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,

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Christopher Gunstone

    Dear Clare

    Very interesting article.

    In its heyday Lyon had 50,000–80,000 population and ‘30 per cent of them had Greek names’ Ref.
    P. MacKendrick, Roman France, G. Bell & Sons, 1971, p. 72; Many fragments of Massaliote amphorae from 540 B.C. in Vaise quarter of Lyon. J-P. Morel, ‘Phocaean Colonisation’ in G. R. Tsetskhladze (ed.), Greek Colonisation: An Account of Greek Colonies and Other Settlements Overseas, vol.1, (Leiden, 2006): 358–428, here p. 392; Lyon’s Greek and Roman literary contests famous and on coins of Caligula. Suetonius de vit. C.Cal.20

    I have illustrated other coins of Greek Marseille in my book’s second edition out in two weeks time plus Marseille coins found in Kent that were the proto-types for cast bronze British potin coins 2nd-1st century BC.

    Best wishes
    Christopher Gunstone
    The Greek Empire of Marseille:Discoverer of Britain, Saviour of Rome. ISBN 978-1481239660 available from Amazon.

    12 Jan 2014, 10:48

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