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January 24, 2014

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

sosius
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.


apollo_sosianus
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)


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