Roman Provincial Coinage: A Brief Review

Roman provincial coinage is an area of study in which non-academics, especially avid collectors and dealers, can make real contributions to the study of the ancient Roman world. While many thousands of different provincial types or variants are known, new ones are still routinely being discovered.They offer a much wider range of imagery than the Roman Imperial issues, with reverses that touch upon religious, economic and social phenomenon, political events and foreign relations. The images used in this article are Roman provincial coins sold by Clio Ancient Art over the last several years.

Roman provincial coins, Antioch coin, Philip II, ancient coins, Tyche

Syria, Antioch, Bronze 29 mm of Philip II, AD 247-249, with turreted, draped & veiled bust of Tyche right, leaping ram above, star below. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

The Roman provincial coin issues dating between the late 1st Century BC and the end of the 3rd Century AD were initially struck in both the western and eastern portions of the Empire, from points as distant from one another as Rhesaina in the province of Mesopotamia to Emerita Augusta near the Atlantic coast of Hispania. But by the end of the 1st Century AD, provincial coinage had become an exclusively eastern phenomenon, with coins being struck at mints in southeastern Europe, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria/Palestine and Egypt.

Roman coins, ancient coins, Augustus, antiquities

Bronze 24 mm coin of Julia Traducta in Spain, with head of Augustus. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Most Roman provincial coins were issued in the name of individual cities or leagues of cities. A city could receive permission from the Roman Senate or the Emperor to issue coins, and these would mainly be used as small change, supplementing the official coinage of the Roman state apparatus struck at Rome and a few other Imperial mints. City coinages were nearly always bronze.

Other provincial coins were literally that: coins issued by a particular province, such as Syria or Egypt. These coins usually included silver issues of several values based on the Tetradrachm, as well as a range of bronze denominations. These currencies were intended to be sealed into their provinces, creating a closed economic system.

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Egypt, Alexandria. Potin Tetradrachm of Diocletian, AD 284-305.

Victory (Nike) advancing right, holding wreath and palm branch. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Roman Syria, Roman Empire, Roman Coins, Ancient Coins

Syria, Antioch. Bronze 30 MM of Phillip I. 244-249 AD. Laureate and cuirassed bust of Phillip facing left holding spear and shield. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Both Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria had continuous histories of coin production in both bronze and silver, lasting from the time of Augustus until AD 298. The later Egyptian teradrachms were struck in an alloy called Potin, comprised of bronze, tin and lead. This alloy patinates in very particular ways during burial in the ground, resulting in some especially beautiful surfaces on the coins.

Provincial coins are an endless source of information and enjoyment. Because most were struck in bronze, even large and very well preserved examples sell for very reasonable prices, especially when compared to Imperial bronze coins of similar size and quality.

Roman Provincial, Nicopolis, Roman coins, ancient coins, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis Orichalcum 5 Assarion (28 mm) of Gordion III, AD 238-244 Reverse of Demeter standing, facing left, holding torch and ears of grain, VP CAB MODECTOV NIKOPOLEITWN PROC ICTR (in Greek). Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

To learn more about Roman provincial coins, we recommend the following –

  • The Roman Provincial Coinage Initiative online. Organized through Oxford University, the site includes an excellent overview of Roman provincial coins and an extensive database with good, clear images (over 19,000!) and descriptions. http://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/intro/
  • The Wildwinds ancient coin site online. Although Wildwinds combines Greek with Roman Provincial coins, they are easily distinguished through use of an alphabetical list of issuing authorities, a geographically ordered index and other tools for narrowing a search. http://wildwinds.com/coins/greece/i.html

Introducing a New Feature: Clio’s Object of the Week

Today we are launching a new feature, entitled “Clio’s Object of the Week.” In this feature we plan to highlight a single antiquity or ancient coin from our stock and explore the object in more detail than is normally permitted in our commercial listings. A link will be included for those interested in purchasing the item.

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Cypriot Black on Red Ware Large Pottery Bowl 7th Century BC

Our choice for the first object in this weekly feature is a superb Cypriot Black on Red Ware pottery bowl. This deep bowl dates to the 7th Century BC, which on the Island of Cyprus would correspond the Iron Age and specifically what is referred to in archaeological terms as the Cypro-Archaic Period. This last term is intended to suggest a linkage to the Archaic Period of the Greek mainland and islands, a time when Greek civilization was beginning to fully emerge from the so-called “dark age” that followed the collapse of earlier Bronze Age civilizations in Greece and many parts of the eastern Mediterranean. By the Cypro-Archaic Period, most of Cyprus was Greek speaking. The Island’s small city states had recently freed themselves from a period of Assyrian rule, though they would later be controlled briefly by Egypt and Persia, before becoming fully integrated into the Hellenistic world.

Cypriot Black on Red Ware, also sometimes known as Cypro-Phoenician Ware, typically has a burnished red slip with added decoration in thin black lines. The motifs used are typically “bulls eye” designs and parallel lines forming concentric circles in varying thicknesses. Evidence suggests that it was produced only on the Island of Cyprus at multiple production centers beginning around 850 BC, and had a long life, continuing into the 5th Century BC. Although a great deal of Cypriot pottery of all periods was legally exported from the Island during the period of Ottoman rule, especially in the 19th Century, and during the British colonial period from 1914 through 1960, deep bowls of this type are much less common than the juglets and other closed form containers available on the antiquities market today.

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Of special interest on this example are the fingerprints of the potter who made it – two smudged finger marks in black slip. These are visible in the first image at the top of this article, inside the bowl at upper left, and again in the image above, directly alongside the handle but inside the bowl. These marks are a remarkable survival from antiquity. They remind us that pottery such as this was intended primarily as utilitarian ware, not as art, and that modern collectors and art historians have redefined such objects as art based on rarity and beauty.

To view this object on our Etsy store, go here (opens in a new tab or window): https://www.etsy.com/listing/280649766/cypriot-black-on-red-ware-large-pottery?ref=shop_home_active_8

To view this object on our eBay store, go here (opens in a new tab or window): http://www.ebay.com/itm/Cypriot-Black-on-Red-Ware-Large-Pottery-Bowl-7th-Century-BC-/131793379127?hash=item1eaf7f5f37:g:yP8AAOSw8d9UsZhX

To learn more about ancient Cyprus, we recommend the following books —

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Assyrian Art and the “Repatriation” of Antiquities

In April of 2013 I published on this blog a photo essay highlighting some of the many Assyrian antiquities in The British Museum (here is the link: https://clioantiquities.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/a-sampler-of-ancient-assyrian-art-at-the-british-museum/ ). Little could anyone have known at the time that a gang of fanatics and thugs, referred to now under the English language acronyms ISIS or ISIL, would take control of swaths of Syria and Iraq that include the ancient Assyrian heartland. Reports are sketchy but it is clear that in addition to Christian and Yazidi monuments and art works and those of other Islamic sects ISIL finds objectionable, ancient Assyrian, Neo-Hittite, Roman and Byzantine monuments and antiquities have been destroyed. This has occurred both in-situ and in museums.

Those who call for blindly repatriating ancient works of art from western museums to their source countries in the name of some form of political or cultural correctness should consider the fate not only of ancient Assyrian art in Iraq and Syria but also ancient works in many other conflict zones around the world. Attacking collectors, auction houses and art dealers, the overwhelming majority of whom are ethical and do not traffic in looted material, is an absurd gesture that utterly fails to address the root causes of looting and destruction. In the long term, many legally acquired antiquities circulating on the market today will find their way into public museum collections. Great museums in stable nations provide a venue for visitors from all over the world to see these works, which are mankind’s cultural legacy, not just those of a single modern nation state with artificially drawn borders whose modern populations have, in many cases, little or nothing to do with those that created the ancient works they have inherited.

With so much ancient Assyrian art now at risk, I would like to expand upon that original blog post and share more images of the British Museum’s Assyrian collections (and one image from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) and more textual detail on the previously published images. All images should be credited to Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities. For those wishing to see Assyrian art at locations other than The British Museum, I recommend visiting The Louvre in Paris, The Vatican Museums in Rome, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. On the US west coast, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco also have some examples on view.

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Glazed terracotta tile. Nimrud. 875-850 BC. An Assyrian king, holding a cup in one hand and bow in the other, is accompanied by his bodyguard. This is a ceremonial image intended to show the king as both warrior and hunter.

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Assyrian winged male protective spirit from the Northwest Palace at Nimrud (modern Iraq), Room Z, Panel 8. 865-860 BC, reign of Ashurnasirpal II

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Eagle headed protective spirit from the Temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. 865-860 BC. He carried a pale of holy water and a pine cone with which to sprinkle the water in a gesture of purification, rather like holy water used in some modern Christian denominations.

Assyrian antiquities, Assyrian art, Clio Ancient Art

Arab prisoners brought before King Tiglath-pilesser III, relief from the Central Palace at Nimrud, about 728 BC

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Captured flocks of sheep and goats, taken during Tiglath-pilesser III’s campaign against the Arabs, are driven back to the Assyrian camp. From the Central Palace, Nimrud, about 728 BC.

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Stela of King Shamshi-Adad V, 824-811 BC. It depicts the king before symbols of his principal gods. He extends his right hand, with the forefinger outstretched, an Assyrian gesture of respect and supplication towards the gods. The gods could be worshipped in symbolic form and here are, from top to bottom, Ashur, Shamash, Sin, Adad and Ishtar. The king wears a large symbol resembling a Maltese cross on his chest, another symbol of the god Shamash.

Assyrian Art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Partial reconstruction of the Balawat Gates. Erected by King Shalmaneser III at his new palace at Balawat between 858 and 824 BC. The gates were constructed of wood with bronze reinforcing strips. Only the bronze strips have survived. They showed scenes of conquest and tribute with Cuneiform captions.

Assyrian antiquities, Assyrian art, Clio Ancient Art

Remarkable scene of the Assyrian assault on a fortified city. This relief, from Nimrud and dating to 865-860 BC, depicts a remarkable armored tank-like siege machine on wheels, using what appears to be a metal tipped wedge or ram to work loose the blocks in the city wall. Assyrian archers are shown in their characteristic formation of pairs, with one man using a shield to prove cover while another lets loose his arrow.

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A pair of winged human headed bulls from the NW Palace at Nimrud, 865-860 BC. These guarded what may have been the entrance to the King’s private apartments.

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Detail of one of the winged human headed bulls described above.

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Ashurnasirpal in his chariot, aiming an arrow at a lion while his attendants fend off a lion behind. This and the next image, the famed “Dying Lioness”, are part of a lengthy series of panels showing wild animal hunts from the North Palace at Ninevah, 668-627 BC. Lions were common in the Near and Middle East at this time and hunting them, and other animals considered fierce and powerful, was part of a long tradition in region to display the King’s prowess, bravery and skill.

Assyrian antiquities, Assyrian art, Clio Ancient Art

This poignant image has come to be known as “The Dying Lioness”. It is part of the animal hunt sequence from the North Palace at Ninevah, 668-627 BC. The lioness has been partly paralyzed by arrows in her hind quarters and drags herself forward to snarl at her attackers.

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

In another scene from the Nineveh animal hunt panels, deer are trapped by herding them into a high net enclosure. As no weapons are depicted here, the animals may have been intended for a private zoo or park on the royal estates.

Assyrian art, Assyrian sculpture, Ashurnasirpal, Nimrud, Ashmolean Museum

Assyrian winged genius from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal (883-859 BC) at Nimrud. Acquired through excavation by A.H. Layard in the early 19th Century. Now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Cypriot antiquities, Cyprus antiquities

Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: A Photo Essay

Visitors with a special interest in antiquities will be stunned when visiting the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University, not only because of the great quality of ancient art and artifacts on view but also because of the key role that many of these objects have played in the development of fields such as archaeology and art history.

The Ashmolean in its present form was created in 1908 through the merger of two very old Oxford collections: the University Art Collection, begun in the 1620s, and the original gift of antiquities and curiosities from Elias Ashmole in 1692. Gifts of art and artifacts continued until by the early 19th Century the galleries had become a must see for visitors to Oxford. The superb neo-Classical building was completed in 1845 and has expanded since. Later, through the work of such distinguished scholars as Sir Arthur Evans, antiquities obtained through modern excavations poured into the collections. Today the Museum houses extraordinary Near Eastern, Egyptian, Aegean, Cypriot, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and related antiquities, well worth the train ride from London or elsewhere.

The galleries are not arranged in a strict chronological fashion but by geographic region. This allows a somewhat freer flow for the visitor. The spaces are open and easy to navigate, without the crush of dense crowds one often gets at The British Museum. Objects are thoughtfully displayed and quite well lit, though the bright lights sometimes create too much glare on the cases for successful photography. The staff is helpful, facilities of all types are easily available, the cafe is excellent and the gift shop carries a good selection of antiquities related books, catalogs, etc.

All images and caption presented here must be credited to: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities. Enjoy.

Iran, Iron Age, Near Eastern antiquities, Iranian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Painted terracotta tiles from the Iron Age ceremonial building called “The Painted Chamber” at Baba Jan, Iran, dated to about 800-700 BC.

Assyrian art, Assyrian sculpture, Ashurnasirpal, Nimrud, Ashmolean Museum

Assyrian winged genius from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal (883-859 BC) at Nimrud, Irag. He holds a pale of water and a pine cone to be used in a manner similar to “holy water” in modern churches. Acquired through excavation by A.H. Layard in the early 19th Century.

Egyptian antiquities, Pre-Dynastic Egypt, Egyptian artifacts, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Large ceremonial flint knives and other tools from the Hierakonopolis Deposit, an important group of Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic Egyptian objects.

Khasekhem, 2ns Dynasty, Egyptian antiquities, Egyptian art, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Statue of Khasekhem, last king of Egypt’s 2nd Dynasty, died 2,686 BC. In this pose he wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt. One of his sons Djoser, would be responsible for building the famed Step Pyramid at Saqqara.

6th Dynasty, Egyptian art, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

A large pottery lion from the Temple Enclosure at Hierakonopolis, Egypt, dating to the 6th Dynasty, about 2,325 to 2,175 BC). Appearing at first glance to be made of stone, this magnificent and technically accomplished work is, in fact, hollow pottery, resting on a plinth. Fragments of another lion were found at the site and the two may have served as guardians of the Temple precinct.

Sobek, Fayum, Amenemhat III, Egyptian sculpture, Egyptian art, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Limestone statue fragment of Sobek, the crocodile headed chief god of the Egyptian Fayum region. It comes from the scant remains of the funerary temple of Amenemhat III, of the 12th Dynasty, 19th Century BC. The temple was attached to his pyramid and was known as the Labyrinth to classical authors such as Herodotus, who declared it surpassed even the Great Pyramid as a wonder of antiquity

Aspelta, Napata, Kawa, Nubian antiquities, Egyptian art, Kingdom of Kush, Ashmolean Museum

Sandstone wall of King Aspelta from Temple T at Kawa, circa 600-580 BC. The Kingdom of Kush, to the south of Egypt in what is now Sudan, adopted Egyptian art, religion and funerary practices wholesale, adorning their capital cities and royal tombs in the Egyptian style. Here, King Aspelta offers Ma’at (Truth) to the ram headed god Amun-Re.

Ram of Amun, Kawa, Napatan Period, King Taharqa, Egyptian art, Asmolean Museum

Granite statue of the god Amun in the form of a ram protecting King Taharqa. Dating from about 680 BC, this is also from Temple T at Kawa and was uncovered during excavations in 1931. It has a twin in The British Museum.

Abydos, Middle Kingdom, Egyptian art, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Painted Egyptian limestone grave stela of Reniseneb making an offering of food to his father Redysankh, while a scribe sits at right. From Abydos. Middle Kingdom.

Egyptian funerary stela, Egyptian art, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Egyptian painted limestone funerary stela of Ankhreni, steward of the granary, with his brother and sister in law. Abydos, Middle Kingdom

Egyptian amulets, Egyptian antiquities, Egyptian art, Egyptian faience, Ashmolean Museum

Egyptian funerary amulets were placed on the body and in the mummy wrappings, representing funerary deities or parts of the body requiring special magical protection. Examples shown here are made from colored faience, hematite, carnelian and gold foil, and date mainly to the New Kingdom and Late Dynastic Period.

Egyptian shabtis, Egyptian ushabtis, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

A stunning display of Egyptian funerary figures, servants for the afterlife known as shabtis or ushabtis. These examples date to the New Kingdom and Late Period and are mainly made from faience or glazed composition

Sir Arthur Evan, Knossos, Crete, Minoan, Arshmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art

A display of superb Minoan pottery from the palace complex at Knossos, Crete, Circa 1,700 BC. Excavated by Sir Arthur Evans.

Knossos, Crete, Arthur Evans, Minoan, Ashmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

A display of superb Minoan storage pottery from the palace complex at Knossos, Crete, Circa 1,700 BC. Excavated by Sir Arthur Evans.

Cypriot pottery, Cypriot antiquities, Cyprus antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art

A staggering display of Cypriot pottery, mainly from the Iron Age but also running through the Classical, Hellenistic and early Roman periods.

Apollo, Classical sculpture, Cypriot antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Hellenistic statue of a nude youth found on Cyprus and made from local limestone. The hairstyle and other features suggest this may represent the god Apollo. Circa 300-100 BC

Greek antiquities, ancient Greek art, Ashmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

A superb Greek red figure pottery pyxis (jewelry box) of the 5th Century BC from Athens, accompanied by Greek gold jewelry of the Classical and Hellenistic periods.

Roman antiquities, Roman artifacts, Roman pottery, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Excellent display of Roman ceramic vessels, tiles and oil lamps, spanning several centuries, from the 1st Century BC through the 3rd Century AD, and three continents, including Europe, North Africa and western Asia

Roman art, Roman antiquities, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Cinerary box of a Roman woman named Cornelia Thalia, about AD 50-75. This finely made marble box from Rome is in the shape of a shrine and includes Latin text dedicated to the departed spirits of the deceased woman, whose cremated remains were kept inside.

Roman art, Roman Jewelry, Roman antiquities, Clio Ancient Art, Ashmolean Museum

Part of a display or Roman Jewelry, including objects of gold, silver, bronze and bronze that has been tinned, gilt, silvered or enameled, as well as glass, precious and semiprecious stones, jet and other materials. The types include earrings, necklaces, rings and hairpins, with a great geographic distribution, from what is now Syria and the Levant in the east to England in the west, and spanning 500 years.

Roman jewelry, Roman art, Roman antiquities, Clio Ancient Art, Ashmolean Museum

Parts of a display or Roman Jewelry in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK. Included are objects of gold, silver, bronze and bronze that has been tinned, gilt, silvered or enameled, as well as glass, precious and semiprecious stones, jet and other materials. The types include brooches, earrings, necklaces and clasps, with a great geographic distribution, from what is now Syria and the Levant in the east to England in the west, and spanning 500 years.

To learn more about the Ashmolean Museum, visit their website at: http://www.ashmolean.org/