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July 10, 2013

Sardus Pater and Roman–Sardinian Interaction

Coin of Sardinia struck c. 43-33 BC

Last week Warwick hosted an international workshop focused on the coinage of islands. One of the coins under discussion was an issue struck on the island of Sardinia by Marcus Attius Balbus, a Roman praetor and possibly also a governor of Sardinia. After its conquest by the Romans in 238 BC, Sardinia did not strike its own coinage - instead currency arrived on the island from Rome. It was only at the end of the Republic that coinage began to be produced locally again, with this issue and several others. It is likely that renewed minting on the island was a result of the Republican civil wars - Sardinia was an important grain supplier, and both sides of the conflict did their best to win control of the island.

The Temple of Antas, Sardinia

The obverse of this coin probably shows a portrait of the praetor himself, Attius Balbus. Although the first living Roman portrait to be shown on a Roman coin was Julius Caesar in 44 BC, the practice was quickly adopted after his murder (even by the assassins!) The reverse of the coin shows the god Sardus Pater. The god was an important figure through which the Romans and the local Sardinian population interacted. There was a temple to Sardus Pater at Antas, close to an important mining district. This was originally a local temple to an indigenous (Nuragic) deity, which the Carthaginians, when they conquered the island, identified as Sid Addir. The Romans in their turn identified the deity as Sardus Pater, and the emperor Augustus rebuilt the temple sometime after 27 BC. It is clear that Sardus Pater provided a figure through which the Romans could incorporate Sardinia into their world view: both Sallust and Pausanias record that Sardus was the son of Hercules, who went with a mass of people to settle Sardinia. As a focal point for Roman engagement with the Sardinians, it is no surprise that it is this god which was chosen to grace another medium intended for intercultural interaction: coinage.

(Images above provided courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group (Mail Bid Sale 78, 1170) (, and Wikimedia Commons).

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