before the reform between 86-98 coins were made from each pound of billion (debased silver), following the reform this was lowered to a range of 81-90, giving a theoretical weight to each coin of 4.03g.
The religious history we can gain from this coin is the changed role of Sol in this period. No longer is he merely pictured in his traditional form with the whip or globe standing emollient. Now he appears with a traditional whip but also a bow, treading down the enemy, invoking the new cult of Sol Invictus in action, even if the legend is limited to ORIENS AVG (Rising (Sun) of the emperor). Coins were also produced with the legend SOLI INVICTO (Sol the Unconquerable) (RIC V 154). This represents a change in this period in the Rome pantheon, with the rise of Sol Invictus to a position of prominence. Aurelian’s victories are associated with Sol rather than Jupiter. There is scholarly debate over the exact nature of this cult, with the traditional view being Aurelian imported an eastern deity, but recent scholarship has challenged this, suggesting that the cult may have developed out of the traditional Graeco-Roman god Sol. The additional evidence for Sol Invictus taking greater prominence is Aurelian’s new temple built to Sol Invictus in Rome and the setting up of a new priestly college, pontifices dei solis. A final thought on the influence of Sol Invictus on our world today is his holy day, dies Invictus Natalis. This was placed on the 25th December and while it was an important day anyway within the Roman calendar, being the winter solstice, one is left to wonder whether the particular rise in the importance of that date due to Sol Invictus influenced early Christians in their decision to adopt this date as the birth date of Christ.
This month's coin was written by William Tait, Third year undergraduate in Ancient History and Classical Archaeology with a particular interest in the 3rd century AD and how coinage can improve our understanding of this period.'
Drinkwater, J.F. (1987), The Gallic Empire: Separatism and continuity in the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart.
Halsberghe, G. (1972), The cult of Sol Invictus, Leiden: Brill.
Hijmans, S. E. (1996), The Sun which did not rise in the East; the Cult of Sol Invictus in the Light of Non-Literary Evidence. Babesch 71: 115-150.
Southern, P. (2015) The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, Routledge, London.
Watson, A. (1999), Aurelian and Third Century, Routledge, London and New York.
Zosimus, New History, trans. T. Chaplin & W. Green (London: Green and Chaplin 1814)
Coin image reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Auction 88, lot 1399) (www.cngcoins.com)
October 04, 2016
Rulers whose legitimacy had been conferred upon them by the emperor, known as ‘client kings,’ occupied a unique position within the fractious constellation of warlords, high priests, dynasts and tribes that lay beyond the Roman Empire. For client kings, an association with the emperor to whom their title was owed formed an inalienable central tenant of their political identity. Many reflected this intersection between royal legitimacy and Roman imperialism through the production of coins that bore imperial portraits and iconography alongside images of local and dynastic significance.
|24mm Bronze coin struck by Agrippa I (Judea), c. AD 42/43|
One issue, a 24mm bronze piece (RPC 1 679) shown above, was struck by the Judean client king Agrippa I at the mint in Caesarea Maritima between AD 42/43, and countermarked by imperial forces during the Jewish revolt of AD 66 (GIC 156). It is an extraordinary coin, whose obverse side contains the unusual and seemingly seditious image of the client kings Agrippa I and Herod of Chalchis crowning the emperor Claudius with laurel wreaths, but whose reverse side received a countermark in the shape of an imperial head from the Roman administration marking it as currency for Roman legions during the first Judean Revolt. Together, obverse image and countermark present a twenty-year narrative of Judean client kingship, which illuminates how the Herodian client kings defined their power and position in the empire from AD 42 until AD 66 (Kropp 2013: 378).
Agrippa I had received the kingdoms of Judea and Samaria, and the confirmation of land granted by his childhood friend Caligula, during an audience with the emperor Claudius in AD 42 (AJ. 18.237; 19.274). The agreement was a great success for Agrippa, who returned to Caesarea as the king of territories that surpassed those of every other Herodian king (Kropp 2013: 378). The enormity of the grant was a testament to Agrippa’s personal relationship with members of the Julio-Claudian family, which had began when Agrippa was sent to live at the palace at the age of six and became a close friend of the emperor Gaius. Agrippa had also been present during Gaius’ assassination, and afterwards helped Claudius to overcome a hostile senate and secure his succession to the throne (BJ. 2.206-17; Dio. 60.8.2). This bronze piece was produced in the same year at Caesarea to commemorate the ratification of the foedus (treaty) that formally conferred Agrippa’s new kingdom. An excerpt from the agreement, ‘Sworn treaty of the great king Agrippa to Caesar Augustus, the Senate and the Roman people, his friendship and alliance,’ appeared in two concentric circles of Greek text upon the reverse side, which wrap around an image of two clasped hands. This was a very Roman coin type, which had been used to signify concord and agreement on Roman coins since the first century BC, and it was a particularly appropriate illustration for the treaty concluded between Rome and the Judean king who would place imperial imagery upon his royal coinage with frequency throughout his reign (Burnett 1987: 27-28; Kropp 2013: 386).
The obverse side depicts the emperor Claudius, standing with his toga drawn above his head and a sacrificial patera in hand, flanked by Agrippa I and his cousin Herod of Chalkis, who crown him with laurel wreaths. In isolation, this image might be interpreted as a conventional scene of imperial glorification, in which the client kings take the place of the winged victories who crowned the emperor in imperial iconography, or the slave who stood behind the emperor to hold a laurel wreath above his head during the triumphal parade. This interpretation of the coin type would render it a highly unusual, but largely flattering, image of two client-kings heaping honours upon the Roman emperor to whom they owed their power.
When placed alongside the wording of a treaty conferring territories upon a client king, however, the image takes on a controversial subtext. This image of one ruler crowning another was uncomfortably similar to the act of crowning a client king that occurred in the Roman forum upon the successful conclusion of negotiations with the emperor (Kropp 2013: 387). As such, the coin-type could be interpreted as two client kings presenting themselves as the political forces behind the emperor’s position, rather than subordinate supporters of Roman power. It might even be construed as an allusion to the circumstances of Claudius’ succession, which literary evidence tells us was secured by Agrippa’s act of persuading the Praetorian Guard to choose Claudius as the next emperor during the bloodbath of Gaius’ assassination.
Agrippa would have been exposed to imperial imagery from an early age as a guest of the emperor in Rome, and this makes it very likely that he had an awareness of numismatic iconography and its political subtexts. This is confirmed by the fact that Agrippa produced royal issues copying the imperial coin types struck under Gaius for use by his subjects in Judea (Burnett 2014: 178). Further, representations of the ceremonial coronation of client kings had already appeared upon silver didrachms produced in the provincial mint at Caesarea during Caligula’s reign, which showed the emperor’s father Germanicus placing a crown upon the head of the Armenian king Artaxias (RPC 1 3629, shown below; discussion in Kropp 2013: 387). This was a ‘model’ coronation image, which maintained the status quo between imperial representative and foreign monarch by ensuring that Germanicus was taller than the client king he was crowning, and by the fact that Germanicus was very clearly placing a crown upon the king’s head.
|Silver didrachm showing Germanicus crowning Artaxias|
By contrast, the coin struck by Agrippa does not observe these conventions- he, Herod and Claudius are of an equal height and stand alongside, rather than behind, the emperor, who wears ceremonial clothing in contrast to the fillets and cuirasses worn by the Herodian kings. The distinction between these images is marked, and as an image in which ‘crowner’ and ‘crowned’ appear to be reversed it has more in common with another controversial crowning scene, the image of Agrippina the Younger crowning her son Nero upon a relief at the Sebasteion Complex in Aphrodisias (shown left), than the model provided by Artaxias and Germanicus (Kropp 2013: 381-2). Much like Agrippa’s bronze coin, there in an ambiguity in the political relationship between the figures in the Sebasteion relief that lead the viewer to question whether Agrippina is honouring or crowning her son; Agrippina, draped and crowned with a cornucopia in one hand, stands at the same height as Nero and has placed the laurel wreath directly down upon her son’s head rather than symbolically holding it above. The fact that Agrippina and Nero are of equal stature casts doubt upon whether she has been cast in the role of the small winged victories that usually crown an emperor in imperial art, while the fact Nero’s laurel wreath is being placed squarely atop his head renders Agrippina’s act more analogous to a coronation scene than an honorific gesture. Together, these factors might suggest that Agrippina was the engineer of her son’s imperial power. Though Herod and Agrippa are holding their laurel wreaths vertically aloft, high above the emperor’s head, both the emperor and client kings are of an equivalent height and proportion in this scene. If we extrapolate the ‘subversive’ interpretation of the Sebasteion relief to Agrippa’s coin, it is possible to read it as a seditious image, in which the client kings present themselves as king-makers, conferring power and legitimacy to the emperor in Rome.
Could a client king make such a subversive statement- insinuations of political clout superior to that of the Roman emperor- on a medium as public and official as a coin? Provincial bronze issues were a highly local form of political expression, which did not stray far enough from their place of circulation to attract the attention of the emperor, who was honoured by other means, such as through the imperial cult. It would be unlikely for this coin to reach the imperial administration unless brought to its attention by the Roman procurator who was assigned to the neighbouring province of Syria and occasionally intervened in Judean affairs, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was. The intended ‘audience’ of this coin were Agrippa’s diverse and politically volatile subjects, some of whom agreed with Roman authority and participated in Roman spectacles such as gladiatorial games, and some who did not, but would read within the image evidence of Roman support for Agrippa’s royal position nonetheless (Galinsky 2008: 40; Kropp 2013: 386). Indeed, Agrippa’s royal authority would benefit from a public statement of sovereignty with Roman support expressed by a highly public and mobile medium. This image of Herod and Agrippa beside the emperor Claudius suggests a political relationship between emperor and king and insinuates they had a place within the hierarchy of imperial power, regardless of whether we consider it as honorific or subversive. In fact, the image of Herod and Agrippa honouring the emperor would communicate ideas of connection and support from the imperial centre as effectively as the image of the client kings crowning him, without the seditious subtexts that might sour relations with the emperor.
If we consider Agrippa’s propensity for imperial coin-types, his personal relationship with the Julio-Claudian emperors and desire to promote Roman support for his royal power and position in the imperial hierarchy as the central tenants of his political identity to our interpretation of this image, we can reach a middle-ground which considers this coin-type a highly unconventional, but not seditious, image. It is possible that provincial die-makers aware of Agrippa’s predisposition for imperial imagery selected the common motif of Victory figures honouring the emperor with laurel wreaths as the imperial motif best able to reflect the gratitude he owed the emperor for the extraordinary honour of a vast kingdom, and then adapted to include the three parties to the treaty- emperor, Agrippa and Herod- into the scene. This reappropriation of imperial imagery to reflect Agrippa’s political situation is mirrored by the reverse side of this issue, which used the clasped hands motif struck upon the roman coins of the late republic to signify agreement.
Could the countermark aid our efforts to interpret the attitude to imperial authority articulated by this coin, and offer a degree of clarification for Agrippa’s imperial loyalties, which are otherwise thrown into doubt?
This countermark is catalogued by Greek Imperial Countermarks as a male head in left facing profile within an oval punch, and it was struck in Judea during the reign of Agrippa I’s son Agrippa II (RPC 1 1992: 684; GIC 156; Mershorer.pl. 9.5a-b). It was placed upon the reverse side, in the centre of the clasped hand motif, leaving the crowning scene on the obverse side unobscured. The countermark was struck upon the coin in AD 66, the year in which ongoing tensions between the High Priests, bandits, army, aristocrats and Roman administration in Judea erupted into the first Judean revolt (Curran 2005: 70). This conflict produced a wave of new and reappropriated money. The rebels produced a new ‘Jewish’ silver coinage bearing traditional imagery and legends in paleo-Hebrew for use as temple-taxes, while the mint at Caesarea systematically countermarked worn issues, to prolong their time in circulation (Hendlin 2012: 125; Kanael 1963: 57). The three Roman legions stationed in Judea also required a supply of currency to serve as legionary pay and acceptable small change for the imperial coins spent by Roman soldiers (Howgego 1985: 30). Many of Agrippa I and II’s bronze coins and the procuratorial bronzes struck by Roman governor of the province received legionary countermarks, which took the form of the legion’s name or emblem (Howgego 1985: 30). The Legio X Fratensis, who travelled to Judea with Vespasian in AD 66, countermarked coins with the letters L, XF or LXF, and the image of dolphins, pigs, galleys and thunderbolts, all of which were associated with the Roman army or tenth legion (Madden 1866: 228).
We can surmise that at least one of this controversial bronze coin type produced by Agrippa was still in circulation during the first year of the Judean revolt, because one of the seven copies of this coin still extant was countermarked with a left-facing male head. Imperial head countermarks were a rarity among the Jewish symbols and legionary emblems that comprised the majority of countermarks struck during the first Judean revolt, and its identity is a matter of uncertainty- Greek Imperial Countermarks lists it among ‘male heads,’ rather than miscellaneous imperial portraits or heads of emperors which were usually had recognisable facial features, or could be identified by an abbreviated name, title or context, such as a recent imperial visit. Conversely, the catalogues of Jewish coins produced by Frederic Madden identifies the countermark as an ‘imperial head,’ but do not speculate upon the identity of the portrait, which is now too small and worn to offer any identifying features (Madden 1866: 136).
Though this lack of identifying marks precludes a positive identification of the person represented by the countermark, we are still able to speculate upon its origin and purpose. Throughout the Judean revolt, both the rebels and imperial forces scrambled to amass enough change for their armies to be paid and, in the legion’s case, receive acceptable small change in return from among the local coinage already circulating in Judea. When drawing from a wide pool of provincial issues, that included coin-types of very local and religious significance, the distinctly Roman imagery that had been struck by Agrippa I and later, by his son Agrippa II, would have made their coins particularly appropriate provincial substitutes for imperial bronze issues. Was the imperial head countermark a ‘banal’ image of the emperor struck by the imperial administration to place an imperial portrait head on a provincial coin that did not contain the customary obverse portrait? Was an imperial portrait all that was required to mark a coin already the correct weight and metal for Roman transactions as acceptable currency for the Romans buying and spending in Judea during the first revolt? Or was a ‘generic’ imperial portrait considered expedient- the result of the high turnover of emperors who ruled the empire in short succession during the year of the four emperors in AD 65? (Howgego 1985: 6)
Though is difficult to shed light on such an enigmatic portrait, we can use the certainty of an imperial authority behind the countermark to offer a new interpretation of the controversial crowning scene that appears upon Agrippa’s bronze coin. It is significant that the countermark has been placed upon the reverse side, leaving the crowning scene on the obverse unobscured. The fact the coin received a countermark authorising it for imperial use implies that the image was not an impediment to the coin being countermarked as Roman coinage. Indeed, the fact that the countermark was not placed upon the obverse suggests the workers and officials who oversaw imperial countermarking during the Jewish Revolt did not think it necessary to attempt to obscure it. This suggests they did not consider it an image in need of concealment, and as such, did not interpret its political motivations seditious or subversive. If we eliminate the idea that the coin expressed political sentiments that undermined the emperor’s power, one alternative remains- that the image of the Kings Agrippa I and Herod crowning the emperor with a laurel wreath was an honorific gesture, heaping exaltation and adulation on the emperor, through unconventional, but not seditious, image.
This month’s blog post was written by Charlotte Mann. Charlotte completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Queensland, Australia, and has commenced her MA at Warwick. Her academic interests lie in the perception and representation of emperors within provincial coinage, imperial medallions and the Antonine emperors.
Amandry, M, Burnett, A and Ripolles, P (2005) Roman Provincial Coinage Volume 1 (London: British Museum Press).
Burnett, A (1987) ‘The coinage of King Agrippa I of Judaea’ in Mélanges de numismatique offerts à Pierre Bastien ed. H. Huvelin, M. Christol, G. Gautier (Wetteren: Editions NR) 25-38
Curran, J (2005) 'The Long Hesitation: Some Reflections on the Romans in Judaea’ in Greece & Rome v52 (2005) 70-98
Galinsky, K (2008) ‘The Augustan Programme Of Cultural Renewal And Herod’ in Herod and Augustus- Papers Presented at the IJS Conference, 21st-23rd June 2005 ed. D. Jacobson and N. Kokkinos (Brill: Leiden) 29-42
Hendlin, D (2012) ‘Jewish Coins of the Two Wars Aims and Method’ in Judaea and Rome In Coins 65 BCE – 135 CE Papers Presented at the International Conference Hosted by Spink, 13th – 14th September 2010 ed. D. Jacobson, D and N. Kokkinos (London: Spink) 123-144
Howgego, C (1985) Greek Imperial Countermarks: Studies in the Provincial Coinage of the Roman Empire (London: Royal Numismatic Society)
Kanael, B (1963) ‘Ancient Jewish Coins and Their Historical Importance’ in The Biblical Archaeologist v26 (1963) 37-62
Kropp, A (2013) ‘Crowning the Emperor an unorthodox image of Claudius, Agrippa I and Herod of Chalkis’ in Syria v90 (2013) 377-389)
Madden, F (1976) Coins of the Jews Vol 2 The International Numismata Orientalia (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag)
Coin images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Auction 103, Lot 592, and Numismatik Lanz München, Auction 94 lot 178.
September 01, 2016
The Emperor Decius came to power in late AD 249 having killed his predecessor, Philip the Arab, in battle (Potter 1990, 40-45). This manner of succession was far from unusual for the period. By this time no Roman emperor had died of natural causes for a little over a hundred years. As such a Roman citizen could be forgiven for believing their new leader’s reign would be as short, and end as messily, as those that had filled the preceding century. Whilst said cynical citizen would have been entirely correct (Decius and his son were killed in a swamp fending off marauding Scythians a mere two years into his reign according to Zosimus) this was not an opinion the new emperor was keen to encourage. As such he commanded all citizens to make sacrifices to the gods for the health and stability of the empire and concurrently issued a series of coins, now known as the ‘Divi series’.
Antoninianus minted at Mediolanum (Milan), RIC IV Trajan Decius 77
This series of coins is remarkable because they do not, as we would expect, feature the image of the new emperor – a feature we know provincials regarded as distinctive in Roman (as opposed to local) coinage (Mark 12:17). Instead on the obverse they picture the faces of eleven of his predecessors, crowned with radiate crowns; Augustus, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Severus and Alexander (Ando 2000, 209). The image on the reverse of the coins varies, however most commonly they feature either an eagle (a representation of apotheosis, perhaps most notably seen on the Arch of Titus in Rome) or an altar – presumably to the divine emperor shown on the obverse. This is reinforced by the coins’ respective legends which, on the obverse, give the pictured emperor’s name with the prefix ‘Divo’, meaning divine, and on the reverse read ‘consecratio’, meaning consecrated. Notably we have examples of these coins from mints across the empire, not just from Rome, suggesting that Decius was keen for them to be viewed by as large a number of people as possible. They would seem to be the Roman equivalent of a public Facebook post, rather than a message meant for those immediately around the new ruler.
Imperial portraits also played a key role in the sacrifices Decius demanded for the empire’s continued stability. Whilst the deities sworn to varied from town to town across the empire’s provinces (Tertullian To the Nations 2.8.7), with Roman religion being flexible enough to incorporate local deities from far flung reaches of the empire, each ceremony was enacted before a series of imperial statues, perhaps even in some contexts the same emperors featured on the coinage (Ando 2000, 209). The message Decius hoped to deliver is clear. Here were a group of exceptional, and deified, emperors who moved the empire forward. He would be the next in the ‘canon’ of greats and a citizen of Rome was secure under his rule.
Moreover Decius was emphasising the power of the emperor. On his later coinage various Roman mainstays are depicted, but divine figures are almost entirely absent (Mattingly 1924). By presenting his predecessors as essential figures in Roman religion, to the detriment of the traditional pantheon, Decius promoted his office as something quasi-divine and by association raised himself above the concerns of petty mortals. If successful this public relations initiative could only have increased his authority and hold on an increasingly fractious state. It was also something of a change from the policy of his immediate predecessor who, as discussed in last month’s blog, was sympathetic to Christianity – a religious creed incompatible with the Imperial Cult.
Antoninianus minted at Mediolanum (Milan), RIC IV Trajan Decius 84b
So what kind of an impact did Decius’ Divi have? Whilst we cannot be sure we can be confident that his coinage was well known by later Romans. Gregory of Tours, a sixth century historian and bishop tells us that seven young Christians (and their dog) fled to a cave to escape persecution for refusing Decius’ edict to sacrifice to the pagan gods (Lane-Fox 1986, 450, 490). Naturally they then fell asleep for nigh on two centuries, awakening in the Christian empire of Theodosius II. When one of their number left cave to buy food the coinage he used was immediately recognised as from the time of Decius (Ando 2000, 227), which provoked wonder amongst the town’s folk – wonder presumably compounded when the sleepers all promptly fell dead (Gregory of Tours, Passio septem dormientium 7-8). Whilst the story itself isn’t terribly believable it likely grew in the telling from events that truly happened. It is not so hard to imagine Christians fleeing rather than submitting to the emperor’s edict, indeed reactions to said edict were a subject of much later controversy within the church (Lane-Fox 1986, 550). Moreover if those Christians were to have fled with any money it doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that the emperor’s newest coinage would have featured prominently in their collections. If a cache of their belongings were later discovered and spent there would have been a sufficient framework for the myth to have grown. Whilst there’s a fair amount of conjecture there I like to think that Decius’ Divi were still being recognised two centuries after his death and were being talked about by even later historians.
This month’s coin entry was written by Ben Howarth. Ben is about to begin an MA in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Warwick. He has an interest in the development of Christianity in the Roman Empire and his undergraduate dissertation was on the persecutions of ‘others’ by Christians in the late 4th and early 5th centuries – an interest he hopes to develop further during his MA.
Coin images reproduced courtesy of Numismatica Ars Classica (Auction 33, ot 404), and Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Mail Bid Sale 66, lot 1420) (www.cngcoins.com).
August 03, 2016
Alloy coin of Apamaea with Philip I on the obverse and an ark scene on the reverse. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The above coin is one of a series of exceptional coins from ancient Apamea, Phrygia. On the obverse we have a Greek inscription naming the emperor as Philip I (AD 244-249), and a bust of the emperor looking to the right wearing a laurel crown, cloak and cuirass. Philip, commonly known as Philip the Arab, was an emperor of Syrian origin, and he is best remembered to history for his sympathetic view of Christianity, and potential conversion, as discussed by Christian writers such as Eusebius, Jerome and Orosius. On the reverse we have an inscription naming the town of Apamea and the magistrate in charge of minting the coin. The reverse has four figures depicted: two of them are inside a box with NOE inscribed on it that seems to be floating on water, this box has two birds perching above it; the other two stand to the side of this box, and have their right hands raised in a gesture of prayer. Five coins of this type, with minimal variation, have been found, and are attributed to five emperors of the first half of the 3rd century: Septimius Severus (AD 192-211), Alexander Severus (AD 222-235), Gordian III (AD 238-244), Philip I (AD 244-249) and Trebonianus Gallus (AD 251-253). Before looking at what makes these coins so extraordinary, it is important to look at the city of Apamea, and what this might reveal about the coin itself.
Apamea, founded in the 3rd century BCE, was a centre for trade in ancient Phrygia, and acted as an important transit centre for merchants travelling to the east. Perhaps due to the city’s economic significance, the city gained the epithet kibotos (chest) around the time of Strabo. The kibotoi were clearly significant for Apamea, as they appear on coins depicting Marsyas reclining in a cave, and in fact it is a kibotos that we find on the reverse of the coin type in question. Apamea also seems to have had a strong Jewish presence, as Josephus describes how the Seleucid king Antiochus III brought Babylonian Jews to Phrygia to serve as garrison soldiers, civil servants and royal administrators in the newly established city (Josephus, Antiquities, 12.3.4). This Jewish population was certainly still thriving in the 1st century BCE, as Cicero claims that a large sum of gold was confiscated from the Jews at Apamea as it was to be sent to the Temple in Jerusalem (Cicero, Pro Flaccus, 68); and we can assume that this prominent position was sustained under the Roman Empire. There was also a local tradition (The Sibylline Oracles, 1.320-40) that the nearby mountain was in fact Mount Ararat, the mountain on which Noah’s ark came to rest (Genesis 8:4); a tradition that must have been formed by the Jewish population of the city.
On this coin, then, we find a celebration of this local tradition. This is made clear by the NOE inscription, which is the same spelling that the Septuagint Bible uses for Noah. Thus we find that the kibotos is Noah’s ark, further tying the city into this episode from the Old Testament; the two figures inside are Noah and his wife during the flood, and the two figures on the outside are Noah and his wife praying to God after being saved. The two birds make this identification even more concrete; the one on the right is probably the raven that Noah sent out after 40 days, and the one on the left depicted holding some sort of branch, must be the dove sent out a week late that brought back an olive leaf to let Noah know the water had receded (Genesis 8:6-12). Many scholars have argued for a pagan reading of this coin instead, arguing it to be an allusion to one of the many other flood legends, such as Nannakos (Zenobius and the Suda), Philemon and Baucis (Ovid’s Metamorphoses) or Priasos (Nonnos). Even more popular is identifying this coin as a representation of the flood of Deucalion. In this reading Deucalion and Pyrrha are the figures in the kibotos, and the bird a reference to the dove released from the ark (Plutarch, Moralia, 13.1). However, none of these readings take into account the specificity of one of the birds holding a branch, and all require us to ignore the NOE inscription. It is too simplistic to look at this as a binary choice between this being a representation of a pagan myth or the story of Noah. In all likelihood, the flood myth was viewed as a point of similarity between the Jewish and pagan world; pagans could be reminded of their own traditions upon viewing this coin. The reason that this coin explicitly refers to Noah, rather than more broadly evoking flood myths, was probably due to the local legend of Mt. Ararat, which gave the relatively new city some historical prestige, whereas other flood myths were not specific to Apamea itself. We also cannot ignore the possibility of a Christian community in Apamea being behind the imagery on this coin. This coin type comes into existence at the beginning of the 3rd century CE, just when the first Christian art is beginning to emerge. Additionally, it is interesting to note that both Maximinus Thrax and Decius, who both persecuted Christians, are absent from this coin type. Although there is no direct evidence for Christian involvement, this possibility cannot be entirely ignored.
This coin series is quite extraordinary as being one of the only coin types known to bear a biblical scene. Not only that, there are two scenes depicted in sequence- something common on sarcophagus art, but hardly ever found on coins. They show the possibility for the tolerant acceptance of a Judaeo-Christian myth in a pagan city under a pagan emperor. This coin may lead us to reassess our views on the local relationships between pagans, Jews and Christians in the pre-Constantinian empire. In Apamea, it seems the local community were united by the local legend of Mt Ararat than they were divided by the fact that this story came from a non-pagan source. Perhaps local Apameans were not as concerned with religious identity as we might assume, and instead had civic unity at the forefront of their minds.
This month's coin entry was written by Simon Collier, is a second year part-time MA student in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Warwick. His academic interests focus on the interaction between religions, specifically focussed on the reception of ancient paganism. He has previously written on topics such as blasphemous graffiti in Severan Rome, the reception of Hecate by William Blake and Neo-paganism, and colonial and post-colonial reactions to the origin of the Buddha image. His MA thesis is looking at the reception of Roman paganism in silent and epic cinema, and in what ways this is a continuation of ancient Christian views of paganism.
Goodenough, E.R. (1953) Jewish symbols in the Greco-Roman period Vol. 2 (New York: Pantheon Books)
Hachlili, R. (2009) Ancient Mosaic Pavements: Themes, Issues and Trends (Leiden: Brill)
Kelp, U. (2013) ‘Grave Monuments and Local Identities in Roman Phrygia’ in Roman Phrygia: Culture and Society, ed. P. Thonemann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 79-94
Madden, F.W. (1866) ‘On some coins of Septimius Severus, Macrinus, and Philip I., struck at Apameia, in Phrygia, with the Legend NOE’ in The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society, New Series, Vol. 6: 173-219
Mitchell, S. (2013) ‘An Epigraphic Probe into the Origins of Montanism’ in Roman Phrygia: Culture and Society, ed. P. Thonemann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 168-197
Spier, J. (2007) Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (London: Yale University Presss)
Tameanko, M., Noah and the Ark on Ancient Coins— http://www.theshekel.org/article_noahs_ark.html (Accessed 6th May 2016)
Thonemann, P. (2011) The Maeander Valley: a historical geography from antiquity to Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Treblico, P.R. (1991) Jewish Communities in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Weitzmann, K. (1979) Age of spirituality late antique and Early Christian art, third to seventh century : catalogue of the exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977 through February 12, 1978 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art 1979)
July 01, 2016
Aureus of Nerva
Date: 96 AD
Obverse: IMP NERVA CAES AUG PM TR P COS II PP (Emperor Nerva Caesar Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, Holding Tribunician power, Consul twice, Pater Patriae.)
Reverse: CONCORDIA EXERCITUUM (Agreement of the Armies), Two clasped right hands holding an Aquila set on the prow of a ship.
This particular coin is not visually exceptional since the image of clasped hands recurs on many different coin types. What makes it of interest is the message it carried, and the role this played in Nerva’s attempt to stabilise his position as Domitian’s successor. In order to understand the coin’s significance fully, we must first consider the context in which it was issued.
Nerva became emperor in September of AD 96, the year in which this coin was minted. As such, this would be among the first coins to be issued under his rule. His predecessor, Domitian, had been murdered in the Imperial palace and condemned as a tyrant by the Senate. Looking at the relative stability of Nerva’s rule as emperor, especially when compared to the civil war and instability which followed the death of Nero – the last Emperor to be violently overthrown – it can be easy to forget the dangers that the new Emperor would have faced. The reluctance of the army to shift their loyalties to an unknown Emperor is likely to have been significant in the wake of Domitian’s murder. Domitian had been a generous military leader and his succession by Nerva, who had little experience or prestige in military affairs, risked a crisis like that of the Year of the Four Emperors.
It seems that fortune was in Nerva’s favour, however, as the military situation at that time meant that a military coup was not an option. The all-important Northern armies were engaged in an ongoing war along the frontier; to return to Rome to contest Nerva would mean turning their backs to the enemy and leaving the Empire vulnerable. At the time of his accession Nerva was also already 65 years of age –perhaps they thought he wouldn’t last long enough to be worth overthrowing.
With this in mind, the Concordia Exercituum coin seems perplexing. The legend translates to “Agreement of the armies” referring to unity of armies both with each other – as signified by the military standard, ship’s prow and aquila – and the Emperor. This might seem like a strange choice of message to send at this time to military and non-military inhabitants of the empire. The majority of Romans may have been ignorant of military politics. If this celebration of army unity were aimed at them, wouldn’t it have been like announcing the existence of a previously unknown problem? It would be similar to the captain of a seemingly steady aeroplane announcing ‘There is absolutely no cause for alarm’, a statement that would only invoke suspicion and paranoia. Similarly if the Emperor felt the need to reassure citizens of the army’s loyalty, then that loyalty must be in doubt. As for the military, Nerva was no doubt aware that they would feel anything but unity with a Rome that had murdered their leader and denounced him as a tyrant. To them, receiving such a coin in their salary would surely have been laughable at best, and a grave insult at worse, as Nerva proudly announces that they are loyal to him. As a gold coin, if this type were used in military pay, it would have come into the hands of wealthier officers and individuals.
Considering the events of summer AD 97, it can be argued that Nerva (or his advisors) had taken the wrong strategy with these coins. The Praetorian Prefect, Casperius Aelianus, led the Praetorian Guard to the Imperial Palace to demand the execution of Domitian’s murderers: the freedman Parthenius and Petronius Secundus (Aelianus’ predecessor as Praetorian prefect). Petronius offered his neck to the guards, saying that he would rather die than give into their demands, and was killed immediately. Parthenius was subjected to a much more gruesome fate. He was castrated, likely a deliberate snub to Nerva who had made castration illegal, then strangled to death. The incident deeply embarrassed Nerva, as the military’s disloyalty was demonstrated publicly. It showed his failure to pacify his own army and forced him to name Trajan as his successor. Trajan was a military man, chosen in order to appease the soldiers.
But it is worth considering Nerva’s perspective further before condemning him. He had, after all, already been involved in politics during the civil wars of AD 69, and thus had personal experience in dealing with civil unrest in the aftermath of an emperor’s overthrow. He would have witnessed the events that led to Galba being murdered at the hands of the Praetorian Guard in the centre of the forum. Surely Nerva would have known the care needed to ensure the loyalty of the Roman troops. Nerva appears to have modelled most of his coinage, besides the Concordia Exercituum type, on that of Galba. It makes no sense for him to have designed a new coin, which seemed only to insult the military whose allegiance it was so essential for him to win.
Perhaps we are reading the coin wrong. It has been suggested that one key reason that the troops were hostile to Galba was that he gave no donative to the army. Syme argued that Nerva would remember the danger of forgoing the donative, and would have provided one. If the Concordia Exercituum coin was issued alongside this donative (or formed part of it), then rather than being seen as an arrogant declaration of something that was not true, the type would instead have borne a message of hope: that this gift would inspire concord between Emperor and army. If viewed by someone in Rome, the message may have been read differently. Inhabitants of Rome were surrounded by monuments celebrating Domitian’s military career, and may have viewed Nerva’s proclamation against Domitian’s established military record.
Finally, we should not see the ‘conspiracy’ of Casperius Aelianus as a complete failure on the part of Nerva. The Praetorians under his command only demanded the execution of two men, the murderers of the previous emperor, a demand that Grainger calls ‘surprisingly moderate’. When compared to other successors of overthrown emperors, such as Pertinax and Galba (both of whom were killed by the Praetorian Guard) Aelianus’ conspiracy appears more to be evidence of Nerva’s success, than failure.
This month's coin was chosen and written by Nigel Heathcote. Nigel is a first year MPhil/PhD student in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Warwick. His PhD is a study of the effects of being condemned as a tyrant upon the ‘physical legacy’ of an emperor in the city of Rome, looking at themes of destruction, appropriation and contrast. His academic interests focus on the propagation of imperial ideas through material culture.
Bennett, Julian (2001) Trajan: optimus princeps (Indiana University Press)
Grainger, J.D. (2003) Nerva and the Roman succession crisis of AD 96-99 (Routledge)
Jones, B.W. (1992/3) The Emperor Domitian (Routledge).
Mattingly, H. & Sydenham ,E.A. (1926) The Roman imperial coinage. Vol.2, Vespasian to Hadrian (London)
Mattingly,H. (1936) Coins of The Roman Empire in the British Museum. Vol.3, Nerva to Hadrian (London)
Syme, R. (1930) ‘The Imperial Finances under Domitian, Nerva and Trajan’, JRS 20: pp.55-70
Cassius Dio, Roman History, trans. Cary, E. (Harvard University Press, 1914)
Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, trans. A. Thomson (Philadelphia: Gebbie & Co. 1889.)
Coin image reproduced courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.
June 01, 2016
'Spintria' found in the Thames in 2012. PAS LON-E98F21
An Ancient Roman may not have been able to bring “Cards Against Humanity” to a pub game night, but they were able to bring spintriae. This particular sexy spintria was made famous when it was discovered in the Thames in 2012. There are several theories about the function of spintriae. People have suggested that they could be brothel tokens. Maybe the original owner of this token picked it up at the games? Or is it, as the title suggests, a game piece? One thing is for sure, the obverse is something that the user would remember and maybe even laugh at.
Two out of three theories are wrong. Suetonius wrote that Tiberius outlawed the use of coins stamped with the imperial image in bordellos (Clarke 1998: 244-245). This has led scholars to believe that these were brothel tokens. The idea that brothel customers would use these to pay for the services they wanted has been quickly dismissed (to see a more detailed discussion of this see Clare Rowan’s blog on this spintria).
This leads to the second theory. These tokens would be given to the public at public games. The idea this comes from a passage in Martial: “Now come sportive tokens (lasciva nomismata) in sudden showers.” (Martial Epigrams 8.78) These “sportive tokens” may be spintriae. That may seem like an odd token to give to spectators at public games celebrating things like military triumphs, but when considering the tensions in a society that placed importance on the lusts of men and the chastity of married women then maybe men receiving tokens to spend at a brothel might not be so bad (Knapp 2013: 236). However, this is not the case. The tokens would then be redeemed for gifts, but not at the local brothel. They could also provide a bit of a tough spot for an emperor who did not have the best press coverage. For example, viewers could be reminded of Tiberius’ sexual acts with boys on Capri (Suetonius Life of Tiberius 43-44). It is unlikely that an emperor, would want his people to snigger behind his back for what he got up to in his private life; thus, this theory seem implausible.
This leaves us with the third theory: these are game pieces. Although we don’t know what game these pieces were used with, we can be pretty sure that it was plenty of inspiration for the scenes of the game makers. There are other spintriae that have numbers going from I to XVI (1-16), but the sex scenes are different. This has led some scholars to believe that there is a correlation between the numbered spintriae and the illustrations of the sex manuals (Clarke 1998: 244, Clarke 2007: 194-5). This is also similar to the Pompeiian wall paintings found in the Suburban Baths. These are believed to have been numbered in a way similar to the lockers in the men’s changing room. As an added memory device, a taboo sex scene was placed above the number. The person using that space may not be able to remember his number, but they would probably be able to remember that funny dirty picture above it! (Savenga 2009).
This humour and function as a mnemonic device carried over to the game containing the spintriae. This spintria is tame compared to some of the other spintriae, so it was probably not one that was laughed too much. The steamy scene between this man and woman would have made the game memorable and may have reminded the player of what he had seen, read, heard, or even done. The fact that spintriae have been found in a widespread area, indicates that it Ancient Romans tended to have similar humour, played similar games, or that people loved this game so much that they brought it with them when travelling. Unfortunately, it may have been a male-only game. There were complaints [in Ancient Rome] that naughty pictures were corrupting respectable girls (Langlands 2006: 53). So, while the same sense of humour as a game of “Cards Against Humanity”, it might not have been a game to bring along to a game night with mixed company. However, it is not unreasonable to think that some clever minxes did manage to play “Coins Against Humanity”.
This month's blog was written by Katrina Anderson. Katrina is a Master’s student at Warwick University, who has recently become interested in the role of sex and gender in Ancient Roman art.
Clarke, J. (2007) Looking At Laughter. (London: University of California Press).
Clarke, J. (1998) Looking At Lovemaking. (London: University of California Press).
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April 01, 2016
|Denarius of Augustus from 28 BC.|
The first recorded time a crocodile appeared on a Roman coin was 37/36 BC, under the authority of M Licinius Crassus, an official who had authority over the Greek island Crete and the African region of Cyrenaica. Scholars have attempted to claim that this was the son of the triumvir Crassus who in 53 BC famously conducted the Parthian disaster. The historical content of the Crassus coinage is dubious and complicated but it would be fair to assume and accept scholarly debate that his crocodile represented renewed Egyptian authority over Cyrenaica, an honour that was ceded to the Ptolemaic ruler Cleopatra VII by the cunning Marc Antony.
However, when Augustus utilised the crocodile on his coinage it was as a focal point of celebration towards Rome’s acquisition of Egypt and revered his military triumph. The crocodile interestingly could serve as a sign of continued power and dynastical tenure or the polar opposite of capitulation. With the caption of ‘Aegypto capta’; ‘captured Egypt’ we are able to understand the multi-faceted potential of a crocodilian representation and how the crocodile signified power dependant on the way it was utilised .
To understand the sole purpose of the crocodile on the denarius of 28 BC would be enormously difficult. Commonly in Egyptian practice, crocodiles were to supposed to allude to, and be associated with, their relationship to the river god Nilus, from whom Egypt’s affluence and prosperity was supposedly derived. The crocodile was the epitome of Egyptian power and was typically indigenous to the Nile so it often acted like a glorified mascot. Augustus had left his use of the crocodile imagery purposefully open to interpretation so that it could represent the formidable animal in which the Romans were so curious about, and were so proud to have enslaved, because it embodied the fate of Egypt. Or did it signify and celebrate the prosperity of Egypt through the crocodile’s relation to Nilus?
The best insight into the truth is the coinage of the colony of Nemausus (Nîmes) struck under Augustus: here a crocodile is depicted chained to a palm tree and is undeniably the sign of Egypt subdued to the power of Rome and presumably is a continuation of attitude from the denarius of 28 BC. The obverse of the denarius of 28 BC, a bareheaded and heroically unadorned bust of Augustus, has a protuberant brow alongside a wry smile which is meant to reaffirm the legitimacy of his autocratic reign by reasserting his military success, ultimately bringing us back to the subject of power. The crocodilian imagery on these coins was a boast of power, eastern luxury, but more importantly, it was who wielded and subjugated the crocodile that decided who the ancient beast would transfer its power to.
This month's coin was written by Alfred Wrigley. Alfie is a second year ancient history and classical archealogy student who is hoping to specialise in and write his dissertation on Julio Claudian coinage.
Coin image reproducted courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.