All 6 entries tagged Mark Antony

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April 01, 2017

Antony's retaliation to Augustan propaganda

Denarius of Mark Antony (RRC 545/1), 31 BC
Obverse: Bare head of Mark Antony, M·ANTONIVS·AVG·IMP·IIII·
Reverse: Victory standing left holding wreath tied with fillet in right hand
and palm-branch over left shoulder with left hand. Laurel-wreath as border. D·TVR

The battle of Actium in 31BC was the most important event in Augustus’ campaign of justification after assuming more power and influence than any other individual. This battle was the climactic clash between Augustus and Antony in 31 BC, in which the victor would gain control of the Roman world. We may be tempted to think of this battle as a symbol of the triumph of a military despotism, but Augustus used a multitude of methods to convince the Romans otherwise. But Augustus himself unwittingly confirmed his misdoings: the Res Gestae opens with brazen assertions of high treason and a cliché-ridden defamation of a consul of the republic. Augustus was therefore forced to cleverly exaggerate the extent of his victory by following a systematic denigration of Antony. The reason for Augustus’ campaign against his enemies was to debase their character and make their deposition seem as far from a power struggle as possible, hoping instead that he would appear as the bulwark against immoral and dangerous individuals for the Romans. This was a countermeasure to seeming as if he was declaring war on Antony for his own private interests. The Antony of Cicero, associated with prostitutes and corteges of actresses and often drunk is the foundation of Augustus’ Antony. This disparagement of Antony was important in denying monarchical claims to power, it characterised Antony as unsuitable for power and dangerous to the republic, which forced Augustus to champion the defence of the republic. This was similar to the character assassination of Sextus Pompey. Augustus branded Sextus as a pirate, rather than admit to engaging in civil war: ‘I pacified the sea from pirates ’ (Res Gestae 25), preferring to claim he acted out of compulsion and loyalty to the state.

Augustus confronted Rome with ‘the will which Antonius had left in Rome, naming his children by Cleopatra among his heirs, opened and read before the people ’ (Suetonius, Life of Augustus, 17). It allowed Augustus to reassert this status as the champion of the Roman people, however it is exceptionally pertinent to remember that Augustus’ extortion of the vestal virgins in procuring this will was something wholly illegal. Augustus juxtaposed himself and Antony through his mausoleum. Though completed in 28BC, it was important in the propaganda war: Augustus’ monumental tomb offered a demonstrative and public contrast to Antony’s alleged desires to be buried in Alexandria. This may have encouraged the Romans, in their indignation, to believe that the other reports in circulation were also true: if Antony should succeed, he would bestow their city upon Cleopatra and transfer the seat of power to Egypt.

Despite Augustus’ best efforts to brand Antony as traitor, Antony’s denarius of 31 BC shows a different story. The coin depicts Antony with a full list of titles, advertising his role as augur (AVG), imperator for the fourth time (IMP IIII), consul for the third time (COS TERT) and triumvir (III·VIR·R·P·C). This was an undeniable assertion that he was far from a foreign enemy, suggesting instead that Augustus’ behaviour was exceptionally anti-republican (to openly share such enmity with a fellow Roman would be a source of revilement). Antony’s use of a denarius is wily; it reaffirmed his legitimacy as a member of the Roman elite while suggesting Augustus’ lust for power as a man willing to enter into civil war for supremacy. The reverse features Victory standing left, a blatant reminder that it would be Victory who supported Antony. The denarius openly deconstructed Augustus’ campaign of invective and propaganda; it was a poignant reminder to the people of Rome that Antony was not the Eastern enemy he was made out to be.


This month's coin entry was written by Alfred Wrigley. Alfred is a third year Ancient History and Classical Archaeology student with a great research interest in Julio - Claudian numismatics

Image copyright Trustees of the British Museum (1855, 1118.3)

February 13, 2014

Succession and the Aurei of Mark Antony

Aureus showing Antony and his son Antyllus

The problem of succession, and Augustus' means of communicating succession, form a key theme in the study of the Augustan principate. But the mechanisms for communicating succession and dynasty in the principate arose directly out of the Republic, in particular the strategies employed during the civil wars. We can see this in a gold aureus series struck for Mark Antony in 34 BC while he was triumvir in the East (RRC 541/1-2). The design of this series foreshadows how imperial dynasty and succession would later be communicated during the Roman Empire.

The coin issue consisted of two different types, but both of them carried the portrait of Mark Antony on the obverse and the portrait of his eldest son Marcus Antonius Antyllus on the reverse. Antyllus was the child of Antony and Fulvia, and was at one point engaged to Octavian's daughter Julia. His appearance on coinage here suggests that Antony may have been attempting to establish and advertise a successor, well before Augustus would later turn to the problem.

This is also suggested by the legends of these pieces. On the first type, the titles of Antony occupy both the obverse and reverse of the coin (M ANTONI M F M N AVG IMP TERT, COS ITER DESIG TERT III VIR R P C, Marcus Antonius, son of Marcus, grandson of Marcus, Augur, Imperator for the third time, consul for the second time, consul designate for the third time, triumvir for the establishment of the Republic). That Antony included the names of his father and grandfather must have been intentional: in contrast to Octavian's claims to be the son of the divine Caesar, Antony represents his descent in a traditional Roman manner, something which may have appealed to the Senate rather more than Octavian's claims. One the second type of this issue (shown above), Antony's titles are abbreviated and confined to the obverse of the coin, while the reverse carries the name of Marcus Antonius Antyllus, who is presented as the son of Antony (M ANTONIVS M F F). Thus over both types, Antony and his positions are communicated, as is Antony's ancestry and his successor, a presentation that is remarkably similar to what would occur later in the imperial period.

Coin image reproduced courtesy of Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG (Auction 54, Lot 285)

January 24, 2014

Sosius, Zacynthus, and the Temple of Apollo Sosianus in Rome

Coins of Sosius from Zacynthus

Gaius Sosius, one of Mark Antony's generals, provides an excellent example of the role played by individuals other than the triumvirs in the civil wars at the end of the Republic. Sosius, who was governor of Syria and Cilicia in 38 BC and assisted in placing King Herod on the throne, was a staunch supporter of Antony, and was in a position of some power at Antony's naval base at Zacynthus. We know this because between 39 BC (when the base was founded) and 32 BC, a series of coins were struck under Sosius' authority (RPC 1 1290-3).

The obverse of the first two coins carries the portrait of Antony. The reverse of issue 1 bears a Ptolemaic eagle, a reference to Antony's alliance with Cleopatra. The second issue, struck in 36 BC, names Sosius as imperator and carries a military trophy on the reverse, a reference to Sosius' victory in Judea. It is unusual that Sosius uses his coinage to advertise his own personal achievements rather than that of the triumvirs, though the portrait of Antony on the obverse underlines the fact that Sosius was acting under Antony's support and patronage.

Temple of Apollo Sosianus

The third issue carries the head of Apollo on the obverse, and a tripod on the reverse. Sosius is named as consul designate. The imagery is identical to the pre-Roman local coinage of the island, which had a famous cult to Apollo. But after his triumph in Rome in 34 BC (for his victories in Judea), Sosius vowed to rebuild the temple of Apollo in the Campus Martius, today known as the temple of Apollo Sosianus. The declaration that a supporter of Antony was rebuilding a temple to Apollo in Rome, soon after Octavian had vowed his famous Apolline temple on the Palatine, was a powerful statement. It may be that this third issue of Sosius references his building activities in Rome, and the Roman general adopted local iconography to communicate his message. The users of the coin may have seen either a reference to the local cult of Apollo and local coinage, or a broader reference to Sosius' activities, or both.

The fourth coin, which carries a head of Neptune on the obverse and a dolphin and trident on the reverse, was struck after Sosius had fled Rome early in his consulship in 32 BC, and references his position as a commander of Antony's fleet just before Actium. Although Sosius fled the capital only a few days or weeks into his consulship, the coin still names him as consul, indicating that both he and Antony believed he still held the position.

(Coin images reproduced from Bahrfehldt, JIAN 11 (1908), pl. XIII)

November 21, 2013

Creating Colonies: Tradition and Community Formation in Lugdunum and Corinth

Quinarius in the name of Antony, struck at Lugdunum

In 43 BC Lucius Munatius Plancus founded the colony of Lugdunum, modern day Lyon. As was common practice in other Roman colonial foundations, coinage was struck to mark the occasion. For many colonies, this was the only time local coinage was minted: the Romans may have seen the provision of local coinage in this context as a necessity, not only to facilitate exchange, but to build a sense of common identity amongst disparate settlers. A local currency that bore imagery associated with the foundation could contribute to a sense of community. In the case of Lugdunum, the imagery selected demonstrates the Roman awareness of the different currencies in the regions under their control.

Two silver quinarii coins were struck in 43-42 BC in connection with the founding of the colony. One was issued in the name of the colony, and the other bearing the titles of the triumvir Mark Antony (Plancus was a supporter of Antony until Antony's failed campaign against the Parthians). The obverse of these coins bore an image of Victory, while the reverse displayed a lion. The choice of the rare quinarius denomination, and the iconography, must have been in deference to the local traditions of currency within the region: small silver coinage was used more often in Gaul than in Rome, and the iconography of the lion refers to one of the most common currencies in the region before the Roman conquest: the coinage of Massalia (modern day Marseilles). The particular way Victory is represented on the obverse of the coin series (with her wings coming up at either side of her bust) may also reference Massalian coinage, which shows Artemis with a bow and quiver in a similar fashion.

Coin of Massalia showing Artemis and lion

That a series was struck in the name of Antony, and another in the name of Lugdunum, demonstrates that in the Late Republic coin imagery did not always reflect contemporary political concerns. Rather here, and elsewhere, the Romans acknowledged and responded to local currencies. This would have made the acceptance of the currency amongst the existing population much easier, but the iconography of Massalia was transferred to the new colony of Lugdunum. In modern colonial situations, the continuation of a local currency is often an act of resistance against the new power (e.g. the persistence of cattle currency, or cowry shells), forcing the dominant power to react, often by tacitly allowing the old forms of currency to continue. We cannot know whether this was the case here, but the result is a coinage whose iconography simultaneously references Massalia, Lugdunum, and Roman power via Mark Antony. It is another example of the entangled nature of imagery and ideology that developed during the formation of the Roman Empire.

The reference to pre-existing local currency is also seen in the late Republican colonial foundation of Corinth, founded by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Excavations at Corinth have revealed that a significant portion of the circulating small change in the city were the coins of Corinth struck before her destruction in 146 BC (how these coins reappeared in a colony founded more than 100 years later is an intriguing but perhaps unanswerable question). These types carried a trident on the obverse and pegasus on the reverse. The precise imagery was later struck by civic magistrates within the city, again probably in reference to the persistance of local monetary traditions. In both Lugdunum and Corinth, the numismatic imagery selected for the settlements referenced local traditions, although the settlers would have come from disparate geographical regions.

(Images reproduced courtesy of Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG (Auction 63, Lot 483), and Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Electronic Auction 264, lot 1,

October 30, 2013

Intended or Accidental? Questions surrounding Crawford 480/20

Crawford 480/20

Sometimes in numismatics one needs to go beyond what is listed in a coin catalogue to discover more about the intentions or audience of a particular coin.This was the case this morning when working on a coin series struck just after Julius Caesar's assassination in 44BC, struck by the moneyer P. Sepullius Macer. Three coin issues were released by Macer showing a desultor, or person who leapt from one horse to another; the coins were probably struck in connection a festival held in this year, perhaps the Parilia.

Struck immediately after Caesar's assassination, this particular series has been seen as important evidence of the use of Caesar's memory by Mark Antony. The first in the series (Crawford 480/20, shown right) shows a laureate, veiled head of Julius Caesar, with the legend CAESAR PARENS PATRIAE. The desultor type is then combined with an obverse showing the planned temple to Caesar and his clemency (Crawford 480/21), and finally an obverse showing Mark Antony, veiled and sporting a beard as a sign of mourning (Crawford 480/22).

Crawford 480/22

The traditional interpretation of the coins is that it demonstrates Antony's alignment with the murdered Caesar, since Julius Caesar is initially shown veiled on the coin series, only to be substituted by the veiled Mark Antony. But in trying to find examples of the coin showing the veiled head of Julius Caesar (Crawford 480/20), I soon discovered that there is only one specimen in Paris, and none of the other major numismatic collections (ANS, British Museum), appear to have a specimen of this particular coin. The specimen in Paris, and illustrated by Crawford in his plates, may be the only example known. Given this, one is forced to wonder whether the coin was in fact a mistake or minting error: an accidental combination of the obverse die showing Julius Caesar from one of Macer's other coin issues (e.g. Crawford 480/19), with the new reverse commemorating the games of the Parilia. If it was a mistake perhaps only a few coins were struck before the error was realised, and the desultor type was combined with its 'intended' obverses. If the theory is correct, we should change how we view this particular issue, and the desultor series more generally.

If anyone does know of other examples of Crawford 480/20, I would be grateful for any information!!

(Coin above reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Auction 190, lot 1395) (

May 17, 2013

Imitation and the Legacy of Mark Antony

Coin of New Carthage imitating an earlier coin of Mark Antony

The coinage of Carthago Nova in Spain (modern day Rio Tinto) during the Roman Republic is unusual to modern eyes since they rarely have a portrait on the obverse of the coin. That is, there is no 'heads'. The coins also sometimes imitate the silver coinage struck by the Roman Republic (see for example RPC 1 151). One example of particular interest is the coin pictured right (RPC 1 155). While the legend on the coin gives the names of the local individuals responsible for the issue (L. Appuleius Rufus and C. Maecius), the imagery on the coin is taken directly from a famous coin series of Mark Antony.

Before the battle of Actium, Mark Antony struck an enormous series of coins, showing a ship on one side and an aquila (military standard) on the other (see image). This series, known as Antony's 'legionary denarii', are found in almost every corner of the Roman world, well after other Republican coinage disappeared. Indeed, Antony's coins are still found in hoards in the third century AD (some 200 years after they were initially struck). The longevity of Antony's coins is likely due to the fact that there were produced with a slightly less than pure metal content (meaning that they were not melted down or hoarded alongside other coins of purer silver). The result was, ironically, that Antony's coins circulated much longer than the coins of Octavian. Why Octavian didn't destroy these coins after Antony's defeat is a difficult question, but because of their sheer number and impure metal content, it may have been easier for Octavian to use the coins rather than melt them down.

Why the moneyers of Carthago Nova felt the need to adopt the numismatic iconography of a defeated Roman general is again a difficult question. But the moneyers were certainly not alone in their imitation; later on the emperor Marcus Aurelius would also reference and celebrate the coinage of Mark Antony (see image). Imitations of other triumviral numismatic imagery have a political context (for example, the adoption of Caesar's imagery by Hirtius in Gaul was likely meant to signify his support of the Caesarian cause). But here it may be that because Antony's coin type also did not have a 'heads' side per se, it appealed to Carthago Nova, since it fit in with their own numismatic tradition. By using the imagery of Mark Antony, and placing it alongside their own names on a local coin of Carthago Nova, the moneyers transformed the context and perhaps also the meaning of the image. Whatever associations the image may have had for users of this coinage, the imitation of 'Roman' iconography demonstrates that people were paying attention to what the Romans put on their coinage, as it increasingly became a vehicle for communication.

(Image above reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group (Mail Bid Sale 78, lot 1092).

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