April 08, 2013

Macedonian aes coin with Silenus/legend in wreath.

As part of my research project The Beginnings of Empire: Visualising Rome in the Republican Provinces 168-27 BC I am examining coin icongraphy to better understand how Rome and other cultures interacted during Roman expansion. While examining Macedonia I was struck by a particularly odd specimen, discussed below.

Macedonian aes coin with Silenus/legend in wreath.

The Romans enter Macedonia

The region of Macedonia came under Roman silenus.jpgcontrol in 168 BC, after Lucius Aemilius Paullus defeated Perseus of Macedon at the battle of Pydna. The hellenistic kingdom of Macedonia was divided into four merides or administrative territories, each of which was given a capital (Amphipolis, Thessaloniki, Pella and Pelagonia). The quaestors who were likely attached to Aemilius Paullus, Gaius Publilius and Lucius Fulcinnius, probably took over the existing Macedonian mints. Amongst other issues, both released a coin type with the head of Roma on the obverse, and their titles and the name of Macedonia within an oak wreath (a traditional Macedonian type) on the reverse. The choice of Roma is unusual at this time, when such blatant statements of Roman control and power on coinage were rare. The type also had multiple associations: Roma is often portrayed wearing the helmet of the hero Perseus, the same helmet that Macedonian kings (e.g. Philip V) had worn on their coinage. How this image was 'read' by the Macedonian population is thus uncertain.

Mediating Imagery: 'Roman', 'Macedonian', or neither?

Soon after the release of the Roma coin types in 168-166 BC, a new type was released, overstruck on the earlier issues. The new type was unusual in both Macedonian and Roman contexts: a frontal head of Silenus on the obverse, and the name of Macedonia within an ivy-wreath on the reverse, along with the Latin letter D. MacKay (ANSMN 14, 5-13) suggests that the letter D stood for decreto, a decree of the Senate allowing for the recoining of the earlier aes issues to take place. The imagery of the earlier coin was thus unsatisfactory, either to the Macedonians, or to the Romans, and the coinage was overstruck with this new and unusual type. The traditional interpretation of the Silenus type by Gaebler suggested that it was a canting type, or a pun on the name of a Roman official called Silanus. This may be the case, but in the absence of evidence to suggest that there was a Roman official named Silanus in Macedonia at this time, an alternative possibility may exist. Coinage is a key media through which conqueror and conquered interact, and the 'hybrid' imagery of Roma and the oak wreath was deemed unsatisfactory to one or both parties in this particular context. Instead, a coin type may have been chosen that was neither offensive, nor particularly symbolic, to either the Romans or the Macedonians: the god Silenus. The fact that the god is portrayed frontally, also highly unusual in both Roman and Macedonian visual culture at this time, suggests the image was chosen because of its foreign nature. Although 'hybrid' or 'creole' images are important in understanding how different cultures interact, we should perhaps also look for this third type of artefact, one which mediates by being 'foreign' to all concerned.

(Based on 'Coinage between Cultures: Mediating Power in Roman Macedonia', The In Betweenness of Things: Materializing Mediation and Movement between Worlds, The British Museum and University College London, 22-23 March 2013. A more detailed publication is forthcoming. Above image reproduced courtesy of Numismatica Ars Classica, Auction 59, lot 1610)

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