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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